Lincoln, Nebraska, is home to many nonprofit organizations that work to help better their community. One of them, ECHO Collective, is taking huge steps to make Lincoln even more inclusive and welcoming.
Established in August 2020 by founder and Executive Director Kelly Ross, the Empowering Communities through Her Opportunities Collective connects and empowers refugee and immigrant women by providing opportunities for personal growth and building cross-cultural relationships in a nurturing environment.
ECHO Collective (d/b/a The Refinery) offers a four-month intensive business education cohort to women entrepreneurs. Through these courses, they build relationships with other business owners and broaden their professional networks. Participants are in the process of learning English, own a business, or have an idea for a business and were born outside the U.S.
“ECHO Collective provides the missing ladder rung that refugee and immigrant women need to achieve their dreams,” said Kelly. “We work with women who are incredibly talented and motivated, but they frequently experience unique barriers that prevent them from taking their businesses to the next level. We have the great honor of watching and cheering on the entrepreneurs we empower as they make their very best life here in Nebraska.”
The team works with a wide range of English, technological, and financial literacy levels, and is intentional about ensuring each woman who participates in the program has the same access to the information as everyone else.
“Our commitment to equal opportunity means that our staff is trained in a wide variety of skill sets and subjects, so we are able to provide one-on-one coaching as needed,” Kelly said.
The Center for Rural Affairs Women’s Business Center has partnered with ECHO Collective since the start to bring services together to benefit these women.
To assist in business start-up success, the two organizations team up to offer financial literacy courses with workshops that include such topics as bookkeeping and tax preparation.
“Intercultural business communications has been a big part of their start-up success,” said Jessica Campos, Women’s Business Center director. “These workshops are so important to them because these women come from a different country and don’t always know about taxes or state and federal regulations which are essential for business success.”
In these workshops, women entrepreneurs identify and recognize each other’s communication styles and determine how they can improve their cross-cultural skills to succeed in their businesses. The workshops also prepare them to become loan candidates through the Center.
“ECHO Collective utilizes the incredible staff at the Center for in-class presentations for our Refinery entrepreneurship class,” said Kelly. “We are proud to support small businesses, and this program creates robust local enterprises owned by our new neighbors. We welcome and empower refugee and immigrant women to be strong Nebraska businesswomen.”
They regularly invite Center staff to present on topics such as business taxes and intercultural communication. They have also collaborated with the Center for credit-building workshops, among others.
“ECHO Collective is not only a partner but an advocate for the Center,” said Jessica. “They have been doing great work with women entrepreneurs, and not only does Kelly live by her mission, she is also a great partner and resource for the Center’s Women’s Business Center.”
Their entrepreneurship classes provide a customized experience for refugee and immigrant women to gain a comprehensive knowledge of operating a small business, including how to expand their social networks.
“Our goal is for Refinery entrepreneurs to feel competent and capable and to understand where they can go for assistance when they have questions,” Kelly said. “The workshops provided by the Center are an incredible asset to ensuring Refinery entrepreneurs build connections to other organizations in the community that wish to see their small businesses thrive and provide resources to foster stable ventures.”
Speakers are scheduled through the Center for each new cohort.
“The Center has invested its time in presentations to over 28 entrepreneurs across six cohorts in the past two and a half years,” said Kelly. “The continuous excellence of our programming is due to incredible partners like the Center.”
Due to the dedication and enthusiastic collaborative efforts of the ECHO Collective team, the organization was recently chosen to receive the Center for Rural Affairs Entrepreneur Partner of the Year Award.
The Entrepreneur Partner of the Year Award is given to an individual, organization, or institution that provides invaluable service to entrepreneurs by helping the Center offer technical assistance, business training, loans, and networking to clients in rural Nebraska.
“We are incredibly honored to receive the Entrepreneur Partner of the Year Award from the Center, especially considering the Center's reputation for providing accessible business education and resources in Nebraska,” Kelly said. “We have worked diligently to ensure our programming is top-tier for refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs, and this award means that our efforts in working toward our common goal with the Center are making an impact.”
Kelly accepted the Entrepreneur Partner of the Year Award on behalf of ECHO Collective on Feb. 23 in Lincoln.