Travelers Foundation Vice President Tara Spain spoke with MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) Content Manager Nan Price about her involvement with the MHA’s Racial Equity and Economic Development (REED) Leadership Committee and her efforts to help support women and businesses of color in the Hartford Region.
NAN PRICE: What does corporate social responsibility mean to you—and how do you incorporate it into your role at Travelers?
TARA SPAIN: I think of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a company’s commitment to addressing societal concerns while anticipating the expectations of key stakeholders. And a significant piece of CSR is corporate philanthropy, a space I’ve worked in for nearly 20 years.
Over that time, I’ve seen corporate philanthropy evolve from being focused purely on charitable efforts to becoming more integrated into business practices. Travelers views its community efforts as an essential part of its operations, understanding that we can only thrive as a business if our economy—and our communities—thrive too.
I focus on driving initiatives that positively impact our communities based on our philanthropic priorities of improving academic and career success, developing thriving neighborhoods, and creating culturally enriched communities.
NAN: In what ways are you supporting women and businesses of color in the Hartford Region?
TARA: I like to align my work with my personal values, and one thing I’m really passionate about is elevating women and diverse entrepreneurs. Small businesses help fuel our economies, solve complex issues, and create thriving communities, yet small businesses led by women and people of color continue to face unique barriers and challenges.
About 10 years ago, I helped launch the Travelers Small Business Risk Education (SBRE) program, a national initiative that provides risk management education to businesses owned by women, minorities, and veterans across the United States.
To help entrepreneurs achieve success, SBRE provides access to workshops on a variety of topics. Since the program’s inception, we’ve reached more than 3,500 small business participants throughout the country.
Travelers also partners with organizations in Hartford and throughout the region that work to provide resources and training to help small business owners achieve their goals. One of these organizations is reSET, a nonprofit that provides business development and eco-building services to social entrepreneurs throughout the region. I’ve been on reSET’s board since 2014, and last year, more than 90% of our businesses were women and/or minority-owned.
In 2020, Travelers also supported the launch of the Women’s Business Development Council’s Equity Match Grant program, which was created to assist Connecticut’s women-owned businesses, particularly those within disenfranchised populations and distressed communities. The program provides grants up to $10,000 and distributed 98 grants totaling more than $900,000 in its first year. Many of those businesses were from the Hartford Region.
On top of that, Travelers supports a robust supplier diversity program, ensuring that we’re providing opportunities for businesses owned by people of diverse backgrounds to participate in our bidding and procurement processes. This includes businesses owned by women, people of color, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and veterans.
While I’m not personally involved in this particular initiative, I think it’s important to mention, as it promotes the development of diverse enterprises and supports the growth of the communities in which we do business. In fact, in 2020, the company spent more than $140 million with diverse suppliers.
It’s important to remember, though, that all of this is a collective effort. You don’t have to be part of a large-scale initiative to create change in your community. The Hartford Region has a number of businesses owned by women and entrepreneurs of color, and we can all do our part in helping them thrive.
NAN: Tell us about your involvement with the MHA’s REED Committee. What impact do you hope to make?
TARA: Diversity and inclusion is a business imperative for Travelers, and in 2020, the company put an even stronger emphasis on advancing racial equity. After I heard about the REED Committee and its mission, it seemed like a natural fit with my personal and professional interests.
Being a part of the REED Committee allows me to collaborate with other businesses and community leaders to help address racial inequities in the Hartford Region. The committee has already prompted dialogue related to elevating diverse talent and is continuing to convene around topics and resources that can further drive equity and inclusion. I’m excited about the engagement and momentum the committee has created, and I look forward to continuing this work.
NAN: You were involved with HYPE (Hartford Young Professionals & Entrepreneurs), another MHA initiative. How do these types of organizations help retain young professionals in Connecticut?
TARA: I was a part of HYPE at the very beginning, going back to 2005. When MetroHartford Alliance was looking to create a network for young professionals, they pulled together a group of employees from various companies throughout the Hartford area to brainstorm.
When we met, we realized we needed to create a space for young professionals to connect, receive professional development, and make the most of all that Hartford has to offer. As someone not originally from the area, I found that having an outlet to learn about the region was really important.
Being a part of HYPE early on was a fantastic experience, and I’m happy to see that the organization is still thriving and providing a place for young talent to grow.