The Empowerment Group’s Entrepreneurship Program trains low-income entrepreneurs in the skills they need to create sustainable businesses in the city of Philadelphia. The group helps educate individuals on the benefits of community businesses: self-employment, additional jobs for low-income individuals, and increased commercial activity. Their program attempts to address poverty issues in the struggling communities of Philadelphia. In addition, the program also offer workshops, a Business Resource Center, an online virtual resource center, one-on-one consulting, the Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, and other networking events. They have trained almost 1,500 aspiring and established entrepreneurs since the program’s creation in 2004 and continue to work to build the organizational leaders of tomorrow.
Empowerment Group began in 1998 as Empowerment Partners, the project of Peter and David, two Swarthmore College students studying economic development. Their goal was to train low-income Kensington residents in painting and provide them with workforce skills. After a year, Empowerment Group gained 501(c)3 non-profit status and decided to broaden the organizational goals to have an increased impact on economic development. The duo understood the importance of the economic development, growth, and advancement of these Philadelphia neighborhoods. Peter and David began actively pursuing strategies to alleviate poverty by teaching people to do for themselves – or in other words – empowering them. Empowerment Group saw there was a much-needed place for aspiring business owners in the community to receive an education in financial literacy and entrepreneurship as well as increased jobs, goods, and services. By 2003, with the help of an AmeriCorps*VISTA contract, Empowerment Group was operating pilot versions of its current flagship programs, Entrepreneurship Program, and Youth Entrepreneurship Program.
Throughout the organization’s history, Empowerment Group has relied on community members and volunteers. In 2002, EG received a contract from Americorps*VISTA (community volunteers) and brought in 14 volunteers to help the Directors locate donations, fundraise, research programming and contribute to organizational development. Even today, our VISTA staff members are very involved in the work Empowerment Group does. When pilots of our training programs ran in 2003, they were evaluated by local community participants and were adapted accordingly in order to meet the needs of the community. During this period of testing and adaptation, the organization simultaneously conducted its first 5 –year strategic planning process. We continue to evaluate our programs on a regular basis and rely heavily on surveys and input from our participants. Empowerment Group’s mission is to accelerate economic growth in distressed urban communities by cultivating local entrepreneurship. Our bottom line is to create positive, lasting change for our clients, their families and their communities. Our new training entrepreneurship curriculum focuses on the individual rather than the actual creation of a business and teaches participants to assess their own personal and financial reality.
By 2004, the Strategic Planning Committee had completed a SWOT analysis of the organization, carried out extensive research on demographics, identified gaps in services, and refined the vision of the future mission and programming for Empowerment Group. This led to EG’s development into an organization with a specific focus, meeting a very specific need: assisting local businesses and entrepreneurs. They were poised as a collaborator, complementing the services of neighbor organizations, but not replicating them. This process created ambitious yet realistic goals and allowed the board and staff to envision what EG could and would be after strengthening its branding and increasing access to resources. 2004 was the year that EG finally saw its dilapidated offices renovated into much-needed functional program and office space.
Pilots of the training programs ran in 2003. They were evaluated by local community participants and adapted accordingly to meet the needs of the community. In order to measure the current short-term results, EG created a thorough information tracking system through its web-based database. The database was customized and had a comprehensive system to measure program outcomes. Demographic data, attendance, competency attainment, and business start-up status were tracked for each client, plus short and long-term results of their business activity. Qualitative data was collected through comprehensive evaluations completed by EG’s students, instructors, and partner organizations. Written evaluations were collected at the end of each program cycle. Inquiries about what clients have learned about entrepreneurship, the extent to which their interest in entrepreneurship has increased, and their preferences and dislikes about the program were recorded. In addition to the feedback gathered about program satisfaction, EG also measure the program’s success by evaluating student progress and comprehension. Instructors conducted pre- and post-tests designed to analyze students’ comprehension of entrepreneurial concepts.
Empowerment Group offers other resources to help clients be as successful as possible in their business ventures, including a Business Resource Center, one-on-one business consulting, a Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, workshops, and networking events held throughout the year to connect local entrepreneurs. The Business Resource Center is unique among area nonprofits and includes a reference library and computer center. In addition, there is a bilingual, virtual resource center on Empowerment Group’s website where clients can find links to resources, business tips, and city business regulations. Consultants provide personalized assistance to clients of the Entrepreneurship Program. The Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle is a place for women to join a support and resource network as they progress into the world of entrepreneurship. The women meet once a month to share entrepreneurial experiences. EG’s premier event for aspiring business owners is Entrepreneurship Week. These resources serve as useful tools for clients outside of the Entrepreneurship Program.
Entertainment Group has trained over 1,500 aspiring and established entrepreneurs since the program’s creation in 2004. They have also helped to create nearly 80 businesses in the city. Many of these have hired employees and created new jobs. Through the Entrepreneurship Program, clients learned that the cycle of poverty can end with them. Empowerment Group exists to make sure individuals lacking the access and education to enter the workforce receive the training they need to become productive members of society. The Entrepreneurship Program is committed to giving clients the tools they need to start their own businesses and to help graduates maintain lucrative self-employment, which will enable them to strengthen their own communities through the creation of local jobs for low-income individuals.
Empowerment Group's Website: www.empowerment-group.org