Welcome to AccelerateMT’s Program Spotlight Series. In this series of blog posts, you will meet our team members who lead the various economic and workforce development programs that are the core of AccelerateMT’s efforts.
In this post, we are getting to know Zen Parry, the Director of the WELL WBC program (Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Lab, Women’s Business Center) which aims to support equitable success for all Montana women through education, empowerment, and advocacy resulting in a growing economy.
This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
Tell us your story. How did you get started with WELL WBC and working with rural women entrepreneurs?
"I have had the privilege of working with rural women entrepreneurs for many years before arriving in the US and Montana in late 2018. My own family in Australia has a strong female entrepreneurial profile with women, which in turn influenced how I saw my own abilities and needs. Growing up knowing that women can start a business, even an informal ‘handbag’ business based on financial goals or from a desperate need to put food on the table, was a profound experience that stays with me today. As my career aspirations became clear, my decisions to join similar women-based programs in countries including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and many more, became my maturation process as a woman entrepreneur. Working shoulder to shoulder with women overcoming incredible odds (such as illiteracy because the government didn’t allow them to go to school, or their patriarchal society determined their role) has been my personal and professional journey. Once I realized that women’s entrepreneurship is very different from men’s entrepreneurship (especially from my own experiences), my interests developed significantly."
What interests you the most about working with WELL WBC and AccelerateMT?
"My key interest is implementing programming and support that help rural women entrepreneurs succeed on their terms with their goals. AccelerateMT has a large portfolio of programs that are also complementary to what we do at WELL WBC, which in turn creates new resources that we can offer our WBC audiences. "
What are you the most passionate about when it comes to the goals of the WELL WBC program and AccelerateMT?
"Rural Women Entrepreneurs - those three words sum up my passions and those of our team. Everything we do and provide is viewed through those three words with the goal to create success on their terms in their time frame. We are not a ‘one size fits all’ approach - we work with every entrepreneur one-on-one which supports what we believe is the important part of our program - giving rural women entrepreneurs the place where they can say their ideas out loud."
What is your biggest dream for the future of the WELL WBC program at AccelerateMT and in the state of Montana as a whole?
"My biggest dream is that the voice of rural women entrepreneurs across all counties and reservations in Montana is heard loud and clear. This voice is to be supported with access to capital, services that are customized for rural communities and reservations, and recognition by state legislators of the impact rural women entrepreneurs have on the economy overall."
What is one big idea that you’d like readers to walk away with?
"Our passion comes from walking in the same shoes as those whom we work with."