The past week has been brutally difficult. I have run smack into the very real challenge before me–a made to measure production process for an innovative line of women’s clothing – where there is no roadmap. You have to convince each crucial player to do something they’ve never done before and to take a leap of faith with you. When one piece gets stuck on the road you have to go back and find someone new. Begin the process again. Then there is the nonstop cycle of issues: Problem. Problem solved. New challenge. Repeat. I know there is a golden opportunity here, but many days my shovel looks small and the mound of dirt looks like a mountain.
At some point in the very tough week I realized that the challenges of this world – environmental, inequality, jobs, health- are going to require a whole bunch of people to walk these steep paths to something different. Divergence from the status quo is not easy – it requires that we forge new paths. And I realized, if I don’t take this one on, someone else will and will face all the same challenges. We either do the hard work and make these changes, we don’t and see no change (and the catastrophic results of staying the course), or we let someone else do it and hope they start to work on it SOON. Tough reality. But also easy decision–I am no less capable than another who would face all these challenges walking this path. And so I consider, what can make it better? What can maximize my chances of getting through the other side? What sort of support could be provided to women like me, trying to do something different for a different outcome, for a brighter world?
The solutions I see all start with community. Entrepreneurship can be very isolating. Often bootstrapping entrepreneurs and changemakers are saving their pennies, working out of their homes, grinding away at their new idea. Add into that mix the psychological toll of trying to reimagine your role in this insane world after you’ve absorbed all the crap about how women are not founders, innovators, geniuses, problem solvers, thought-leaders, etc. etc., and you get a toxic mix just ready to kill any beautiful little bud of an endeavor. The growing community of the now 9 ladies who form the Orange Street Collective has allowed me to see the real possibilities available to us when we come together.
They see my vision for Reid Miller, they have their own, enormous endeavors. I watch them hit roadblocks and come to put my work in perspective. I watch them persevere. I learn that we are all strong enough. I learn that we are also not crazy. Wanting to build businesses that support a new way of living, where ethics and a devotion to the environment is built in, is not crazy. (It is strange to me now that I felt alienated from the start-up world with these desires early on in my work.) They also feel that we are ready for these changes. They embody them. They carry them in their work. Need I reiterate that a co-working space or regular community space for women is hugely valuable? This is the awesome stuff that gets reflected back.
But it doesn’t stop there. In this community we can also learn new skills. We can share the best of our expertise with each other. We can help brainstorm on each person’s challenges. We can practice our pitches. Get feedback. We can run marketing ideas by each other. Share our favorite tools to increase the efficiency of our work. Share our favorite accountant or shipping company.
So wouldn’t it make sense that there would be money for this work, to create co-working spaces for women to flourish and build their changemaking structures, make our world a better place? Could we not simultaneously bridge the funding gap between men and women founders, get to work on some of our big environmental and social problems, and see a healthy return on investment (ROI) in these spaces, since companies with women founders have a higher ROI (63% to be precise).
Maybe we will be the first to test this triple bottom line for some lucky investor in the Orange Street Collective: women, problem solving for social good, and dollars earned for dollars spent on change.
We are addressing these questions tonight at our first summit to Empower Women Changemaker’s at the Orange Street Collective. I expect that I will have lots to add and report back in next week’s letter.
Thank you for following and supporting me on this wild, difficult and exciting journey.