Seeking to increase the role of minority and women-owned business owners in city contracting and the private sector, the New York City comptroller's office is offering a series of webinars under the name MWBE University.
The webinars were borne of city comptroller officials meeting with business owners who were seeking city contracts ranging from providing supplies and services to managing investments for the New York City Retirement Systems but didn't know the best way to do so.
"We realized they needed a place to learn how to navigate city government," said Wendy Garcia, the comptroller's chief diversity officer, who runs the webinars. "There was a need" for more accessible and transparent information, she said.
The series was launched in 2018 by Scott Stringer, the city comptroller and fiduciary of the five pensions funds that are part of the $251 billion New York City Retirement Systems. This year's education menu includes topics such as how to improve diversity on boards of directors and how minority and women investment managers can build relationships with the city's pension fund consultants. "Many of the topics come from the business owners," Ms. Garcia said.
The webinars, whose formal name is Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises University Series, are conducted in 12 languages with simultaneous translations taking place. Topics change each year — the impact of COVID-19 is a theme that runs through this year's offerings — and the comptroller's office conducts focus groups with minority and women business owners and advisory board members to assess business topics.
Lecturers have included asset managers and consultants and MWBE executives who won city contracts.
Shifting from live presentations in previous years to Zoom webinars hasn't thwarted the business education momentum, Ms. Garcia said. In fact, the webinars offered students greater access to their peers for both sharing information and even working together, she added.
This year's webinars started in March and run through August.