Marga Fripp, the Founder of Empowered Women International, is an award-winning social entrepreneur and international consultant in women’s leadership and empowerment. With over 20 years of experience in solving social problems through the arts, innovation and entrepreneurship, Marga is passionate about empowering women to pursue their dreams. She has worked with thousands of women in the US and internationally to start or grow their micro-businesses. A former journalist and a native of Romania, Marga produced programs that focused on women’s equality, human rights and integration solutions for orphans and street children during the difficult first years of Romania’s transition from communism. She was banned from broadcasting in Romania in 1996 due to her critical portrayal of social policy of the post-communist Iliescu government.
In 1998, at the age of 23, Marga founded and developed a successful women’s service and advocacy organization – The Association for the Promotion of Women in Romania (APoWeR) – to counteract violence against women and provide economic opportunities for women in Romania. As part of her strategy of development, Marga formed and led a multidisciplinary team of lawyers, judges and prosecutors to draft a domestic violence bill (2001). She then mobilized citizens, politicians and non-profit activists to advocate for it. In 2000, Marga also produced and hosted a TV talk show to address women’s human rights in Romania. The talk show’s popular debate format for discussions of discriminatory practices towards women, combined with APoWeR’s three years of legislative advocacy efforts, led to a national Domestic Violence Bill signed into law by the Romanian Parliament in May 2003.
With her American husband, Marga left her life in Romania behind in 2001 to bring their newborn son to the US for treatment after suffering a brain stroke two days after he was born. It was during this most stressful time in her life, as she struggled to find her own way in the US, learn the language, care for her baby and eight year old daughter, and with a husband whose work frequently took him out of the country, that Marga began to find other immigrant women with the same struggles with belonging and integration. Hearing their stories and similar plight, Marga began to envision a community of women for women, who could help one another succeed and support each other; where others can hear and see their culturally rich and vibrant stories.
In May 2002, Marga created Empowered Women International (EWI) to give voice and create entrepreneurial opportunities for immigrant, refugee and other marginalized women. Over the past decade, Marga’s effective and passionate leadership turned EWI from a volunteer-run program to an award-winning organization with more than 3,500 supporters, over 3,000 women beneficiaries, and more than 1 million dollars generated in donated services. Marga has completed a graduate certification in Business Administration at the Open University, U.K., and holds a BA in Communication/Journalism from the University of Maryland University College. She is married to Jesse Fripp, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and currently an executive with ShoreBank International Ltd. They have two children and live in Bowie, Maryland. Get inspired by Marga’s passionate talk on what sparked her imagination and vision for Empowered Women International and what drives her purpose for social change. This TEDx talk says it all: Finding Purpose.
You can contact Marga through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
“My vision was to create a community of women for women, who can help one another succeed; a place where women support each other, and others can hear the stories these women tell.”
In 2001 nine days after September 11th, I immigrated to the US after a medical emergency with my newborn son, who suffered a brain stroke two days after he was born. My husband, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania and I had no plans to come to the US, but this medical situation changed everything for us. We were told that our son might never speak, hear, see or be able to walk. We came to America like many immigrants, with hope and faith that what we would find here would save our son’s life.
We arrived in the US in a very difficult time for all in this country, myself and our family included. I didn’t speak English at that time, and I can’t express how challenging everything was. My son needed my full attention and care, as did my eight year-old daughter. We went for one year, every week, once a week to Children’s Hospital for Physical Therapy. Day by day I prayed that my son would get better and stronger. During my first months in the US struggling to understand the culture, learn English, find a job, while taking care of my son, I realized how difficult it was for immigrants, especially for women who left a professional career behind, to integrate, to retain their sense of worth, to have a sense of belonging and provide for their families. Prior to immigrating to the US, I had already worked my way up the journalism ladder to be an award winning broadcast journalist. At the age of 22, I was banned from journalism for speaking up my mind and standing up for the poor and orphans in my country. Undeterred, I started a nonprofit organization, which initiated, advocated for and helped pass Romania’s first Domestic Violence law in 2003. I had accomplished much at a young age, yet without English language skills and a network of support, these experiences seemed worthless in this country.
After enrolling in an English language class, things began to change for me. I met a large community of highly talented and educated women, many of them artists, writers, anthropologists, published authors – all in one ESL class at Montgomery College. I started to talk to the women. Despite their education, talents and skills, many of these women were paid $5 an hour doing menial jobs. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe it. When I heard their stories and what brought them to the US, I realized I was not the only one feeling lost and disempowered. And I was not going to give up on re-becoming myself. With my identity shattered to pieces and no sense of belonging, I went on to seek the meaning in my new life. My vision was to create a community of women for women, who can help one another succeed; a place where women support each other, and others can hear the stories these women tell.
A place where the American Dream lives on, and everyone feels welcome and at home. My realization was that when women told their stories, people listened. There was empathy. There was compassion. There was understanding. Many of the women I’ve met did not speak English well or at all, but they used paintings and music to tell stories. People responded to this media and I believed there was a viable business opportunity for these women to sell their artwork, products and crafts if they could obtain the right skills. Empowered Women International (EWI) came to life in May 2002 with a clear mission to help immigrant, refugee and low-income women inte- grate in the community, rebuild their lives, families and livelihoods, and pursue the American Dream using the power of the arts as means for communication, cultural understanding and entrepreneurship. Twelve years later, what started out as a network of immigrants, women artists and a few business classes has blossomed into an organization that trains more than 200 immigrants, refugee and low-income women in business and leadership skills every year, and launches socially responsible micro-businesses that support women and their families, and our local economy. Marga’s son is a healthy and talented 12 years old. Her daughter is a Posse Scholar and a sophomore at Sewanee, the University of the South in Tennessee, and her husband pursued a career in micro-finance after Peace Corps, and works for ShoreBank International in Washington, DC.
A journey of struggle, hope, passion and determination, the story of Marga Fripp, EWI’s Founder, is a quintessentially American story. It started with wishing to find ways to integrate, then showing other women how to pursue their creative talents, to founding an organization that gave voice to immigrant, refugee, low-income and at-risk women. Marga Fripp’s determination and passion has enabled hundreds of women to become savvy business women and community leaders over the years. Now in its fifteenth year, EWI continues to transform the lives and livelihoods of high-potential yet struggling women.
- Marga Fripp honored with the Living Legends of Alexandria Award featured in The Gazette Packet and AlexandriaNews.org
- Marga Fripp honored with the Montgomery College Milton F. Clogg Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award
- Marga Fripp and Kate Campell Stevenson speak at TEDX Bethesda Women
- US State Department invited Marga Fripp to give women’s economic empowerment training in Papua New Guinea
- Walker’s Legacy Business & Community Leadership Awards honors Marga Fripp
- Marga Fripp is interviewed for WAMU 88.5 Community Minute PSA featuring Empowered Women International
- Listed in City Paper’s 2012 Give It Up, DC, the charitable donation guide for top-rated list of non profits worth giving.
- Marga Fripp named Daily Record’s 2012 List of Maryland’s Leading Women
- EWI selected for the 2012-2013 Catalogue for Philanthropy and designated as “one of the best small nonprofits in the Washington DC region“
- Arts Build Communities Award: Rising Star Finalist – Virginians for the Arts
- Alex Arts Awards – City of Alexandria’s Commission for the Arts
- Bruce Oliver Business Leadership Award Finalist for partnership with West Potomac Academy High School – Fairfax County Public Schools
- Enterprise Award – Catalogue for Philanthropy
- EWI selected for the 2007-2008 Catalogue for Philanthropy and designated as “one of the best small nonprofits in the Washington DC region”
- Virginia House and Senate Commendation for outstanding achievements in the community and for promoting the arts and cultures of immigrant and refugee women artists – The Commonwealth of Virginia House and Senate
- Making a Difference for Women Award – Soroptimist International
- Cultural Affairs Award – Alexandria Commission on Women
- New Century Scholar Award granted to Marga Fripp – Coca-Cola Foundation Award, USA Today and Phi Theta Kappa
- Governor of Maryland’s Award for Service and Volunteerism granted to Marga Frip – The Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism