Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wednesday Linkblogging: Microfinance

New artists and veteran rockers join forces on a new benefit album SERVE2 to support WHY, a leader in the fight against hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. ... WHY was founded over thirty years ago by singer-songwriter Harry Chapin. According to the website:
WHY is convinced that solutions to hunger and poverty can be found at the grassroots level. WHY advances long-term solutions to hunger and poverty by supporting community-based organizations that empower individuals and build self-reliance, i.e., offering job training, education and after school programs; increasing access to housing and healthcare; providing microcredit and entrepreneurial opportunities; teaching people to grow their own food; and assisting small farmers. WHY connects these organizations to funders, media and legislators.
The album contains tracks from such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, KT Tunstall, Joss Stone, and Brandi Carlile. Click on through for more information.
Microenterprises not only provide a path to economic self-reliance for owner-entrepreneurs and benefit their local communities, but they are also important for the economy as a whole.
Bernanke stated that a promising avenue for the future of microfinance is the cultivation of partnerships with commercial banks. Mainstream banks typically dont offer the array of supportive services found at microlenders. But by partnering with a microlender that incubates very small businesses, mainstream institutions can gain new customers when the borrowers graduate from the microfinance program and seek larger loans, Bernanke said.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Linkblogging

During the Cuomo administration, the state issued a report that found, among other things, that companies owned by black women obtained less than 1 percent of state contracts, one of the lowest percentages of any group. As a result, in 1994 a group of black entrepreneurs established Black Women Enterprises in Hempstead, a technical-support group for black women in businesses.

But 13 years later, the problem of unequal access still exists, Black Women Enterprises president Gina Slater-Parker said in an interview.

"The resources are not really out there to promote access," she said. "And we have seen them dwindle over the years." She said she puts the blame on the larger prime contractors who obtain the state work and then fail to give equal treatment to women and minority subcontractors.

"They can do a study every year, and there will not be any new results," she said. "The bottom line is that you have to put teeth in contract enforcement."
  • If you're a woman business owner in Jacksonville, you might want to check this out:
The Jacksonville AthenaPowerLink program is accepting applications through the end of the month from female entrepreneurs who want to be in the program. The program, which was started in Pittsburgh in 1992, connects women business owners with a panel of unpaid advisers who work with the owner for a year to meet business goals.
The business must be at least two years old and past startup problems, have at least two employees and have annual revenue of at least $250,000 for retail or manufacturing businesses or $100,000 for service businesses. Applications are available at the Jacksonville Women's Business Center.
  • WaPo reports that online check and credit card fraud has become a huge problem for small biz owners, especially since they must rely so heavily on internet sales. 25% of survey respondent reported that they had been victims of fraud. The most interesting item of the survey was reported without comment:
Of the 500 southeastern small business owners surveyed, men were significantly more likely than women to report that their business has been the victim of fraud.
  • And finally, for November's Women in Business Month, Women at Light Speed will be podcasting interviews with women business leaders.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Give Thanks and Buy Local!

Buy_local When shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner this week, why not buy local? As Justina commented during Eat Local Week, it's healthier, greener, and better for the local economy.
Here's some help:
And we at Women's Initiative wish you and your families the warmest and best for Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Gavin Newsom Visits Women's Initiative!

Gavin_and_alma_2San Francisco's photogenic mayor proved his camera-readiness with our--admittedly attractive--Women's Initiative staffers last Wednesday!

Gavin Newsom visited Women's Initiative's San Francisco headquarters to hold a focus group on the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development's program: Enterprise Zone Tax Credits for SF Businesses.

San Francisco businesses are eligible for substantial tax benefits through two enterprise zone programs.

The state Enterprise Zone program enables businesses in targeted locations to reduce their state income tax liability. These areas include; Hunters Point, Bayview, Chinatown, Financial District, SOMA, North Beach, Embarcadero, Mission, Potrero Hill, Tenderloin, Civic Center etc. The size of the business doesn’t matter, it can be a large company or a small restaurant.
Tax benefits include:
  • Up to 35,100 in state income tax credits for each qualified employee hired over 5 years.
  • Sales and use tax credits on purchases of qualified machinery an parts, including computers, data processing and telecommunications equipment.
  • Up-front expensing of certain depreciable property.
  • Application of unused tax credits to future tax credits.
  • Up to 100% Net Operating Loss carry forward.
  • Net interest deduction for Zone business lenders, etc.
The Mayor said that this is a great program, but few business are taking advantage of it. He came to the community for feedback. Forty stakeholders, among them Organizations like MEDA, La Cocina, Women’s Initiative, and the SF Chamber of Commerce gave him input on how to promote it and reach especially small business owners. They said that the information needs to be simple, accessible and translated into every language.

For more info about the program you can check the Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development website.

(Photo of Gavin Newsom with Alma Elizondo, Women's Initiative's SuccessLink/Avance Associate.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

WI in Oakland Magazine!

Dana_2 Oakland Magazine features Women's Initiative's October Business Conference, "Taking It to the Streets," in their "snapshots" section. The webpage has ten slideshows of photos from the conference, so check in to see if you were captured!

(The photo here, of Women's Initiative Advisor Dana Whitaker, was taken by Kali Kraum.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Graduate at the WI Business Conference

By: Tracy Watson, Publisher, Our World Books (WI grad '06)

Getting ready for the trade show, I worked straight through the night. 

But my mom and I arrived chipper and ready to bring home the bacon at 6:15a.m. on the dot.  It was dark outside still.  Mom and I worked like garbage men, unloading our boxes into the Marriott lobby.  Susan, our fearless tradeshow coordinator, looked like I feel--tired, but preternaturally determined.  She flitted up to me, took me to our designated spot and moved quickly on to the next task. 

The table taunted me.  It was stark and expectant.  Well?  Show me what you've got! its blank black cloth said.  I stepped back and looked at it.  I'm not afraid of you, I thought.  Then I got to work.   Somehow, the cloth and the boxes, the stationary and the books, the t-shirts and so on, all came together.  By 7:28, we were done and ready for action.

I was signed up for the breakout session on Quickbooks, but mom was so tired that I had to send her home for a nap.  Maybe this wasn't a bad thing after all because I had a steady stream of traffic and even if she had been there, it might've been a strain for her to be there alone.  I met so many awesome individuals and it was wonderful to get instant feedback about what people thought of our products and company.

By lunchtime, mom still hadn't made it back and I was STARVING!  Luckily, WI posted ambassadors down the corridor so that we could leave our booths! That was a brilliant idea, because I paid for mom to go to the whole thing so even if she had been there, I would've wanted to have lunch with her, not in shifts. 

I made a fatal error at lunch: I did not fill out the bingo questionnaire!  Always, ALWAYS, fill out stuff at WI functions.  As a result of not filling out this form, I didn't get to enter to win a ton of cool prizes. Arrrgh!

Anywho, all in all the day was a tremendous success.  The contacts I made were tremendous and we didn't do too bad on the sales side!  But the crucial thing was getting to put my face to my company and my website - that's key. I've tracked the hits to my site since then and there was a definite spike in the days following the show. 

Before the end of the show, I strolled around and talked with some of my fellow exhibitors.   I was so impressed with the elegance, the style and the charisma of their presentation and their products.  I am honored to know these women, to be a part of their community.  They are amazing. 

Ladies, let's keep this circle of inspiration going, let's meet and share our experiences and our insights.  Until next time, much continued success to each and every one of you.

(Photo of Tracy at the Conference by Kali Kraum at Oakland Magazine.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Businesswomen Worldwide!

Women entrepreneurs are a worldwide trend! This year-old BBC story on women in biz in the UK talks a little about why women choose to run their own businesses and what hardships they face.
Also check out this news story from Canada.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Whittle On Charity and Microcredit

By: Julia Brown, Women's Initiative Research and Policy Assistant


GlobalGiving Chief Executive Dennis Whittle said: "There is no silver bullet in development and poverty reduction. Some things can be funded through microcredit and others need grants." To be successful, Whittle said, people need such basics as health care, clean water, education and transportation. The Web site lets you pick a project and see the results of your donation.
Then he blogs a clarification in the Huffington Post.
They are right about the appropriateness of charging market rates of interest for micro-credit in developing countries. But they are wrong to conflate that with charity or grants. In fact, subsidizing micro-credit via lower interest rates is usually a bad idea.
... There can be a healthy role for outside finance in micro-credit. Modern banks borrow through national and international bond markets all the time. There can even be a role for grants when micro-credit organizations are initially setting up operations, which can be very costly. Grants can also help bring excluded, vulnerable or traumatized populations into the micro-credit system. ... But overall, market-based financing works best for micro-credit.
I agree with Whittle up to a point. Microcredit programs that are market-driven are forced to streamline operations more than non-profit organizations that run on grants, and this of course makes them more sustainable.

However, the focus on profitability has led banks away from microcredit’s original focus on lending to the poor. Studies done in Bolivia showed that, as more microcredit banks established themselves in the same areas and began to compete with each other, the banks began to move away from serving the poor to serving people who were low-income but who were not the poorest of the poor.
Reaching the poorest of the poor, especially in rural areas, requires a great deal of overhead in terms of physically reaching the borrowers who may be widely scattered and maintaining the contact necessary to reduce default rates.

When microcredit banks begin to compete with each other, they tend to cut costs by dropping these very poor people from their portfolios. Without grants and subsidies, it becomes impossible to continue serving these populations. But the media tends to highlight only the fact that such agencies continue serving “the poor” without closely examining who these poor people are.

I of course agree with Whittle that grants are needed to provide the basic services (water, health care, etc.) before people can begin to take advantage of financial products. But I also think that there is a role for grants in generating the funds necessary to continue helping the poorest borrowers and savers take baby steps towards establishing themselves as legitimate financial services consumers.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Gender Issues Aren't Just About Women

By: Elizabeth de Renzy, Women's Initiative Researcher and Data Analyst

I found this post by Kathy Marshack on American Chronicle from our linkblog last month a little ... fluffy?
Marshack dicusses why "Women Business Owners Are Not Always Taken Seriously."
Women are not always taken seriously when it comes to running a business. I don't think that people are discriminating because of gender necessarily. It's probably more because they don't know how to relate to women business owners. Women have different values and these values are showing up in how women design their businesses.
I found the post a little hard to respond to because it had no focus in respect to issues and prescriptions. In addition, I felt a little annoyed by the lack of anything more substantial than anecdotal evidence.
It did make me wonder in a (disappointed) way, however, why the mainstream dialog on gender issues continues to focus on women. I don’t see how we can expect any real social change until we realize that gender inequality isn’t just women’s problem.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Wednesday Linkblogging

RC: Also, I’ve found that landlords will listen politely and then lease their space to a man with a track record. I had a long track record at the time I started Pearl Oyster Bar—twenty years as a chef, but not as a business owner. And that was the kind of track record they were looking for. I was lucky to find the guy that I found.
Up to three-quarters of China's estimated 650,000 people living with HIV/AIDS are rural poor, concentrated in Yunnan, Guangxi, Henan and Xinjiang. Microfinance can be an impressive tool for the social and economic empowerment of thousands of women, men and children living with HIV/AIDS, and their families. Measures must also be taken to counter discrimination against such people in microcredit programmes generally.
In its recently released Doing Business 2008 report, the World Bank says countries ranked highest on its “ease of doing business” scale “are associated with higher percentages of women among entrepreneurs and employees.” The bank ranked 178 countries in such policy areas as paying taxes and entrepreneurs’ ease in obtaining licenses, registering property and getting credit. It also ranked countries’ investor protections, contract enforcement and cross-border trade laws.
The top reformers are Egypt, Croatia, Ghana, Macedonia, Georgia, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, China and Bulgaria.