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On Tuesday, March 6th, entrepreneurs, business owners, and advocates came out to share their ideas for Ventures’ new advocacy program at our headquarters in Seattle. This meeting, the first of many for our community, was meant to create a space for community members to share ideas and give feedback on our plans for advocacy at Ventures.
Local entrepreneurs and advocates shared their vision for how our community can better support microbusiness owners through targeted funding, increasing affordability, and leveraging peer support to help Ventures entrepreneurs do more with less. We also heard about the opportunities for building microbusinesses through government contracts and procurement opportunities, the importance of high quality, affordable childcare and how civic education and training opportunities can help entrepreneurs connect more deeply with their neighbors and communities.
There were many lessons that we will take away from this first meeting, but here are three of the biggest things we learned:
1. Empowering entrepreneurs to become effective advocates will require training and education. For many entrepreneurs, civic engagement through Ventures will be their first experience with organizing, advocating and/or grassroots lobbying. In order to build empower our entrepreneurs as advocates for Ventures and beyond, we must provide a robust educational experience prior to taking action.
2. We must create a positive vision for our communities, and keep that front and center. One of the most compelling aspects of Ventures’ work is the stories from our entrepreneurs. Their stories and experiences are the very basis of why we do what we do.
To help policymakers, community partners, and other supporters understand the purpose of our advocacy, we must start by telling these stories. We know the statistics: entrepreneurship is at a 40-year low; women- and minority-owned businesses in the U.S. only generate one-third of the revenue of non-minority-owned businesses on average; and rates of entrepreneurship and related job creation are significantly lower in low-income areas. But those statistics do not fully explain the importance of microbusiness in our communities.
We have to maintain a focus on the mom-and-pop shops disappearing from local communities, the entrepreneurs closing their businesses because of rapidly escalating rent, and the parents that don’t feel confident with the risks of self-employment because of their childrens’ need for financial security. We build businesses to change lives one at a time, and that should always be at the front and center of our advocacy work.
3. Convenience is key. Everyone is busy, but this is especially true for a single mother with two jobs and a side hustle. If we want to get our entrepreneurs engaged, we must do everything that we can to meet them where they are. We will continue to be responsive, ask for feedback, and build our advocacy program around our entrepreneurs.
So where do we go from here? We have already begun work on our inaugural policy agenda and our next community meeting is coming up on April 19th. Want to attend future meetings or get involved in some other way? Email Will von Geldern, Director of Advocacy, at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and ideas.
Don’t feel ready to commit, but want to stay up-do-date? You can sign up for our advocacy email list here.
Thank you to everyone that has come out for meetings and shared their ideas so far. Stay tuned for updates on upcoming meetings, events and trainings in the weeks and months to come!