HR 5050 – The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988

October 25th is the 30th anniversary of President Reagan’s signing of the historic Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988.

When John LaFalce (D-NY) became Chairman of the House Small Business Committee in 1987,  he was focused on “what I could do to give the economy the biggest bang.  I thought that we had an untapped goldmine in women entrepreneurs.” 

So when Gillian Rudd – President of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in 1988 -- and Chairman LaFalce got into a conversation at a House Small Business Committee reception that year, they decided that it would be a perfect time to hold several days of comprehensive hearings on women’s business ownership.

After the Congressional reception, five leaders from the Washington DC chapter of NAWBO, including me, held a Strategic Slumber Party at a cabin in the hills of Virginia, at which we barely slumbered.  Instead, we mapped out strategy all night, on how we could create an amazing set of hearings that would transform women’s entrepreneurship in the United States.

Because Chairman LaFalce “wanted a 50-50 chance for women,” he reserved a number, House Resolution (HR) 5050 – the informal name by which the legislation was known before the bill became law – and claimed it as soon as that number became available.

Congressman LaFalce remembers, “There were old boys networks in the 1980s, but very few old girls networks at that time. So we wanted to create a mechanism to bring women together and to educate them on entrepreneurship.”  The legislation created five women’s business centers to educate women entrepreneurs, and there are now more than 100 of these centers that train women entrepreneurs around the United States.

In the late 1980s, the government counted mostly sole proprietorships that were women-owned, rather than larger corporations.  This resulted in policymakers thinking that all women-owned businesses were tiny.  Thus, the legislation required the Census Bureau to begin counting all women-owned businesses, which enabled women entrepreneurs to suddenly become visible. 

Wanting to “rid the economy of discrimination against women,” John LaFalce also thought that we needed “to get rid of regulations in a number of states that required a male guarantor for business loans.” The witness we invited to address this issue was Lillian Lincoln (later Lambert).  In 1969, she was the first female African-American to graduate from the Harvard Business School.  She started her own firm, Centennial One, a building services company, in 1976. When she decided to apply for a business loan, Ms. Lincoln did not have a living father, husband or brother who could co-sign her business loan application.  Instead, she had to get her 17-year-old son to sign the loan for her – even though she was supporting her young “guarantor” entirely through the income from her growing business.  Centennial One was generating $20 million in annual sales by the time that Lillian Lincoln sold the company in 2001.

Finally, John LaFalce and NAWBO’s leadership wanted to keep the eyes of the government on the role of women in the economy over an extended period of time, rather than only during this set of hearings. Hence, the legislation created the National Women’s Business Council, to provide policy recommendations to the Congress, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and to the President of the United States.

Ten members of the Washington DC chapter of NAWBO worked intensively on the hearings over a period of several months, to identify witnesses, draft testimony, train witnesses and orchestrate media coverage.  Throughout the entire process, NAWBO leaders worked hand in glove with Chairman John LaFalce (D-NY); Andy Ireland, Ranking Minority on the House Small Business Committee (R-FL); and Don Terry, the Committee’s Staff Director.

It was crucial to NAWBO, Chairman LaFalce and Congressman Ireland that we have roughly the same number of Democrats and Republicans as co-sponsors, to ensure that the issue was completely bipartisan. Ultimately, the legislation passed with near unanimous support in both the House and Senate, in only 103 days.  The bill was signed by President Reagan on October 25th – 30 years ago today – as the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988.

One issue that NAWBO desperately wanted to have included in the final legislation was access to federal procurement.  However, NAWBO’s policy team was almost certain that we would not be able to get the legislation passed if that component was included, so we dropped it, thinking that the National Women’s Business Council could get it passed the following year.  In fact, it took many years to make substantive progress on federal procurement.

I talked with retired Congressman LaFalce two days ago, to ask him what his thoughts were on his role in creating this landmark legislation.  He told me, “I look back on this legislation very fondly, and was extremely honored when NAWBO gave me its first Congressperson of the Year Award. I also was so pleased to learn recently that the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 is now referred to as ‘The Big Bang of Women’s Entrepreneurship in America.’  That’s exactly what I set out to do when I became Chairman of the Committee – to give the economy the biggest bang I possibly could, by tapping an untapped goldmine – women entrepreneurs.”

Virginia Littlejohn is President and Co-Founder of Quantum Leaps, Inc. She is a past national President of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and one of the architects of this legislation.


The Women’s 20: Shaping the Women’s Economic Empowerment Agenda

German Chancellor Merkel after receiving the W20 Communique

German Chancellor Merkel after receiving the W20 Communique

The G20 countries, comprised of the 19 largest economies in the world plus the European Union, held their Women’s 20 (W20) Summit in Berlin, Germany, from April 25-27, 2017. German Chancellor Angela Merkel used her 2017 G20 presidency to put the cause of women’s economic empowerment in a prominent place on the global economic agenda: she attended the event on three occasions, to dialogue with the high-profile W20 delegates about policy recommendations.

Delegates from each country developed policy recommendations through an intensive online process that took place during March and most of April. The most important recommendations were consolidated into a one-page Communique that was presented to Chancellor Merkel on April 27. The Communique was then passed on to a Sherpa for each country. Collectively, the Sherpas are responsible for incorporating recommendations from all the engagement groups – Women, Business, Labor, Civil Society, Think Tanks, Youth and Interfaith – into a larger draft Communique that will be considered, modified and adopted by the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the G20 countries at the Leaders Summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7-8, 2017. Recommendations adopted in the Leaders Communique are to be implemented by all G20 countries.

In addition to the Communique, a 12-point W20 Implementation Plan was developed. Each of the 12 points in the plan includes recommended measures, a monitoring dashboard, as well as supporting reports, studies and leading practices. Individual countries are free to decide which issues in the Plan they want to focus on.

Though assessing the success of the W20 Summit in Berlin will be an ongoing process based on results, the strategic agenda laid out is highly encouraging. Both Jennifer Bisceglie and Virginia Littlejohn of Quantum Leaps were heavily involved as leaders of two of the four W20 working groups.

Jennifer Bisceglie (right) talking with Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF

Jennifer Bisceglie (right) talking with Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF

Ms. Bisceglie, Quantum’s CEO, co-chaired the Strengthening the W20 working group, while Ms. Littlejohn, Quantum’s Co-Founder and President for Innovation and Strategic Initiatives, was chair of Digital Inclusion. The two also worked hand in glove with leadership of the German Association of Women Entrepreneurs (VdU), one of the two co-chairs of the Summit, on developing women entrepreneurial policy recommendations. Along with the two German co-chairs of the Summit and several other working group chairs, Bisceglie and Littlejohn also served on the coordinating committee that collectively honed what ultimately became the W20 Communique and Implementation Plan.

The entire W20 12-point Implementation Plan for women’s economic empowerment is important, but some of the specific initiatives are at the core of Quantum’s advocacy action agenda:

Systematically Integrating Gender Analysis and Gender Budgeting

“The W20 calls on the G20 member states to systematically integrate gender analysis and gender budgeting into all its agenda, growth strategy and policy frameworks. This must include improving gender-disaggregated data collection for evidence-based policymaking and progress monitoring. It also requires the adoption of, and agreement on, essential indicators that can assess progress in achieving gender equality both within the G20 and internationally.”

Supporting Women Entrepreneurs and Female Cooperatives

“The W20 recommends that the G20 supports women entrepreneurs and female cooperatives to start up and scale their operations, build capacity, ensure their equal access to finance and markets, and accord them their fair share in global value chains. Entrepreneurship is vital for resilient growth and vibrant societies. Entrepreneurs enhance employment and productivity while creating high quality innovations. Increasing the huge untapped potential of female entrepreneurship would significantly contribute towards achieving the G20’s growth goals.” 

Bridging the Digital Gender Divide

“The W20 calls on the G20 to swiftly bridge the widening digital gender divide and take inspiration from the ‘Women’s Initiative in Developing STEM Career (WINDS)’ by setting up a comprehensive 5-year plan for gender-equal digital transformation, thereby partnering with ‘EQUALS’, an initiative implemented by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the GSM Association (GSMA) and UN Women. Information and communication technologies (ICT) have been identified as a key driver for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and as the core enabling innovation area of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Furthermore, they are tools through which gender equality and women’s economic and social empowerment can be advanced. An increased investment in access to ICT and technical, vocational education skills and training (TVET) for girls and women is necessary to counteract potential job losses from “digitalization” of the economy, which may disproportionately affect women.”

Other critical issues from the 12-point Implementation Plan that we provided strategic input on include “Granting Full Property Rights, Legal Capacity and Right to Self-Determination for Women and Girls” and “Providing Full Access on Equal Terms to Productive and Financial Resources for Women.”

Virginia Littlejohn (fourth from left) talking with Germany's Sherpa, Mr.   Röller

Virginia Littlejohn (fourth from left) talking with Germany's Sherpa, Mr. Röller

Quantum Leaps’ leaders were honored to have had a hand in developing these policy recommendations, and will be continuing to focus on implementing them between now and the next W20 in Argentina during 2018.

While substantive results must be achieved for the German W20 to be considered a resounding success, there are encouraging signs that women’s economic issues will be more central to G20 decision makers under Chancellor Merkel’s leadership than at earlier stages of the W20’s development.

Arancha González, Executive Director of the Geneva-based International Trade Centre – with which Quantum Leaps partners on women’s access to markets – wrote a recent piece for the Huffington Post which addressed this point very well:

Can the G20 Put Women at the Centre of the Global Economy?

“…Countries need to cooperate to keep things from going awry. The Group of 20 (G20) plays a critical role in international policy coordination: it serves as a forum for leading economies to set shared goals. Germany’s G20 priorities under Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressly included the economic empowerment of women with…all G20 members agree(ing) that economic discrimination against women is a major constraint on growth. The true measure of success will be whether G20 leaders first adopt ambitious commitments on gender equality at their summit in Hamburg this July and then go on to deliver on those commitments.”

To ensure that commitments to these recommendations are adopted and implemented, W20 delegates and national organizations in each G20 country focused on women’s economic empowerment need to advocate with their national Sherpa to ensure support for implementation of these recommendations. Please contact the G20 directly for contact information on your Sherpa, if you are from a G20 country.

G20 members include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

Sucharita Eashwar of India, Virginia Littlejohn and Jennifer Bisceglie immediately before presenting recommendations from their three W20 working groups -- Finance, Digital Inclusion, and Strengthening the W20

Sucharita Eashwar of India, Virginia Littlejohn and Jennifer Bisceglie immediately before presenting recommendations from their three W20 working groups -- Finance, Digital Inclusion, and Strengthening the W20

Quantum Leaps will be helping to lead the charge in areas that impact women’s entrepreneurship in the United States, and globally. We hope the W20 platform can eventually contribute to broad buy-in internationally, including among countries that are not members of the G20.

Chatham House Video Competition: #SheCanWeCan

Chatham House, the renowned British Think Tank, has created a video competition for young people to create inspiring videos that bring attention to “explore ideas or actions which would make the world a better place for women around the world.” These one minute videos made by people 18-25 years old “should explain why it is important for all of us - regardless of gender - that the world becomes a better place for women and what you would do to make sure that it becomes that way.”

The winning video makers will be able to “join decision-makers from around the world in London to discuss gender equality at the 2017 Chatham House International Policy Forum on 10-11 July 2017.”

The winning video from the 2016 competition, by Jeeyoon Lee, can be seen here:

We look forward to seeing what the contestants come up with, hopefully creating not just a single great winner, but also a large number of motivational clips that make their way around the internet and get the message out to a large audience.

Quantum Leaps is proud to be a collaborator with Chatham House, who recently commissioned us to develop a case study on America’s success with a public-private partnership (PPP) model, based on our CEO’s involvement with that process while with Women Impacting Public Policy. We will be sure to share that case study with all of you when once it’s published.

International Women's Day

Women own 36 percent of all small businesses in the U.S., notes Forbes. And yet, while the number of women-owned businesses has seen record growth, these firms continue to face obstacles in accessing capital and markets. 

Despite government programs supporting women-owned businesses, women-owned businesses are “21 percent less likely to win government contracts,” according to a study released by Women Impacting Public Policy, a nonpartisan advocacy group that works to even the playing field for women-owned firms. 

March is Women’s History Month, and marks the perfect occasion to reflect on the needs of women business owners in the U.S., and how our government policies can better support those needs. 

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BeBoldForChange, and on March 8, we at Quantum Leaps are thrilled to join “A Celebration of Women Business Owners: History, Participation and Progress,” sponsored by WIPP and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). This public meeting will be conducted online, and it is free to join via a webcast. By honoring and acknowledging our past and what has worked, we can then look toward the future, and how everyone can grow by giving woman-owned businesses an equal place in the marketplace. 

Quantum Leaps serves at the vanguard of support for women-owned businesses internationally, from increased access to markets especially public procurements, vocalizing the need to have inclusive finance opportunities, to encouraging knowledge sharing and networking. Quantum Leaps’ four pillars of Knowledge Development, Advocacy, Capacity Building and Incubation strive to help women-owned businesses around the globe to find the resources and support they need to grow and thrive. This isn’t just about helping one subset of business owners. Studies have shown that women business owners greatly increase national GDP. 

“Greater participation of women in the labor force correlates with higher GDP growth. Households where women have more control over resources enjoy higher savings rates and increased spending on children’s health and education,” notes an international study released by Ernst & Young. 

Jennifer Bisceglie is the CEO of Quantum Leaps, and the past chairwoman of WIPP. 

“Women-owned business are an engine that drive our economy, and policies that support and encourage these firms generate more jobs, taxes and contributions that benefit all of us,” Bisceglie says. “I’m proud of the work WIPP and Quantum Leaps have done, and look forward to participating in this vital conference.” 

As delegates to the Women’s 20, an engagement committee for the G20, Bisceglie and Quantum Leap’s co-founder, Virginia Littlejohn, have the ability to represent these needs on an international stage. 

A Celebration of Women Business Owners: History, Participation and Progress
Wed, March 8, 2017, 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM EST

Quantum Leaps, Inc. is a global accelerator for women's entrepreneurship based in Alexandria, Virginia. It works with governments, international institutions, and women’s business associations to promote women’s entrepreneurship as a means of driving quantifiable economic growth at the national, regional, and global levels.

Women’s Enterprise Development Interest within the New Administration

While Washington’s incoming administration has generated questions about its prioritization of women’s enterprise development, there have been a pair of high level personnel moves to spark optimism.

Former wrestling executive Linda McMahon has been nominated to lead the Small Business Administration (SBA) while Dina Habib Powell of Goldman Sachs and its 10,000 Women program is “assistant to the president and senior counselor for economic initiatives” where she will “build new efforts around entrepreneurship, small business growth and the global economic empowerment of women.”

Powell’s position is still fresh and we’ll be keeping an eye on her initiatives and counsel in future posts, but with McMahon's confirmation hearing having taken place on January 24th, there are some fresh findings there worth examining.

McMahon comes from what was originally a small business background, having founded and built the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. with her husband, which they grew into what is now a publicly traded stock with a market cap of $1.5 billion.

FutureForward Cognitive Computing Deep Dive with IBM in Washington D.C.

FutureForward and IBM hosted a Cognitive Computing Deep Dive on November 30th in downtown Washington D.C. at IBM’s offices. 

Bringing together a high profile collection of women CEO’s and tech staff from high growth women led firms, the information-packed deep dive went into how cognitive computing could create new business value for these women and their companies. The day included executive briefings by senior IBM experts on Watson and cognitive computing, roundtable discussions, and demos, including practical applications to jumpstart thinking on how to apply cognitive to high growth businesses.

Cognitive computing has been described as “analytics on steroids,” with cognitive business already changing the competitive landscape. New groundbreaking business models, products and services are entering the mainstream and beginning to change the way we live and work.

All participants got an introduction to Bluemix, IBM’s application development tool, which will allows analytics and technology personel to rapidly develop cognitive and mobile apps. Participants also received a free trial of the Bluemix tool.

Quantum Leaps’ and its FutureForward initiative looks forward to similar events in the future on the intersection of women, women led businesses and STEM, so watch this space as well as our twitter page for updates.

FutureForward is a multi-year platform of action-oriented research, thought leadership, knowledge-building forums, partnership development, awareness raising, advocacy and policymaking, designed to inspire women scientists and women in STEM to commercialize their research and to accelerate the number of women-led firms at the cutting edge of emerging and advanced technologies. Our goal is to make women equal partners in every aspect of science and innovation to create next generation game-changers that will transform the world. FutureForward is an initiative of Quantum Leaps, Inc.

Center for Global Development Updates UN Foundation Report on Women’s Economic Development

In 2013, The UN Foundation and ExxonMobil issued a groundbreaking report, A Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment.

Built on rigorous fact checking and a series of commissioned studies, the report classified women’s empowerment interventions into four tiers and then graded them by their ability to deliver measurable results to specific beneficiaries with their own unique contexts.

In November of 2016, a new report written by Mayra Buvinic and Megan O’Donnell for the Center for Global Development has updated the findings with more recent data — Revisiting What Works: Women, Economic Empowerment and Smart Design.