Johnson of Gibbons among four honored by IFEL for volunteer efforts

Joins Luft, two corporate honorees (Verizon, Porzio) for efforts to help small businesses led by people of color

Robert Johnson, the chief diversity officer at Gibbons P.C., was one of four recent honorees by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership for his efforts to help small businesses that experienced unprecedented financial difficulties and logistical challenges in the wake of the pandemic.

The institute recognized volunteers and companies whose time, talents and expertise have helped small business entrepreneurs survive, recover and thrive after the pandemic, which obviously greatly impacted the small business community.

Volunteer Ken Luft also was honored, as were two companies: Verizon and the law firm Porzio, Bromberg & Newman.

The Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership is a Newark-based independent, nonprofit organization that leverages the power of relationship capital to create pathways to success for Black and Latinx founders, entrepreneurs and small business owners.

“These individuals and corporations have answered the call to help small businesses, entrepreneurs and founders, many of whom have faced monumental barriers and difficulties,” IFEL CEO Jill Johnson said. “Their willingness to commit time and provide expertise has served as both a lifeline and springboard and has helped to open doors for those with the potential to grow and prosper.”

The awards were presented in conjunction with two IFEL initiatives: Small Businesses Need Us and Women of Color Connecting.

Johnson, also a corporate director at Gibbons, was honored with the Volunteer of the Year Award for the Women of Color Connecting initiative. Johnson provided high-impact legal services to founders at critical junctures in their entrepreneurial journeys.

CEO Iya Karade Sokoya of Athletic Arts Academy praised Johnson for business-saving legal assistance when she was in danger of losing revenue due to state-mandated pandemic shutdowns.

“I needed ‘Yoda-like’ wisdom for a detrimental business situation, and Robert saved us and still continues to be integral to the business,” Karade Sokoya said.

Johnson recognized IFEL for important diversity, equity & inclusion initiatives for women of color.

“When it comes to the lack of access to capital for women of color founders, the statistics are horrendous,” he said. “IFEL identifies the problem and really gets to the heart of the issue. Just to have the opportunity to work with IFEL and focus on helping is amazing.”

A look at the three other honorees:

Luft: He received the Small Businesses Need Us Volunteer of the Year Award and was applauded for dedicating the most volunteer hours, in addition to attending the highest number of Small Business Hackathon events. Hackathons are virtual sessions that address the business owner’s specific needs and most pressing issues. Luft assisted business owners with topics such as website review, competitive analysis and social media review.

A retired sales and marketing executive with a 30-year track record of advising small businesses, he has worked for Verizon and the New York Daily News for the last six years.

“I volunteer in other places and train volunteers,” he said. “The first thing I tell them is, if you are not having fun doing this, then don’t. But, here at IFEL, it’s fun. For me, there are people out there who might have successful businesses because I helped, which means they are hiring and that people are working. I have the easy part; they are the people taking the risk. Each IFEL volunteer contributes something.”

Verizon: The company was recognized with the Small Businesses Need Us Corporate Partner of the Year Award for their contribution of over 550 hours of service to SBNU small business owners in conjunction with the Verizon Small Business Digital Ready program, a free online curriculum designed to give small businesses the tools they need to thrive in today’s digital economy.

About IFEL

Founded in 2002, Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership’s mission is to eradicate the systemic barriers that prevent people from historically excluded populations from being able to access the knowledge, networks and capital required for entrepreneurial success and wealth creation.

“Thank you IFEL for honoring Verizon as your Corporate Partner of the Year,” said Sara Link, director of corporate social responsibility at Verizon. “Through our responsible business plan, Citizen Verizon, we’re committed to 2.5 million volunteer hours by 2025, and on behalf of Verizon, we’d like to thank IFEL for its part in making those hours count.”

Porzio, Bromberg & Newman: The firm received the Partner of the Year Award for Women of Color Connecting and was honored for supporting DEI initiatives by donating over 50 hours of legal guidance for women of color entrepreneurs.

CEO Adrienne Fudge of 40 Dreams Catering needed to find a new location for her growing catering enterprise. The firm stepped in to develop a lease agreement, putting Fudge at ease during a difficult and stressful transition.

“They were very attentive, so very gracious and very committed to helping me, whether it was the lease agreement or whatever other issue there was,” she said.

Lisa Brown accepted the award on behalf of the firm.

“Porzio is so humbled by this recognition and to have the opportunity to work with IFEL by serving small business owners and ensuring their success,” she said.

During the last year, the nationwide IFEL volunteer community dedicated a total amount of 6,500 hours with a $1.3 million dollar impact to small businesses across the country.

For more information on individual volunteer opportunities and the IFEL Corporate Volunteer Partner Program, click here.