Spotlight: Women’s Economic Ventures

By Meghan Behrens

The Santa Barbara-based Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV) is dedicated to creating an equitable and just society through the economic empowerment of women.

Opening a solo practice after 12 years with a government law firm seemed like a daunting process. Fortunately, I recalled that a friend who took over running her parent’s bed and breakfast had used the help of little-known Women’s Economic Ventures to provide support in the form of financial assistance, networking, and training, so I sought out their help as well. Through the assistance of WEV, I was able to concentrate on building my business instead of worrying about whether I was going to survive financially. Besides bringing me financial peace of mind, I received the added benefit of feeling a part of something bigger than just my practice: women before me had the same hopes and dreams of creating and sustaining their own business, and with the help of the WEV, they succeeded. That gave me the hope and inspiration I needed to fulfill my own dreams and goals.

The WEV was founded in 1991 by Marsha Bailey, a pioneer who recognized the need for a female-led organization to assist women in achieving equal opportunities and equity in pay. Ms. Bailey began developing educational programs and services for women in 1983 and is the primary author of WEV’s self-employment training curriculum, “From Vision to Venture.” She earned a Master’s Degree in Communication from UCSB and a B.A. from Michigan State University in Fine Art and Sociology.

“I’ve never been afraid to call myself a feminist. It has nothing to do with how I feel about men and everything to do with achieving equal opportunities and equity for women.” – Marsha Bailey

Pay inequity was a driving force behind the decision to start WEV 28 years ago. When WEV launched its self-employment program for women in 1991, women earned around 64 cents on the male dollar for comparable work. The gap has narrowed since then, but among many women, notably Latinas, African Americans, and mothers, the pay gap remains unacceptably and shamefully large. In California, Latinas earn only 44 cents for every dollar earned by a male.

It’s not a new issue. In 1848, leaders of the Suffragist movement decried the practice of paying male teachers more than female teachers and tailors more than seamstresses for identical work. Since women entered the workforce, there has been a consistent pattern of declining wages in sectors formerly dominated by men in which female workers now predominate. Faced with these inequalities, it became clear to Ms. Bailey that the first order of business for the WEV was to establish a micro-loan fund and self-employment training program.

WEV cultivates the power within each woman to realize her dreams, achieve financial independence and succeed on her own terms. Living in an age with a rapidly changing society where jobs are less secure, the gap between rich and poor is growing wider every day and the middle class is shrinking rapidly, the WEV soon adopted the position that business ownership can provide a path out of poverty as well as financial security for generations of American women. The WEV takes women-powered businesses to the next level with training and coaching. Programs combine classroom training, capital and individual technical assistance to support the small business entrepreneur through start-up, stabilization and growth phases. Services are provided in Spanish and English.

With the understanding that aspiring business owners need working knowledge of business-related material, in 1994, WEV developed a more in depth, 14-week training program and created the WEV Loan Program to provide larger loans. Whether planning to launch or looking to grow an existing business, WEV provides women with confidence, a sense of personal agency, and a viable plan. WEV’s core business training programs help clients develop all three. WEV training programs include:

  • Explore: a 4-week program to help individuals assess their idea and personal readiness to launch a business.
  • SET: a 14-week program designed to help individuals create a comprehensive, strategic business plan to help them map out their path to a successful business launch.
  • ReSET: a 14-week program for small business owners who want to develop a business plan to map out their path to business success.

WEV’s Loan Program provides startup and expansion capital of up to $50,000 to small businesses that can’t qualify for traditional bank financing.

Since inception, WEV has served over 7,000 clients through its core training and consulting programs and made over $5 million in loans to local businesses through the Loan Program. More than 4,000 businesses have started or grown with WEV’s help, creating or sustaining an estimated 9,400 local jobs.


WEV has twice been honored by Soroptimists International as the organization that has done the most to improve the status of women.  WEV received the Santa Barbara Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award in 2000 and, in 2004, the prestigious South Coast Business and Technology Excellence in Service Award. In 2005, WEV was named the Small Business Advocate of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Pacific Coast Business Times. In 2006, WEV received the Fifth District Service Award from the Santa Barbara County Commission for Women as well as the Service Award from El Concilio of Ventura County. In 2008, WEV was one of only three programs selected by California’s First Lady, Maria Shriver, to partner with her WE Invest initiative to provide business development programming to low-income women.

In 1995, the WEV became an ardent supporter of The Women’s Caucus of the California Senate, which, led by Santa Barbara’s own Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, introduced Senate Bill 358, the California Fair Pay Act. One of the strictest labor laws in the country, its goal was, and still is to this day, to strengthen California’s existing equal pay laws to ensure that women are paid equally for work that is comparable to their male colleagues and do not face retaliation if they discuss or ask about pay at work.

If you or someone you know is interested in receiving the assistance the WEV provides, please reach out to this wonderful organization. The information provided in this article and a lot more can be found on the WEV website,