The NAWBO Gillian Rudd Business Leadership Award is named after Gillian Rudd, who served as NAWBO’s national president in 1987-‘88; contributed strategy and charm to early advocacy efforts; and helped NAWBO establish the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, now known as the Center for Women’s Business Research.
So as you can imagine, it takes some pretty significant contributions to the status and visibility of women business owners in the U.S. and around the globe to win this award announced annually at the National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO. For 2020, Edie Fraser, CEO of Women Business Collaborative as well as vice chair and managing director of Diversified Search LLC, was honored
Edie’s contributions are many, and are fueled by a simple vision: equal position, pay and power for all businesswomen. Edie joined NAWBO at its inception and served as one of the first presidents of NAWBO Greater D.C. Her passion for empowering women entrepreneurs was exemplified in her founding role as CEO of STEMconnector and its Million Women Mentors Initiative that secured 2.5 million commitments from women to mentor others in their business pursuits. Edie was also the first woman to serve as chairman of the World Affairs Council of DC and is a founding member of Committee 200 (C200).
Here, we speak with Edie about her NAWBO experience, how she continues to advocate for women business owners today and more:
What inspired you to join NAWBO four decades ago and how has it shape your life and leadership?
“In 1975, I had just incorporated my business and valued NAWBO instantly. It was a different day when women-owned businesses (WOBs) needed counsel, development tools, financial management skills and access to capital. The Small Business Administration (SBA) was formed back in 1953, yet women continued to lack capital. In 1975, NAWBO was the first women business entrepreneurs’ organization to represent women-owned businesses. Our goal was to have the SBA, Office of Management and Budget and Congress understand WOBs’ need for capital. The NAWBO sisterhood who followed the “contacts to contracts” philosophy to forge mutually supportive relationships backed this mission.
In 1979, I was inspired to serve as a local NAWBO president. Seven years later, I was a founding member of C200. Since then, I’ve been pleased to see the launch of Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Women Presidents’ Organization, Enterprising Women magazine, Women Impacting Public Policy and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. It’s been 45 years since I launched my first business and joined NAWBO. Today, I’m excited to celebrate the 45th birthday of the first major women business organization in the U.S.!”
Are you currently working on any pursuits to advocate for WOBs?
“Yes and always! It is exciting to support all the major WBE organizations, Enterprising Women and its Foundation. In 2019, we formed Women Business Collaborative (WBC)—an unprecedented alliance of more than 41 women’s organizations advocating for gender equality and equal position, pay and power for all businesswomen. Although the number of WOBs has increased, access to capital remains a challenge. WBC works to increase capital for women entrepreneurs. As the founder of C200, I set a goal to recruit women with at least $20 million in revenue as members to support the scaling of women-owned businesses. We want to ensure at C200, we recruit more diverse women to join, and we have set impressive goals. Everywhere these days we want more diversity as does NAWBO and the leadership of Enterprising Women, Monica Smiley, and so many others.”
What other women’s causes are important to you?
“In addition to NAWBO, I support Enterprising Women, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, Women Impacting Public Policy, Women Presidents’ Organization, Total Gender Equality and MENTOR, where I was thrilled to start Million Women Mentors with 2 million commitments.
On the political front, it is women who will bring calm and balance to the system. Early on, I became a vice chair of the Women Senate Network to get more women into the U.S. Senate. On that note, we must salute Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG)—an icon for justice as the second woman appointed to the Supreme Court. RBJ aimed to change the law on gender equality entirely. She inspires all of us every day to continue to push for diverse representation and equal pay, position and parity. We must continue her legacy. We will get more women elected and we will make certain they and the men support us in policy.”
Why do you think every NAWBO member should consider a leadership role in the organization?
“Leadership is a fabulous way to learn governance, organization and ways to give back. NAWBO members can choose to step into leadership by joining a board or committee or becoming an advocate. The connections women leaders create are valuable. Leaders learn to empower others and build inclusivity while boosting their own innovation skills. Developing and building leaders is the lifeblood of any successful organization and with it comes succession planning. As we lead, we ‘pay it forward.’”
What do you remember most about Gillian Rudd, and how can NAWBO members continue to honor her?
“I am honored to be presented with the 2020 Gillian Rudd Business Leadership Award. Gillian ran a successful marketing firm and was a leader in national efforts to foster business ownership by women. She worked tirelessly to ensure women’s business enterprise. She served as a lead witness at Congressional hearings that led to the Omnibus Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1991, which created the National Women’s Business Council. Gillian died far too young at age 49. She was a tremendous leader who galvanized us all in support and we salute her.”