Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Losing in the workforce: Inequities for women

There was an interesting article about women losing ground in the workplace.  Check it on in the New York Times, "Women Are Now Equal as Victims of Poor Economy" (July 22, 2008). Julie Castro Abrams, CEO of Women's Initiative, had the opportunity to respond the to report on CBS 5 nightly news (July 21) in a segment called "Women Losing Ground in the Workforce."  She comments on the link between low wages and women starting their own businesses.  Also Emily Murase from the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women appears in the news segment.  Let us know what you think.

Technorati Tags

Friday, July 18, 2008

Convening with Ms. Foundation

I recently had the pleasure of representing Women’s Initiative at the Ms. Foundation for Women convening for grantee organizations in New Orleans from June 9-13, 2008. The convening featured representatives from grantee organizations of the Foundation’s Collaborative Fund for Women’s Economic Development and Fairy Godmother Fund, which focus on microenterprise development. Also attending were Ms. Foundation staff; Elaine Edgcomb, Director of research group Aspen Institute/FIELD; and representatives from funders Citi, JP Morgan Chase, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation. The convening consisted of an opening reception on Tuesday evening, followed by two and a half days of grantee organizations working to develop a plan to continue their good work despite the end of Ms. Foundation funding. There were small and large group and individual brainstorming and exercises, featuring expert facilitation by consultants Jennifer Henderson and Connie Evans. While we all came up with ideas for making our organizations sustainable and/or self-sufficient, we also decided to continue the conversation online, so I created an online Facebook group for us and others who are passionate about women’s economic developmenthere.
Convening attendees were also taught about New Orleans culture during the week. We received samples of products from local women-owned businesses, including a sampling of Loretta’s Authentic Pralines. Attendees at Tuesday’s opening reception enjoyed performances by the local Ashe Cultural Center, which featured song, dance, spoken word, and musical performances from New Orleans’ Second Line culture. On Thursday, we watched a selection from the upcoming film “Trouble the Water,” which followed families affected by Katrina. However, the most unforgettable learnings about local culture came on Wednesday when we went to the Lower Ninth Ward to  visit nonprofit Common Ground to learn of their post-Katrina community cleanup, rebuilding, and advocacy efforts. Other than the good work of this nonprofit, it was really hard to note progress in the area in the 3 years after Katrina. I’ve shared some photos below so you can see what I mean.
  Photo3_4   Photo4   Photo5_3  Photo2_7
Left to Right
1.Here’s our group learning about Common Ground and their services.
2. This is the view behind Common Ground, and that’s part of the partially rebuilt flood wall to the left. This view represents much of the view around the district: overgrown grasses in empty lots where houses once existed.
3. Three years after Katrina, it’s hard to believe that sights like this still exist: a totally destroyed house filled with totally destroyed belongings.
4. This doghouse, built by nonprofit Common Ground and residing outside its office, represents how a lot of people feel about FEMA

Technorati Tags

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The recession has hit

I believe we can finally admit that we are in an economic recession. This morning on NPR I heard that the US job market has shrunk for the fifth month in a row, bringing the unemployment rate from 5 to 5.5 percent in the month of May.
What does this mean for microentrepreneurs and small business?
It means we need you more than ever!
Microenterprise and small business represent a huge portion of our domestic economy. Recent small business statistics published online by New Ground Publications (http://newgroundpublications.com) tell us that small business makes up 39% of the GNP, is responsible for 52% of sales and employs over 54 million people in the US!
Microenterprises have been able to create jobs during economically rough times. According to AEO microenterprise statistics (http://www.microenterpriseworks.org) microentrepreneurs in California generated more than 377, 000 new jobs and almost 80% of the job growth in the state during the last recession.
Women’s Initiative graduates are providing jobs for themselves and others. Nearly half (48%) of the graduates who start a business employ another person in addition to themselves.  The question isn’t really how microentrepreneurs will make it through the recession but how microentrepreneurs will help us all get through!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Going for Broke: Microentrepreneurs and bankruptcy

In “Going for Broke” (New Yorker, April 7, 2008) James Surowieki writes about how the 2005 change in bankruptcy law made it more difficult and expensive for Americans to write off their debts. Generally, I’d say that people should be encouraged to pay off their debts but, according to Surowieki, stricter bankruptcy laws may have a negative impact on self-employment.
What do these changes in bankruptcy law mean for microentrepreneurs who typically do not qualify for credit with attractive terms and often have no health insurance? How can microentrepreneurs protect themselves and their families from A) accumulating excessive debt and B) losing their businesses and other hard earned assets to predatory lenders or because of medical debt.
There are five main ways that we must protect microentrepreneurs from the risk of bankruptcy:
  • Microentrepreneurs must have access to credit with fair terms.
  • Microentrepreneurs should be given the opportunity to build up their financial safety nets through less restrictive eligibility requirements for IDA programs.
  • Affordable heath insurance must be made available to microentrepreneurs (fifty percent of personal bankruptcies in the US are due to medical debt).
  • Microentrepreneurs must be able to adequately protect their business equity from personal bankruptcy and their personal assets from their business debt.
  • Interest rates and fees must be justly regulated to discourage abuse and predatory lending.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good News for the Unbanked

Seventeen percent of our clients do not have bank accounts two years after training. Although this is slightly better than the statewide average, where one in five people are unbanked (as high as 50% of African American and Latinos), this means our clients are most likely wasting hundreds of dollars a year on check cashing fees and money orders. Predatory check cashing business are highly concentrated in low-income areas such as in the Mission District in San Francisco where our main office is located. In addition to having to pay much more for basic banking services, studies have shown that the unbanked are less likely to save and build assets.  At Women's Initiative we found out that following training, 44% more had business than they did before the program.
But there is more good news for our unbanked clients in San Francisco. The City has partnered with local bank and credit union branches to make banking accessible to all San Franciscans. Thanks to Treasurer Cisneros, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the non-profit EARN and the New America Foundation, nearly all bank and credit union branches in San Francisco have committed to offering low- or no-cost accounts to unbanked individuals, even those with a history of bounced checks. In addition, Mexican and Guatemalan Consular IDs are now being accepted as proof of identification.
Governor Schwarzenneger has announced that the program will soon include Oakland, Fresno, San Jose,and Los Angeles.
For more information on the program or opening an account visit:www.bankonsf.org

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dead In The Water? or Down, But Not Out!

By Tracy Watson, Publisher Our World Books – books that inspire falling in love with your life.
(WI grad ’06)
So, for the past three months I’ve been saying “OMG, I’ve got to sell more stuff!  I’m on the brink of bankruptcy!  I’m almost out of money! HELP!” I got my first shipment of hardcover books back in January and since then I’ve been working to get them into stores around town. I figured let me do as much of my own distribution as possible and then look for a national distributor to go after retailers out-of-state. 
I’ve been slowly making contact with different companies I’ve targeted as potential good fits, while doing my version of an Avon Lady.  The first store I walked into was Spectator Books on Piedmont Avenue.  I walked up to the counter and asked if I could speak with someone about carrying one of my books.  A salesperson, let’s call him “Bill” to be nice, told me to come back on a Tuesday when the manager would be there. I penciled that in and went to the next store, a little more self-assured. I’d approached Walden Pond Books back in September when I thought my books would be ready and the staff there – sooo friendly! – had very warmly encouraged me to come back and talk to the manager, told me what day he’d be in, the best time to stop by, and even added that he was especially receptive to local authors. Yeah!   
When the books had finally gone to print and were due to arrive shortly, I tried back, but it was December and the reception I got (from staff, not the manager) went something like, “Are you completely daft?  It’s Christmas! We can’t look at anything new! Call back later, you nit-wit!” So, even though I knew when to go and the manager’s name, I was a little nervous of hitting some other inappropriate retailer’s nightmare. But, I sucked in my breath and went in anyway.
Not knowing the protocol, I stood in line with those buying copies of this or that and at last stood in front of the manager with a bag of books and a hint of hope that he’d take all of them. I had over 1,600 copies to unload and I was – just in case you forgot - running out of money. The manager looked over my book, complimented me on the design and professionalism of the printing and asked how many I wanted to sell to him. I was thinking 50!  25! And then 5?!?  But I asked if he’d take 25 and he agreed to take 10. Okay, it’s a start, I thought. 
Since then I’ve gotten into Pendragn and Sweet Dreams on College, Spectator Books on Piedmont Avenue, and sent out proposals to a handful of national book distributors. I’ve got a lot more to do to reach my goal of 20 local and 100 national bookstores and/or retailers by the end of 2008. But just when I feel the most urgency to keep the promotion train rolling, I’ve come face to face with my rapidly evaporating finances. 
It’s no longer, “I’m on the brink of bankruptcy! I’m running out of money…” I’m out of money and scared to death. 
After months of trying to make my business profitable enough to carry itself, I started looking for work. At first, I had no intention of doing anything full-time. My party line went like this, “I need to make enough money to cover my expenses, but I’m not going to work more than full-time for anyone else! I have a business to run.” Three months later I still had nothing in the works. I thought, “I can handle being on a budget, but how much can my business or I grow if I have no budget!”
Desperately, at the 10th ½ hour, I placed an ad to contract myself out on Craigslist. I applied and applied to jobs – full-time, part-time, permanent, temporary, contractor, whatever!  And I waited, but nothing was happening!  By the beginning of March, I had one month of expenses left and nowhere to go. I’d tapped my IRA and my savings as much as I could; I was DIW – Dead In the Water!  And then…
I had a talk. You know, The Talk. The talk that goes, with or without tears in your eyes, “Listen Universe, I am doing everything I can. I am Out There. I am looking and applying. I am being proactive. I am doing everything I can think of and it isn’t working. If there’s something I should be doing, tell me. I cannot do this alone. You have to help me! Are you listening to me?” I had The Talk in my crowed bedroom-office, one sunny afternoon, and I searched myself for anything that could be blocking me. At that point, there was nothing left. The fear of losing my hold on my entrepreneurial dreams, of being sucked into a “real job” with all the “security” that seems to provide, was past me. I couldn’t afford a box of paper clips and that was the reality I was facing. I would take the best job offered to me and somehow I had to believe that I would keep my business alive.
The next day I got a response to my ad on Craigslist. The following day a friend sent me a link – not uncommon for her – to an interim position at a local gallery. I sent the most earnest and well-crafted cover letter I’ve sent in eons with my application. I’d posted and reposted my CL ad several times and on the first run I got response from a woman looking for help in setting up her self-publishing house and I’d dismissed it because I thought it wasn’t enough hours. I’d sent her an email to see if she was still interested and the second day after my Talk, she replied that she was. In the week following my talk I had three interviews and got hired by all three individuals! So instead of one all-consuming job, I have three (sometimes four) very manageable projects that use a lot of what I know as a writer and publisher. 
So, the title of this chapter of my life is definitely Down But Not Out. In my next installment, I’ll probably talk about learning to manage multiple contracts and keep your business thriving. That’s a work-in-progress.
Much success to you!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Business or Boyfriend?

By Tracy Watson (WI grad ’06), Our World Books – Books that inspire falling in love with your life.
It’s been a while since I had a serious relationship.  Now I do and it’s a little tricky to manage both.  Well, for one thing, it’s long-distance, so my morning is his evening and his morning is my way-too-late at night.  For a while we were meeting up around 11p.m. and talking until 2am.  It was super romantic, and, well, at that time of night, kind of hot!  But, after a few months, I found that the cost was pretty high.  Even though I have a work-at-home business and set my own hours, the lack of any kind of “normal” schedule was starting to get to me. 
My schedule became like this, waking up around 10a.m., doing my morning routine, having breakfast, checking email, and getting down to business at around 2p.m.!  By then, I was super-stressed because I only had three hours to contact people on normal office hours, if I had to contact someone on the East Coast, I was rushing to get to them before they left for the day, it just really set me off behind the gun so to speak.
So, eventually, I started shutting down at 1:00a.m., then 12:30a.m., 12:00a.m. and yeah, my boyfriend wasn’t too thrilled.  See, he was at work, and had the kind of gig that allowed him to IM me with impunity.  In other words, it was convenient for him, especially since he didn’t have a computer at home. 
It was really tough to make the call, since not talking with him during his mornings meant maybe days before we’d meet up again.  But, when I heard myself say, “You know if you respected my work, the way I respect yours, you would be more understanding of my need to have real business hours…”  I sounded so whiny!  And it was pretty clear that I needed to respect my business, not my boyfriend.
So, bit by bit, I’ve gotten back to a real schedule.  I’m up at 8:00a.m., I start work at 9:00a.m. and the best part is I don’t feel like I have to make up for the late start by working until 10 at night!  I’ve also started to have real weekends.  One or – gasp! – two whole days off!   I feel more refreshed in the morning and I get way more done; I guess it really does work to get your work done during the day. 
It wasn’t easy making the call, but I believe a happy businesswoman is a better girlfriend!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Linkblogging: Microenterprise

  • ABS-CBN News Online has an article about how a Filipino foundation is helping to break the cycle of migrant overseas labor by helping Filipinos to start businesses at home.
When money is tight, it's tempting to hold on to what you have and not worry about expanding your brand. But if you stop advertising and marketing, you'll do your business serious harm.
  • Here's a terrific blog called How I Changed The World Today, about a woman's daily efforts to make the world a better place. She's been doing a lot with KIVA and international sponsorships so check it out for ideas for yourself, if you need any.
  • And finally, this article in the Mercury News about Stanley Ann Dunham Soetoro, Barack Obama's mother, tells us that she spent the latter part of her life working in microcredit in Indonesia.
She became a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development on setting up a village credit program, then a Ford Foundation program officer in Jakarta specializing in women's work. Later, she was a consultant in Pakistan, then joined Indonesia's oldest bank to work on what is described as the world's largest sustainable microfinance program, creating services like credit and savings for the poor.

Technorati Tags

Monday, March 31, 2008

Monday Linkblogging: Women Entrepreneurs

  • The Gulf Daily News has an interview with Huda Janahi, the first Bahraini woman to receive the GCC Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Getting a commercial registration (CR) was the biggest obstacle as I was told at the Labour Ministry that only males were allowed a CR for cargo businesses. However, there was a misunderstanding. When I joined the United Nations Development Organisation (Unido) for its Arab Regional Centre for Entrepreneurship and Investment Training (Arceit), I told them my problem and they said there was no law that stated that women cannot get CRs for cargo businesses. They advised me to go to the ministry after they contacted officials there and soon I was granted a CR.
  • An article in the Maryland Gazette.net features Jennifer D. Collins, recently honored by Enterprising Women magazine.
Jennifer D. Collins had been steadily growing the event-planning company she started in 1997 until the hospitality industry was hit hard by the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. People stopped traveling to hold meetings, so she had to tap into her communications expertise to also provide clients with meeting strategies to keep her business afloat, she said.
To be sure, getting your MBA isn't a prerequisite for becoming a successful entrepreneur. But one thing is for certain, at least according to our sources at some of the nation's top-ranked MBA programs: Whether you're looking for a program with the best professors, the best classroom experience or the greatest opportunity for women, business schools are the place to be--especially if you are interested in innovation, entrepreneurship and real-life case studies.
  • Business Opportunist blog posts about niche marketing for home-based businesses:
You don’t have access to viable means and amenities to compete directly with large business houses and serve a broad spectrum of consumers. In such an adverse business scenario, niche marketing emerges as the most feasible and cost effective strategy that can help home business owners to stay ahead of their competitors and maximize their profits.

To Our Credit Microfinance Documentary

Here's a clip from a Rooy Media produced PBS documentary about microcredit in the US.
Rooy Media LLC has created over fifty programs that educate people about important social issues. This video clip is a sample from To Our Credit: Bootstrap Banking in America, a PBS documentary that profiles microenterprise development, an important new self-help strategy that shows significant promise in the fight to combat poverty in America. The
Rooy Media website has a whole microfinance section so check it out.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Women With Mojo

Just for fun, here's a series from Watchmojo.com (a web video magazine) on the top 50 women with mojo, as determined by the show's viewers.
You can see the individual clips for each woman here. The list is pretty celebrity-heavy.
What do you think? Who are your top women with mojo?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Brooks Times Op-Ed on Social Entrepreneurship

This New York Times Op-Ed from David Brooks talks about social entrepreneurship:

America Forward, a consortium of these entrepreneurs, wants government to do domestic policy in a new way. It wants Washington to expand national service (to produce more social entrepreneurs) and to create a network of semipublic social investment funds. These funds would be administered locally to invest in community-run programs that produce proven results. The government would not operate these social welfare programs, but it would, in essence, create a network of semipublic Gates Foundations that would pick winners based on stiff competition.
There’s obviously a danger in getting government involved with these entrepreneurs. Government agencies are natural interferers, averse to remorseless competition and quick policy shifts. Nonetheless, these funds are worth a try.
The funds would head us toward this new policy model, in which government sets certain accountability standards but gives networks of local organizations the freedom to choose how to meet them. President Bush’s faith-based initiative was a step in this direction, but this would be broader.
Furthermore, we might as well take advantage of this explosion of social entrepreneurship. These are some of the smartest and most creative people in the country. Even if we don’t know how to reduce poverty, it’s probably worth investing in these people and letting them figure it out.
They won’t stop bugging us until we do.
Not sure why this is an opinion rather than a news report, but Brooks is certainly self-fulfilling his prophecy when he says that "Fashions in goodness change, just like fashions in anything else, and these days some of the very noblest people have assumed the manners of the business world — even though they don’t aim for profit."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Contra Costa Ribbon Cutting

We're very excited about our new Contra Costa County office in Concord. We just had our opening/ribbon-cutting ceremony last week and The Contra Costa Times wrote an article about it.

For those of you keeping count, that's our sixth official office! (The others are San Francisco, Oakland Downtown, Oakland Fruitvale, San Rafael, and San Jose.)
Continue reading "Contra Costa Ribbon Cutting" »

Wednesday Linkblogging: Women Entrepreneurs

Reality is women are still unsafe, insecure, jobless and weak from malnutrition. She continues to be repressed, forced to abort her children, and if allowed to give birth at all, to abandon her own flesh and blood or face social ostracization unless society approves of the way it was conceived. She still cannot adopt easily, she cannot sign for her own surgery (kisiko saath mein layein hain aap?)or admit her children to school if the father refuses to acknowledge them. In most cases she is still deprived of her father’s property on one flimsy pretext or the other. She still can’t rent a house easily if she is alone in a strange city. (People think she is going to have sex and produce illegitimate babies or generally create some trouble or the other
  • Tulsa World has an interview with Yvonne Hovell, the only African American female Chrysler dealer in the country. Here's a little insight into owning a franchise.

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Media Women Entrepreneurs

Nmwe_logoWow, what a great project! The New Media Women Entrepreneurs:
will fund three women-led start-ups that will generate new ideas in the world of news and information and model a spirit of journalistic entrepreneurship. Winners will be given $10,000 to launch their ideas and blog about the process over the next year.
NMWE is a unique initiative addressing opportunity and innovation, recruitment and retention for women in journalism by spotlighting their ingenuity and entrepreneurial abilities. Pilot projects will show what can be done. Research will tell us what more to do. And an awards program and summit will showcase women’s creative ideas. NMWE is supported by the McCormick Tribune Foundation.
Application deadline is May 1, 2008! You can get all the info you need here.

Technorati Tags

Friday, March 21, 2008

First Lady Visits Women's Initiative!

Shriver_at_swarmWe had an exciting week last week. California's First Lady Maria Shriver visited our Oakland office and three client sites, including Svea Vezzone's Swarm Gallery, where we held a reception in her honor.
The visit was organized to announce Shriver's statewide initiative or invest in women entrepreneurs, called "We Invest." Shriver committed $100,000 to Women's Initiative to support 100 women's training.
The Oakland Tribune had a great article about it:
"When you give a man a loan, you help him. When you give a woman a loan, you help her children, her family and her community," said Shriver, explaining that it was in the women's nature to pass the good along.
... The event was held at SWARM Gallery on Second Street, the business of Svea Lin Vezzone, a graduate of the Women's Initiative. Before she made her appearance at the gallery, Shriver visited the businesses oftwo other graduates, Sheron Campbell, the owner of World of Braids, and Allison Barakat, the proprietor of Bakesale Betty who employs 75 workers.
Shriver, dismissing the many praises being showered upon her when she took the stage, reminded her audience that she had never started a business as they had.
"I'm completely in awe of you," she said.
The Women's Conference is an annual event launched by the governor that unites 60 world leaders with 14,000 women in one arena to share stories of success and life lessons.
... The launch of WE Invest was announced at the Women's Conference in October. Shriver said she picked Oakland for the launch venue "because I've wanted to do something in Oakland. I wanted to start in a place that really needed it."
We're not sure what to be more excited about: the money (which will help us help 100 more women with trainings and loans), the publicity (which will help bring in both support and new clients), or getting to meet the first lady!

Technorati Tags,

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday Linkblogging: Microenterprise

One blessing of microenterprise is that it gives people a taste for entrepreneurship; many like the life so much, they go on to run a string of small but successful enterprises. Makela began his first elder-care center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and operated it for five years. Then he and his wife decided business ownership had lost its luster and sold the center. But after only a year or so, they found they missed the flexibility and independence of running their own show and found an existing center they could take over.
"This type of business is certainly not for everyone," says Makela. "We both work almost every day for at least part of the day. But, at the same time, we have a lot more time and money for our hobbies, recreation and our [children] than most people do." Those attractions are what keep microbusiness blooming despite the obstacles.
The non-government organisations that run micro-credit business have failed to help the ultra-poor come out of poverty trap and get self-employed with dignity, resulting in scourge like monga — seasonal joblessness, economists have said.
They also criticised the government’s manpower training bureau and overseas recruiting agencies in the private sector for failing to create job opportunities for the northern poor.
... ‘Yes! Micro-credit can pay dividends to moderate poor and be effective only if the economy grows in a healthy manner.’ Both Muzaffer and Akbar termed the monga ‘nothing but a poverty syndrome’, let alone a seasonal distress, because income opportunities have not been created.
"Monga" means famine, by the way.
No NGOs are allowed to do microfinancing without the licences from MRA under a law that came into effect on 27 August 2006.

“We've no mechanism of our own to detect NGOs engaged in micro-financing without licences,” a top official of the MRA said in the wake of recent scandals.

In the last couple of weeks, some NGOs disappeared with around Tk 500 crore after swindling poor villagers in northern districts.
... According to government statistics, there are some 49,000 NGOs registered under the Social Welfare Department, about 10,0000 under the Cooperative and Joint Stock Companies and another about 2,000 under the NGO Affairs Bureau.
With rapid economic development, for years the banks have easily granted small loans, raking in very high rates of interest. Now many professionals, small businessmen, and farmers are no longer able to pay. Experts: the phenomenon is contained, but there is the risk that it could expand.
... In February, the government said it will cover 15 billion dollars in debts held by farmers.  Many have observed that this will not so much help the rural population - which is in any case strangled by rising costs for fertilisers and petrol, and by the pollution of irrigation water - as it will the credit institutions, which will immediately recover the entire value of loans with difficult prospects of repayment.
  • Kiva.org has fellowships and sends their fellows out to the field ... from whence they blog! It's a pretty extensive blog. Check it out!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How To Avoid Being Blindsided In Business

An interview from First Wives World with Amy Dorn Kopelan, Executive Director of Coach Me, which:
teaches women how to "master the subtle skills and unwritten rules" necessary for career advancement and leadership. The COACH ME Institute specializes in group coaching, business education, and professional development programs that target emerging talent. COACH ME's research-based curriculum gives women the edge to maximize their individual potential and nurture their initiative. The Institute helps companies develop and retain their bench strength inside the corporation.
COACH ME targets:
  • Women with talent and promise who cannot afford professional coaching on their own
  • Women in middle management or first-line managers who want to take on leadership roles
  • Women from underserved multicultural populations who want to leverage their unique talents
She's marketing a book on this topic, but there's some good advice about taking power in this video.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Lynn Jimenez: Se Habla Dinero


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yunus' "Social Business"

By: Pemala Mejia, Women's Initiative Executive Projects Manager

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Linkblogging: Microcredit