National business leader assisting
women entrepreneurs to achieve self-sufficiency
Women’s Initiative for Self Employment (WISE) is an organization dedicated to helping create jobs for women entrepreneurs. Serving low-income women with high potential to successfully start their own businesses while stimulating the economy and creating jobs for themselves and for others, Women’s Initiative helps to inspire women to excel and to succeed as self-employers in a tough economic market.
by SIMONE DA COSTA
Julie Castro-Abram is the Chief Executive Officer and culture driver of Women’s Initiative, a booming organization located in the beautiful city of San Francisco Bay Area. A chief strategist in microenterprise and much sought after public speaker, Julie has helped Women’s Initiative expand with the execution of efficient new services such as My Business Action Plan and SuccessLink as well as funding which have contributed to the stream of successes for women entrepreneurs tenfold.
WISE started in 1988; it’s mission, to assist low-income women entrepreneurs to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. Since then, the agency has helped women—including minorities, immigrants and welfare recipients—create many jobs within and without the community. With the education of business training programs and financial support offered by WISE, Women’s Initiative definitely corroborates that by directly contributing to women-owned businesses it has helped to increase the local economy and create many businesses from photography to catering companies, day care, restaurants and mechanic shops. In 2010, graduates of the WISE program created 2, 244 jobs and in 2011 they created and retained 5,524 which helped increase the local economy.
a chat with…..
JULIE CASTRO ABRAMS
Please tell us about Women’s Initiative and its objectives.
Julie: Women’s Initiative for Self Employment is the nation’s largest microenterprise training and funding organization. For 24 years, we have provided low-income, high-potential women with the training, funding and ongoing support to successfully start businesses and become financially self sufficient. The women who go through our training significantly increase their income and assets while launching businesses, creating jobs and stimulating the local economy.
Our mission is to build the entrepreneurial capacity of women to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency.
Since 1988 have many clients been assisted in starting or developing their businesses?
Julie: We have assisted more than 8,000 women start or develop their own businesses.
Who is WISE’s main target?
Julie: We serve only low-income women. Following are some demographics about the women
* 98% of program participants are low or extremely low-income
* 75% of program participants are women of colour
* 38% Latina
* 26% African-American
* 20% are single parents
* 36% have a high school equivalency or less
* 11% have a documented disability
* We estimate that more than 25% of our clients have experienced domestic
How many women has WISE served?
Julie: In the past 24 years, we have served more than 24,000 women. This includes women who
have taken the introductory entrepreneurial readiness workshop but have not enrolled in our
small business training course.
What are some of the services offered by WISE?
* My Business Action Plan: Women participate in an entrepreneurial readiness workshop
during which they learn more about our program as well as go through a self assessment to
determine if they are ready to start a business and commit to our training program.
* Simple Steps: This is an 11-week small business training course. A group of 18 women
meets twice a week for three hours and learn all the basics of running a business—setting a price
point, marketing, bookkeeping, etc. The course also addresses the challenges and barriers to
success low-income women face. Over the course of the program, the women are working on a
business plan and graduate with a written business plan in hand that will serve as their road map
as they start and grow their business.
Ongoing Support: After completing the program, women can join SuccessLink, our support
program which offers one-on-one coaching and consulting, seminars and workshops, networking
events and access to markets.
Funding: After graduation, women have access to financial services. We counsel them on how
to apply for loans and help them find organizations that will fund them. We also have a
microloan program and women can apply for a loan from our loan fund as well.
Graduates of the program are also eligible for IDAs—Individual Development Accounts.
What cities offer WISE services?
Julie: We are currently training at five sites in the Bay Area—Oakland, San Francisco, Concord, San Jose and Novato as well as at 13 additional locations through community partners. We are training in Calistoga, Santa Rosa, Hayward, Redwood City, etc.
We are launching our services in 2012 in New York and Chicago.
For those who graduated from the business training program, how many found employment or became self-employed?
Julie: We know that 70% of our graduates are still in business and making regular sales five years after graduation. Our graduates create, on average, 2.5 jobs each including one job for themselves (self employment).
Have graduates helped to provide employment for others through their businesses and how many jobs have they helped to create?
Julie: Our graduates create, on average, 2.5 jobs. We know that in 2011 our graduates created and retained 5,524!
In what way do some of the graduates give back to the community?
Julie: About 70% of our clients donate money or volunteer to nonprofits. On average, they volunteer 174 hours a year (triple the national average) and donate $1000 to nonprofit organizations.
In what way do some of the graduates contribute to the economic growth of communities?
Julie: Women’s Initiative has a 30:1 ROI (return on investment). For every $1 contributed to Women’s Initiative, we know that $30 is returned to the local economy as women come off public assistance, pay taxes and create jobs.
For more information about Women’s Initiative, please visit: www.womensinitiative.org