Call it the pandemic pivot. Days after our second Embrace Ambition Summit in New York City drew to a close, the U.S. shut down in response to COVID-19 and we shifted gears to support women entrepreneurs suddenly struggling to keep their businesses afloat. Our website, which quickly emerged as the go-to destination online for small businesses navigating government pandemic relief and other crisis-related support with resources and tools, including a series of free weekly webinars.
“For small businesses to endure this crisis, they need to be equipped with the knowledge of what relief is available and which strategies are beneficial for their business models,” said Laurie Fabiano, President of the Foundation.
The recessionary environment has disproportionately impacted women- and minority-owned businesses; 25% of women-owned businesses and 41% of Black-owned businesses have closed due to the crisis. Those that have remained in operation are struggling with obstacles great and small.
The small business webinar series
The webinars, hosted by our Chief Operating Officer Gabrielle Raymond McGee, began as an experiment and rapidly evolved into a key resource, providing guidance on topics ranging from federal relief options to financial management to marketing and communications.
“In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, there was a tremendous amount of misinformation and confusing relief programs. Women small business owners were frustrated, overwhelmed, and desired information they could trust,” explained McGee. “Our Small Business Webinar series provides clear, quality guidance. We are giving women a toolbox they can use to rebuild, pivot and navigate these challenging times and come out even stronger! This is important to our entrepreneurs and it’s critical to our society and next generations.”
While our Foundation is domestic, we’ve had small business owners join us from South Africa, Italy, London, Mexico, Canada and more.
As one participant noted, “I truly appreciate the focus that you’ve taken to support female entrepreneurs during COVID-19—thank you. I have found the topic of the webinars helpful and always walk away having learned something and with a few clear action items.”
Supporting our Fellows
The website and webinars were just a beginning, as the Foundation continued to find new ways to advance women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in the age of coronavirus. The signature annual Fellows program—now in its fifth year—got underway online when this year’s 50 Fellows learned they had been selected to participate during a surprise Zoom call with Tory.
To safely support the community, our Fellows have an online community where they can meet, share information, resources and virtual support, developing the peer networks that have been a key feature of the program.
“Crisis forces you to rethink and find better ways of doing things. By investing in virtual education, we are learning about our Fellows and getting to know their businesses inside and out,” said Fabiano.
Our response to Black Lives Matter
The crisis also prompted the team to engage even more deeply on broader issues of equality and social justice. Following the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing social reckoning, we drew on years of work on implicit bias and shattering stereotypes to amplify the conversation on systemic racism and Black Lives Matter. Nodding to Mellody Hobson’s talk on “being color brave” at the March Summit, the team also created Color Brave anti-racism resources—petitions, podcasts, books and organizations to support—that have reached more than 40,000 people.