How Scale it Up! Sustainability Training for Women Entrepreneurs Began

 In Thinking About, Walking the Talk

Several years ago, I was living in Stockholm, just finishing up a 10-month contract as Communications and Sustainability Manager for an international science organization focused on conference in London called Planet Under Pressure. I heard that there was going to be a global women’s entrepreneurship conference in Stockholm and signed up. I was so excited to learn about what was going on in entrepreneurship related to sustainability.

There was great information and research presented about why women are not as successful as male entrepreneurs. There were presentations on how women should be more assertive and confident, tips to help women access financing, and resources to help them open new markets – all interesting topics. To my surprise, not a single aspect of sustainability was mentioned.

During one session Q&A, I asked a presenter representing a global women’s entrepreneurship initiative whether her organization provided training about the benefits and opportunities of building triple bottom line businesses. There was a long pause – and then came her answer: “Oh, women don’t need that. They’re already close to the earth.”  She quickly moved on to the next question.

That’s the moment when I realized that there was a training gap in the entrepreneurship industry. After extensive research, I realized that the majority of training and support programs empowering women to succeed in business only offer traditional business training. When I looked for data and articles about sustainability in small business, I couldn’t find much at all aside from several academics focused on the topic. I did find a few organizations addressing sustainable small business – the Center For Sustainable Production and Consumption in Wuppertal, Germany has an entrepreneurship initiative and Ecoventures International based in D.C. had programs in many countries around the world. There is a growing social entrepreneurship movement and there’re more and more businesses getting B-Corps certification from B Lab. For the majority of business entrepreneurs, there wasn’t much out there that I found with regarding to training and resources for sustainability.

In 2013, I contacted 17 women that I went to graduate school with in Sweden at the MSLS Programme at BTH. They live all over the world – most work in some aspect of sustainability in their own communities. They gave me initial feedback on the vision of the program.

In 2014, I piloted  Scale-it-Up! Sustainability Training for Women Entrepreneurs‘ (STWE) 3-day weekend intensives in Stockholm, Vienna, and Munich. I had wonderful co-facilitators in Stockholm and Munich and partnered with local Impact Hubs, unique and inviting co-working spaces that are located in cities around the world.  The workshops went great; we improved the content and flow of the workshop each time we ran it. Results based on evaluation and observation indicated we were on the right track with the curriculum.

In 2015, family and work were all encompassing. In 2016, I moved back to Chicago. I’d decided to do some in-depth research and planning to build the STWE program for real.

So, here we are in 2017. After a year of research and work on a traditional business plan, writing Letters of Inquiry and grant applications, creating multiple iterations of budget scenarios, profit and loss statements, and executive summaries, sending countless emails out and having dozens of conversations with potential partners and sponsors,  we’ve got our first programs scheduled in the fall. There’s no funding or sponsorship yet, but I figure funding will come if women sign up for our programs, like them, and spread the word that they’re worth going to.

Our mission is to offer and popularize sustainability business training to women entrepreneurs that is affordable, accessible, inspiring, as well as practical training and follow-up support that will empower women with the knowledge and skills to develop sustainable businesses, spur sustainable innovation, and offer sustainable products and services that consumers and customers increasingly prefer and demand around the world.

We want to work in partnership with business accelerator and incubator programs to offer this training on a regular basis as part of traditional business curriculum. And, we want to partner with academic researchers. We think it’s important to do research about sustainability training and sustainable small business development so that there is data that can measure their economic and societal value, document interest and growth, and gather quantitative and qualitative outcomes. There are important questions to ask and answer, but currently there’s not much focus on asking or answering them.

At STWE, we’ve got an ambitious mission and plan – it is sure to evolve and morph. I’m excited to see how it’ll play out!

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