Facebook is expanding an upskilling program aimed at helping Black and Latinx small business owners who have been hardest hit by the pandemic

By Marguerite Ward

Better Capitalism

Facebook is expanding a major upskilling program created in 2018 aimed at Black and brown small business owners hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, the tech giant announced Wednesday. 

The expansion is part of Facebook's $1.1 billion commitment to help reduce racial inequality in the US. The program seeks to help 1 million Black and 1 million Latinx (a gender alternative to Latino or Latina) people upskill in digital marketing to reach customers online. 

"Black businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, closing at twice the rate of other small businesses. With more and more small businesses moving online to reach customers, helping people learn digital skills is more important than ever," Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, told Business Insider. 

Indeed, an August report by the New York Federal Reserve found that more than 40% of Black-owned businesses shut down nationally between February and April, and 32% of Latino-owned businesses shut down, compared to 17% of white-owned businesses. 

The upskilling program, called Elevate, will include a series of virtual digital marketing info sessions and a six-week mentorship program geared toward Black and brown business owners. Other companies including Verizon, AmazonPwC, and AT&T have also launched major upskilling programs to retrain their workforces or attract new talent in recent years.  

Facebook's program, called Elevate, was created in 2018 when a group of Black and Latinx employees at Facebook wanted to help small business owners of color expand their online reach. 

"There are hidden figures in these communities. And if we can just give them some of these digital marketing tips, it could really change their lives," said Irene Walker, Elevate program director at Facebook. 

Facebook will also be partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other educational institutions to pair small businesses with students looking for digital marketing internships and jobs. In addition, the tech giant will be funding some 100,000 scholarships for small business owners, entrepreneurs, or professionals looking to learn digital marketing. 

The job outlook for digital marketing professionals is slightly higher than the average job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job demand in the overall field of marketing will increase by 6%, higher than the average of most jobs, which is 4%. 

"We're here to change lives and change generations," Walker said.