FIRST LADY Maria Shriver launched a statewide initiative to invest in women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs in Oakland Tuesday called WE Invest, which is an outgrowth of the governor’s Women’s Conference.
The program is investing $100,000 in Oakland-based Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment. This fund will provide 100 Oakland women with entrepreneurial training, financing, and a vast network of support services and mentors so they can achieve success as entrepreneurs.
“When you give a man a loan, you help him. When you give a woman a loan, you help her children, her family and her community,” said Shriver, explaining that it was in the women’s nature to pass the good along.
Wells Fargo executive and women’s initiative board member Michelle Iverson said the $100,000 grant will have a $3 million impact on Oakland’s economy.
Women’s Initiative for Self-Employment, or WISE, 20 years old this year, according to its executive director Julie Castro Abrams, made 150 loans in 2007, helping 70 low-income women entrepreneurs.
“Now we’ll be able to help 100 more women,” Abrams said.
The event was held at SWARM Gallery on Second Street, the business of Svea Lin Vezzone, a graduate of the Women’s Initiative. Before she made her appearance at the gallery, Shriver visited the businesses oftwo other graduates, Sheron Campbell, the owner of World of Braids, and Allison Barakat, the proprietor of Bakesale Betty who employs 75 workers.
Shriver, dismissing the many praises being showered upon her when she took the stage, reminded her audience that she had never started a business as they had.”I’m completely in awe of you,” she said.
The Women’s Conference is an annual event launched by the governor that unites 60 world leaders with 14,000 women in one arena to share stories of success and life lessons. It is supported by large corporate sponsors such as Target, Safeway, Wachovia Bank, Pacific Gas & Electric, Mattel, HealthNet, Cisco Systems, and Wells Fargo.
The launch of WE Invest was announced at the Women’s Conference in October. Shriver said she picked Oakland for the launch venue “because I’ve wanted to do something in Oakland. I wanted to start in a place that really needed it.”
WE Invest is also partnering with Ventura Counties Women’s Economic Ventures and Community Financial Resource Center in Watts in similar programs.