Honoring Barbara Kasoff
Monday, August 3, 2015
Honoring Barbara Kasoff
Our monthly column usually focuses on policy issues and the implications for women business owners. This month, however, we are deviating from the theme to honor our much beloved Barbara Kasoff, President of WIPP for well over a decade and the original co-founder of this great organization.
Barbara and I met in March 2002, the first week that I decided to open my own government relations firm focusing on small business. Having spent most of my career to that point in a very male-dominated environment, it was considered highly unusual for a woman to start a lobbying shop in DC. It didn’t even occur to me that women-owned businesses could become a subset of small business that needed representation because I had been exposed to so few.
In typical fashion, I stumbled onto a website that was advertising a conference for women-owned businesses. Cabinet members were coming—in fact it seemed the whole government was showing up for this—so I was curious to see who had the connections. Finding a conference for women an interesting concept, I tried to register but the registration was full. So, I sent a one-sentence email to Barbara, who was listed at the end of the agenda page saying, “I see you are located in San Francisco and I am in Washington—do you need any help?” Never expecting to hear from her, I was surprised when I got an email the next day saying “meet me at the Phoenix Hotel for breakfast next week.” And, well, you know where the story goes from there. Barbara and I have worked together ever since.
In those 13 years, we have worked hand in glove to ensure that women business owners have input (and dare I say influence) into federal policies ranging from taxes to procurement. As Barbara recently said at her going away dinner, “we are not only at the table, many times I feel we are at the head of the table.” What an enormous difference in 13 short years.
Here’s how it worked. Policy changes take more than relationships on Capitol Hill - they require grassroots support. I did the Washington DC part and Barbara did the grassroots component to back up what I was saying to policymakers. Sometimes that meant she corralled a bunch of coalition partners into signing a joint letter to Congress—always on short notice. Sometimes that meant she identified a WIPP member that could carry the message as a constituent. Sometimes, that meant she had to show up at a meeting in Washington, carrying the torch as President of WIPP. Or just making sure an action alert got the signatures we needed.
One of the best coupes she ever pulled off was an event at the Democratic convention where Valerie Jarrett spoke. From that luncheon, arose a commitment from the candidate that implementing the women’s procurement program would be one of his first acts if elected. And, President Obama did just that.
Under Barbara’s leadership, WIPP expanded its reach to a wide coalition of organizations who support our policy positions. She implemented training programs, such as GiveMe5 and brokered a relationship with SBA and American Express Open for the ChallengeHER series that educates women on becoming a federal contractor. We developed an economic blueprint- a policy platform for women business owners and started a PAC.
Barbara also did all of the unglamorous work behind the scenes to make the organization strong. She put together its boards, governance, and work plans, and raised money to support the organization. Until she hired Executive Direction Kristie Arslan a year ago, Barbara did all of this by herself.
The hallmark of Barbara’s tenure was collaboration. If women business owners are going to thrive, they need their organizations to work together for a common purpose – whether that is access to capital or access to markets. Our strength is in numbers and Barbara understood that better than most.
Now it is up to all of us to honor her legacy by expanding upon her themes of collaboration and the economic growth of women business owners. We should take up the mantle of promoting women business owners to be an economic force, undeterred by barriers and seeing opportunities where others see obstacles.
Barbara, thank you for being a visionary, a partner, and a friend.