Rustum Southwell is leaving his post as chief executive officer of the Black Business Initiative after 16 years

Rustum Southwell

Halifax, Canada (TED PRITCHARD / Staff) – Nov 16 2011…With the creation of nearly 700 jobs and more than $200 million in business loans to reflect on, Rustum Southwell a native of St.Kitts can ease into retirement with a sense of accomplishment.

Recounting his tenure with the Black Business Initiative, Southwell, the outgoing chief executive officer, holds unwavering pride for what the organization has accomplished over the past 16 years and is hopeful its success story will be shared worldwide.

“The success of this initiative is that we’ve stayed true to our sweet spot and true to our mandate,” Southwell, a founding executive director, told The Chronicle Herald.

“For us, it’s exceeded what it was set out to do and I believe the model and the economic structure we’ve designed is something that can be replicated.”

Operating on the same budget but with twice the staff it began with in 1996, BBI was founded to promote and encourage black entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia to pursue their business dreams. The organization offers skills development, loans, education and mentorship and a 2006 census found that 56 per cent of the companies working with BBI had created new jobs, compared with just one per cent of new mainstream businesses, Southwell said.

Statistics Canada figures show that from 2001 to 2006, the number of black-owned businesses grew 57.7 per cent, compared with 1.1 per cent growth in other businesses.

Since arriving in Halifax in the early 1970s from his native St. Kitts, Southwell said the opportunities for an enterprising young black person have grown in leaps and bounds. Challenges do persist, however, and even given the success of the organization, it is unlikely to disappear soon, he said.

“Sometimes when people talk about our organization, they question that if everything is right in society; why do they need us? Well, there are still challenges to the black community that close doors.

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