Tamra draws from more than 20 years of marketing and business development experience as the CEO of the Women's Bean Project, bringing a business-savvy side to this nationally-recognized social enterprise. Using a hands-on approach, she has successfully built a culture that caters to women attempting to break the cycle of chronic unemployment and poverty. Her role within the non-profit focuses on leading a team of professionals in the implementation of strategic business plans, including program and operational expansion to increase the Bean Project’s impact on the community.
She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Judith M. Kaufmann award for Civic Entrepreneurship, presented by The Denver Foundation; Regis University’s Social Entrepreneurship Award; Outstanding Alumnus, presented by the Colorado Leadership Alliance in 2006; and a Circles of Change Award winner in 2013. In 2012, she was named one of Colorado's up and coming most influential women by The Denver Post. She is a former board member of Social Venture Partners-Denver, currently chairs the Board of Directors for the Social Enterprise Alliance and is on the advisory board for the Barton Institute for Philanthropy and Social Enterprise at the University of Denver. She was one of the 2017 Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Colorado. Ms. Ryan was a speaker at TEDxMilehigh and is the author of The Third Law, a book which highlights the societal obstacles and internal demons that must be overcome for marginalized women to change their lives. The Third Law has won multiple awards for women/minorities in business and social activism. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and events that discuss women's issues and social enterprise. Tamra lives in Denver with her husband, two children and their goldendoodle named Biscuit.
How did you come to be CEO of Women’s Bean Project?
My involvement began as a volunteer. I was, from the very beginning, fascinated by the business model of the organization. The better the business does, the more direct positive impact it has on the women served and on the community at-large. It truly is a win-win. I served six months on the marketing committee when the position opened up, and when it did, I jumped on it!
Tell me about Women’s Bean Project? How is it different?
We are a manufacturer that is also a human services organization. Essentially, we are running two, often conflicting businesses at the same time. We hire women to work in our business who, by definition have challenges coming to work and focusing on their employment. Over a period of six to nine months they work in our business and we work with them to become great employees. Then it is time for them to leave us and move into the community to become some else's great employee. It's both a horrible way to run a business and an amazing way to run a business. We get to witness transformation on a daily basis.
What makes a great leader?
A great leader must always be painting the picture of the future for the rest of the company and the community. I have to keep my eye on the prize and maintain a strong sense of what we are headed toward. In the meantime, I have to keep listening, be patient and allow others the time they need to own the vision. I also have to constantly look at what is currently happening on day-to-day basis so that it can inform our direction. My job is to thinking about the future while helping our team do their jobs in the present. I constantly think about the question: “Where does this person shine best and under what conditions?” To be a great leader, you have to be comfortable being the face of the organization, while remaining personally humble and knowing it's not about you. It’s an interesting combination of confidence and being able to articulate that confidence in a way that truly represents the dignity, and power of the organization.
In what ways has your work at the Women’s Bean Project changed you?
Initially it was shocking to experience all the prejudices and biases I entered with that I didn’t even know I had. I’ve met women who have completely altered my beliefs. Women make choices for survival based on their situations, not an innate desire to commit crimes or become addicts. Over and over I have found myself sitting across the table from someone who, except for the accident of birth, was just like me. That's very humbling. While we have differences in education and socio-economic levels, we have so much more in common than I'd have thought.