The organization announced that it will partner with the Williams-Franklin Foundation to raise a minimum of $50,000 to support scholarships for studants at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). The foundation was founded by Dwight Franklin and LaShelle (Williams) Franklin, two graduates of Howard University, among the most prominent of the HBCUs.
ONHA CEO Karen Howard said the natural products industry finds itself in the paradoxical situation of promoting health alternatives such as organic foods and dietary supplements yet looking very old school in the makeup of the people who hold the levers of power.
“If you look at the figures, overall this business is 80% white and male,” she said. “In the bigger companies, companies of more than 50 people, it’s even more so. There only 2% of people on boards and in senior leadership roles identify themselves as Black Americans.”
Industry missing opportunity to connect with more consumers
Howard said in her oganization’s view the industry is missing a beat when it comes to connecting with communities of color.
“It’s said that our typical consumer is a white, college-educated woman between the ages of 35 and 50. Seventy three percent of our consumers are white,” she said.
“All this work we are putting into to talking about immune health is missing a populaiton that is more threatened by the pandemic,” Howard said. Statistics that show Blacks and Native Americans are far more likely to die of COVID-19 than are whites.
Howard said the money raised in the five-year effort will be held in the ‘Organic & Natural Health Scholarship Fund.’ Howard said ONHA will also support networking opportunities for HBCU students to expose more of then to possible careers within the industry in an effort ot make it more diverse and inclusive. The current makeup of industry leadership means there are few connections to communities of color, making for a chicken-and-egg conundrum when it comes to changing how the C-suites of the industry are configured.
Widening the potential talent pool
“This is an Organic & Natural Health initiative, but it’s not ours to own,” Howard said. “We want to make this an industry-wide initiative for diversity and inclusion, and we want it to be as big and as noteworthy as what Vitamin Angels has achieved for dietary supplement distribution to countries in need. Exposure to our industry is the biggest barrier to lack of diversification in our organizations.”
The Williams-Franklin Foundation is a 501(c) 3 incorporated nonprofit that provides academic scholarships, business/career networking, and mentoring opportunities to HBCU students with extreme financial need. The founders used their own seed money to launch the foundation in 2014.
“Karen’s initiative and leadership with introducing Williams-Franklin Foundation is really valuable, because our ultimate goal is to help students graduate with minimum debt and maximum opportunities,” said Dwight Franklin. “We are looking forward to this partnership and providing our students opportunities to succeed within the natural products industry,” added LaShelle (Williams) Franklin.