Female Entrepreneurs Then and Now: Giving Back - Is this a New Breed or Just How Women are Wired?

Recently I read a post by Huffington Post blogger, Patricia Handschiegel. She asserts that there is  ”a new breed of female leader taking over the country: ‘Power Girls’ — entrepreneurial dynamos who are taking lead roles in both business and their communities.” She says that these women are inspired by icons like Oprah and Hillary Clinton, and these fresh female powerhouses have already learned that giving back is just as important as staying on top.

As I meet the extraordinary women entrepreneurs who we spotlight at Get Your BIG On,  I am amazed at how many of these entrepreneurs are not just giving back but making it there life’s work.   North Jersey mom Filomena Laforgia in July 2010, four years after her three-year old son was diagnosed with autism founded Filanthropists.com. Her site is a one-stop online shopping mall for the purchase of cause-related products.  The site features a variety of products from merchants and local and national organizations that are committed to the sale of these products to support fundraising efforts for their specific cause. The site’s name not only plays on the founder’s first name, but also shows how a socially conscious individual can make a difference through the simplest of acts. By buying a cause-related product, we can all be Filanthropists.

Similiar to Filomenia’s story is that of  Tania Mulry’s.   Tania is an entrepreneur who used the experience with her child to inspire her to use her talents to help others. She quit her stable job creating mobile marketing campaigns for big brands to launch an idea that she had to help address the nation’s school funding problems. This 37-year-old mother of three had grown frustrated by the constant flow of fundraising requests from her boys’ school, but also couldn’t stand the idea that teachers use hundreds of their own dollars to purchase classroom supplies every year. She knew there had to be a better way. So she devised, designed and developed a new mobile application that pairs companies’ need to attract loyal consumers and educators’ need to obtain supplies for their students. The app, called edRover, just became available for free through the iTunes App Store with versions for other popular smartphones to follow later this year.

Are women entrepreneurs who recognize the power of giving back really a new breed or how women are wired? According to a recent study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the University of Indiana,  says women are as much as 40 percent more likely to make charitable donations than men.

The findings, reported in Time magazine, paint a flattering picture of female philanthropists and a less attractive one of their male counterparts. Women at nearly every income level are more generous givers — and not only do they give more than men, they give more often.

Next meet Jacqueline Novogratz founder and CEO of the Acumen Fund. Jacqueline is definetely a women who gives back. The mission of the Acumen Fund is to create a world beyond poverty by investing in social enterprises, emerging leaders, and breakthough ideas. Jacqueline  authored The Blue Sweaterthe memoir of her quest to understand global poverty and to find powerful new ways of tackling it. It’s a powerful read.

From her first stumbling efforts as a young idealist venturing forth in Africa to the creation of the trailblazing organization she runs today, she creates a series of insightful stories and unforgettable characters — from women dancing in a Nairobi slum, to unwed mothers starting a bakery, to courageous survivors of the Rwandan genocide, to entrepreneurs building services for the poor against impossible odds.

Sharon Davis found herself thrust into giving back when natural disaster struck. She is the coordinator for her town’s sister city exchange program with Otsuchi in Northeastern Japan. The story of how the relationship began is compelling- a young man whose father was lost at sea would sit on the Otsuchi headlands waiting for him. Eventually, it occurred to him to wonder what was on the other side of the ocean and so he followed their latitude across the Pacific and found Fort Bragg, California. He made contact and and the two communities became sister cities. This year is the 10th anniversary of the formation of the program.

Needless to say, this small coastal town has been completely and utterly destroyed by the March 11th 9.0 quake and subsequent tsunami. Of the 15,000 residents 10,000 are still missing. The town was leveled and ravaged by fires. Sharon and her town have created the Otsuchi Recovery Fund. She has created a Facebook group for the sister city program and now it’s become a place to share information on this tragedy. So far, they have raised over $75,000. Not bad for a little community of just over 8,000. The small community has been devastated by the events that have harmed their sister city.

But is this trend really new? What about the likes of  Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, (October 26, 1874 – April 5, 1948),  a prominent socialite and philanthropist and the second-generation matriarch of the renowned Rockefeller family? Referred to as the “woman in the family”, she was especially noteworthy for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art.

As we look to the past there are numerous examples of these power women. Alice Sheets Marriott (October 19, 1907 - April 17, 2000) was an entrepreneur  and philanthropist.  Alice and her husband opened their first motel, the Twin Bridges Motor Hotel in Arlington, Va., in 1957. This one motel grew into a chain of Marriott hotels.Marriott served two ten year terms on the board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.. Marriott provided endowments to educational institutions. In 1988 she provided funds for the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University. The University of Utah opened the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance, which houses the University’s departments of Modern Dance and Ballet, on September 25, 1989.[

Another notable entrepreneur  Helena Rubinstein born in 1870 started a comestic empire and was noted for her drive to give back to  others. There are also examples of women thrust into giving back at times of war like Elizabeth Blackwell  1821. Blackwell opened a dispensary in the New York slums. Her sister, Emily Blackwell, joined her shortly after; Emily also had earned her degree in medicine. In 1857, the practitioners established an infirmary for women and children.

Elizabeth Blackwell organized the Women’s Central Association of Relief during the Civil War.  She trained nurses for war service. Elizabeth, along with Emily, and Mary Livermore, played important parts in developing the United States Sanitary Commission.

Shortly following the war, the sisters established the Women’s Medical College in New York. Blackwell served as the professor of hygiene until 1869, when she moved to London to help form the National Health Society and the London School of Medicine for Women.

So what do you think? Are women the more generous sex? Are women entrepreneurs who give back a new breed?  Does gender matter, or are many entrepreneurs giving back?

Meet Female Entrepreneur Lisa Renda!


Lisa Renda
President and Founder, BPA Quality

How important have good employees been to your success?

I believe BPA’s success can be linked to not just excellent employees but also “good” employees.  When developing a business we can all agree that we want to make sure our organization is surrounded with excellent talent and that our employees are second to none. As BPA UK spread to the opening of BPA US, we learned pretty early on that recruiting excellent employees was not enough,-we didn’t want BPA to just be known for excellent output,-we wanted our clients to also enjoy working with BPA staff and to feel that they were dealing with “good” honest people who cared.  We work hard at creating a team that is undoubtedly excellent in their field but one which also shares common ideals and a sense of integrity.  We strongly feel that our commitment to this combination of “excellent” and “good” helps distinguish us in the marketplace.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs?

Do your research so you don’t have to take it personally! As an entrepreneur, your ideas, products and concepts are wide open to public scrutiny and sometimes even criticism.  Concepts, products or ideas that have been tested and researched thoroughly allow you to logically respond to questions and even possible negative perceptions in an objective and educated manner.  Don’t make it about you - make it about what your product or idea can offer!

Don’t give up.  If your research shows that your product or idea is a winner, then don’t give up.  Things might not always happen according to schedule but if all logical and objective information shows that you are onto a good thing then keep on working at it.  Remember, if being an entrepreneur was easy - -wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

Be positive, calm and logical. Re-assess when things don’t go as planned.  Drawing on personal experience, BPA has a wealth of experience in the travel industry.  Our clients represent  major airline, hotel, cruise,  and car rental chains worldwide. We have a strong reputation in this arena and have always been very been very proud of this experience. However, in the initial aftermath of 9/11 the travel industry was severely shaken and, in turn, our business was suddenly confronted with an extreme and completely unpredictable challenge, happening virtually overnight.  Our team worked hard to stay focused and positive as we sought to expand our expertise and client base into other industries.  While BPA still maintains a strong reputation in the travel industry, we have now acheived a similar reputation among many diverse industries.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

1.The commitment to stay positive.  Being an entrepreneur is exciting, challenging  and rewarding. But be prepared, things won’t always be easy.  Be positive and stay focused on your goals. Being positive is a choice that requires commitment.  It does not always come naturally.

2.The ability to be objective. A successful entrepreneur needs to be able to look at themselves and their products/ideas objectively.  Don’t be proud, be realistic.  Great things can be achieved from an “honest”  look in the mirror!

3.Tenacity - Don’t give up!  Constantly assess your performance and goals to make sure you are on target,but don’t give up. Successful entrepreneurs never do!

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

If you are working as hard as you can and there is little or no movement with your idea, it’s probably time to re-assess your strategy and/or your idea.  This doesn’t necessarily mean giving up, but you may need to tweak your product/idea, change your advertising or marketing strategy.  Tenacity is important provided your approach to “sticking with an idea” is based on solid research which supports your hard work.

Is your company profitable or what is your profit for last year?

BPA is profitable and was highlighted on the 2010 Inc. 500|5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies.  We hope to make the list again for 2011!