Why Women Entrepreneurs Matter

Upon first glance, you would think we would never have anything in common. As a child she attended a private, prestigious girls' school in Greenwich, CT, whereas I walked a mile each day to a public school from my home in the Brooklyn Housing Projects. But today, as adults, we share one very important thing, something that is based upon what each of our fathers told us at a very young age. "My father always said that I should never expect a handout," Loreen Arbus recalled, as she accepted the Women's Entrepreneurship Day Philanthropy Pioneer Award last month at the United Nations. "He also said that 'the only thing that will truly matter, one hundred years from now, is how we touched the lives of others...and that is our immortality."

These words, in fact, are exactly what last month's launch of Women's Entrepreneurship Day (WED) was all about -- the freedom and responsibility that comes with being a female entrepreneur. "Research shows that one of the most effective ways to change the world (is by) improving the life of a female (because this) creates benefits and opportunities for her extended family, future generations and even the larger community in which she lives," says Gilliam R. Howell, National Philanthropic Solutions Executive for U.S. Trust. "That, almost by definition, is high-impact philanthropy."

Loreen Arbus, founder of The Loreen Arbus Foundation, is a prime example of what female entrepreneurs can achieve. Having built a Foundation to support people with disabilities, the global empowerment of women and girls, scientific and medical research, gender and racial equity in media, the arts, and the environment, she first built her name in the media world by rising through the ranks to ultimately become the first woman in the U.S. to head programming for a national network. " It doesn't really matter where a woman comes from," Loreen added, upon accepting her award, "What does matter is that we are similar in our desire to give back."

It is, in fact, based upon this passion to give back that Wendy Diamond chose to launch Women's Entrepreneurship Day on November 17. "It's time for women to be recognized for the world's notion of what being a female entrepreneur means," she said during her opening remarks. And she is not alone.

Here at home, Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the day official with a proclamation, while across the globe, in 144 different countries, an estimated 250 million girls living in poverty were able hear, see and learn what is possible for them as well.

This was particularly true for girls living over 7,000 miles away in Kenya where Mama Sarah Obama, the 94 year-old recipient of WED's Education Pioneer Award, is realizing her long-term dream of helping orphans and poverty-stricken families feed and educate their children. Upon accepting her award, the only surviving grandparent of President Barack Obama recounted how "I was denied an education. That's why I made (all my kids) go to school, even Barack Obama Sr., because when they learn, that's when they can be self-sufficient, they can help themselves." "I want every child to study," she continued, "not just mine."

As such, the Mama Sarah Obama Foundation's purpose is to improve the education and welfare of disenfranchised children by providing early childhood education, offering primary and secondary education and sponsoring the Mama Sarah Scholarship Fund for Higher Education. "Our vision is a world where children are nurtured and supported physically, educationally, and emotionally to thrive and succeed in life," Mama Sarah affirmed.

It is this global reach that has also resulted in the kickoff of a WED's Global Ambassador Initiative, where top colleges and universities represented around the world, including Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Babson and University of Oxford, are primed to activate their communities with the WED movement.

In fact, it is their hope that by engaging women and men globally to pledge their support of women-owned businesses or causes in their community with 'Talent, Time, or Treasure' that the world can become a better place for women everywhere. "It doesn't take money to be a philanthropist," Arbus says. "A gift of philanthropy suggests money, but an act of philanthropy could be any number of things done in the spirit of goodwill, including mentorship. Someone who takes the time to mentor women and girls is acting in the spirit of philanthropy and is every bit as much a philanthropist as the monetary donor." And fortunately, for so many women and girls throughout the world, these honorees understand both.

Lori Sokol, Ph.D., is an Organizational Psychologist and the founder and publisher of Difference Matters magazine