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An Ecosystem of Empowerment

As our calendars flip to March we find ourselves in Women's History Month – a time to celebrate the strong and courageous women in our lives while honoring those who have blazed the trail forward.

I had the opportunity to sit down with two phenomenal women: Courtnee Hawkins, Director of the ECDI Social Enterprise Hub, and SocialVentures' very own Chief Empowerment Officer, Vicki Bowen Hewes. We discussed the growing relationship between their organizations, women’s history month, and their upcoming event: Women Sparking Change.

Thaddeus Jones: Courtnee, can you describe ECDI for those who are unfamiliar with the organization?

Courtnee Hawkins: ECDI is a CDFI, a community and development financial institution. What makes us unique is that we focus on historically underserved businesses so our clients [are] business owners, women, women over 40, minorities, new Americans, and restored citizens. So it’s unique that we’re able to step in also as a lender and lend to these individuals who have been underbanked. On the other side we’ve got our Women’s Business Center so we offer the technical assistance and education component where individuals can receive 1:1 consultation, business coaching and plug into the resources they need to level up their business.

TJ: Vicki, could you also tell us about SocialVentures?

Vicki Hewes: SocialVentures’ mission is to support, advocate for and fund social enterprises – businesses that are advancing solutions to problems in our community. I regularly get the question, “Social enterprise, what does that mean? Is it non-profit organizations, for-profit businesses?” The fact is, tax status doesn’t matter. A social enterprise is a business with both a financial return and a societal impact, either through the products and services they provide or the people they employ. Some examples locally are Freedom ala Cart – a catering business that provides supportive employment to survivors of trafficking, and Zoras House – a coworking space that equips women of color with the clarity, confidence, and community they need to succeed and thrive.

TJ: Can you tell us about the connection between SocialVentures and ECDI? How did it start and grow?

VH: I started in this role in August 2021 and a top priority was connecting with fellow service providers to learn how we can collaborate. I believe nonprofit organizations are stronger together. The minute I talked with Courtnee I was so impressed, she is really passionate about leading change, and the services that ECDI offers to our community of entrepreneurs are very robust. Through conversations we’ve determined how SocialVentures and ECDI can collaborate to increase impact, avoid program duplication and deepen engagement with the purpose-driven business leaders we serve to help them thrive in work and life.

TJ: So you collaborated on an upcoming program, Women Sparking Change. How did this come to be?

VH: We were looking at the different opportunities for women who are leading purpose-driven businesses – we’re excited to connect like-minded

leaders, highlight the wonderful work that these incredible females are doing, and empower other people to come alongside and support. We want to equip women with the resources and confidence to launch and sustain her social enterprise business, and empower coaches, mentors and consumers who can support woman-owned establishments. Everybody has a part in how we’re able to move forward. Women Sparking Change will do that, and create a ripple effect that carries forward in the work that SocialVentures, ECDI and other support organizations in the ecosystem lead every day. We’re excited to have 3 fabulous woman-owned social enterprises creating delicious treats for the celebration!

CH: What excites me about Women Sparking Change is it's one night we can get to be together and be empowered by women doing good work that look like us. The business owners that we serve — over 60% are women in this social good space. So many women, especially women of color, Latino women, Black women, they are running businesses leading change, but they would never call themselves a social enterprise. They are solving problems in our community. They are boots on the ground, they are creating jobs and they are doing good work. So this is a chance for us to recognize females that are changing the way that business is done here in Central Ohio. We want to support them, to be there and champion their efforts. It’s going to be a powerful time together as we carry the empowerment torch forward.

TJ: What does Women’s History mean to you and has that changed since becoming an entrepreneur?

CH: Being a past entrepreneur myself I love the fact that I live in a country that allows me an opportunity to take risks and also provides me support to be successful and provide for my family, leave a legacy for my children. When I think of Women Sparking Change and I think of Women’s History I think it’s a time we can show up. It’s time for us to come along with each other, listen to one another, and know that we can make the change. And be courageous.

VH: There's so much to celebrate and so much work to do. We’re still striving for equal pay, and we continue to forge forward, advocating for what’s right.

TJ: How can we as a community support our fellow women-led social entrepreneurs throughout the year?

VH: Purchase is power, so encouraging people to be thoughtful with their purchases and procurement at a corporate level [while being] intentional with the young women – empowering the next wave of feminism. We must amplify the voices of underrepresented women and underscore their importance in our world thriving through their confident leadership, with diversity and gender equity.

CH: When a woman shares her business or her idea, ask the question, “how can I help” “who would be a good referral for you” or “what challenges are you having in your business” – everyone should be continually mindful of those things and then act in support of empowering women leaders. Our world will be a better place for it.

Click here to register and learn more about Women Sparking Change:

About the interviewer: Thaddeus Jones is a recent college graduate from Shawnee State University and serves as Strategic Community Outreach Director of GetCR8V.