Great relationships are about two things: finding the similarities and respecting the differences in one another. That’s exactly what is propelling the success of the NAWBO Indianapolis chapter’s bi-partisan government affairs committee, which consists of two Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent. And it’s what is fueling the development of solid relationships at the local, state and federal levels—on all sides of the “aisle.”
Jennifer Ping is in the business of government affairs, including lobbying for clients at all levels of government and providing political consulting to candidates. About 10 years ago, the Indianapolis chapter resurrected its government affairs committee to advise the executive committee on a variety of advocacy issues and Jennifer has served as committee chair or co-chair ever since.
“Many of our members at the time had forgotten that NAWBO was created out of the need for advocacy at the federal level,” says Jennifer. “We want our members to be sought after as thought leaders in our communities, to be at the table with the policy makers and to win government contracts.”
Jennifer’s current co-chair and committee member for the past four years is Denise Herd of Herd Strategies, a marketing and PR firm specializing in targeting issues and organizations committed to quality of life matters. That means she’s involved in everything from transportation and health care to public housing. She also does some political consulting.
While Jennifer is a Republican who has run for office, served as a Republican party leader and focuses more at the state level, Denise is a Democrat who serves more at the city level. They may sit on different sides of the aisle but they share the same goals and objectives as women business owners and very thoughtfully come together to decide and work for what’s best for NAWBO. “We both come from the same cloth where we’re kind of crazy,” laughs Jennifer. “We’ll go sit and watch committee meetings so we’re prepared to support our clients but also always with the mind of NAWBO.”
About how this ultimately benefits the government affairs committee and NAWBO, Jennifer says, “I wanted to make sure this would be a bi-partisan endeavor. We are bi-partisan by design and on purpose because the pendulum will always swing. We need to be prepared and prepare our members to have relationships with all sides of the aisle.”
As part of this, the committee works hard to ensure that city and state officials and chambers know NAWBO Indianapolis and its members. Their members have been invited to review policy statements before sessions and testify at the city and state levels.
They also host a one-day boot camp called Females United and Empowered to Lead (FUEL). This was born the same year the government affairs committee was resurrected when there was a lot of political turmoil in the city after a completely unknown mayoral candidate won the office. “We modeled it around a few programs to let women business owners know that politics is not so scary—you can participate and be at the table,” shares Jennifer.
The boot camp has since really taken off. In 2012, when two women were running for the office of Lieutenant Governor, both participated in FUEL to share their journey of running for public office. This past October, an incumbent state representative who has been a friend of NAWBO was running for re-election against a NAWBO member. They also came to FUEL to share their stories, and while the incumbent won, the NAWBO member is considering running for another office.
“When we first did it,” says Jennifer, “it was to really educate our members about the process and ways you can serve because not everyone is cut out to run for public office. We wanted them to understand alternate routes for them to be engaged.”
The past several years, the government affairs committee, with Jennifer leading the charge, has also hosted a day at the Indiana statehouse. “We bring members to the statehouse to understand the bills currently being considered, what it takes to do business with the state of Indianapolis and what resources are available to them at the state level,” describes Denise. The event culminates in a luncheon and presentation, where the NAWBO Indianapolis chapter was recently presented with a resolution. It was also declared “NAWBO Day” at the statehouse. “It was amazing to see how many state elected officials came there to meet and talk with our members and participate in the resolution,” she adds.
In January, the committee also hosted their first-ever day at city hall for NAWBO Indianapolis where members learned about the many large-scale economic development projects in the works from directors of the city agencies, like the Department of Public Works, overseeing these projects, and hear from the woman responsible for the WBE agenda. Similarly, the city declared it “NAWBO Day” and presented NAWBO Indianapolis with a proclamation from the mayor. “It was a day of empowerment and a great opportunity to remind our members in attendance that as business owners, we are members of this city, we want to do business with the city and we want to help move the city’s agenda forward. We want to be part of the solution.”
Meanwhile, Jennifer also runs a weekly report for the chapter’s executive committee on bills at the statehouse they should keep their eyes on because they could have an impact on members. In late January, there were 400 bills they were tracking, but that number could drop to 50 by the next week.
All this work has resulted in exciting achievements. Executive committee members have been invited to testify at the state level to support or oppose bills being considered. In fact, the executive committee president testified during the last budget session in support of a bill that would add an additional $10 million to the budget of a pre-K education program for underserved 4-year-olds in Indiana, which ultimately passed. “We are viewed as a trusted organization and our opinions are sought after, and that’s a big shift from a decade ago,” says Jennifer. “The fact that we’re at the table is our biggest accomplishment.”
“We have made a commitment to the organization and to our members to keep them informed as business owners and citizens of this community,” adds Denise. “They can’t make good decisions about their businesses if they don’t have good information. We owe it to our members to make sure they are empowered.”
Denise has this advice for other NAWBO chapters advocating at the city, state and local levels: “It’s so important for our chapters and members to really pay attention and place government affairs as a priority. So much of what we do and are able to do as business owners is driven and directed by the government. Just don’t take the time to be informed for elections; there’s governance that goes on year-round. Understand how you can influence those decisions being made that can impact your businesses both now and years down the road.”