Employment and Jobs

Job Quality in Practice Webinar: Can Investing in Workers Support Small Business Resiliency Through the Pandemic?

November 18, 2020  • Economic Opportunities Program


The COVID-19 pandemic has placed enormous stress on small businesses and their workers, as closures and new public safety measures have demanded that business owners shift operations and take creative steps to keep employees and customers safe. In this extraordinary time, small business owners are increasingly aware that the wellbeing of their employees is essential for business survival – and they are forging new partnerships and taking new approaches to support their workers.

Watch this discussion, hosted by the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, to learn about strategies that small business owners and workforce organizations can take to strengthen job quality for frontline workers in the wake of COVID-19. In this session, we hear from two restaurant owners in Baltimore, along with a workforce professional who helped them prioritize job quality through the pandemic.

Baltimore business owners share their experiences operating restaurants during this challenging time. And they explain how and why they chose to partner with Civic Works to invest in their employees as a resiliency strategy. Allie Busching shares her experiences using Pacific Community Ventures’ Good Jobs, Good Business toolkit and providing business advising support to Baltimore-based small businesses.


#JobQuality in Practice: Can Investing in Workers Support #SmallBiz Resiliency Through the #Pandemic? Wed, Nov 18 at 3 p.m. ET. Featuring @Connies_CW, @CivicWorksInc, @WalmartOrg, and more. Hosted by @AspenWorkforce, @Aspen_BOI, and @National_Fund.

#SmallBiz owners know that the wellbeing of their employees is essential for business survival, and they are taking new approaches to support their workers. Learn more on Wed, Nov 18 at 3 p.m. ET.

What strategies can #smallbiz owners and #wkdev organizations take to strengthen #jobquality for frontline workers in the wake of #COVID19? Hear insights from @Connies_CW, @CivicWorksInc, @WalmartOrg, and more.

Supporting workers isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also good business. Even during this exceptional time, #smallbiz owners can benefit from strengthening #jobquality for frontline employees.

How can #wkdev organizations advance #jobquality and #smallbiz success in the midst of a pandemic? Hear concrete examples from @Connies_CW, @CivicWorksInc, and more. Join @AspenWorkforce, @Aspen_BOI, and @National_Fund on Wed, Nov 18, at 3 p.m. ET.

Opening Remarks

Gayatri Agnew

Gayatri Agnew
Senior Director, Opportunity, Walmart.org

Gayatri Agnew is a leader in corporate and social impact strategy focused on human capital trends and future of work. Gayatri worked throughout her winding path to and through both her undergraduate degree and her MBA. She has dedicated herself to ensuring more people have access to meaningful work and to effective ways to learn and grow.

Gayatri serves on the leadership team for Walmart’s Global Responsibility division where she leads strategy and partnerships on economic mobility, specifically human capital, shared value, partnerships, and philanthropy. Her team focuses on key issues such as changing employer practices, better serving the learning and development needs of frontline workers, and scaling work-based learning and skills-based hiring. Gayatri’s personal mission is for more people to be able find purpose and to learn through work and that this luxury of learning is equality accessible for all.

Raised by a strong a resilient single mom, Gayatri is a lifelong advocate for women both in the civic and social sphere. She is a former candidate for the Arkansas State House and was among the wave of working moms who ran for office in 2018. She’s passionate about ensuring all voices are heard in centers of power including in government and in business.

Prior to joining Walmart Gayatri lived and worked in California and Washington. She worked on the campaign and in the administration of former Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire. She served as director of the Career Center at Seattle University and ran the Seattle-King County City Year (AmeriCorps) site. She lived and worked in India researching skills development pathways and employment technology and training tools.

Gayatri and her husband Ryan live in Bentonville, Arkansas, with their two young children, Rohan and Kamala.


Shawn Parker

Shawn Parker
Co-Owner, Connie’s Chicken and Waffles

Shawn Parker is an experienced leader with a demonstrated history of working in the real estate and restaurant industries. Shawn and his brother Khari opened Connie’s Chicken and Waffles, named after their mother, in Baltimore in 2016. “The goal at Connie’s,” according to its website, “is to give everyone the same loving experience, that Connie has provided at her family gatherings for the past few decades… At Connie’s we understand that a large part of our success comes as a result of the loyalty from the great members of the community that we serve. Connie’s believes in giving back to causes that help advance the needs of the communities that we operate in. We support causes related to STEM, financial literacy, community empowerment and many more!” Shawn is also dedicated to helping his community through real estate by assisting people become homeowners. During his downtime, you can find Shawn enjoying nature or traveling to experience great food.

Laura Wagner

Laura Wagner
Co-Owner, Well Crafted Kitchen

Laura Wagner is one of four co-owners and founders of Well Crafted Pizza, which is a wood-fired mobile pizza kitchen and caterer founded on the beliefs and core values of community, connection, and food. Our locally inspired menu of creative and traditional pizzas is served from our vintage 1949 Dodge pizza truck or at our permanent Kitchen in north Baltimore. The menu is built with ingredients sourced from farmers and makers that are on average less than 150 miles from our kitchen and aims to facilitate a unique and quality food experience that creates an opportunity for all people to share, engage, and connect with their food, each other, and their place in the world. Before starting Well Crafted, Laura worked in nonprofits in youth development, refugee resettlement, and international access to education and continues to work in refugee integration. Laura holds a Master of Arts in International Education Development from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Geography from Bucknell University.

Allie Busching

Allie Busching
Former Business Development Coordinator, Civic Works

Allie is the former business development coordinator for the Civic Works Center for Sustainable Careers, a key partner in the Baltimore Advancing Careers in Retail Initiative and facilitator of the Good Business Works network, which recognizes high-road employers in Baltimore. Allie received a master’s degree in social work with a focus on management and community organization from the University of Maryland and is committed to advancing creative approaches to strengthen local economies and empower frontline and service sector workers. She previously worked in organized labor and served as a New Economy Maryland Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.


Jenny Weissbourd

Jenny Weissbourd
Senior Project Manager, Economic Opportunities Program, The Aspen Institute

Jenny’s work focuses on improving economic mobility and job quality for low- and moderate-income workers. She manages applied research and capacity building projects that support the development of innovative approaches to improving jobs and economic opportunities. Previously, Jenny managed strategy and development at The Food Trust, including helping to launch a small business training program, and consulted nonprofit and government clients at Fairmount Ventures. Jenny holds an MBA from MIT, where she worked with faculty at the Institute for Work and Employment Research to study labor policy, job quality, and worker voice in the 21st century economy. She also holds an MPA from Harvard, where she was a Fellow at the Center for Public Leadership, an editor of the LGBTQ Policy Journal, and a Dukakis Policy Fellow for Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo.

Tom Strong

Tom Strong
Director of Employer Activation, National Fund for Workforce Solutions

Tom Strong is a passionate advocate for worker voice and the business benefits of investing in good jobs. As the National Fund’s director of employer activation, he leads efforts to engage employers in local industry partnerships to increase their competitive advantage, make jobs better, and build more resilient communities. Tom previously co-led the Hitachi Foundation’s Good Companies/Good Jobs program, and also worked as an open-book management coach with the Great Game of Business. Tom has an MBA from the University of Arizona, a bachelor’s degree from Reed College, and is a founding board director of the Georgia Center for Employee Ownership.


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Job Quality in Practice

This webinar is the eighth in our Job Quality in Practice webinar series. The Job Quality in Practice series is designed to support practitioners across fields – including workforce development, economic development, investing and lending, policy, worker advocacy, and business – to address job quality in their work. Webinars share updates on current conditions and priorities as well as actionable tools and approaches. We also seek to highlight leading practitioners’ work and create connections across disciplines.

We are grateful to Prudential Financial for its support of our Job Quality in Practice webinar series and our ongoing efforts to advance a job quality field of practice. We are also grateful to Walmart for supporting our Reimagine Retail initiative, which works to enhance job quality and improve mobility for workers in retail and related sectors.

Other webinars in this series include:

Learn More

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay connected to our work, including events, publications, blog posts, and more.