All over the country there are lots of great conferences. There are blogger conferences, women's conferences, entrepreneurship conferences, technology conferences, and leadership conferences to name a few. If you had the time and the money, you could go to a conference almost every week. Some of them are money makers for individuals. Others are the focus of membership organizations looking to recruit and retain members. OTEF, the Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship Foundation was not established to run conferences. Instead, AZEC was born out of a need to raise money to fund programs that help at-risk populations (you know, the people who really need a hand up) attain economic self sufficiency through entrepreneurship. The OTEF founders knew that the best way to raise money for a worthy cause is to to deliver value. Instead of going to every deep pocket in town with their hands out, they got to work on programs that would do just that. Since 2006, OTEF and the AZEC series of conference each November have been some of the most benefit rich programs for the cost that you can find anywhere.
OTEF's work does not stop with the AZEC conference - It starts there.
OTEF’s first program (in 2007) was at the SEEDS House in Phoenix and helped lay the foundation for a new entrepreneurial venture. Cup O’ Karma offers great beverages and snacks in a comfortable setting with free Wi-Fi, and artwork plus live entertainment Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. All proceeds from Cup O’ Karma support the programs and services offered by NATN, which includes the agency’s Support, Education, Empowerment and DirectionS (SEEDs) program.
SEEDs residents participated in a 12-week entrepreneurship program offered by OTEF and taught by OTEF Executive Director Francine Hardaway, Ed Nusbaum, and Phillip Blackerby. Together they developed a business plan, which included owning and operating a coffee shop. The SEEDs residents would operate the café while learning employable skills such as customer service, community relations, marketing and outreach, purchasing and management. From its grand opening in June of 2008 until today, Cup O'Karma has been the place to go for great beverages in a comfortable atmosphere with free Wi-Fi, local artwork, and live entertainment weekly. Located at 1710 W. Southern Ave Between Dobson & Longmore in Mesa, Arizona (across from Mesa Community College), Cup O'Karma has become not only a place of new beginnings for the SEEDS women but also a vibrant part of the community they serve.
Since AZEC10 marks OTEF's fifth annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference, I thought it would be a great time to reach out to Monalou Callery, founder and chairman of the National Advocacy & Training Network and the SEEDs Program and the Founder of NATN and the Assistant Director of the Diane Halle Center for Family Justice at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law to touch base.
JKW: Tell me a little about SEEDS and your work with OTEF.
MC: SEEDs ( support, education, empowerment & directions) is a transitional housing program for battered/sexually abused women that cultivates and nurtures each individual to become independent and self sufficient through all avenues of life skills and entrepreneurship.
OTEF opened a door for small non profits (like SEEDS) to think beyond just offering social services to people in need and think on a much larger scale in terms of revenue generating opportunities that individuals, agencies and businesses together can unite to solve many of our social issues today.
Obstacles lead to resilience and undiscovered opportunity. Opportunity paves the way to untapped sources of tools and alternative skills for business management I would otherwise never have considered. A phrase I believe to be so fitting for us,
“Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination, we forget the journey.”
JKW: OTEF was honored to have the opportunity to work with the SEEDS women to develop the concept and plan for Cup O'Karma in 2007 as part of that journey. What has happened since then?
MC: Cup O’Karma has been in operation since June, 2008. Since opening our Café, sales and customer base has doubled; we have tapped into community groups such as musicians, artists, crafters, that our agency would have never crossed paths and worked so closely together to pursue our mission. The women not only gain job and people skills but it has given them the complete confidence to know they are more than capable of operating a business, developed leadership skills, or just in knowing that they can accomplish anything they set their minds on.
JKW: Who and what helped you and the team along the growth path?
MC: By keeping an open mind, listening and hearing all the feedback the women themselves have to offer as we grow..we have grown together. Whether it is a woman who has no job skills or business background or one with years of business experience, we learn so much from the life lessons of each woman. After all, they are survivors and have learned things that none of us will ever read in a book. Aside from our SEEDs women being key to our growth, members of the community, volunteers and customer relationships and their feedback are the backbone of our sustainability.
JKW: SEEDS is all about growth. What's next for Cup O’Karma?
MC: Cup O'Karma: Community Café for a Cause plans to expand out coffee shop into a place where community becomes instrumental to social change. Our future journey: A community galleria that will move to a larger site, expand our food menu and sell crafts and goods for other agencies, increase opportunities for more musicians and artists and finally to become a resource to any member of the community needing assistance.
"Be the change that you want to see in the world."
Monalou and the SEEDs women are living Gandhi's words. They are changing their lives and touching the lives of others.
The attendees, sponsors, speakers and volunteers who came together in 2006 to connect,engage, and collaborate at the First Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference in 2006 did too. Not only did the receive the benefit of listen to thought leaders including Michael Gerber and panels of local CEOs but they also helped provide the resources to allow OTEF to support the SEEDs women on their journey. That's why to me, OTEF's Arizona Entrepreneurship Conferences are special and different from so many others.
AZEC10 on November 17, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona is more than just another conference with great speakers. It is an opportunity for us to build not just our businesses but our community. I will be there. Will you?
Thanks for stopping by. Stay tuned...there will be more AZEC10 behind the scenes glimpses between now and the conference.
Note: Joan Koerber Walker serves as Chairman of the Board of The Opportunity Through Entrepreneurship foundation,which is the host organization and sole beneficiary of AZEC10. To learn more about OTEF, visit www.otef.org.