Women's Economic Ventures: Offering Hope, One Entrepreneur at a Time

It was 1991. Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), an organization dedicated to empowering women to start and grow their own businesses, was in its first year. Marsha Bailey, CEO & Founder of WEV was alone in the office when the phone rang. A woman, who wanted money to buy a computer so that she could work despite her physical limitations, was on the other line. Bailey explained to her that she would need to join a borrowing group and complete a brief training to qualify for a loan and there was a long pause. Expecting to hear the woman say she was not interested, Bailey was surprised when the woman said, “You are the first person who has given me any hope.” Twenty-five years later, this same theme holds true.

“The one consistent thing that I hear about our programming, no matter what group or client, is that it gives people hope,” said Bailey. “While many clients come to learn technical skills, they also come away with the hope and self-confidence that allows them to succeed and that is what makes WEV so impactful.”

Bailey started WEV because she wanted to be more proactive in advocating for and empowering women. Graduating college in the 1970s, Bailey experienced firsthand the challenges facing women in the job market and found it difficult to support herself. After a series of jobs, she began working at the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and, itching to do more to support other women, started volunteering at the Women’s Community Building Project, which eventually evolved into WEV.

“We brainstormed a number of ways to structure WEV and decided that the most feasible way to help women make more money in our small Santa Barbara County economy was to “meet women where they were,” and focus on supporting self-employment and small businesses,” said Bailey.

To achieve its mission of working towards a more equitable and just society that empowers women, WEV began the SET program, which is a 14-week course that provides week-by-week training on the most important aspects of organizing, financing, marketing and managing a small business. Track A provides training for clients who are not yet involved in business and Track B is designed for those clients who are already in business and want to formalize or grow.

“The WEV SET program was essential in setting up my small business because the program not only gives you practical knowledge, but it also provides mentoring and support,” said Twilight Amber Robin, April 2016 graduate of WEV and founder of Twilight Time Desserts. “There was so much that I didn't know about starting a small business and I left the program with all of the tools and support I needed to get my business started.”

As the economy has shifted and expanded to include more women in business, WEV has also expanded to include more client services. The Thrive in Five program is designed to help businesses in their first five years achieve a sustainable business model and stable footing through advising, ongoing training and consulting . WEV also offers loans and, most recently, has been expanding its outreach to Spanish-speaking populations. With support from the Rotary Foundation, the Santa Barbara Foundation, Women’s Funds and other funders, WEV hired Spanish-language coordinators in Oxnard and Santa Maria to provide on-the-ground outreach and assistance to Latino communities.

“WEV is committed to growing their programs and increasing their impact in North County with an emphasis on the growing Latino community,” said Kathy Simas, North County Director at the Santa Barbara Foundation. “By providing the tools and skills to emerging business owners and strengthening existing businesses owned by women, WEV increases the positive economic impact on the individual and the community. The Santa Barbara Foundation is pleased to support WEV’s efforts.”

Thus far, WEV has served over 6,500 clients in its core programs and supported over 4,000 local businesses that generate over $300 million in sales each year and aid in the creation of a vibrant local economy. In the future, WEV hopes to continue to increase its positive impact by identifying alternative forms of investment to support small businesses. By helping women build bigger businesses to increase their assets, WEV offers a glimmer of hope to businesswomen across Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties who are working hard to achieve their dreams.

Santa Barbara Foundation | 1111 Chapala Street, Suite 200, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
(805) 963-1873 | info@sbfoundation.org