Raising our Voices
Will von Geldern

August 21, 2018

It is hard to believe that it has been ten months since Ventures created our advocacy program. Since October of last year, we’ve held community meetings, lobbied government officials, and worked hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs to advocate for a more just and equitable society. We have achieved several advocacy-related wins and moved the needle for microbusiness owners in our community – but the best is still yet to come!

Just two months after starting the advocacy program, our first victory came during the 2018 Washington State legislative session. We traveled to the state capitol in Olympia to testify in the State Senate’s Economic Development and International Trade Committee about the importance of microenterprise development for local economic growth. With the support of partners including the Washington State Microenterprise Association, Enterprise for Equity, Rural Community Development Resources and others, the legislature allocated $250,000 to support technical assistance for small businesses in underserved communities. This funding was also due to the hard work of Senators Maralyn Chase, Christine Rolfes, and Lisa Wellman and we appreciate their continued support.

Later this spring, we also learned that the Trump administration had proposed drastic cuts to programs that help our entrepreneurs learn, develop skills, and grow their businesses. Through our partnership with the National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), we joined advocates from around the nation to demand that this funding be restored in the FY2019 federal budget. We have made some progress, but we must continue advocating to maintain funding for these critical programs. (If you would like an update on the progress of our campaign to protect funding for microbusinesses, check out the Association for Enterprise Opportunity’s useful guide).

We also did some heavy lifting to make sure we had a comprehensive overview of policy issues affecting Ventures entrepreneurs. We convened a Policy and Advocacy Task Force of entrepreneurs, staff, board members, and community partners, and held community meetings at our headquarters to get additional feedback from Ventures graduates. We learned that Ventures must provide training and resources to help entrepreneurs succeed in their advocacy – and in response, we’ve offering our first-ever Raise Your Voice workshop in October to help entrepreneurs learn valuable skills that will help them succeed as entrepreneurs and community leaders!

The Raise Your Voice workshop – open to anyone that has completed Ventures’ Business Basics Course – will focus on leadership development, personal branding, and how to engage in effective grassroots advocacy. Taught by Ventures’ Director of Programs Jen Hughes and me, it will also include subject matter experts in small business marketing and policy advocacy as guest instructors.

We have been very pleased with our advocacy work so far, but there is so much more to do. The Raise Your Voice workshop will help build advocacy capacity in our community of entrepreneurs, and as we build that grassroots capacity we will launch a series of innovative policy campaigns with Ventures entrepreneurs. These campaigns will advance equity in entrepreneurship, promote food justice, and create widespread economic opportunities for our community.

Ventures has taken the first strides toward a strong and sustainable advocacy program with the support of our community. In the coming months, we are taking this work to the next level. Whether you want to enroll in our Raise Your Voice workshop (login using your password from the recent Small Business Services bulletin), volunteer to support our campaigns, or get involved in some other way, please join us as we stand together to build power for Ventures entrepreneurs! I am always available, so please don’t hesitate to reach out at wvongeldern@venturesnonprofit.org.