been called one of the “Most Influential Women in D.C.” And Dr. Avis
Jones-DeWeever does indeed have a lot on her plate. When not being
interviewed by the likes of CNN, Al Jazeera America or C-Span, she is
president and founder of Washington, DC-based Incite Unlimited, a
boutique consulting firm. She is also host of the nationally syndicated
radio show, “Focus Point with Avis Jones-DeWeever.”
Before launching Incite, she was executive director of the National
Council of Negro Women, where during her tenure she developed new
strategic partnerships with advocacy groups, national organizations,
foundations and corporations to strengthen the fundraising capacity of
the historic organization.
Dr. Jones-DeWeever has also served for the Governor’s Office of
Virginia, the Maryland State House of Representatives, the Congressional
Black Caucus Foundation, the Joint Center for Political and Economic
Studies and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. TNJ.com spoke with Dr. Jones-DeWeever about her business and the obstacles facing Black women in business.
Avis Jones-DeWeever: As the daughter of an entrepreneur, I grew up
knowing and respecting the power and possibilities of entrepreneurship.
And so, I always knew that one day, I’d own my own business. But I’ve
also had a longstanding passion for social justice. So it was within
that space that I built most of my career. Over the years, I developed a
broad skill set as well as linkages to a wide array of organizations
and governmental entities. I began to see patterns of need that were
either largely going unfulfilled, or in my estimation, were being
addressed inadequately. And so I decided to merge my passion with my
childhood dream, and embark upon a social entrepreneurship venture. The
result, is Incite Unlimited.
TNJ.com: What were some of your startup challenges?
Jones-DeWeever: If you’re someone who’s transitioned into
entrepreneurship after having a somewhat lengthy career, I think it
takes a minute for you to wrap your brain around the completely
different change of pace, and level of nonstop intensity it takes to get
your venture off the ground and firmly in place. The startup phase for
me, was all about going all out, all the time. Grinding, as they say.
Now, I’ve gotten to a point where I understand better how to more
effectively structure my time, so that it’s both focused and efficiently
utilized. Of course they’ll always be an element of the grind in place.
In my mind, that comes with the territory. But I’ve learned how to
develop systems that keep me from spinning my wheels, and instead,
increase productivity and profits.
TNJ.com: Please explain Incite’s tagline: “a consulting firm devoted to moving great ideas to effect action”.
Avis Jones-DeWeever: Ideas are powerful. They quite literally have the
power to change the world. But unless acted upon in a robust and
effective manner, they run the risk of falling into a trap of
irrelevancy. I have found over the years that good ideas are surprising
plentiful. But what makes the difference between good and bad outcomes
is the manner in which those ideas are acted upon. At Incite, we help
organizations maximize the power of their ideas by developing and
implementing effective approaches to bringing ideas to life. Given the
goals of a particularly client, the approach could vary quite widely. It
could mean establishing the significance and strength of an idea
through the provision of rigorous research, or it could mean spurring
action among a specific demographic through developing and implementing
targeted communications strategies. It could also mean moving policy
ideas through the political process through issue advocacy support. In
all of these ways and more, Incite Unlimited helps organizations move
great ideas into effective action.
TNJ.com: What are some of your goals for Incite for 2014?
Jones-DeWeever: I’d like to grow our client base at least two-fold in
2014 and expand our work in the international arena.
TNJ.com: What do you see as some of the major obstacles African-American entrepreneurs face?
Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever: I’m not confident that we get our fair share of
government contracting opportunities. There’s really a lot of room for
improvement in that arena. I know too that for many of us, access to
capital remains a critical issue. For far too many, OPM is often MIA, so
we learn to make do on our own.
TNJ.com: Tell me what led you write your upcoming book, Black Women Lead: Claiming Your Power, Living Your Purpose, Exceptional Leadership in the Boardroom and Beyond.
Avis Jones-DeWeever: As I witnessed the cultural phenomenon that was
‘Lean In’ last year, I felt the challenges and realities faced by Black
women specifically were largely ignored. I also knew, from my time as
executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, and even
before, a wide range of absolutely amazing Black women leaders. Women
who were leading and achieving at exceptional levels in corporations, in
non-profit organizations, in public service, and even as entrepreneurs,
and I thought, nobody’s telling our story. No one’s sharing our
collective wisdom with the next generation of Black women who seek to
lead. And so, that’s exactly what I decided to do.
TNJ.com: There are so very few Black women CEOs or board members. How can this change?
Avis Jones-DeWeever: You know, this was one of the most frustrating
parts of the book for me to write. Black women in corporate America are
extraordinarily hard-working, well-credentialed, dedicated, resourceful,
and of course, brimming with leadership skills. The fact that they are
largely absent from the highest echelons of power in Corporate America
is not in any way a reflection on their capabilities. Instead, it’s a
reflection on our society and the extent to which race and gender still
serve as a check on opportunity in America. I share some ideas in the
book on how specifically to go about changing that. But know at minimum
that as I see it, the change won’t come organically from a corporate
culture that consistently fails to properly acknowledge and reward our
worth. It will have to come from us.
TNJ.com: What is the most important business lesson you learned?
Avis Jones-DeWeever: A closed mouth won’t get fed! You have to believe
in yourself and the value that you bring enough to ask for the business,
and then demand what you’re worth.