Black entrepreneurs have been finding success in business forever, and many of their innovations are still being used today. The only problem? They’re not getting credit for it! Luckily, scholars like Dr. Leon Prieto and Dr. Simone Phipps – authors of the book African American Management History – are digging into the past to uncover lessons we’ve learned from groundbreaking black managers. And in honor of Black Business Month, we’re taking a page from these pioneers and highlighing three core tenants of cooperative advantage – a people-centric business approach – and the hidden figures who embodied them.
What is Cooperative Advantage?
You may have heard of “competitive advantage”, but what is it? “Cooperative advantage is a more people-centric approach than competitive advantage,” says Dr. Phipps. This people-centric approach has been the hot new idea in management books lately, except it’s not new at all: the approach has roots in African philosophy. Dr. Prieto says it embodies “ubuntu”, which means I am because we are.
Charles Clinton Spaulding and Social Service
Now meet some of the notable purveyors of cooperative advantage, starting with Charles Clinton Spaulding and the principle of social service. “Charles Clinton Spaulding was the president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company,” explains Prieto. “What he meant by social service in business is what we know today as social entrepreneurship.” Prieto says Spaulding walked the walk by building a hospital, a library, and giving donations to historically black colleges and universities. It turns out helping people was good for business, too! “They got easy customers based on how much they showed care and love for that community,” informs Prieto.
Maggie Lena Walker and Economic Cooperation
Next is Maggie Lena Walker and the principle of economic cooperation. “Maggie Lena Walker chartered and was president of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank,” tells Phipps. “And that helped [the community] start businesses. It also helped increase the amount of home ownership among black people.” Walker was also able to provide employment, especially to black women. “And not just at the bank, but in the department store called The Emporium, so women were able to become sales clerks,” adds Phipps. “They got to training and they were able to use their skills in something more than just being a domestic at that time.”
Annie Turnbo-Malone and Spirituality
Finally, there’s Annie Turnbo-Malone and the principle of spirituality. “Spirituality is not just about religion,” Phipps clarifies. “Spirituality has a lot to do with providing meaningful work.” And Malone embodied those ideas. “She had a cosmetic and hair care company and was a pioneer in direct selling,” Phipps notes. “She provided meaningful work for almost 75,000 women.” Spirituality can improve the bottom line, too! “It helps with the motivation and commitment as well,” Phipps advises. “People work harder and they’re going to be more committed to your organization if they feel like their work is meaningful.”
We can all take away from spirituality, social service, and economic cooperation. And now you can carry on these traditions too with these three powerful lessons from black managers.