Enabling Disaster Resilience and Financial Inclusion for Disadvantaged Small Businesses

My project enables the livelihoods of disadvantaged small businesses so they can access capital and earn their living despite the weather!

Photo of Donna Childs
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Written by


  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States


  • Woman

Where are you making a difference?

New York: NYC zip codes, like 10280 Gulf Coast states, New Orleans Nationally in selected communities in California, Florida and Texas

Focus Areas (required)

  • Business & Social Enterprise
  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity
  • Environment & Sustainability

Date Started


Organization Type

  • for-profit

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working towards the next level of expansion)


  • $250k - $500k

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)


Twitter URL


Facebook URL


LinkedIn URL


1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

I was in the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11 when the planes struck the towers and I made it safely to my Battery Park City home where I was when the towers fell, in part, on my apartment building. Together with my neighbors, I was evacuated by police boat across the Hudson River to safety in New Jersey where I remained, homeless, for several months as my community was closed and under the control of the National Guard as an emergency staging area. I also owned and operated my first small business in the area. In addition to being a human tragedy, 9/11 was an economic catastrophe for Lower Manhattan small businesses, and, according to the New York Times, a “catastrophe for the working poor”, as few had suitable social safety nets.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Small businesses account for more than one-half of all employment and yet are uniquely vulnerable to disasters. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, 43% of small businesses fail to re-open following a major disaster, a figure it believes could be improved with minor investments in contingency. And this alarming figure doesn't include localized or "minor "disasters (fires, power outages) that can ruin vulnerable livelihoods.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Prisere provides technical assistance to enable small business disaster resilience and financial literacy (particularly as regards commercial insurance). Disadvantaged groups (the disabled, immigrants, etc.) are more likely to be self-employed. Their livelihoods should not be at risk with each weather forecast, human error or failure of public infrastructure. Our work makes them more bank-able. Banks can earn Community Reinvestment Act credit for making my program available. (And possibly reduce the losses on their small business loan portfolio.) In addition, large enterprises are evaluating the resilience of their supply chains. Their due diligence on prospective vendors explicitly considers the likelihood to meet their deliverables in the event of disruption. Our programs make disadvantaged small businesses more resilient and therefore, more competitive suppliers, better positioned to win corporate and government contracts. This is particularly important, as disadvantaged groups are more likely to live in hazard-prone areas (the Ninth Ward of New Orleans in Katrina, area of Brooklyn vs. the Upper East Side in Sandy, for example). It is a win for all public and private stakeholder

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

Here is a specific example that was reported in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: we partnered with the Louisiana Small Business Development Centers to offer small business disaster resilience workshops to build financial literacy (for appropriate insurance) and expand access to capital, commensurate with improved risk practices. After our first workshop, a participating business and the livelihoods of its employees were saved for adding contingency business interruption insurance (at negligible cost!) just before its supplier failed! the Hurricane Recovery Director of the American Red Cross honored my volunteer work to help small businesses in the Gulf Coast states recover from Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike. It was at the urging of the New Orleans small business community that I established Prisere to address this need full-time, rather than as a part-time charitable activity.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

Helping small businesses become disaster resilient enables access to more affordable commercial insurance, with reduced premiums commensurate with improved risk management practices. This, in turn, allows small businesses to better access traditional sources of bank capital for being better risks. Indeed, banks could earn Community Reinvestment Act credit my making my program available to small businesses in their footprint. In addition, resilient small businesses are more competitive suppliers.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • ability
  • illness
  • geography
  • immigration status
  • work status
  • language
  • race/ethnicity
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • gender
  • age - elder
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The Red Cross can help with basic disaster preparedness (get a flashlight, have bottled water), but doesn't address the IT or insurance needs of small businesses. In addition, as the founder of Prisere, my personal experience of disaster resonates with my small business peers and motivates them to act. Public agencies like FEMA have also tried to enable preparedness, with limited success. Our approach re-frames the paradigm for resilience by showing how preparing for the “everyday disaster” immediately yields benefits while gradually building resilience for more serious threats.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

The Hurricane Recovery Director of the American Red Cross honored our team's work to help small businesses in the Gulf Coast states recover from Hurricanes Katrina, Gustav and Ike. We have helped more than 30,000 small businesses prepare and enable their resilience. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and other major news media rely on us as their "go-to" expert on small business risk resilience and financial inclusion!

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

The CEO of the Association of the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC's) contributed the Foreword to the second edition of my book. There are approximately 1,000 SBDC's serving small businesses across the 50 states, including in disadvantaged communities. We are expanding a train-the-trainer model to scale our impact and make our services broadly available through this means of distribution. Please also see the response to Question #9, about making our services a viable investment for both banks and Fortune 500 companies.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Franchising, Licensing, Accreditation
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Organizing Conferences
  • Trainings, Consultation
  • Federations, Associations
  • Open Sourcing
  • Campaigns
  • Industry Standards (labels, certification, awards, etc.)

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We frame the resilience of disadvantaged small businesses as an issue of both macro-level socioeconomic resilience and financial inclusion. We will partner with banks to offer our services to their small business clients, thereby meeting their Community Reinvestment Act requirements while reducing the losses on their small business loan portfolio. We partner with supplier diversity programs of Fortune-500 companies to enable the resilience of their supply chains. A positive investment for all!

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

BNY Mellon distinguished itself during 9/11 with its attentive care to the safety of its employees in Lower Manhattan and its vigilance in ensuring business continuity. Disadvantaged small businesses lack comparable human and financial resources to enable resilience. Our team brings corporate level experience to the needs of disadvantaged small businesses. I was formerly a senior executive of a global property-casualty and life-health reinsurance company. Resilience is about financial inclusion.

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 - Which of the following categories do you identify with? (optional)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 - Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities? (optional)

  • Disability community

If you replied "Other" in the question above, please specify. (optional)

I have a medical disability, which is part of the reason why I am self-employed!

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Attachments (1)


Jacket of the second edition of the book that inspired Prisere LLC!

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Brittany Corner

My project also qualifies under the Community Reinvestment Act. Your project is a brilliant idea and sounds great!