Women’s Earth Alliance: Three Strategies for Growing a Successful Social Enterprise

I have witnessed the Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) grow from a seed of an idea by Melinda Kramer, its founder and co-director, to an organization that is making a global impact by connecting grassroots women environmental leaders to what they need most: resources, training and advocacy.

After attending WEA’s recent Weaving the Worlds Gala, I was struck by its success, professionalism and authenticity.  Green business luminary Joel Makower sat on the host committee this year. In his invite to the event, he called WEA an “extraordinary global organization” and said

Over the past few years, I’ve watched WEA blossom into a powerful force, connecting women around the world who are in the middle of a revolution that few of them know exists. WEA’s leadership team has transformed communities and lives by connecting visionary women environmental advocates, organizers and entrepreneurs from around the world who were working on the frontlines of environmental, social and economic sustainability in their communities. It is, simply put, one of the most important and hopeful organizations I know.

All this lead me to ponder the question, what has made WEA such a powerful force? I see three strategies WEA has used to nurture its success:

1. Find Passionate Leaders and Build a Strong Advisory Board

WEA founder Melinda Krammer

WEA’s tag line reads, “When women thrive, communities thrive.” The organization has a clear mission:  to connect and empower women leaders to be more effective leaders in their communities.

The co-directors Melinda Krammer and Amira Diamond are articulate and passionate about their vision and have successfully recruited a powerful international advisory board that includes Paul Hawken and Joanna Macy.  Julia Butterfly Hill is also a big supporter of the organization.

At the Gala, WEA made a great effort to walk the talk and by greening the event, serving organic food presented by Back to Earth Organic Catering, using name tags made of real leaves and partnering with Green Home to equip the bathrooms with 100 percent recycled toilet paper. Personally, I find it refreshing when an organization takes the time to attend to these details.

2. Listen Before You Act

Unlike traditional development models that tend to arrive to a community and say, “We have a solution for you,” WEA’s programs are built upon partnership, mutual respect and education. They spent the first few years in conversation with women in India, Africa and the American Southwest asking, “What do women want? How can we support you?”

What became apparent to WEA were three key missing pieces to the community development puzzle:

  • Women are under resourced;
  • Women are disconnected from each other and lack the tools and training they need; and
  • Women are being left out of community decisions.

From these gaps, WEA created three core program offerings that offer capacity building, advocacy training and leadership development focused water, land and food issues.

3. Find the Right Partners

Collaboration and partnership are popular buzz words these days.  But as anyone who has actually developed partnerships or tried to collaborate knows, sometimes it is easier said then done.

WEA has partnered with A Single Drop and Crabgrass to create the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI), designed to move women and communities out of poverty by supporting women’s livelihoods with sustainable water technologies and skills. GWWI equips African grassroots women leaders with water technology training, business skills, networking support and seed funding to launch viable water projects in communities across Africa.

The GWWI trainings include a component which teaches the women participants about appropriate technologies through practical hands-on learning.  The training gives the women the opportunity to learn one of three technologies (BioSand water filters, composting toilets or rainwater harvesting), along with the construction of Solar CooKits and water testing with the Portable Microbiology Laboratory.

The facilitator for the 2010 West African Women and Water Training, Maame Yelbert-Obeng, has written a blog post about that training for the Global Fund for Women.

Yet, no words can convey the program as well as WEA’s beautiful video highlighting the program:

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Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. Green Impact designs and implements new green initiatives and develops sustainability communications that bring successes to life. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.