How an extraordinary group of female entrepreneurs keep innovating through the pandemic
Launched in 2015 in Canada, a visionary funding model for female entrepreneurs is emerging as a global innovation that is showing a strength and agility we can all learn from. Rather than trying to fit women into the existing business models and systems and level the playing field, SheEO is creating an entirely new field. Our guest writer, founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders, explains how.
Our goal is to reach one million ‘activators’, 10,000 women-led
businesses or ‘ventures’ and a $1B perpetual fund to support women for generations to come. SheEO is a radically redesigned ecosystem that supports, finances, and celebrates female innovators. We are redesigning
by pushing the reset button on how to support women on their
own terms and bringing out the best in women by being radically generous to one another. It’s an entirely new values set for entrepreneurship designed with a female lens.
The model brings together 500 women (called “activators”) in each year’s cohort, who contribute £850 in the UK, $1100 in CAN, US, NZ and AU, and each as an ‘Act of Radical Generosity’. The money is pooled together and
loaned out at zero percent interest to five women-led businesses, or ‘ventures’, selected by the activators. All ventures are revenue generating with export potential and are creating a better world through their business model or their product and service. The loans are paid back over five years and then loaned out again, creating a perpetual fund which we will pass on to our daughters, nieces and granddaughters. The 500 women activators in each cohort become the de-facto ‘team’ of the five selected Ventures bringing their buying power as early customers, their expertise and advice and their vast networks to help grow the businesses.
On March 16th this year, we gathered 68 of the women-led businesses in our SheEO portfolio to gauge their businesses’ situation – if they were red, yellow or green. How much stress were they under, how at risk was their business? One woman shared that she lost 95% of her revenues by noon that day as she had a unique model for hiring people at risk of homelessness to do laundry for local restaurants. Here is the dialogue that followed:
“How can I lay off people at risk of homelessness at this time? Another venture said, what do you need to get through the month so you can breathe and figure out how to pivot? She answered. And another venture said, sending it to you now. We’ve got you. And as we went through the group, the shift was palpable. We are here for each other. We are made for this time. We have all that we need, together. And someone said, “What if we didn’t lose any jobs in our community? Let’s make that commitment now. We will share resources, help one another out and figure out how to get through this. People are loaning each other money, helping with negotiating rent abatements, sharing expertise, buying each other’s products and services. Whatever is needed, we ask for help and support one another.”
Welcome to SheEO.World
We are a global community of radically generous women working on what we call the ‘World’s To Do List’ (also known as the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals). Every year in the regions where we operate – Canada, UK, US, New Zealand and Australia – hundreds of women contribute a modest amount of financial capital to support new models that aim to solve the major challenges we are facing – food security, zero waste, education, inclusion – that we believe can scale around the world. The innovators we select are coming up with new business models, new ways of organizing and reaching their customers, solving flexible working challenges and innovating social and environmental best practices, while working on the sustainable development goals. We are, together, building the new world.
Since 2015, over 5,000 women have become activators with SheEO.World funding 68 women-led ventures like The Alinker, a walking bike for people with mobility challenges to maintain an active lifestyle; or Brandi Decarli founder of Farm From A Box – a complete off-grid toolkit for tech-powered community farming; or Kai Frazier founder of KaiXR an educational web VR platform providing inclusive and accessible VR field trips for kids. We call it #radicalgenerosity knowing that we need a whole new approach to discovering, funding, and supporting business solutions that get us to a better world. SheEO turns everything upside down. We show up with our sleeves rolled up ready to help, women of all ages and stages, currently aged 14 to 95, mothers, daughters and grandmothers all contributing what we can.
We trust the intuition of hundreds of women in each country to vote for ventures they are passionate about. Data proves that collective intelligence outperforms experts over and over again. We call women ‘activators’ instead of ‘investors’ because this is about using our money AND our connections AND our influence AND our expertise to help these businesses thrive. And it’s fun to do this together.
As one of our Australian activators, Monica Bradley, says “SheEO is a powerful movement – but it’s not a movement about power, it’s a movement that uses the power of connectivity and friendships to change the world. One person, one connection at a time. “
It’s very powerful, it’s future-focused, but really it has its roots in our First Nations people all over the world. This is the way that First Nations people worked, forever, since time immemorial – and we’re really taking a trip back to the past to reinvent a future that’s sustainable, that’s connected, and it gives us all the work and lives we want and believe in.”
A collective economy; one that works for all of us, that keeps capital in flow (regenerative) going to where it is needed most is a future we believe in. During this time with COVID-19 we have seen unparalleled resilience in our ventures and in our amazing community.
Every week we have been doing video calls in each country with hundreds of women joining in to support one another in our Ask-Give process. We break out into small groups for people to ask for what they need and give what they have to support one another. What started as an idea to fund women working on the World’s To Do List has grown to be a vital community of radically generous women supporting one another as well.
Check out the stories on our social media and join in.