Friday, August 31, 2007

Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women

Forbes has just come out with its 100 Most Powerful Women list for 2007.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tops the list, with Condoleeza Rice only coming in at number four. Chinese Vice Premier Wu Yi is #2, and Singapore's state-owned investment company Temasek Holdings' CEO (and wife of Singapore prime minister) Ho Ching is third.

The rest of the list includes 5 multinational corporate executives and only 1 national political executive (Sonia Gandhi).

What does this say about women's power? For starters, there still isn't very much of it. Angela Merkel is clearly considered the most powerful because, as the political leader of the nation that leads the European Union, she has the power to affect the sociopolitical course of an international group--as opposed to mainly affecting only her own nation. In that light, it's disturbing that Rice--the foreign minister of the world's only military superpower--has fallen to third, reflecting on her actual ability to affect presidential policy.

It's telling that there are only four political leaders among the top ten. In the rest of the list, 62 of the top 100 are business leaders, and only 28 are political leaders--including governmental agency executives and dissidents. It would seem that business is a surer path to power for women than politics.
Speaking of powerful women, Women's Initiative will be presenting former Irish President and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson on September 17. She will be speaking from 7-8 pm at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and the event is free. Please join us!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Conspiracy of the Poor

By: Julie Castro Abrams

Barbara Ehrenreich just came out with a terrific blog post about the crisis among the American poor today.

In classic Ehrenreich style, she takes the issues head on with a critical new look at the current market situation. Tongue in cheek, she suggests that perhaps there is a conspiracy among the poor who took out high risk mortgages, lived in houses they couldn’t afford, and stopped shopping at Walmart and Home Depot last month all in an effort to get back at the “man”.
Somewhere in the Hamptons a high-roller is cursing his cleaning lady and shaking his fists at the lawn guys. The American poor, who are usually tactful enough to remain invisible to the multi-millionaire class, suddenly leaped onto the scene and started smashing the global financial system. Incredibly enough, this may be the first case in history in which the downtrodden manage to bring down an unfair economic system without going to the trouble of a revolution.

First they stopped paying their mortgages, a move in which they were joined by many financially stretched middle class folks, though the poor definitely led the way. ... Then, in a diabolically clever move, the poor – a category which now roughly coincides with the working class – stopped shopping. Both Wal-Mart and Home Depot announced disappointing second quarter performances, plunging the market into another Arctic-style meltdown. H. Lee Scott, CEO of the low-wage Wal-Mart empire, admitted with admirable sensitivity, that “it’s no secret that many customers are running out of money at the end of the month.”
Banking for the poor has been heralded as a new revolution with Grameen Bank leading the way. We are hitting a wall in the U.S. because of over-extending credit and predatory practices with the poor. There are even fewer controls in place internationally.

We must take a hard look at the market problem of making money off of the backs of poor people; this includes paying wages that are unsustainable and the “throw-away” culture. There is a place at the table for everyone – there must be or our humanity is truly at risk.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Wednesday Linkblogging

  • This recent article in Vermont's Rutland Herald points to a new organization in Florida called Jane Out of the Box, an online, membership-based community "created exclusively for women entrepreneurs." Check it out: there are discussion boards, tools and templates to use, business spotlights, and multimedia resources. You can also find that all-important business mentor on the site!
The Rutland Herald article quotes "Jane" founder Michele DeKinder-Smith about the importance of mentorship:
What happens is, you've got this great talent, and you start a business, and you don't necessarily know how to do all the other things associated with being a business owner. You may be a great systems expert, but you may not know how to create a marketing campaign, you may not know how to manage payroll.

You need to learn that stuff somewhere, and a lot of entrepreneurs learn it strictly by trial and error . But you get there faster if you're able to learn from other entrepreneurs, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel every time.
  • The has an article about women business owners networking site Membership is free and members can find help with business plans, loans, promotions and marketing, as well as networking online with corporations and government contracting entities.
The article quotes's founder, Christina Blenk, on why her site is needed:
I saw men had the golf course; we were really outside that circle. I thought, why not use the Internet to get women to talk to one another and be each other's resources?"
Check out the bottom of the article for other resources, including funding tips for women entrepreneurs, and how to balance career and family.
A new Bizjournals study has the answer. It puts the San Francisco-Oakland area at the top of the national rankings, followed by other high-profile urban centers such as Washington, New York City and Los Angeles, and the smaller college town of Madison, Wis.
So Women's Initiative clients are perfectly placed!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Can Our Clients Compete in a Global Market?

Heather_haxo_phillipssm One of my on-going worries about the women we serve is who their markets are. Who will our new entrepreneurs sell to?

Some of the women Women’s Initiative helps are going to do great – they already have buyers ready for purchasing, they may have spent years in the field, they have an education. But by watching graduation after graduation, I can see that most will really struggle. Many don’t have great reading and writing skills. Many don’t live in a community that is already ready to purchase what they have to offer. What will their business futures be like? How best can Women’s Initiative help them?

I have been honestly losing sleep over these questions, wanting to understand the situation a bit better. Then last night it came to me. I just finished City of Joy, an expose on the slums of Calcutta, and began The World is Flat, an explanation of where global economics is headed. Calcutta--the City of Joy--is the perfect place for microenterprise. People live together in very close quarters. Their needs are not complex – they want to buy things like a cup of tea, a pot, a chair, a blanket. One small investment of capital in the City of Joy – a sewing machine, an extra shipment of supplies – can help someone go from eating one meal a day to two meals a day, which means the difference between starvation and survival.

After reading this, I realized how different poverty is in America. Poverty crosses boundaries of education and race. Unlike in India, in America poor people don't always all live together. In the US, often educated people are not poor, but sometimes they are. There isn’t a one size fits most approach that can be used. American microenteprise has to be quite dynamic if it is to be effective.

Likewise, Thomas Friedman offers some interesting ideas in the first chapters of The World is Flat. Friedman’s thesis is that the difference between the haves and the have-nots is lessening thanks to technology. Friedman uses India as his case in point, describing how outsourcing has given talented Indians good paying jobs, allowing them to retain their identity as Indians, while giving Americans relief from the un-creative day-to-day and thus helping them to focus more on their already very strong creative talents. He gives many examples of how companies that sourced specific job functions overseas ended up bringing more money to the US by hiring new employees, selling more products in the country where the work was being done, etc.

Friedman describes college graduates who have no place to put their talent. The new world of outsourcing and genuine Indian creativity is giving the Indian people a whole new opportunity to compete in the global market. And Friedman warns that if Americans don’t watch out, even the most low-paying educated jobs--such as after-school tutoring--could get outsourced.

And this realization gets to the heart of my night sweats – can our clients develop the ability to compete? Can they compete, can they stand on their own? If you had a ready market like the City of Joy, there would have to be a lot of sellers like you before the market would be too tight. But our clients are trying to run their businesses in an atmosphere of extreme competition. They aren’t just competing with people in their community. Often the nature of their businesses is competing with folks around the entire globe.

Perhaps our clients who are hairdressers and child care providers are not competing, but those who are jewelers, seamstresses, web designers--even after-school tutors--are competing in a global market. And how much do they know about the way the global market affects them both positively and negatively? How much of a dent can Women’s Initiative make in preparing them?

It isn’t just Women’s Initiative that has a responsibility to prepare. As citizens, we have a responsibility to make sure that children are properly educated. And we have an opportunity to create a world that is not focused solely on acquiring more and more material goods, but on acquiring more and more real happiness.

Even so, our clients face so many barriers, even after entering our doors. Barriers that go well beyond self esteem and directly into market economics. And still they will nearly double their income within a year of graduating from our basic program. Its an amazing thing, and there is a lot to digest….

Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Report on Children in Immigrant Families in California

 This new report, Children in Immigrant Families: A California Data Brief, challenges some conventional wisdom about the second generation.

For instance:
  1.  Well over three quarters (85%) of immigrants' children were born in the United States--that is, they were born American citizens.
  2. Almost three quarters are fully bilingual, with 80% speaking a non-English language at home. Spanish, Vietnamese, and Chinese are the most common of these languages.
  3. More California "English Learner" students are mastering English than before, which means that the redesignation strategy for teaching English as a Second Language is working.
  4. However, English Learners are less likely to meet California's Academic Achievement Standards, and to pass the high school exit exam.
  5. 29% of immigrants' children live in "linguistically isolated" households, i.e., households in which none of the adults speak English well.
  6. Their parents have less formal education and they are far less likely than their peers to attend preschool or nursery school, and are less likely to attend high school as well.
  7. 54% live in low-income households, and they are more likely to have no health insurance and to be in poor health.
  8. Almost all immigrant parents work, but earn less than non-immigrant parents.
For more information on data and implications, check out the report itself.

This report may give more urgency to economic development programs aimed at immigrant women, such as ALAS. Even our immigrant children who are born citizens face grave disadvantages in care and education. The economic stability of immigrant parents serves their children all down the line: in prenatal care, overall health care, support for education from preschool on, etc.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Improving the well-being of Latino families in the US

From Alma Elizondo, SuccessLink Coordinator


Last week, July 21 – 24, 2007, I had the opportunity to represent Women’s Initiative at the Annual Conference of the National Council of la Raza (NCLR) in Miami. I was in a sea This was a great learning experience from me. I met a lot of people and learned more about the issues affecting the Hispanic community. In addition, I was able to hear first-hand from Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama about how they would improve the well-being of the Latino families in the US. 

NCLR is the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States; its objective is to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. Through its network of nearly 300 affiliated community-based organizations – Women’s Initiative is one of them- NCLR reaches millions of Hispanics each year. To achieve its mission, NCLR conducts applied research, policy analysis, and advocacy, providing a Latino perspective in five key areas: assets/investments, civil rights/immigration, education, employment and economic status, and health.

The conference was fitting to happen in Miami because it is one of the most diverse cities in the country. In Miami people buy more salsa than ketchup. It is a place where cultures mix and create a spicy community. There couldn’t be a better place to hold this year’s conference; according to Mayor Manny Diaz in his welcome message more than 60% of Miami’s two million residents are Hispanic whose families have come to this country to make their dreams come true.

Without a doubt the NCLR Conference has been the most political conference I have ever been. Topics such as immigration, education, health care and civic engagement were raised everyday at the workshops, luncheons and at the booths in the exhibit hall. Most of the speakers were politicians stressing the importance of the Latino vote for the next election. 

More of 41 million of Latinos live in the U.S., it is a growing force that will continue to increase in the future. However, we need to join forces and work together for the wellbeing of our communities. Those who can vote in this country, should go to the polls in the next election and vote not only because of their candidates, but also to demonstrate the power that the Latino community have in this country, the only way to be able to measure our power is through democracy.

Sunday July 21 was a day full of music, food and politics. We started off with a brunch with Senator Hillary Clinton, then we headed out for a conference with Senator Barack Obama. 

They both talked about the immigration reform, the Dream Act, education and health care for all immigrants. Hillary focused more on the family values of the Latinos and promised to push a reform under which all children no matter their legal status will have access to education and medical care. On the other hand, I feel that Obama focused a little bit more on the civic rights, saying the he don’t only talk the talk but also walk the walk when supporting the Latinos; he said that if he wins, he will push the immigration reform during the first year of his firs presidential term and that will do everything in his power to protect undocumented immigrant from being overworked and underpaid by cruel employers.

At the conference the people who spoke into the microphones spoke with an accent, and my speaking was no exception. During the last day of activities, I had the opportunity to be a panelist in the workshop “How to become Self-sufficient through Self-employment?” This was a huge challenge for me, it was my first time as a speaker in a conference, and I am proud to say that everything went pretty well, I had a great audience; they were all very impressed with our program and how we help low-income women to become economically independent through self-employment. The conference was a truly learning experience; I learned a lot and met a lot of people. It really opened me the eyes in regards of all the issues that Latinos, especially Latinas and their children face everyday in hopes to be part of the American dream.