Equal opportunity can – and should – be seen as the solution to some of society’s most complex challenges.
Michelle Tunno Buelow’s baby accessory brand, Bella Tunno, was launched out of tragedy but has thrived while helping others. After Michelle lost her brother to a drug overdose when she was 27, she launched Bella Tunno in his honor and committed to never selling a product without giving back to the Make A Difference Fund. Via the company’s “buy one, feed one” program, Bella Tunno has donated more than 3.8 million meals toward the eradication of childhood hunger. And rather than slow her momentum, Michelle’s purpose fuels it: the company’s year-over-year growth tops 50%.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2020, I wanted to highlight Michelle’s business for several reasons. It’s the story of a successful woman founder, but it’s also a worthy example of what can be achieved when women are supported in pursuing their ambitions. Rather than viewing gender equality as an issue to be solved, as it’s so often framed, equal opportunity for women can and should be viewed as the solution to some of society’s most complex challenges.
The EY rallying cry for #IWD2020, “Make sure #SheBelongs,” recognizes how gender equality propels us to achieve a better world. In Michelle’s case, this means that 3.8 million meals have been provided to hungry children, and countless others have been given the tools they need to live healthier, more productive lives. She is the answer. #SheBelongs
Over the 13 years since I devised the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program (Michelle is an alumna), we have shown how an underrepresented and underserved group of founders can contribute to economic growth and well-being.
These successful entrepreneurs not only create good jobs, provide leadership opportunities for women and deliver valuable products and services, but they also often embed higher purpose into their companies’ DNA. This includes creating or contributing to funds that provide much-needed capital for other women founders.
In our most recent Entrepreneurial Winning Women global impact study, 96% of participants surveyed said they feel a unique responsibility to support other women. What started as an accelerator to support women founders in scaling their companies has also become a cherished global community of more than 600 like-minded sisters who are ready-made compatriots, role models and friends.
The program also encourages their investment in a higher purpose and accelerates their philanthropic involvement. Eighty-eight percent of Entrepreneurial Winning Women support an average of two community organizations, whereas only 31% did so before entering the program. Community members also note they engage differently than before, and with different types of organizations, including many that are working to level the field for women. Individually and together, they are creating a world in which she is the answer. #SheBelongs
Sarah Dusek, another alumna, founded Under Canvas, which brings eco-conscious “glamping” — or glamorous camping — to scenic locales. Founded in 2009, the company now has $30 million in annual sales and 650 employees. Dusek was inspired to start the company by a safari experience in Zimbabwe. In 2018, private equity firm KSL Capital Partners made a substantial investment in Under Canvas. Following this transaction, Dusek and her husband founded Enygma Ventures, a private fund designed to invest in women-led businesses in Southern Africa. Enygma aims to support women in growing businesses that advance local African communities while solving broader economic and social problems.
There is acute need in Africa. We know that gender equality helps societies thrive across many metrics. While women in Africa have the highest entrepreneurship rates in the world — one in four women between the ages of 18 to 64 start or manage a business — they have to do so while facing a severe gender funding gap of $42 billion. Given the research suggesting women are more likely than men to invest in resources that benefit their communities and families, investing in women’s entrepreneurial endeavors has tremendous transformational potential. #SheBelongs.
We are proud to celebrate the many women entrepreneurs who are the answer. We will continue propelling them forward. The more that happens, the closer we get to solving big challenges — like childhood hunger and equal distribution of startup and growth capital.
If you are or know an exceptional women entrepreneur, learn more about EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women. Nominations for the North America Class of 2020 open March 11. #SheBelongs. #IWD2020.