Women's Initiative: Small Business, Big Dreams

  • Women's Initiative 25th Anniversary Video

    Women's Initiative 25th Anniversary Video Learn more about the Women's Initiative in this four-minute video

  • Building Dreams with Small Business Alison Barakat prepares food at her bakery. She is one of thousands of Bay-area women who has benefitted from the work of the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment. Image Credit: Women's Initiative

  • Building Dreams with Small Business Barbara Johnson, co-founder of the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment. Image Credit: Women's Initiative

  • Building Dreams with Small Business Silvia Mora at her cleaning business. She is one of thousands of Bay-area women who has benefitted from the work of the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment. Image Credit: Women's Initiative

  • Building Dreams with Small Business Lisa Christian, CEO of the Women's Initiative for Self-Employment, calls her group "a major force in the Bay Area." Image Credit: Women's Initiative

  • Building Dreams with Small Business An intern cuts hair at 17 Jewels Salon and Spa. Growing future businesswomen is an active legacy for Women's Initiative graduates. Image Credit: Women's Initiative

Women's Initiative: Small Business, Big Dreams

A quarter century of success in helping women grow and sustain their own businesses has taught leaders of the Women’s Initiative in Oakland, California many things, all grounded in the concept “Each one, teach one.”

The nonprofit serves low income, high potential women who have experienced domestic violence, homelessness, debt, and/or poor education.

Participants are empowered to overcome these circumstances through job preparation and entrepreneurial skill development designed to boost clients’ self-esteem and create a foundation for future success. "Our curriculum," says program manager Nika Quirk, "is infused with tools that fit neatly into alignment with compassion, love, and forgiveness, enhancing our clients' abilities to make long-lasting relationships that enable their businesses to grow."

And the approach is clearly working. Women’s Initiative graduates have launched more than 7,000 businesses, creating 12,000 jobs. Each dollar invested in the organization yields $30 in positive economic activity in the community, according to organizers.

As WI reaches its 25-year anniversary, the Fetzer Institute is working with the team to learn more about how fostering a culture rooted in compassion, care, and empowerment can transform the lives of their clients and strengthen the WI staff and organization. This collaboration, a series of professional development workshops, allowed for rich learning about the presence of love and forgiveness in WI work and elicited a desire to continue to build these values into the organization’s culture. Workshop participants also noted how the experienced changed them personally: that it contributed to their desire to share happiness; to be intentional about communicating in ways that are loving, positive, compassionate, and respectful; and the importance of maintaining a culture that they feel is forgiving.

“In truth, our clients may not have experienced love, forgiveness, and compassion prior to coming to Women's Initiative,” says Quirk. “It is our vision to ensure that every woman knows that she has the power to achieve prosperity and this starts with making a genuine choice to infuse our work with love and compassion...creating joy in our work, which results in positive environments where clients and staff feel safe to take risks.”

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Humanities.