If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, few can match the birth and subsequent success of Empowered Women International, EWI, founded thirteen years ago in the heart of Alexandria by Marga Fripp. Having immigrated to America from Romania to access life-saving medical treatment for her son – knowing not a word of English – Fripp has since dedicated her life to “paying it forward” so that other women in challenging dire circumstances can gain the opportunity to achieve the American dream.
Since its founding in 2001, EWI has made a wide range of services and support available to immigrants, low-income women and women of color. Over 3,000 women have benefited from EWI’s focus on personal empowerment. While the curriculum emphasizes entrepreneurship and business education, no aspect of a student’s life goes unnoticed. Fripp, EWI’s president and “chief visionary,” has worked tirelessly to assemble a network of attorneys, social workers, lenders and others to address personal and family issues facing EWI’s students. Thirteen years of experience have demonstrated that to become a successful businesswoman, one needs to have one’s life in order to develop the confidence that is crucial to business and personal empowerment. EWI’s programs are regularly evaluated, adjusted and expanded, to ensure that students receive the most up-to-date preparation for entrepreneurship in a technologically-changing economy. EWI’s intensive three-month Entrepreneurship Training For Success has been supplemented with the individualized, six-month Grow My Business course. Most recently, the Alumni Entrepreneurship Service provides more long-term partnership and advanced training.
Fripp and her EWI team have successfully solicited the support – both financial and in-kind – of businesses throughout Alexandria and Northern Virginia, matching those resources with students and alumnae to provide one–on-one mentoring. This has enabled EWI to provide scholarships, so that no student is denied access for financial reasons. EWI has established partnerships with several micro-lenders enabling its clients to finance their businesses.
EWI alums have launched hundreds of businesses of all kinds, including fine arts, performance art, consulting, culinary, clothing design, hair care, child care and writing/publishing. Alexandria-based businesses started by alums include a sculpture studio at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Cooking and Beyond, Creatively Charming and Evelyn Brook Designs.
To ensure lasting commitment, EWI asks its students to pay it forward just has Fripp has done, by teaching and mentoring new generations of students, thus forming a lifelong sorority of support and collaboration. One EWI graduate, for example, has an ongoing major role in the Family Legends activities of Living Legends of Alexandria at the Ramsay Recreation Center, the Carpenter’s Shelter and the Alexandria Black History Museum.
This ever-growing network has enabled EWI to open new offices throughout the region, while maintaining its headquarters on Henry Street in Alexandria. Fripp’s credo of “onward and upward” accepts no excuses for a student’s difficulty. Instead, EWI does whatever it takes to provide that person with the support and tools necessary to succeed.
Fripp has spread the word on behalf of this “can do” spirit in nationwide and international speaking appearances, through TED talk and other on-line avenues and on Northern Virginia-based radio and television. Alexandria is fortunate to be the home of the organization – indeed, the movement – nurtured by Marga Fripp.
Credit: Howard Feinstein