2023 Strategic Planning Overview

Mission and Vision

At CWE “We Lift Up the Women Who Lift Up the World,” providing training and technical assistance to aspiring women* entrepreneurs and women business owners to launch and grow their businesses. We meet clients where they are and provide greater access to the resources, tools, and support needed to achieve business success. When we empower women to succeed economically, they are better positioned to support themselves, their families, and their communities, ultimately leading the way in driving sustained economic growth and creating a more equitable world for us all.

*CWE defines a woman as anyone who identifies as such, regardless of assignment at birth. We welcome people of all genders, including non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals, to participate in our programs and services.

Programs and Services

To fulfill our mission, CWE runs five Women Business Centers (WBCs) across New England, individual businesses counseling, and group educational experiences. In addition to training and technical assistance, CWE serves as New England’s largest certifier of women-owned businesses. In supporting entrepreneurs to achieve WBENC* certification, CWE gives women-owned businesses the certification and networking opportunities to increase their ability to compete for real-time business opportunities provided by WBENC Corporate Members and government agencies. One of the main benefits of certification is access to a current list of supplier diversity and purchasing professionals at hundreds of major U.S. corporations that accept WBENC certification.

*WBENC stands for the Women's Business Enterprise National Council

Whom We Serve

While approximately 10% of our clients are men, we are proud to intentionally focus and reach out to low/moderate-income women who live in under-served communities. Our clients are drawn from a wide variety of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, ranging from women living in public housing starting home-based or small retail businesses to established women business owners hoping to grow their enterprises with funding and technical assistance. No one is turned away for lack of financial ability to participate, thanks to our friends and supporters. Of the 4500 individuals who CWE trained and counseled in 2020, approximately 60% were of low and moderate-income, and 30% were women of color. In the next two years CWE will evolve its service outreach to increase the percentage of women of color served from 34% to 50% serving 5,000 women over that time. At that rate, in five years CWE will have served 10,000 women of color. We serve women because we believe in the powerful economic and social impact of women fully realizing their entrepreneurial potential and economic well-being.

CWE Strategic Plan:2021-2023

For 27 years, CWE has been focused on supporting women entrepreneurs through direct service and practice. This focus has earned CWE trusted relationships with clients and our partners in the field, and a deep understanding of the systemic challenges that women entrepreneurs face, particularly women from low- income communities and women of color. Over the last quarter century, CWE has supported tens of thousands of women to make informed decisions in their entrepreneurial launch and growth as a result of increased access to training, expert technical assistance, and connection to powerful and supportive networks. Yet major systemic barriers continue to thwart higher levels of success. Some of these barriers included (but are not limited to) lack of access to financial investment that is in the client’s best interest, access to childcare, access to health care, and the list goes on. CWE recognized that to create real change for the women we serve, we must create a strategic plan to think about how to effect systemic change in addition to increasing the effectiveness of our direct service.

In 2019, CWE engaged in a six-month strategic planning process co-chaired by Betty Francisco, current CEO of the Boston Impact Initiative, and Lisa Wood, Partner at Foley Hoag and current CWE Board Chair. The result was a three-year plan to strengthen and expand our capacity to deliver on our mission. The Strategic Planning Committee consisted of key stakeholders including board members, CWE clients, funders, partner organizations, policy makers, and staff. In October 2020, the CWE Board of Directors adopted the strategic plan with three overarching goals:

  1. Be New England’s most trusted and impactful training and technical assistance resource for women who see entrepreneurship as a means to economic empowerment,
  2. Be a Thought Leader in using data and case studies to increase programmatic impact as well as support the development of public policy to advance women entrepreneurs,
  3. Utilize organizational best practices to create long term sustainability.

CWE Building a Triangle of Impact

As we pursued our goals, we specifically sought to prove our organizational expertise as direct service providers through research and analysis. We commit to continuous improvement of our own practice and to share our learnings with financial institutions, municipalities, corporations, and nonprofits. By developing a “Triangle of Impact,” CWE can now develop and deploy best practices and support legislation/policies that can remove systemic barriers and enhance the entrepreneurial ecosystem for all women. Reinforcing and fueling this work is a dedication to thought leadership; through PR and Communications, CWE can share learnings with the broader entrepreneurial ecosystem, improving the effectiveness of the field.

CWE's Triangle of Impact

Definitions of Terms Used:

  • Direct Service: CWE’s Training, Technical Assistance, and WBENC Certification;

  • Research and Analysis: The synthesis of data and stories to draw new insights

  • Policy: Laws that are passed at a federal, state or municipal level;

  • Systems: Rules that are employed by a community, organization, or industry;

  • Thought Leadership: The public sharing of key insights and learnings.

Significant Progress Against our Strategic Plan Goals

In the first two years of plan implementation, CWE has made significant progress against the above goals and is proud to announce that by the end of 2023, the following will be accomplished:

Increase in reaching underserved communities: By deeply engaging experts in inclusive culture building and education, we overhauled educational curricula and outreach materials to be more inclusive and relevant to our clients of color and in communities where English is not spoken as a first language. Through intentional relationship building and extensive training, members of CWE staff, Fiduciary Board, Advisory Boards, consultants, and volunteers better reflect the diverse client base that we serve. In addition, CWE has launched programming by and for women of color with oversight from a volunteer committee, the Women of Color Think Tank, made up of women leaders and entrepreneurs of color. By the end of 2023, we anticipate that 70% of the women we serve will be from low- and moderate-income backgrounds, and 50% will identify as women of color

Strong and impactful corporate, government, and not-for-profit partnerships that expand outcomes for the women we serve: For each region where CWE serves we have been developing key programmatic partnerships with organizations that support and serve the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Examples of key partnerships include:

  • Not-for-profits such as EforAll, MassHire, NH’s NAACP, RI’s Hope and Main, and Vermont’s Center for an Agricultural Economy,
  • Massachusetts Competitive Partnership who is helping CWE to develop an accessible and inclusive online community, the CWE Hub, with training and technical assistance resources, content experts, and corporations ready to support and do business with women entrepreneurs,
  • EY Parthenon who is partnering with CWE to lead the entrepreneurial ecosystem by example to better leverage data to improve services to women from marginalized communities,
  • Deloitte has teamed up with CWE as their first non-profit to conduct ongoing TrustID evaluation to gauge and improve levels of trust across key stakeholder groups.

Built centralized program capacities to support operational excellence and thought leadership: Growth was one of our biggest challenges to sustainability. In less than three years, we restructured existing resources and applied human capital where we needed it most: uniting the CWE footprint to be a true sustainable, impact regional organization. As we made significant enhancements in internal technological infrastructure and our programs, we were able to better tell the story of our clients and we were serving a lot more of them more meaningfully. We attracted the attention of both our peers and organizations interested in serving and hearing from our clients, which led to the launch of our Impact Department. This department is a key part of our next 2023 strategic plan.

Leveraged Marketing and PR as an impact initiative: CWE developed an ongoing marketing and public relations plan that elevates CWE’s clients, communicates CWE’s effectiveness, and shares our collective learnings through events, conferences, and social media. By 2023, we will have launched a new website and new branding with clear messaging, navigation, and branding guidelines for internal and external use.

Established Institutional Best Practice in the areas of financial management, technology, and human resources: Implemented a more comprehensive and transparent compensation philosophy, salary bands, and performance management system for staff; Met key revenue goals, including increased unrestricted operating funds as a percentage of all revenue, increased multi-year investments, and established a financial reserve.

2023 Strategic Planning: Continuing CWE's Momentum to Increase Women's Economic Empowerment

Three key questions that the 2023 strategic planning process will serve to answer:

  1. How does CWE measure economic empowerment for our client? How do we increase it for the women we serve? How does this compare to other stakeholders’ measurement systems? What are the measurable milestones and metrics?
  2. How can CWE leverage our resources to create meaningful change regionally and nationally, creating significant and lasting change in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, particularly for low-income women and women of color as well as support key policy changes such as increased daycare, health care, and access to capital?
  3. How can CWE best build and evolve its internal systems to deliver on our vision, mission, and goals? What investments need to be made for CWE to have the financial and operational capacities needed to support all organizational activity while ensuring financial sustainability?

Roles of Key Stakeholders in the Strategic Planning Process

  • CWE Staff will be responsible for driving initial thinking to be vetted through the strategic planning process, conducting needed research, identifying strategies for achieving the plan’s goals, and developing and revising drafts of the plan, based on feedback from the Co-chairs, Strategic Planning Committee, and all constituents throughout the year.
  • The Strategic Planning Committee will be a mix of board and non-board members and consist of 25-30 key stakeholders that will represent our partners, clients, and the regions as best as possible. Committee members will ensure that the strategic plan presented to the CWE Board for final sign-off, articulates ambitious but attainable goals and effective strategies for maximizing the impact of CWE over the next five years. They also will serve as ambassadors helping to communicate the plan to the broader CWE community. The Committee will meet 4 times for two hours each over four months (April– Sept 2023). In advance of the first meeting, there will be an organizational orientation to get everyone grounded in the same information about who we are, what we do presently, and a look at the ecosystem currently supporting our entrepreneurs overall.
  • The Strategic Planning Committee Co-chairs will provide guidance and feedback to the staff with drafting and revising the strategic plan as well as work with staff to best leverage our time with the strategic planning committee. The Co-chairs will check in with the Staff Strategy Team as well as lead the Strategic Planning Committee meetings with support from CWE staff. The Co-chairs will also regularly update the Board of Trustees on the progress being made and present the final plan with the CEO to the Board of Trustees for final approval.
  • The Board of Trustees is the decision-making body that will provide feedback along the way and will be responsible for approving the plan, holding the CEO and staff accountable to its milestone and goals, as well as promote the plan to key stakeholders and funders.

Additional Key Constituency Groups Involved: (either by rep on the Committee or separate focus groups)

  • CWE Regional Advisory Boards
  • Women Certified Business Owners (The WBENC Forum)
  • Entrepreneurs in the first year of a start(CWE Clients)
  • Supplier Diversity Professionals
  • Policy Makers
  • Philanthropic Investors
  • CWE Women of Color Think Tank
  • Municipal and Non-Profit Partners

Strategic Planning Timeline

  • Jan 2023 - Strategic Planning Co-Chairs and Committee membership finalized.
  • March 2023 - Strategic Planning Committee attends CWE orientation
  • April, May, June, Sept 2023 - Strategic Planning Committee meets to review strategic plan drafts, provide feedback on specific initiatives and make recommendations
  • Sept 2023 - Strategic Plan Final Draft is presented to the Board of Trustees for approval/feedback
  • June to Sept 2023 - Focus groups and meetings with key stakeholders to get feedback on the Strategic Plan
  • October 2023 - Finalize the Plan
  • November 2023 - Public Launch of CWE's 5-year Strategic Plan