January 24, 2022
On October 5, 2021, AACCGP announced the appointment of Khine Zaw, Ph.D., as the new president and CEO. She will succeed founder, president, and CEO Narasimha (Nick) Shenoy, who will continue to serve the organization as its chairman. Dr. Zaw is a post-doctoral researcher and an award-winning entrepreneur recognized for her work in the community for women empowerment. Dr. Zaw served as a senior officer for the Social Welfare, Women, Labor and Migrant Workers Division at Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) before she began her entrepreneurial journey in the United States in 2017. She founded of Khineder Creations LLC in 2016 and co-founded Khinez Organics in 2021 – organic skincare companies that support veterans, survivors of sex trafficking and domestic violence. Over the years, Dr. Zaw won numerous local and international awards for her entrepreneurial endeavors, including Greater Lehigh Valley’s Forty Under 40 most accomplished young businessmen and women in 2019.
PIDC interviewed Dr. Zaw on her new role, plans for AACCGP, unique challenges Asian American business owners face, and ways to persevere as a business community. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: What resources does AACCGP provide to help business owners and how can they take advantage of these resources?
A: There are more than 13,000 Asian businesses in Philadelphia and 90% of them have one or zero employees. We plan on providing our businesses with digital literacy on how to prepare financial statements for example, so that they will not miss out on important grant and loan applications. Many of them lack banking relationships, which also prevented them from getting the working capital that they needed to stay in business.
AACCGP has limited staffing and financial resources to properly serve our business community with limited language proficiency. We rely on external funding from various grants and corporate support. We also partner with entities that have capabilities to provide technical services and education for starting and growing business.
We use our website, social media, and newsletter to inform our members and subscribers of available opportunities to gain market share and attend educational programs to manage their businesses efficiently. We conduct networking opportunities for our businesses to do B2B and B2C marketing. We act as a liaison to business owners who seek assistance to deal with City and corporate procurement. We also visit our businesses to make them aware of available programs to grow their business.
Q: What are some of the Chamber’s biggest accomplishments so far?
A: One of our biggest accomplishments is bringing Asian businesses of all sizes together and helping the young entrepreneurs and start-up Asian businesses find valuable connections and resources. The Asian business community in Philly represents great diversity – Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Burmese, and Indonesian businesses, to name a few. To have all of these businesses in one area means we have an incredibly dynamic workforce and multi-cultural talents that are integral for the City’s socio-economic development. Helping these businesses and families thrive together is our most important mission and long-term goal.
Our chamber was organized and managed by volunteers for many years while managing their own businesses. Over the years, the chamber has received great support from the community and City and accumulated sufficient funds to hire a program director in 2016. In 2018, we hired a membership and communications director. The Chamber’s operations were managed by volunteers until 2021 when the Board was able to hire a President and CEO.
The Chamber’s activities and leadership was recognized by the Business Journal in 2019 and by city and state newspapers in 2021. The Business Journal also recognized us as a top 25 chamber in the region in 2011. As there are many ethnic Asian chambers, AACCGP is now recognized as the chamber representing Asian Businesses in this region.
In June 2014, Philadelphia Department of Commerce published a success story on the 7th Street business corridor where the Asian Chamber took the lead to promote city programs.
Last year, we moved to South Philly to directly interact with small and micro businesses. We have also testified on behalf of Asian businesses at the city council to protect Asian business interests.
Q: How is your new role going? Any new plans or initiatives you’d like to share?
A: My new role as AACCGP’s president & CEO definitely comes with a lot of responsibilities. I cannot synthesize the unending responsibilities that come with the title but the more I learn about our partnerships, the more it brings me new perspectives about inclusive growth. Our board has been extremely helpful in assisting me with planning the new initiatives but we’re still facing a lot of challenges imposed by the pandemic.
Our work and outreach are expanding, and we need highly motivated and qualified team players to join us and help our members. As you are aware, AAPI-owned businesses have suffered tremendously since the onset of Covid, according to a survey from the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ACE), of the approximately 900 AAPI small business owners and 8,300 respondents surveyed in the San Francisco area in 2021, more than 80% reported negative effects, 10% have closed their businesses, and 45% have lost or let go of their employees.
We see similar effects in the Greater Philadelphia area as well. While we are yet to conclude our survey on the impact of COVID on more than 13,000 Asian-owned businesses in Philadelphia, we have been told by every single one of the Asian business owners we have sat down with – especially those who run restaurants, dry cleaners, nail salons, and spas – that they have suffered tremendously during the lockdown and are still facing so many challenges.
Regardless of the challenges, I feel positive about our upcoming in-person and virtual networking events and roundtable discussions. Hopefully, with the support and generosity of partners like PIDC, we will navigate through the challenges successfully and come out stronger.
Q: What are some of the unique challenges that Asian-owned businesses face and what can be done to support Asian-owned businesses while navigating these challenges?
A: Many small and micro-Asian businesses in Philadelphia consist of first-generation immigrants. While there are several city programs available to these families, most of them are unwilling to take advantage of these resources simply because they do not really understand the language or how to access them. We found that many of our businesses were unaware of City regulations and were subjected to fines. We need sufficient funding to employ field personnel to visit these businesses in selected corridors to educate them and help them comply with regulations to stay in business.
Each minority community has their own way of doing business and dealing with policy issues. As our community is very diverse with different cultures and languages, it certainly creates a unique challenge. On the other hand, learning to comply with constantly changing city regulations can be a big challenge to these businesses.
Q: How can PIDC and other organizations further support AACCGP?
A: Technical assistance to overcome these challenges is essential for our businesses to stay in business and grow. As our resources are limited, we are working with partners to provide such services. This year, we have partnered with Weidner SBDC and the Department of Commerce to use our facility as their remote offices to provide technical assistance on a weekly basis. We are constantly seeking such partners to support our members and businesses.
Our new office is strategically located in South Philly where many of our businesses are concentrated. This facility is well equipped to provide educational and networking sessions and is well accessible to our businesses who are unable to commute to downtown.
We invite PIDC to connect with our businesses through our facility on a regular basis as well. This will be an ideal opportunity to connect with small and micro businesses.
Q: What are your thoughts on Asian business owners who are trying to keep their businesses afloat during COVID-19 and the rise in Asian hate crimes?
A: As I mentioned earlier, Asian businesses have suffered severely during the pandemic since most of the businesses are restaurant and service businesses. In addition, many of our businesses were damaged during the riots two years ago. “Asian hate” has prevented many businesses from returning to their normal pre-pandemic situation. We also learned that our small and micro businesses were not properly prepared to apply for grants and market their products through social media since COVID hit.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like us to know that hasn’t been covered?
A: I would like to emphasize the challenges we face as our community has unique issues compared to other communities.
Asian business communities come from various countries in Asia with limited and very diverse educational backgrounds. Many of them came here as refugees to flee persecution and oppression in their native countries and because they have been fighting for their survival their entire lives, they could not pursue education. When you didn’t have enough exposure to successful, stable and attainable life goals, you cannot develop entrepreneurial skills that can turn your ideas into profitable business. These people need technical and business management training, and proper coaching on financial investment.
Another thing is doing business in the United States is very different from operating businesses in their home countries, starting with the understanding of the regulations and how to comply with them. Access to capital is a concern since most of them do not have financial means and are unable to have banking relations. That is why we believe that having boots on the ground to help corridor managers to support Asian businesses in these specific areas.
PIDC is proud to have staff members serve on the advisory committee of the organization. AACCGP has supported PIDC over the years by serving as a great community partner for events and as a vehicle to share information about PIDC’s resources with the Asian-American business community. We’d like to congratulate Dr. Zaw on her new role and we look forward to partnering with AACCGP on new endeavors.
If you would like to get involved with the organization and stay informed on their endeavors, click here to learn more about AACCGP.