Dr. terry Neese, founder and CEO, Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Photo by Brent Fuchs.
Dr. terry Neese, founder and CEO, Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Photo by Brent Fuchs.

DR. TERRY NEESE

In her early 20s, Dr. Terry Neese began her own service company, Neese Personnel. It was 1975, a time when women were not allowed to join the Oklahoma City Rotary business club or borrow money from a bank without a man’s signature, Neese says.

“I couldn’t borrow money to start my own business, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to go into debt, but I was determined to not have my husband borrow money for me. I never looked at myself as a ‘woman entrepreneur.’ I was just an entrepreneur,” she says.

The founder and CEO of the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women has built a legacy of educating and empowering businesswomen on both the domestic and international fronts.

Designed to foster the success of emerging female leaders in the business world, the IEEW is based on the foundation that women are key to the development and stability of business.

Inducted into both the national and Oklahoma women’s hall of fame institutions, Neese is inspirational for her involvement with women in the areas of public policy and entrepreneurial education.

The U.S. Department of State contacted her eight years ago about helping women in Afghanistan start and grow businesses. Through this opportunity, she created the Peace Through Business Program, which has educated and graduated more than 400 female entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda.

Skills in areas such as accounting, marketing and communications arm them with knowledge they need to start businesses and help other women.

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“These women have the ability and talent to start and grow nontraditional businesses,” Neese says. “We’re making huge strides. The women who have graduated from the program have developed into real leaders, and they’re advocating on behalf of issues that are important to the women in those countries.”

The top 15 graduates will come to Oklahoma in July for mentorships with Oklahoma businesswomen across the state. Matched with women who own the same types of companies as they aspire to build – from mobile app companies and information technology to bed-and-breakfasts or construction businesses – the graduates stay in their mentors’ homes and learn from them the duration of the visit. The teachers get something out of it, too.

“What we’re experiencing with our Oklahoma women entrepreneurs involved in the program is that they are finding they learn more from them than the women learn from us,” Neese explains. “We become more emboldened as we mentor with these women. We better see and understand how much freedom we have; we’re prouder to be Americans.

“We know that if we pass our knowledge on to them, we are planting seeds in those countries, where more and more businesses will grow and thrive,” Neese says. “For us, it’s a growing experience, but it’s also an empowering experience for all of the women entrepreneurs involved.”