Asian American Commerce Group is making a lasting impact with education, advocacy

Jess Deyo
Columbus CEO
Joy Kouns and Shyam Rajadhyaksh of the Asian-American Commerce Group photographed on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Quiet.

Angela An, WBNS-10TV’s morning anchor, shares that the Asian community is often viewed as quiet and humble—not eager to share news of accomplishments. However, in the world of business, the central Ohio Asian American population has plenty worth bragging about.

There are accomplished journalists like An, renowned healthcare providers like Monika Chaudhari and education advocates like Kenny Lee, among many others. A commonality to each success story is the support offered by the Asian American Commerce Group [AACG].

AACG’s mission is simple: empower Asian American professionals. An says the nonprofit also educates those beyond the organization.

“There is an education and awareness that goes hand in hand with what [AACG is] doing,” she says. “It’s not just about monetizing these businesses, but it’s also about educating central Ohio that there are people of different races and different backgrounds that are running these businesses that have rich cultures that everybody can learn from.”

Founded in 1993, AACG recognized the need for an organization to unite the diverse individuals that make up central Ohio’s Asian American population. The decision came following the city of Columbus’ formation of its Minority Business Program, which at the time didn’t include Asian American-owned businesses.

“Sometimes in the past, Asian Americans have been overlooked as minorities, compared to Hispanics and African Americans,” says AACG President Shyam Rajadhyaksha. “That’s definitely changed and a lot of it’s due to efforts, like our organization, across the whole country.”

Among AACG’s founders was Rajadhyaksha’s grandmother, Dr. Kasturi Rajadhyaksha, along with four others who created a space for allies of the Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander communities.

After years of lobbying by AACG, the Minority Business Program agreed to include Asian American-owned businesses.

Asian Americans consist of dozens of ethnicities, languages and religions, and each is welcome into the organization, says Rajadhyaksha.

Recruiting efforts have been online following COVID-19, but the organization routinely holds an economic summit, panels and the Ohio Asian Awards to recognize the region’s successes, says Joy Kouns Lewis, vice president.

“We are an added value [to] the movers and shakers in the Asian American business community—this is where they can network and be educated about the culture and what we do.”

Recently, the organization has focused on outreach to support Asian-owned businesses who have suffered losses following the pandemic.

Immigrants are fueling growth, Rajadhyaksha says, but need to feel welcomed to the city to continue that growth.

“There are so many areas in Columbus that would have been desolated if it wasn’t for all these immigrant businesses,” Shyam Rajadhyaksha says. Ohio’s Asian American community makes up 21,000 businesses with $10.8 billion in 2012 receipts, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

AACG has a few hundred paid members, Rajadhyaksha says, and has reached thousands of interested people. Memberships range from individual plans to business plans.

In nearly three decades, AACG has reached milestones, from securing $60,000 in funding in 2019 to receiving support from the state. However, the organization hopes to go statewide with multiple branches, and eventually reach Asian American communities outside of Ohio.

In the group’s most recent panel, “Portraits of Resilience,” several successful professionals shared their personal stories. The online event hosted people from Canada, England, Australia, the Philippines and beyond. For Lewis, this is a positive that has come from moving to virtual operations.

Wherever the future takes AACG, Lewis is confident the organization will remain a place where Asian Americans can share successes and take pride in the common characteristics she has noticed in the community: strength, a forgiving mentality and an unshakeable work ethic.

There is one word she uses to encapsulate it all:

Resilient.

jdeyo@dispatch.com

@DeyoJessica

Asian American Commerce Group

6121 Huntley Road, Columbus 43229

AACG.org

Mission: To unite distinct ethnic groups under one voice and increase their economic and political impact in the region.

President: Shyam Rajadhyaksha

Employees: 2 part-time

Revenue: $60,000 in 2019

Funding sources: Corporate sponsors, individual donors