Tucson Electric Power is supporting a new initiative to provide seed funding for micro and small businesses owned by underrepresented residents. It’s just one way our company is supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in our community.

Early this year, the Community Investment Corporation will launch the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Community Managed Loan Fund to provide zero-interest loans to BIPOC entrepreneurs with new and young businesses. In January, a loan committee will develop non-traditional, community-based loan criteria and start accepting applications, with the first loans issued in the spring.

TEP is providing a $30,000 grant, joining fellow contributors including Blax Friday, Startup Tucson, Local First Arizona and a growing number of other partners. As businesses pay back loans, the funds will be reinvested in new BIPOC businesses.

While diversity and inclusion have long been priorities for TEP, we increased our philanthropic support for social justice causes in 2020 in response to the robust dialogue around race and racism that followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“TEP is committed to improving the quality of life of our customers and the community we serve. We believe the creation of this fund fills a gap in the business funding on-ramp, while also addressing our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Camila Martins-Bekat, Senior Market Development Representative for TEP.

With a background in micro-lending and finance, Martins-Bekat has offered to serve on the inaugural loan committee for the fund.

Danny Knee, the Corporation’s Executive Director, said the fund will empower entrepreneurs by shifting decision-making to community members, instead of financial institutions that have historically underserved communities of color.

“Our goal is to get more people included and participating in the economy,” Knee said.

Knee said he believes TEP’s support will inspire other corporations and community members to get behind this effort.

“The breadth and depth of nonprofit organizations that TEP has supported is incredible and we’re really fortunate,” Knee said. “When a place like TEP is willing to step up and say, ‘We know what’s right and we know we need to support communities that have been disadvantaged,’ I think that’s a really powerful message.”

In June, TEP volunteers came together to paint temporary murals, with colorful symbols of inclusion and diversity, to place over plywood covering shattered glass in the first-floor windows of TEP’s Downtown Headquarters. The windows were broken during protests downtown in the wake of Floyd’s death.

TEP has supported diversity and inclusion efforts in many ways over the years, including through recent grants to the Dunbar Coalition, YWCA of Southern Arizona and Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona.

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