Supporting underestimated entrepreneurs is my “why”

Business owners are often coached to know their “why” a concept developed by Simon Sinek to help leaders harness their passion and create trust and motivation in their teams. Why a business owner starts a company – the logistics and cost benefit analysis, flexible work arrangements, being your own boss – is not their why. The why answers the question of “Why would you risk all this with no guarantee of success or even a paycheck?”

For many business owners, that why is solving problems for people, helping people.  But helping people doesn’t always pay the bills. In fact, I’ve know one business coach that tells clients to take out the word “help” from their vocabulary. It was a tough transition for me personally from non-profit executive to business owner because my “why” is and has been to help underestimated business owners achieve financial success and economic independence. Marrying that mission with creating a sustainable business can be tough because you can’t “help” everyone and still pay the bills.

Being a “go-giver” pays off

My business partner at Diversity Masterminds®, Heather Cox  and I often talk about the value of being a “go-giver” someone who willingly gives their time, talent and treasure to support other business owners and potential clients. This has been especially important during the disruptions brought on by COVID-19. While the rewards come in building trust and bringing value to people, those things often propel your business as fast as a new client.

That’s why it’s so gratifying when doing exactly that – helping and supporting an up and coming entrepreneur – does pay the bills. My company, 12PointFive, recently won a collaboration grant through the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellowship, a program of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the United States Department of State, implemented by IREX. I got the chance to apply because I mentored three fellows throughout the beginning of the year and one of them asked me to work with her on the grant. My affiliation with Seed Spot, an early stage social impact incubator that I support with pro bono consulting and advising, allowed me the chance to mentor.

Supporting women entrepreneurs globally

Volunteering as a mentor through the YLAI program was attractive to me because it combines two of my professional passions – change and innovation through entrepreneurship and leadership in Latin America. My career has been devoted to supporting women in achieving economic independence through entrepreneurship. My mentee, Cathy Perugachi of Handmade LATAM, and I were matched together because she is a woman entrepreneur in Ecuador developing tools to grow and scale artisanal communities. Through my work with WEConnect International, I am very familiar with the statistics that show that lifting women out of poverty in turn lifts communities out of poverty.  Women living and working to support their families are also naturally entrepreneurs, sometimes with two or more jobs. Channeling their entrepreneurial spirit through activities that will yield more revenue and the ability to scale their businesses can be a game changer for their families and communities.

Handmade LATAM and supporting artisans in Ecuador

Cathy already had a prototype for her business and ideas of how she could help support artisanal communities, made up primarily of women, in streamlining their processes and connecting with more artisanal buyers. Cathy’s work ethic and passion drove the project which progressed smoothly and productively. She is a true, knowledgeable leader in her field and a delight to work with.

In fact, we feel so strongly about the work we did together through the grant, that we decided to apply for a collaborative grant with YLAI to continue that progress. We won the grant and are kicking off the next phase of our collaboration now!

I have been lucky enough to get a chance to work with and learn from Cathy, expand my own professional network, and feel confident that our work will lead to lasting change.  We will be posting the results of the grant later this year when we wrap up but in the meantime, if you are a buyer looking to source artisanal goods in Ecuador, please get in touch with me and Cathy!