The feminist movement, the female era, gender diversity, gender pay equity, quotas for females on boards, women in business support groups – are all words, phrases, organisations we hear of almost daily; in the news, in articles, on social media, at our workplaces. I have been trying to formulate my thoughts on all of this over the last year or two. What do I believe, and to what extremes? Are there other factors to consider as to the reasons for some of these issues? Is NZ different from the rest of the world (for the better)? Are women-only support and business groups the answer? Surely people of both genders have relevance, expertise, and experience to share that may work better in educating everyone on the skills and diversity women bring and the issues we face; another point of view that might come from men that we can directly challenge or take on board?
Don’t get me wrong – I have attended and paid memberships to be part of women’s groups and found it inspirational and motivating. They provide a network of women to support each other and perhaps connections for growing businesses and careers. I believe generally that women are hard wired differently in most cases, and learning from successful women on overcoming obstacles as part of these groups is definitely beneficial. But for me there was something missing, and to be honest there are many networks and even those including men which for me achieved the same. Most of these memberships are expensive too, and sometimes it is difficult to see what our money is doing that is different, or actively achieving a change.
However, recently I was invited by Theresa Gattung for an introduction to SheEO. Now THIS is exciting. NZ is the only country so far outside of North America to introduce this. Stats out of North America identified that only 4% of venture capital funding went to women owned businesses. Granted I am unaware of what proportion of women owned businesses form the total applying for this venture capital, but even so this is an abysmal number. There are no NZ statistics available. So with SheEO, women can join as “activators” each year to provide $500k interest free loans to five ventures owned and run by women, and play any part we can in helping the business – customers, finance, professional services. The loans will be repayable in equal instalments over five years, and recycled into new ventures. The activators contribute $1,100 whereby $1,000 forms part of the $500,000 loan, and $100 for administration. Doing the maths, each year 500 women are needed to become activators to enable the funding level to be reached.
So, what are the requirements for a venture to be able to apply?
- Majority women-owned and majority women-led so that senior leadership/CEO position is held by a woman
- Generated $50k to $2m in revenue over the year starting January 2018
- Registered as a legal entity in the region you are applying
- Represents a new mind-set, model or solution for a better world and be scalable internationally
Why do I like it? Firstly, the membership is being utilised in an active tangible way in loaning money to businesses where we can hopefully see our money working whilst still being part of a network of women. I like that the funding provided to the ventures are in the form of a loan rather than a grant as this prompts the ventures to consider what amount they actually need and focus investment in the areas that require it the most. I like that there is support available to assist the ventures in making these decisions and support along the way. I like that activators are available to help in their areas of expertise, or just generally in promoting or creating connections for the ventures that ‘won’ or just any business that may have applied.
In summary, I think I have found the ‘something missing’! Here we have all the benefits of being part of a diverse network of women, but with the common very important purpose of providing financial, mentoring and other support to women owned and led early stage businesses, which is actively creating more successful women leaders and entrepreneurs, and generally creating successful businesses which are essential to any economy.
If anyone is interesting in finding out more about either becoming an activator, sponsoring an activator (if you are male you are able to sponsor an activator), or if you know of a venture that may be interested – visit https://sheeo.world/
I brought SheEO to New Zealand and have spent a huge amount of time getting it going. SheEO is a non-profit so there is no financial gain involved for me! Because in the words of the Chinese proverb ‘women hold up half the sky’ and I believe that women supporting other women can change the world.
We can certainly incubate a new business model to challenge the ‘winner takes all’ mentality! Indeed we need to. For our planet. For all of us!
To talk to any of the five SheEO Ventures selected last year by the Activators is to be moved by how a relatively small amount of money (the Ventures received between $30k and $140k each) when coupled with the enthusiastic and skilled support of both a coach and the Activators has been game changing for these women, not just for their enterprises but in their wider lives.
An idea started by Canadian woman Vicki Saunders, NZ was the first country in the world outside North America to introduce SheEO. In true Kiwi style we found a way to do that which simplified the process of set up so that it could become a global initiative. A few months ago it launched in Australia and the next country off the blocks will be the UK.
I see SheEO as part of a new wave of initiatives and business models attempting to straddle two things we used to see as separate – doing good and making money. Business is an honorable pursuit and we’ve all seen what can happen in charities where the disciplines of business do not apply.
Whether it’s investing in Impact Funds or advising social enterprises we have moved away from ‘just not doing bad’ in business to embracing how we might reimagine the world and create and run businesses which actively do good.
This is where SheEO fits in.
It’s not the only way.
It’s not the only thing.
But it is a group of people, growing by the week, taking action to see how this can be progressed and how it can scale up globally.