The best word I can think to describe what I felt when I read a report released yesterday by Lesa Mitchell at the Kauffman Foundation is: Validated. It’s been about 18 months since I stepped into the world of non-profit management and to say it has been smooth sailing would be, well, untrue. Fundraising has been HARD, as everyone warned me when Renee and I decided to form the Path Forward Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Actually, I was told I was ‘crazy’ more than once (we entrepreneurs get used to that!).
The reason fundraising has been hard has a little to do with the economy, but it also has something to do with our focus. Most nonprofit foundations look to fund organizations that empower people – which we do – but they also tend to focus on programs that directly empower those in poverty – the welfare to work programs. Don’t get me wrong – there are MANY incredible programs out there that do that and they are invaluable. I’m a strong believer in teaching people to get themselves off public assistance as much as possible – to teach them to fish. And that is what we do, in a way, but with a completely different audience – our ACTiVATE program is geared mostly towards educated women. And contrary to what a lot of people think, just because these women are educated doesn’t mean they’re financially set or not in need. In today’s economy, with high unemployment, there are a lot of people out of work or working far below their capabilities. People who, instead of just taking a job, could be MAKING jobs.
My personal belief is that we have a responsibility to fully use the capabilities and gifts we’ve been given – whatever they are. Over 50% of the workforce is now comprised of women and women are actually getting more degrees then men meaning there are a LOT of smart women, capable women out there. Not all of these women are entrepreneurial, but you would be surprised at how many ‘ordinary’ women have a business idea or desire deep inside them. It is THESE women we’re working to mobilize and, well, ACTiVATE. According to the Kauffman report, this is not a “cause”, it is an economic opportunity some might also call an imperative.
We find that many of the women who come through our program want to change the world and we show them how to do that through business. Their efforts create jobs which ignites a multiplier effect that does indeed trickle down to relieve unemployment at lower income brackets. You just have to step back and see the bigger picture.
The Kauffman report cites several bits of research to conclude there are gaps in programs which, if filled, would increase the number of women entrepreneurs building growth-oriented companies. ACTiVATE is one such program, and we know Kauffman agrees because they provided us funding to develop the materials to replicate our program (which we will start doing later this year in Michigan).
Startups are hard regardless of your tax status (for profit or not-for-profit). So while we work to find funding to cross over our own “valley of death” (yes, we’re one of those underfunded nonprofits Lesa talked about, at least underfunded for now) reports like this one help us continue moving forward on our…dare I say it?….Path Forward. What we’re doing matters, and the potential impact is huge. Thanks, Lesa, for reminding us!