GEW2021 interview: the mind behind Women in Enterprise in Wales

Bev is an experienced practitioner in enterprise, social enterprise, gender equality and rural development/community. She has been and continues to be instrumental in ensuring that the role of women in Wales is consistently enhanced and progressed. As a special GEW2021 deep-dive, Felicity grabbed the chance to chat with Bev about her multi-decade entrepreneurship journey. 

Bev, you have an impressive awarding-winning career in Enterprise, influencing business strategy and policy. Can you share some of the key milestones of your journey to date?

Probably the first significant milestone takes me back to 1984, and my engagement on the pioneering ‘Women in New Technology programme’ that was co-designed and co-delivered by Manpower Services Agency, St David’s University College Lampeter (now UWTSD) and Antur Teifi (now Antur Cymru Enterprise), a rural enterprise agency. The Course Director, Professor David A Kirby, was offering women the opportunity to train in the then-emerging field of technology for startups and SMEs. This experience led to me being co-opted onto the Antur Teifi’s Board (now Antur Cymru Enterprise), and I have been associated with them ever since.

The next milestone was in 1989 when I joined the UKEMRA (now ISBE, the Institute for Small Business and Enterprise) Small Business Management Teachers’ Programme at the University of Bristol. With contributions from well-known academics, including the late Professor Allan Gibb, my interest in enterprise/entrepreneurship was reinforced.

Bev, you actively champion women entrepreneurship; how did this evolve after your ‘Women in New Technology’ studies?

Following completion of the ‘Women in New Technology programme,’ I set up my own training and consultancy providing IT training across a range of client groups, including the Small Business Growth programme and Prof Kirby’s Graduate Enterprise in Wales Programme. A large part of my portfolio was women, including Women in Technology and Women in Business and Community groups. 

Antur Teifi’s then Chief Executive, Wynford James, was concerned with the under-representation of women-led businesses in rural Wales, having set up the first ‘Women in Business’ course in 1986. I began to teach IT as part of the delivery on this course at Durham University Business School, which was again led by Professor Kirby.

In 2001, Wales Entrepreneurship Action Plan was launched, covering all sectors of society, including women’s enterprise. Chwarae Teg, as the gender equality agency, was commissioned to deliver Women’s Enterprise Wales – a 5-year programme 2001-2006. I joined as an enterprise adviser/trainer and finally managed the project. A key part of the Women’s Enterprise Wales was the underpinning research into the influencing and motivating factors of women going into business. This research clearly identified independence and pursuing ambition as their principal driver.

During my 13 years with Chwarae Teg, I fully engaged with and developed projects promoting women’s equality and representation, working closely with the Welsh Government, European partners, and academia. I worked as part of the team in 2008, securing £12.5m from Europe and the Welsh Government for Chwarae Teg’s flagship “Agile Nation” project, which has been hugely successful. 

In what way does the concept of Harmonious Entrepreneurship resonate with you?

Living and working in a rural area, the environment, the need for resilience and creating your own opportunities is part and parcel of life. Much of my experience has been with social enterprise and value-driven organisations, and when HES was launched, it promoted the need for a new, wholly responsible, integrated approach to business practice. As this is a new Society and challenges the orthodoxy around some business development, working to clearly defined Sustainable Goals will help focus lecturers, trainers and business advisers in supporting new and nascent enterprises. Moreover, we must monitor and measure the impact of this new approach and celebrate achievements.   

Turning to more personal reflections Bev, what drives or underpins your clear focus and ambition?

What drives me? All things business and enterprise. We have had many businesses, and it is this which has given me the experience and knowledge to support others – whether pre-start-up, new or growth. I believe I have a strong sense of inquiry. Enterprise never stops evolving, and this has influenced my appetite for fostering change. I also draw so much personally from wide networking. It is an essential part of growing your knowledge and relationships both on a personal and professional level. I have been very nourished from my membership of many communities, from the Wales Assembly of Women, ISBE, the Women’s Institute, the peace Soroptimist International, the NSPCC, to the Community Council and Family Centre. 

Bev, you have achieved so much in your career, and for women, any personal highlights to note? 

Receiving the Lifetime Queen’s Award for Enterprise Promotion(QAEP) in 2009 has been the highlight of my career. Only ten nominees receive this Award annually, and to be selected from all across the UK was a huge honour – to meet the Queen, and the late Prince Philip in such a small reception will remain with me forever. And, coincidentally, the late Professor Allan Gibb received his Lifetime Achievement Award at the same time as his approach to small business and enterprise had played a big part in my own professional development.

Who has most inspired you on your entrepreneurial learning journey, and why?

A key inspiration for me was Nelson Mandela’s ‘The Living Spirit’. I remember reading that “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate […] Your playing small doesn’t save the world [..] as we are liberated from our own fear…it automatically liberates others”. When you work with people from a range of backgrounds, some more disadvantaged than others, and you see how they develop and grow, there is no better feeling in the world. And, when you follow their careers, businesses, track their growth in self-confidence, which takes them on a journey; just being a small part of that is so rewarding. Sounds very sentimental, but everyone brings a skill or knowledge to a course, and as a tutor/trainer, you learn together. 

And finally Bev, what would be the top piece of advice you’d give to your younger self? 

I would have said to travel even more widely and build on the experience of different cultures and traditions. Build on trans-national links and collaborative ventures and share knowledge and experience with women everywhere. I would also reassure myself to continue to take chances. I have not been afraid to be the token woman on boards or in non-stereotypical environments, as these have provided me with the platform to effect real change. My mantra is, “ have to be at the table to influence the agenda..”

Thank you so much Bev for taking time out to share your inspirational story with me to celebrate women’s contribution to entrepreneurship for GEW2021!


‘Mind behind’ interviews, by Emergent

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