During the Women Moving Millions virtual summit on Friday, September 11, SheEO Founder Vicki Saunders spoke with Resilience Educator and Entrepreneur Komal Minhas about the ways women’s radical generosity is changing the world.
The session focused on the importance of “transforming the investment model”: In other words, updating the ways we invest in businesses and campaigns in order to support more women entrepreneurs. Instead of trying to squeeze female entrepreneurs into a traditional investment model that doesn’t fit, SheEO and Saunders support female entrepreneurship by creating an entirely new field of play that focuses on financing, supporting, and celebrating women business owners.
Impacts of the SheEO Global Summit and COVID-19
Minhas started the conversation by sharing the last time the two met in person: at the SheEO Global Summit in Toronto.
“It was a lot of joy,” said Saunders of the Summit. Eight hundred women from around the globe joined together to celebrate SheEO’s fifth birthday, funding 68 ventures with over 5,000 activators. The Summit took place on March 9th and 10th. Attendees flew home on the 11th to the news of the COVID-19 pandemic. “People were flying back to their countries and on lockdown since,” said Saunders.
The SheEO team reacted to the pandemic by holding an emergency Zoom call with all 68 of the ventures they support. The team created a triage system of Red, Yellow, and Green to determine who needed support, and how quickly SheEO could provide it.
“We put all of our resources toward those who were most at risk,” she said.
According to Saunders, the COVID-19 pandemic has “deepened relationships” and led to a higher reliance on technology and digital communication.
Shared Identities, Current Events, and the Indigenous Experience
Next, Minhas asked about the ways the SheEO community has come together in the wake of protests following George Floyd’s death, as well as other emotionally charged events, and the ways that shared identities come into play to create a sense of community as we fight for justice.
“Our team is extremely activist and very focused on social justice,” said Saunders. “We had already been having conversations around these issues for a number of years, and this was definitely the time for us to step it up.”
Spearheaded by Wakumi Douglas, a woman of color entrepreneur supported by SheEO, the team created a social justice response group with an eight-month curriculum for SheEO activators to follow on racial justice. Douglas facilitated a series of conversations and “hard questions” with SheEO activators and funded ventures to help people understand the intensity of the situation and create action plans for how to respond.
SheEO has also been working with indigenous entrepreneurs in Canada and around the world. “I am listening and learning from indigenous sisters on what they need, what their struggles are, and what their challenges are, and how we can help with that,” said Saunders. She spoke to the importance of listening, rather than leading, during those calls.
“Navigating Your Own Identity”: Saunders on Leadership as a White Woman
“I step into my fear all the time,” said Saunders. In response to issues of racial inequity and violence around the US, SheEO has taken steps to create programs that not only support women and entrepreneurs of color, but help white team members find new and constructive ways to support indigenous people and communities of color–no matter how difficult those conversations may be.
For example, Race to Dinner is a SheEO initiative, kicked off with a 90-minute call to discuss the ways white women unintentionally or directly support systemic racism. Saunders recalled being incredibly nervous during the call. “The first question was: How are you racist, and how are you upholding systems of oppression? Go!”
Through these “incredibly powerful” conversations, Saunders has worked to understand the experiences of women of color while also shifting her own perspective on race and justice. “We talk about this and we work on it each day. This is forever. This is work we need to do to deconstruct systems, and this work is forever.”
Supporting SheEO Ventures Through COVID-19
All 68 SheEO ventures have managed to keep their doors open despite the difficulties of COVID-19. Saunders explained that much of this success was due to the triage system the SheEO team put in place at the very beginning of the crisis.
For example, one SheEO-supported venture, run by a woman who hires homeless people in her city to work on laundry projects for restaurants, lost 95% of its clients by the end of the first week of the pandemic. Another venture, hearing about these financial difficulties, asked what the woman needed to keep her doors open. After hearing the dollar figure, the entrepreneurs said, “It’s on its way to your bank account right now. We’ve got you covered.”
“Ventures started to loan each other money and bridge each other, and activators stepped in after to find new ways to face the challenges together,” said Saunders. “We walk in with that spirit of, ‘How can I help?’ and we make sure that our resources go to ventures who need them.”
“A crisis is a thing that can really bring people together, or you can fall apart,” said Saunders. “And this community has truly stepped in.”
Ultimately, Saunders shared the importance of radical generosity in times of crisis. The stories of the SheEO community coming together to support each other, find ways to pivot in the face of COVID-19, and have difficult conversations surrounding race and justice in this political climate show how critical it is to keep communicating.
As COVID-19 continues and we ramp up toward the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, these conversations will continue to rise in importance. When we lift our voices together, we can accomplish so much more.
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