Women's Bean Project
Location: Denver, CO
Industry: Nonprofit social enterprise
Tamra Ryan’s idea of leadership is finding the right balance between doing and just setting the right example and empowering others to do their job well.
“Being a good leader is about how I show up every day,” the CEO of Women’s Bean Project said. “Am I demonstrating my commitment to the success of my teammates and our business? Am I approaching problems with more questions than answers? It can be very tempting to try and have all of the answers, though not very empowering for those around us. And do I ensure that people leave interactions with me feeling supported rather than diminished? When I keep these three things in mind, I notice I am being the best leader I can be.”
Women’s Bean Project is a nonprofit social enterprise with the mission to change women’s lives through employment and empower them with the stepping-stones to self-sufficiency. The project hires women who have struggled with chronic unemployment and faced barriers to finding stability. Participants of the program receive full-time pay as they develop work skills producing nourishing products and take part in supportive programming. During their time at Women’s Bean Project, they build confidence, find their purpose and break the cycle of poverty, the nonprofit said.
Ryan took over as CEO at Women’s Bean Project in 2003 and set out to define success, establish the brand and make it clear what an employer can expect when they hire someone who has graduated from the program. “What I loved about the Bean Project then, I still love today,” Ryan said. “I get to form meaningful relationships with the women who join our program and watch as they blossom during their time here, graduate with confidence and become valued employees in companies throughout the community.”
During Ryan’s tenure as CEO, Women’s Bean Project has grown by 700% and become a nationally recognized social enterprise. She has brought awareness to the issues impacting the women she serves, from leading Ted Talks to publishing her own book. Ryan admits the goal for her nonprofit is odd. She envisions a day when Women’s Bean Project is no longer needed, she said. Until then, though, the work continues. The organization will move into a new facility, twice the size, in 2022. The space will allow the nonprofit to grow its services and the number of women it helps.
Ryan’s book, “The Third Law,” has received numerous awards for its message about women and minorities in business and social activism. She is a former partner and board member for Social Venture Partners-Denver and the Social Enterprise Alliance, and she is on the Council of Advisors for the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver. Ryan was honored by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce as one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Colorado and is part of the American Enterprise Institute Leadership Network.
“I plan to maintain a generosity mindset and continue sharing my knowledge and experience to help others in the field navigate problems they are encountering,” Ryan said. “I like the idea that there are no new problems, just new solutions.”
"I get to form meaningful relationships with the women who join our program and watch as they blossom during their time here, graduate with confidence and become valued employees in companies throughout the community."