It was a late night, around midnight, when I was partaking in one of my favorite pastimes: deciding how I could contribute to the betterment of the world. That night, I was dwelling on the gender gap, both domestic and abroad. The subject is one that has perturbed me for as long as I can remember. I decided to Google “women’s empowerment” and came across Empowered Women International’s website. After reading the mission statement, I was hooked. I immediately emailed to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Two weeks later, I found myself at the First Annual Holiday Gift Marketplace. It was my first exposure to the organization and I loved every minute of it.
Recently, I attended the “Financing Your Business” class in Silver Spring, Maryland. Laura Levengard, a certified personal trainer who has started five businesses herself, is the mentor for the Maryland cohort. She began the class with an introduction to different ways of financing and some ideas for crowdsourcing to fund businesses, such as Kiva and Kickstarter. A group of three from The Hilltop Microfinance Initiative (HFMI) was then introduced. They covered a few sources to raise capital to get one’s business off the ground. After an overview on financing options, the group broke into two smaller ones to handle individual questions. Questions posed to the representatives from HFMI included which loans would be best for an individual to take depending on the type of business they had.
At the start of the class, the ladies went around and gave a brief introduction of their name and business venture. Amongst the group were a tutor, a fashion designer, a photographer, a gluten-free baker, a property manager, and an import/export businesswoman. I had the pleasure of speaking to some of these inspirational entrepreneurial women before and after the class.
Kim Graden, whose company Real Financial Freedom aims to help with money managing, says that the EWI classes have been very intense, but very helpful and invaluable in networking. Yasmin Abdi, a young Somalian woman who moved from Saudi Arabia a year ago, spoke about the impact that the organization, instructors, and speakers had on her believing in herself.
Yasmin had all of the know-how about photography- the correct camera, lenses, lights- but lacked faith in her ability. EWI gave her the push, the motivation that she needed to take the next step in growing her business. The encouragement from the organization struck such a chordwith her, “EWI truly helps from the heart”, and she hopes to help other young women that are similarly told by their communities that they cannot have their own business and be on their own. The classes are the only reason she is staying in the area and she hopes to join her brother in California once she has completed the course. Yasmin had booked her first wedding for that weekend.
Since I was young, I’ve been exposed to a number of volunteer and non-profit organizations. This one in particular resonated with me the most. Some of these ladies have seen hard times and struggles that most of us cannot fathom, yet every single one of them had a lively spirit about them. In that room was without a doubt the most incredible and inspirational group of women I have ever met. I was honored to even be a fly on the wall in that room on that night.
Simran Behniwal is an aspiring medical student who graduated from the University of California, San Diego, I currently work at Children’s National Medical Center, and am interested in social justice and women’s issues.