Oklahoma! An Update On The IEEW Pilot Project

by Shonali Burke on May 25, 2010

Oklahoma, O.K.!

To the tune of Spring’s new beginnings, the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women has helped form new partnerships and mentorships among women in Oklahoma.

Image: Renato Targa, Creative Commons

With our new program “I Educate and Empower Women,” we created a pilot project to teach and engage Oklahoma City women business owners and entrepreneurial high school students in public policy.

After matching 15 female Oklahoma legislators with 15 women business owners and 15 students from ASTEC, an inner-city charter school in Oklahoma City, our mentor teams spent a full day at the Oklahoma state Capitol for “Take Your Constituent to Work Day.”

Modeled after “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” 15 female state lawmakers gave Oklahoma women entrepreneurs and students a glimpse into what goes on at their jobs each day.

We designed the day to really connect Oklahoma women leaders of today with those of the future, and show them not only how they can get involved in public policy, but also why it is so important.

From left: Oklahoma businesswoman and lawyer Paola-Marie Alvarez de Bennett with mentee Lauren Lago after shadowing Rep. Ann Coody at the state Capitol. Photo © IEEW, used with permission.

A new perspective

Angie Hendricks, owner of Bentley Hedges Travel in Oklahoma City and IEEW participant, said the program gave her a new perspective on legislators and the public policy process.

“As I was watching the legislators in their various processes, I realized that we pay their salary – that they work for us, (and) they represent us,” Hendricks said. “I also learned that they are approachable, which I never really thought that they would be.”

Hendricks said the importance of legislative work was only underscored when she realized our legislators are shaping our future.

Passing the torch

Jan Hill, owner of Oklahoma City’s Eden Salon and another program participant, said that during the day, she was reminded of how important grassroots efforts were to the public policy process, and that she and other women needed to pass the tradition on to future generations.

“Our state government is accessible if we simply avail ourselves to the process,” she said. “It is our responsibility to continue to encourage our young people to understand that we are all stewards of the freedom we enjoy.”

“Take Your Constituent to Work Day” is only the beginning in mentoring and connecting women entrepreneurs. This summer, legislators and students will visit the womens’ businesses for “Take Your Legislator to Work Day,” allowing them a glimpse into a day in the life of a woman business owner.

As we continue through this program, we always remember our mission:

To empower women and show them how important it is to be involved in the world around them, including the public policy process.

As I always say, “If you run a business and aren’t involved in politics, then politics will run your business.”

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Guest contributor Terry Neese is a successful small business owner and the founder and CEO of IEEW. She is a member of both the National Women’s Hall of Fame, as well as the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame. Terry has served as national president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and as a Distinguished Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA). She also co-founded Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP). Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn or directly at IEEW, to learn more about how you can work with IEEW as a mentor, volunteer or sponsor, and help change the world, one woman at a time.

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