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At the Intersection of Business and Altruism with Wendy Diamond

4. January 2016 08:20

Wendy Diamond and Baby Hope

Wendy Diamond (@WendyDiamond) is founder of Women's Entrepreneurship Day Organization (@Womenseday), which celebrates and supports women business owners, and lifestyle media company Animal Fair, which connects pet parents with rescue opportunities, pets in pop culture, and other pet resources.

If you want to run a business that changes the world, you need look no further than Wendy Diamond's example. Diamond is a social entrepreneur, endangered animal and rescue advocate, best-selling author, and TV personality. She launched her first company Animal Fair in 1999 to change the way the public at large thought about pets. Her next feat? She founded Women's Entrepreneurship Day in 2014 to help support women business owners.

In short, Wendy Diamond has a knack for running businesses with loftier goals than maximizing the bottom line. Diamond shares what helps keep her focused on the greater cause and how she managed to create businesses that align with her humanitarian goals. [The interview has been edited lightly for length and clarity.]

What sparked your interest in humanitarian work?

I'm from a little town in Ohio called Chagrin Falls – it has about 4,000 people. I just grew up in a "normal world" – I played sports and I cherished simplicity in life. I went to school in Boston, I lived in Europe, and then I moved to New York where I became friends with a homeless man, and that sparked everything.

I decided to volunteer for the Coalition for the Homeless and I fed a thousand people a day for three months. It felt so amazing to give someone a ham sandwich, cold milk, and an apple – the smile on their faces. They were so grateful. It made me realize that's what I wanted to do with my life: to help.

Do you have any advice for small businesses that want to use their business as a platform to promote a greater cause?

I've been an entrepreneur my entire life, so my advice: get ready to be a glutton for punishment and to really love what you're doing because it's not easy. Be able to support yourself and don't give up everything.

It also helps if you surround yourself with people with the same interests. Create a meet-up group and find people that are interested in what you're passionate about. Keep a core group around you to support you.

Animal Fair's mission when it launched was to guide pet lovers toward animal rescue and advocacy. You did that through promoting a "pet lifestyle" – how did that work?

When we launched in 1999, nobody was talking about animal rescue. I thought if we brought celebrities and pop culture to the animal rescue world, we could bring awareness toward the millions of animals euthanized a year.

So we simplified the message: you can adopt any breed, any size, any age, any color and would save an animal.

We coined the term "pet lifestyle" so we could humanize pets and make them part of the family. Pets are still pets – we're always going to be responsible for them, so it's important to understand we need to provide for them and create a safe environment for them.

Baby Hope

Wendy Diamond's pup Baby Hope reaps the benefits of the pet lifestyle.

Tells us about the inspiration behind Women's Entrepreneurship Day.

I was in Honduras on a vacation, and at the time, I was volunteering for an organization called the Adelante Foundation. I took a two-hour ride to one of the poorest communities in Honduras to see this organization's work in providing microcredit to women to start businesses. I learned women repay loans at a higher rate than men [source]. Ninety percent of all money earned by women goes back to provide for the family, educate their children – it betters their community [source].

When looking at all these statistics, I thought we really need to create a movement that's simplified enough for the world to understand the importance of celebrating, supporting, and empowering women in business.

I knew that could happen if we created Women's Entrepreneurship Day. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio proclaimed the day, and what we're doing is creating a world movement.

From your experience, what is the biggest challenge women entrepreneurs face?

The biggest challenge, like anything, is just changing the mindset and bringing awareness. Only 7 percent of all venture dollars goes toward women-owned business [source]. Men get 93 percent. Why on earth are we not investing more money in women? We need to raise awareness about these stats. If people don't really know, nothing changes.

How does Women's Entrepreneurship Day (WED) work to offset those challenges?

We proclaimed the Wednesday after Thanksgiving as Women Wednesday to support women-owned businesses. We're new, but major companies like MasterCard are getting involved and supporting women entrepreneurship.

We have ambassadors around the world – so far, 144 countries celebrate this day, 111 universities and colleges celebrated this day, including Ohio State University and Yale University. We're creating these events to raise awareness, and the events attract mentorship programs and investors to look at the businesses being celebrated.

What is the biggest challenge you ever faced in your line of work? How did you overcome it?

I don't think I've overcome it – I'm always battling. A lot of organizations – even in the nonprofit world – are competing against each other even though they have common goals. So figuring out a way to make room for everyone to work together is always a challenge.

What can we expect to see from you, Animal Fair, and WED in 2016?

We're working with the UN and some of the biggest brands in the world to see how we can amplify this message and this movement, so let's hope something good!

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