Marga Fripp founds Empowered Women International (EWI) as a network of support and cultural exchange for immigrant and refugee women. Ann Stone, EWI’s first Chair of the Board, today Chair Emeritus, was instrumental in establishing the non-profit organization. Initially, EWI started offering a series of empowerment workshops that assisted immigrant women in assessing their skills and in creating life and career plans and provided an opportunity for women to connect and share their stories. In addition, many of the women found that art and creative outlets were a powerful way to express themselves and their cultural backgrounds and reclaim a sense of who they were.
EWI officially opens at 1212 Prince Street in Old Town Alexandria and launches A Woman’s Story Gallery – an art and gift shop to promote art and multicultural events by immigrant and refugee women. This was a space where women could meet, display their creative works, tell their stories, and hold receptions and performing arts events. She received an overwhelming response to her gallery and suddenly had a huge demand for her gallery space. This multicultural arts space brought together the families and friends of the artists as well as the general public. Visitors to the gallery started to inquire about purchasing the items on display.
Exhibitions, cultural programs, and monthly support groups help 200 immigrant women integrate and have a voice in the community. Marga starts working one-on-one with exhibiting artists to develop their professional portfolios, improve quality of their work, and find new venues to showcase and sell art. It was clear that there was a market for the work of these artists and artisans, yet most of them had no knowledge of how to start a business based on their creative and cultural assets, how to market that business, and how to access local networks and arts communities in order to advance their careers. Marga realized that she could enrich the cultural experiences of her community while simultaneously helping these women use their art as a means to many ends – self-employment and economic gain as well as community participation and integration.
Marketing classes are added to help immigrant women earn a living from their work. Over 30 women attended these classes. EWI expands its target audience to include low-income and at-risk American-born women. With collaboration between artists, community volunteers and EWI staff, the Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS) program was formalized. In a very short period of time, EWI became recognized as a beacon for immigrant and refugee women artists and artisans looking to develop careers and businesses in the arts and creative industries.
EWI packages its marketing and business classes into a three-month mini-MBA for artists and creative entrepreneurs and launches Entrepreneur Training for Success (ETS). Classes are taught at the Art League. Twenty-five women graduate from ETS. Funding is limited and EWI needs to give up its location on Prince Street. EWI moves its operations to Del Ray in a small room offered by the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau.
A generous supporter offers EWI a temporary space at 1307 King Street in Alexandria, so the organization can continue to promote and sell its art in the retail district. ETS graduates exhibit and sell their work there. Fourteen women graduate from ETS.
The offices and A Woman’s Story Gallery close, and for 9 months the organization has no space to operate its programs. Marga meets ETS graduates and coaches new clients at various cafes in Old Town Alexandria. Nine women graduate from ETS. EWI begins presenting art and cultural events across the region, and EWI gains visibility with the growing success of its graduate women entrepreneurs.
The organization finds a new home at Convergence in Alexandria. With a limited operational budget of $50,000, Marga continues as the only staff member and ETS trainer. Twelve women graduate from ETS. EWI launches the first edition of We the People Project at The Workhouse Arts Center.
EWI wins a grant with AmeriCorps, and the organization receives a full-time AmeriCorps Volunteer as part of its staff. Twelve women graduate from ETS, and EWI presents four cultural art programs and 15marketplace events featuring its graduates.
A generous anonymous gift of $80,000 at the end of 2010 helps pay a salary to the Executive Director and hire a Program Manager. ETS is launched at a second site in Montgomery County. Twenty-three women graduate from ETS and launched their businesses. A Business Plan Pitch and a Train-the Trainer program are developed.
EWI greatly expands the ETS entrepreneurship curriculum. A yearlong Mentoring Program are developed to support its student entrepreneurs. Thirty-five women graduate and launch businesses. 75 clients benefited from 1,060 hours of business training by 72 mentors, staff and industry experts. The organization doubles its budget with $235,000 in revenue and raised more than $100,000 from foundations compared to $37,000 in 2011. Partnership with Capital One Bank developed that engages 60 bankers/year as financial mentor volunteers. EWI selected as a KIVA Trustee, enabling alumni entrepreneurs to apply for its crowd-funded loans. EWI celebrates with a Ten Year Anniversary Gala.
Grow My Business (GMB), a nine-month business acceleration program, is launched as a pilot program with 15 students, all alumni entrepreneurs of ETS. The number of women in the Entrepreneur Training for Success program increased to 49 with two locations in Alexandria, VA and Montgomery County, MD. New partnerships were established with Ernst & Young, Hilltop MicroFinance, CAAB, Self-Esteem Coach Chizoma Cluff, and Milken Institute to deliver financial coaching, business plan mentoring, and public speaking acumen. The Capital One Business Plan Pitch is started. Two alumni entrepreneurs received crowd funded loans from Kiva Zip to expand their business. The staff increased to 3 full-time senior staff and 2 contract staff, with a growing team of interns and volunteers. A second office is opened in Wheaton, MD to provide targeted client services and programs. EWI’s first annual Holiday Gift Marketplace is successfully launched with 24 women entrepreneurs.