“Are We There Yet?”
WEV’s 25th Anniversary Gala Speech
by Marsha Bailey, WEV Founder & CEO
October 27, 2016
Eleanor Roosevelt said: The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
In 1991 a small group of donors took a risk by supporting an innovative but unproven idea: the idea that we could improve women’s economic status by helping them start and grow their own businesses.
Twenty-five years later, we have proven not only that self-employment can provide a viable pathway out of poverty, but that it can build family wealth and stability and contribute to the economic well-being of our communities.
Thank you to each and every one of you for being here tonight to celebrate WEV’s 25th birthday.
I especially want to thank those who believed in the beauty of our dreams, who supported us from the very beginning and are here to celebrate with us tonight: Jean Schuyler, Susan Bower, Gail Zannon, Tana Sommer, and Kate Silsbury.
These women have given so much more than money.
Kate Silsbury was a founding board member. She mentored clients, spoke in our classes and presented our first workshops to help women learn about money even before we started the programs we’ve become known for. She helped us get an early grant from American Express.
They hosted a nice luncheon and asked me to briefly describe our program, which, at the time, was an adaptation of the Grameen Bank peer lending model. One of her male colleagues whispered to her that it sounded like communism to him. She related the comment to me in the parking lot with steam coming out of her ears.
The accusation was particularly ironic given that we had also been criticized for teaching women to become – gasp! – capitalists!
Jean Schuyler has been a stalwart supporter of WEV, Planned Parenthood, the Santa Barbara Foundation and countless other organizations in our community. She helped us identify and educate other potential donors about WEV. There was a local family foundation that I’d been trying to get a grant from without success so I asked Jean for advice. She knew the foundation president and offered to hand deliver our proposal. That single gesture resulted in several years of grants.
Gail Zannon was also an early board member. She and her husband, Gene, owned a direct mail fundraising company and she taught me everything I know about writing successful fundraising letters. They also gave us a $10,000 matching grant for one of our early direct mail appeals and it tripled our giving from the prior year.
Tana Sommer is a second generation donor. Tana’s mother, Naomi Sommer, was one of those quiet givers who didn’t seek any personal recognition. I didn’t even meet Naomi for several years. It was Tana who reached out to me, who took a more active role with WEV and eventually, facilitated a $100,000 gift from her parents that would establish a WEV endowment.
I first met Susan Bower through the Fund for Santa Barbara. She had a donor-advised fund called the Single Parent Fund. Over half of WEV’s early clients were single mothers or single heads of households. For several years running, we received grants of $10 to $12,000 from Susan every June. Those grants got us through the summer and gave me peace of mind, knowing we wouldn’t run out of money if I took a vacation.
There is nothing I can say to adequately express the depth of my gratitude to these and the thousands of other individual donors, mostly women, who have shared their resources and wisdom with WEV and their mentorship and friendship with me, personally.
You have been my guiding stars. I cherish each of you more than words can ever convey.
People often ask me what my background is and why I started WEV. They’re usually surprised to learn that I didn’t study business or economics, I studied art and sociology.
It wasn’t my training or education that motivated me to start WEV. I started WEV because I’m a woman. A woman, like many, who struggled against stereotypes and family expectations – to believe that it was okay to be ambitious, tenacious, in charge.
When we started WEV we wanted women to hear one message loud and clear: You can do it. Our goal was to create a safe learning environment. An environment where women weren’t afraid to ask questions, to express their fears and to share their dreams.
WEV’s programs provided more than technical business training, they provided a support system.
When clients talk about how WEV helped them, the words we hear most often are “you helped me believe in myself,” or as one client put it “You opened the door to what else I might be.”
I can attest that there have been many challenges along the way, many doors that had to be pried open. Some people thought the small enterprises we were helping women create weren’t “real” businesses. Others didn’t want us to help moderate-income women because they weren’t “needy” enough.
And of course, there was always the need for funding.
I was taught that polite people didn’t talk about money. My parents guarded family financial information like it was a state secret. (The NSA could take a lesson.)
So asking for money was the hardest – and most important part of my job. At the first fundraising training I attended, the trainer asked us to share the worst thing that could happen if we asked for money. I said, “they’ll hit me.”
I’m happy to say that’s never happened. And by the way, there is a pledge card inside each 25th anniversary impact report.
I got over it.
I got over it because we had a promise to keep. A promise to every woman who walked through our doors. We believe in you. You can do it. We’re banking on you.
Over the past 25 years, all kinds of women have come to WEV because of that promise: Disabled women, divorced women, homeless women. Single mothers, grandmothers. Women who’ve escaped from political oppression and from violent husbands.
But there have also been doctors and lawyers, artists and teachers, corporate executives and PhDs. There have been women held down by the glass ceiling and women who never heard of the glass ceiling.
One of things we’ve always tried to teach women is to ask for help. It’s a lesson that I preached long before I practiced it.
My family invented DIY and applied it to everything from plumbing repairs to self-improvement. We did not ask for help. Asking for help meant you needed help. Needing help indicated some kind of character flaw.
But mostly, it was hard to ask for help because, to be perfectly honest, I thought I knew best. WEV was my baby and I wanted to raise it my way. So the power struggle began. Board members came and went and so did staff members. I learned my lessons the old-fashioned way – I earned them. But I paid attention to the pain and I did learn.
Mike Kauffman, a former board member, donor and volunteer for over 20 years used to tell me “all things are possible for those who can delegate.”
It’s easy to delegate things you don’t like to do and aren’t particularly good at, but it’s much harder to give up doing the things you love and excel at.
As a founder, letting go has been the hardest and most important lesson to learn.
If I hadn’t learned that lesson, WEV wouldn’t be where we are today – with a staff of 18 employees, 12 paid teachers and consultants, over 100 volunteers and an annual budget of $1.7 million.
People often ask me if I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. But after 25 years, I really don’t think of it that way. It’s not about what I’ve accomplished. I didn’t do this alone. It’s about what we’ve accomplished.
I ‘m proud of every woman who has walked out of WEV with the courage, the confidence and the knowledge to make a life-changing decision and follow through on it.
But what I’m most proud of is my staff and the culture of our organization. I want everyone who works for WEV to know that they are smart and competent and above all, trusted to make the daily decisions they need to make to do their best work.
I trust them because I know that each of them has made WEV’s mission their personal mission.
One of my program managers once said that the scariest words to come out of my mouth were “I’ve been thinking.” We laughed at the time, but I knew I needed to learn how to be a better leader. How to listen and ask questions and withhold my own opinions until I’d heard everyone else’s.
Certainly it is my job to push the staff to embrace an evolving vision and keep moving forward. But it is also my job to teach them to push back. To state their opinions and stand their ground. And they do. And I am so very proud of them and what we’ve accomplished together.
There have been so many memorable moments and clients over the years and I’ve shared many of their stories with you before. But there’s one woman who I’ll never forget and her story bears repeating.
Her name is Melody and she was chosen by her class to speak at their graduation. She said:
“What do you do with a dream? It has no marketable value. It can’t be sold for food. You can’t wrap it around you like a blanket to keep warm. When things got hard, I told myself, I will survive this – and I did. But survival isn’t enough. We have all survived, but we do more: we dream and we hope.”
Hope. It is the essence of our humanity. The ability to envision a better life, a better world than the one we’ve experienced. Hope is a big responsibility. Because hope without opportunity, hope without help is just another false promise. The road to hopelessness is paved with broken promises. A world without hope and optimism is a world that none of us would want to live in.
It’s clear that women have more opportunities today than we did 25 years ago. But while many things have changed, too much has stayed the same. Women worry constantly about how to balance work and home. For good reason.
Women still bear responsibility for 75% of the world’s unpaid work which is the equivalent of ten trillion dollars. That ten trillion isn’t reflected in any country’s GDP – or in any woman’s Social Security check. Too often the message women hear is “Be all you can be – after you do the housework.”
Gender parity matters. A report by McKinsey & Company estimates that full gender equality would grow global GDP by 26% by 2025 – the equivalent of the U.S. and China’s economies combined.
Today, women are starting businesses at five times the rate as men. Women own 38% of privately held firms but they start their businesses with roughly half as much capital and they generate only 25% of the annual revenues of their male counterparts. If women started businesses with the same amount of money as men, researchers estimate they would create six million jobs in the next five years.
WEV is working to help women build bigger, stronger businesses. And we’re succeeding, but our work is not done.
For many years, we’ve known that women needed access to equity investments outside the conventional venture and angel models. We hoped that someday, we could find a way to fill that need. Thanks to the interest of local social impact investors, we are optimistic that we can create an alternative equity investment fund in the near future.
Like the businesses we serve, WEV also needs significant, long-term investment. You – the individuals, corporations and foundations in this room – are our angels – our social investors. Every dollar invested in WEV returns 12 dollars to our local economy.
As we look to the future, we need to build an endowment that will ensure our long-term sustainability and enable us to continue to invest in the programs and services that build strong businesses, stable families and healthy communities.
At WEV, after 25 years, we still have the same dreams and values we started with: We are dedicated to creating an equitable and just society through the economic empowerment of women.
But as our mission implies, women’s business ownership is about more than jobs and benefits, economic growth and profits. Women’s business ownership is about freedom and options, security — and human potential. It is about empowering women to dream big dreams, to act on a bigger stage, to become leaders.
At WEV, we know what a caring community can achieve because we see it every day: We see it in the way our clients inspire and support each other, we see it in the passion and commitment of our board and staff members, we see it in the way you, our volunteers and donors, continue to support our work.
Tonight, I ask you to look into the future with us, to envision a world where women have the economic power to make their voices and their values heard. I ask you to make a contribution and to consider making a bequest to our endowment. Because the return on your investment in WEV – today, and in the future – is so much greater than dollars alone can measure.
Tonight is a night to celebrate, but like most people with a mission, I don’t spend much time thinking about what’s done. I think about what’s left to do.
Melody closed her graduation speech with this promise:
“Armed with knowledge, bright with hope, we will work to make not only our own lives better, but the lives of those around us. We are resolved to give back to our community. We are resolved to help others learn that dreams can become reality if you are willing to work hard and grow and stretch your mind so that it can grasp a greater understanding.”
I’ve been privileged to spend the last twenty-five years with a community of individuals that strives, every day, to live up to Melody’s words: to grasp a greater understanding, to turn dreams into reality, to make lives better.
Thank you all for making our work possible.