Risk Taker, Change Maker
Victoria McWane-Creek On Crafting a Purposeful Business from Lifelong Passion
In early 2020, Victoria McWane-Creek had a good job in higher education and was working on the third chapter of her doctoral dissertation. She was less than a year away from recognition as a 2020 Minnesota Women's Press Changemaker and shortly thereafter as a 2021 Facing Race Award honoree – though she couldn't have known it at the time. More immediately, however, she was mere weeks from the sudden and unexpected closure of the 115-year-old private university at which she was completing her doctorate. That closure, combined with a global pandemic, turned life on its side, and she found herself fighting to maintain the mental bandwidth needed to plot a course forward. A course that would come to mean leaving her career behind to pursue a lifelong passion for nurturing equity and inclusion. A passion she could no longer ignore.
Looking back, McWane-Creek realizes she had spent years developing a talent for connecting opportunities with those often overlooked and for serving as a voice for those who might feel too insignificant to speak for themselves. She wanted to connect her internal drive to a career path that could affect real change, maybe even build a better world.
"It's about equity at its best," she says, "when we all get to show up as who we are – bring our gifts, skill, and talents." It's about allowing people of all backgrounds and beliefs to define success for themselves and have a fair chance at achieving it, she explains.
Armed with the kernel of an idea, McWane-Creek needed momentum if she hoped to transform her concept into a business, but she struggled with where to begin. A chance encounter led her to Greater Fergus Falls and the Entrepreneurial Initiative program. Through Greater Fergus Falls, she was connected to an expert business development consultant who helped her take a few steps back and refine her new company's scope and plans for profitability.
"[He] was really relatable, he answered my questions, he was good with feedback," she says.
Where she entered with a seed of an idea, McWane-Creek left the Entrepreneurial Initiative program with a viable business plan and the confidence that she could succeed. She had the structure needed to support the work she set out to do through her new company, which she called the Organization 4 Full Participation.
Part of the challenge, she says, was trusting herself with the things she knew well while asking for help with what she lacked experience in – like founding a startup. Equally important was getting out of her own way.
"The limitations that we put up are the barriers we have to overcome first and foremost if we're going to be successful," she says.
Local, Now Regional
One year on, Victoria McWane-Creek reflects on the awards, opportunities, and partnerships of her first year in business. Smiling at the memories, she says, "I underestimated both the potential impact I could have and what value I could [bring]."
Having built connections well beyond west-central Minnesota, McWane-Creek works with clients from Fargo to Wisconsin; she works in small rural communities and metropolitan universities. She turned a profit in her first year of business and expects more in 2022. Most of her work comes through referrals from satisfied clients.
So, what exactly does work in equity and inclusion look like? McWane-Creek partners with individuals as well as organizations and communities. You might find her speaking before large groups on topics of racial tolerance and cultural awareness or meeting with administrative teams to assess the current needs of an organization. Or you might find her in her office designing curriculums for professional development.
It's that variety, precisely, that makes the work compelling, and she says her services are more in demand than ever.
"I think with the racial reckoning of 2020, with the murder of George Floyd, folks are realizing that there are some structural issues we must address if we're going to get to this place where characteristics don't determine outcomes. If we can get to that place, that's where we have equity," she says.
Asked about the progress made so far nationally and locally, McWane-Creek says that much more remains to be done. Still, she believes many have come to see increased acceptance of others and the creation of social structures that reduce disparities as not only attractive social causes but the right thing to do. She sees hope at home in Fergus Falls and points to work at City Hall on comprehensive master planning projects as opportunities to foster an equitable community. In recent years, her own work has spurred several community conversations and included the Rural Racial Equity Summit in January 2020, after a year-long campaign to raise awareness locally.
"It says a lot to be the black woman in our community who continues to shed light on the fact that—as good as we are and as much as we are trying—we can still do better," she remarks.
And McWane-Creek has planned more and better for her company as well.
"There is this vision of doing good, of earning profit, and of championing and sponsoring other people—especially people of color in our rural communities—to step into their power and to engage fully with our community," she says.
To that end, McWane-Creek hopes to expand her firm in the years ahead by adding more qualified consultants and to work increasingly on affecting the social structures—policies, barriers, and practices—that limit or alter the opportunities of one group in favor of another – whether along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation, economics, or otherwise. She wants her company, the Organization 4 Full Participation, to plug in to the communities it serves.
"It may not be anybody's assigned task," she explains, "but it's the work that we all must be doing."
– R.C. Drews for Greater Fergus Falls
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