Will Powell Will Powell
Associate Manager, Resilience Programs
Desmian Alexander Desmian Alexander
Senior Coordinator, Resilience Programs


May 31, 2024


The 13th Annual Building Resilience Conference highlighted the crucial role of small businesses in advancing community resilience.

With over 33 million small businesses making up 99.9% of all businesses in the U.S. and employing millions of people, their resilience is vital for both the economy and a community’s ability to recover following disasters. Yet, according to the MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Index, 27% of small businesses are one crisis away from closing.

Small businesses face various threats, from cybersecurity to natural disasters. Recognizing this, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation provides resources to help small businesses prepare for and build resilience against the unexpected through initiatives like the Small Business Readiness For Resiliency Program (R4R).

Explore the impact of the R4R program on small businesses nationwide.

Real Stories of Resilience: The Small Business Journey

The R4R program, led by the U.S. Chamber Foundation in partnership with FedEx and with additional support from Allstate and American Express, empowers small business owners to proactively address disaster risks by taking steps to prepare their business for an unexpected event. It offers a structured, simple approach to disaster preparedness and resilience, including a checklist, registration form, and eligibility for quick-turn relief grants of $5,000 for a small business upon a disaster declaration in their community. To date, the R4R program has helped prepare 3,000 businesses for the next disaster and distributed $5,000 grants to more than 50 businesses across the country. You can learn more about the program’s impact here.

At this year’s Building Resilience Conference, three small business owners shared their experiences with the R4R program. April Britt, managing director of corporate social responsibility at FedEx, facilitated a discussion with participants Mityne Lewis of Peas in a Pod Daycare, Samson Williams of MilkyWayEconomy, and Kevin Schenk of Helewai Eco Tours. Each shared how the R4R program's preparedness checklist and grants significantly supported their disaster recovery efforts, fostering long-term resilience.

  • Mityne Lewis, Peas in a Pod Daycare: After severe flooding devastated her daycare, Mityne used the grant to replace essential equipment and curriculum materials. The grant also helped her support her staff during the closure, highlighting the importance of flexible funds in disaster recovery.
  • Samson Williams, MilkyWayEconomy: Samson emphasized the simplicity and effectiveness of the R4R process, especially its preparedness checklist. His business, frequently impacted by Florida’s severe weather, used the grant to bolster their marketing efforts, quickly regaining their market position post-disaster.
  • Kevin Schenk, Helewai Eco Tours: Kevin’s business was heavily affected by the Maui wildfires. Through a family connection with FEMA, he learned about the R4R program and quickly applied. The grant allowed his business to pivot and focus on marketing efforts to attract visitors back to Maui, demonstrating the critical role of timely financial support and the greater role of small business in a community’s economic recovery following crises.

The Role of Public-Private Partnerships in Maui’s Recovery

The August 2023 wildfires in Maui exemplified the need for resilient recovery strategies. At the conference, Mahina Martin, the City of Maui’s public affairs director; Sherry Menor-McNamara, president and CEO of Chamber of Commerce Hawaii; and Sne Patel, president of LahainaTown Action Committee, discussed recovery efforts driven by public-private partnership. The U.S. Chamber Foundation has worked with the private sector, nonprofits, and government at all levels since August to support communities through the recovery process. Insights shared on this panel highlighted the integration of traditional and historical knowledge with new approaches to create a sustainable recovery blueprint, ensuring the island emerges stronger and more resilient.

Last month, the U.S. Chamber Foundation and American Express announced a $500,000 grant program to aid Maui small business owners impacted by the 2023 wildfires. The Maui Small Business Recovery Grant Program provides financial support and resources for resilience and recovery, helping 100 small businesses rebuild and strengthen their operations.

How American Express is Backing Small Business Resilience and Recovery

Small businesses drive innovation, job creation, and economic growth but are often the hardest hit during crises. The conference highlighted how backing small business growth, resilience, and recovery is crucial for thriving economies and communities.

Madge Thomas, president of the American Express Foundation and head of corporate sustainability at American Express, discussed the company’s commitment to uplifting small businesses through longstanding initiatives including Backing Small. This program provides monetary assistance through grants and financial literacy resources to small businesses in underrepresented, economically vulnerable areas, emphasizing the importance of community-centered and responsive partnerships.

Madge Thomas gives remarks at annual Building Resilience Conference.
Madge Thomas gives remarks at annual Building Resilience Conference.
Madge Thomas, American Express

Investing in Small Business is Imperative to Strengthening Communities Globally

The 13th Annual Building Resilience Conference underscored the role of small businesses in disaster preparedness and recovery. By investing in resilience and readiness, small businesses can better withstand and recover from disasters, ultimately strengthening entire communities. As we continue to face increasing threats from natural disasters and other crises, supporting the resilience of small businesses remains a critical priority.

Dive Deeper

Catch replays from all mainstage sessions at the Building Resilience Conference for more insights on how to build more resilient businesses and communities.

Learn more about our small business resilience resources.

About the authors

Will Powell

Will Powell

Will Powell is associate manager of global resilience programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Read more

Desmian Alexander

Desmian Alexander

Desmian (Des) Alexander is senior coordinator of global resilience programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Read more