NWBC Publishes 2013 Annual Report

The National Women’s Business Council, a bipartisan women’s enterprise advisory body in the US established by the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, has published their 2013 annual report to the President, US Congress, and the US Small Business Administration.
The colorful 40-page report contains nine policy/program recommendations grouped within four pillars (Guess which one is our favorite!):

  1. Access to Capital
  2. Access to Markets
  3. Job Creation and Growth
  4. Data

Among the recommendations are two, in our view, worth calling out and commenting upon:

  • Implement an annual Survey of Business Owners model-based program.” The SBO is the Census Bureau’s quinquennial business census, which provides we womenablers with a mother-lode of invaluable statistics on the number and growth of women-owned firms. However, being quinquennial means that the data are only published every five years, and business moves much faster than that. Of course, Womenable and American Express OPEN have published an annual State of Women-Owned Businesses reports that provide estimates in between SBO reports (see a listing of these reports HERE), but more frequent government-published data would be extraordinarily useful. However, such an expansion of SBO is also very unlikely, given the expense required and the current state of the US budget. And yet, to paraphrase Robert Browning,

    “Ah, but a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp,
    Or what’s a heaven for?”

  • Increase the number of women-owned or -led firms participating in incubators and accelerators and consider establishing an accelerator and incubator program focused on women-owned or -led firms.” Womenable has long pointed out the need for paying much more attention to issues of growth and development of existing women-owned enterprises. This is another timely recommendation, but the NWBC missed an important opportunity to call out a key partnership in this endeavor: the Nation’s 100+ women’s business centers. Rather than trying to make existing incubators and business accelerators more female-friendly (good luck with that), we should expand the remit of and financial support for WBCs to offer growth-focused programming. Indeed, most of them already do – but they are doing so outside the “marching orders” provided to them by the SBA and Congress, which essentially puts WBCs in velvet handcuffs and says that all government funds can only go toward serving nascent firms and socially and economically disadvantaged populations.

The Council has done a good job of keeping the momentum going over a period – over the past three or more years, really – of staff and leadership turnover. There’s a new Chair in place, but no Executive Director at the moment. Despite that, they’ve published a report that’s well worth reading, and using for womenabling advocacy efforts in the United States and beyond. Keep up the good work, NWBC!

Reflections on Building a Sustainable Women’s Enterprise Ecosystem

In November, I attended and spoke at the Institute for Small Business and Entrepreneurship‘s pre-conference women’s enterprise policy day. My 25-minute presentation was entitled, “Building a Women’s Enterprise Movement That Will Stand the Test of Time: Lessons From the U.S.‘” It aimed to reflect on the recent silver anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, to share lessons learned from the U.S. experience, and to offer observations of the common elements that bolster and strengthen a healthy and vibrant women’s enterprise ecosystem – which could be adapted for a variety of political systems and development contexts.

Here, then, is a Slideshare Slidecast of the presentation, which you can watch and listen to as you munch on your lunch. Or, fellow womenablers, feel free to download it and play it at your next women’s business organization member gathering or networking event to fuel further discussion about what ideas you might take forward in your own community. Go forth and multiply!

Policy Spark Plugs for Women’s Entrepreneurship

October 25th, 2013 marks the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 in the United States – which is frequently referred to as the “big bang” of women’s enterprise. The law extended equal access to business credit to women business owners, directed the US Census Bureau to include all women-owned firms in its business census, established the women’s business center technical assistance program, and established the National Women’s Business Council – giving women business owners a seat at the federal policymaking table.sparkplug

What other spark plugs for women’s enterprise are out there? My fellow womenablers might want to check out the former Gender Law Library at the World Bank, now part of the Women, Business and the Law website. You can search by country or topic, and you may also wish to download the new 2014 Women, Business and the Law report. Regional fact sheets are also available.

Women’s enterprise development does not always have to be sparked by legislative action. In May 2003, a Strategic Framework for Women’s Enterprise was launched by the Labour government in the United Kingdom, which led to a number of positive programs for women’s enterprise development. Unfortunately, a party-launched initiative can fall by the wayside when leadership changes hands – as happened in the UK in 2010, when Conservative David Cameron became Prime Minister and promptly cut funding for women’s entrepreneurship, and indeed for small business development support in general.

This happened as well in Canada,  not too long after their Prime Minister’s Task Force on Women Entrepreneurs – Report and Recommendations was unveiled with great promise but unfulfilled potential. The report was launched in October 2003 – just two months before Prime Minister Jean Chretien left office. Even though his successor was of the same party, the initiative did not gain traction.

A Sterling Milestone

Marking the Silver Anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988

This month marks a sterling anniversary – the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988. The law, also affectionately known as H.R. (House Resolution) 5050, was signed into law on October 25, 1988. It ushered in a true renaissance of growth and progress for women’s enterprise development. Womenablers often refer to the WBO Act of 1988 as the ‘big bang” of women’s entrepreneurship.

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings

NAWBO leader Susan Hager testifies at the HR5050 hearings (photo by Olive Rosen)

There were four main tenets of the law:

  1. Capital: The law extended the gender equality of access to credit provided in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 to include business credit. Just think, prior to 1988 women business owners could not get business credit in their own name!
  2. Capitol: The Act also established the National Women’s Business Council, which provides the women’s business community with a seat at the table in the US Capitol and in federal policy circles. The NWBC is comprised of individual women business owners and representatives of women’s business organizations, and must submit an annual report to the President, the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration each year. Read past annual reports HERE to learn what recommendations the NWBC has made to federal policymakers.
  3. Counseling: The law also launched a “demonstration project” of entrepreneurial education and counseling focused on female clients. From four initial pilot programs in 1989 has grown over 100 women’s business centers today, providing technical assistance, education, coaching and counseling, group and peer-to-peer mentoring, and ongoing support to both would-be and existing women (and men) business owners. Many former clients come back and teach and mentor. Do you have a skill or a story to share with budding entrepreneurs? Find a women’s business center near you and volunteer!
  4. Counting: Finally, the law directed the U.S. Census Bureau to include ALL women-owned businesses in their next quinquennial census. Up until that time, the census did not include all industries or all legal forms of business organization. Upon the publication of the 1992 Census in 1995, when C corporations were included for the first time, the number of women-owned firms increased by just 9%, but employment jumped by 111% and revenues generated by women-owned firms skyrocketed by 145%. Women-owned firms were finally on the map!

Take a moment and think about how much easier it is for women starting businesses now than it was for our foremothers prior to 1988 – when there were no women’s business centers, no complete accounting of the number and economic clout of women-owned businesses, no National Women’s Business Council, and no ability to access business credit without a male co-signer.

Some folks are already taking note of the impending anniversary. Click on the following links to read a blogpost from CAMEO (the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity), an op-ed piece from Connecticut WDBC director (and NWBC council member) Fran Pastore, and an article from WIPP co-founder Barbara Kasoff. And check out what we had to say five years ago at the 20th anniversary during a panel discussion at an academic conference!

And stay tuned – women’s enterprise leaders are talking now about gathering en masse next Spring to celebrate the accomplishments of the past 25 years and talk more seriously about what the movement – and women business owners – need going forward.

In the meantime, we’d like to start a social media conversation about the past 25 years of women’s entrepreneurship. Tweet and post your thoughts about the progress we’ve made, and the work that’s yet to be done. Use the hashtag #WBOAct@25. What are your thoughts, reflections, calls to action? Ready, set, go!

Musings on Davos

I don’t think it’s jealousy that I’ve never attended the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting held each year at this time in Davos, Switzerland (maybe just a teensy bit), but I do believe – this year especially – that this annual gathering of the world’s “big business” and “big politics” elite points out just how behind the times this assemblage has become.

There is a very interesting and insightful collection of articles on BusinessWeek.com pertaining to Davos (see especially “Davos 2009: Where Are the Women?”). It got me thinking about what the theme of this year’s forum meeting ought to be – perhaps “Wha’ Happened??” Gathered in snowy Davos at this very moment are some of the very folks who share the blame for getting the world into the financial mess we now find ourselves in. How are they suggesting we dig ourselves out of it? By “bailing out” the very same large institutions whose decisions led to the current crisis.

We’re now in the midst of significant changes in the balances of power around the world: political, economic and social. It’s human nature, I suppose, to want to put things back the way they were – it’s comfortable and familiar, if not always perfect. But I, for one, welcome and embrace this unsettling of the power structure, because it provides opportunity for new ideas and different solutions to present themselves. And where do I suggest that one powerful solution lies? In specifically and proactively fostering the economic empowerment of women, naturally.

In the United States, we have just celebrated the 20th anniversary of what I like to call the “Big Bang” of women’s entrepreneurship: the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, which became Public Law 100-533 (and is also frequently referred to by its original bill number, HR 5050). It contained four key provisions that have become the pillars upon which the greater than average growth (in number and economic clout) of women-owned firms has been built:

  • Measurement: The law required that the Census Bureau count ALL women-owned businesses. Prior to that time, not all industries and not all types of businesses (“c” corporations particularly) were not counted. The result? After including those previously uncounted parts of the women-owned business population the number of firms increased by just 9%, but the employment contributed by women-owned firms more than doubled – up by 111%, and the revenues produced by those firms increased by nearly 1-1/2 times – up 145%.
  • Access to capital: Prior to the passage of the Act, women could not get business credit in their own names. Indeed, women in the US could not get personal credit in their own names until after the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974. HR 5050 extended ECOA to include business credit.
  • Entrepreneurship education: Funding for four “demonstration sites” testing the idea of women-friendly and women-focused entrepreneurship education was also included in the bill. This program has blossomed into the US Small Business Administration’s Women’s Business Center program, which currently provides grants to over 100 non-profit organizations in nearly every state, that provide entrepreneurship classes, one-on-one counseling, mentoring and peer group support to over 145,000 clients per year.
  • Ensuring a seat at the policy table: The fourth pillar of the Act was the creation of a National Women’s Business Council – a bipartisan, Federally-funded public policy advisory body that provides a voice for women business owners through its annual report to the President, Congress, and the SBA.

Those who are seeking new ideas and a fresh approach to economic growth and stability could do no better than to not only reach beyond bailing out large corporations and financial institutions, but to strengthen the very foundation of the world economy – its small business community – AND to pay focused and proactive attention to a heretofore undervalued and underappreciated source of economic power: women business owners and their enterprises. Looking into legislative action such as a Women’s Business Ownership Act is a start. (And here are two other morsels of food for thought:

  • a thinkpiece I wrote a few years back on what it takes to build a framework of support for women’s enterprise development, and
  • a comment letter written to the US Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship sharing my thoughts on how best to move forward in a US policy context as we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the WBO Act of 1988.)

So, you captains of industry and political power in Davos, look past the ends of your collective noses and do more than pay lip service to being inclusive of developing nations, the bottom of the economic pyramid, and gender diversity. Rethink and restructure your model for economic growth and development, and work to close the chasms that exist between the haves and have-nots, the developed and developing world, the multinational corporations and the self-employed. We’ll all be better for it.

And to all of you womenablers out there – the time has come for all of us to step up the volume and add our voices to those seeking a way forward – not only to get past the current financial crisis, but to lay a more practical, realistic, and inclusive framework for peace and prosperity the world over. Let’s start a dialogue on all of the many aspects of this important issue here on The Womenabler Blog. I look forward to our conversations.

Your humble servant for women’s enterprise,

Julie Weeks