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Women-Owned Businesses Build Back Communities

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women business owners, cwe-center for women & Enterprise-funding-investment-financial institutions-community

The Center for Women & Enterprise (CWE) is a group that provides resources and support for women business owners in New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Since its founding in 1995, CWE has advocated for financial tools and services that favor women. 

“We’ve been doing this for 27 years,” said Gabrielle King Morse, president and CEO of CWE. “What we’ve seen is that financial tools are not designed with women in mind.”

According to Morse, women are twice as likely as men to start their own business, and women of color are four times as likely. The data forced Morse to question why women are creating their own business opportunities. 

“Is this being entrepreneurial? Or is this the absolute reality that women, and in particular women of color, are not realizing their full market value in the workforce?” she asked. “Are they going to be working next to that white man and making 66 cents on the dollar? Or are they going to make what they’re worth? 

“This is why we see a lot of women launching businesses. As a society that’s focused on economic equity, we better help her succeed, because the reverberations of her success go way beyond her.”

Accessing funding

However, women, and particularly women of color, cannot rely solely on support from financial institutions when starting a business. 

“When women are looking for outside financing from a more traditional source like a bank, they’re going to get less money at a higher interest rate,” Morse said. “It just happens. We like to say it doesn’t, but that is what happens.”

Women, therefore, need to be savvy about their financial planning. CWE offers many resources for women at all stages of their financial planning. 

“The key piece is that the individual does their own risk assessment,” Morse said. “If an individual comes to us at the very beginning and they have this idea, and they’re really passionate and excited, we’ll make sure that they know how to make a really solid marketing plan, a really solid investment plan, and that they can put their financials together.”

Financial literacy and sound planning are the true signs of success. 

“We look at success as economic empowerment, not launching a business, necessarily,” she said. “If one of the women who walks through our door decides not to run that business, she’s still learned a ton. We see that as a success. She may come back with a new plan, but she understands now, ‘You know what? I didn’t understand distribution.’ Now she can go back and really think about that.”

Advocating for change

While CWE encourages women to find financial resources outside of the traditional financial institutions, they also advocate for systemic change within those institutions. 

“The way we’re going to change systems is by having quantitative and qualitative data,” she said. “We talk to a lot of regional financial institutions about this and they need that data, too. So, we have been planting seeds right now where we are building a more sophisticated ability to measure our own impact.”

In order to measure the financial success of businesses, Morse said there needs to be a broad analysis of the tertiary effects of women-run businesses.  

“We call it the multiplier effect,” she said. “In some communities of color, 70 percent of households are run by women. They are the main income provider. So, if you’re looking at wanting to create economic equity, focusing on women is a really good bet.

“If we can show that her economic empowerment is sending more kids to college, building her community, hiring local people, paying more taxes, all while she’s becoming more civically engaged, cities are going to put more money into women entrepreneurs. The federal government is going to put more money into childcare and healthcare. Local philanthropies are going to think differently about how they’re focusing their investments.”

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