Nell Merlino

By:Beth Parish Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables

One Million Women to $1 Million Dollars


Nell Merlino, founder and CEO of the U.S. based non-profit Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, challenged the audience to empower women because often times women-owned businesses get stuck, due to lack of resources, access to capital, limited networking skills, and familial caregiving responsibilities.

Other participants on this dynamic and thought-provoking panel pointed out that women tend to be less aggressive than their male counterparts when it comes to networking ,and sometimes they don’t believe in their power as the majority in the business world. Merlino and Count Me In are out to challenge the physical, mental, actual, and perceived barriers faced by female business owners. Count Me In wants to help one million women-owned businesses, earn to $1 million. She says that these million businesses could easily translate into one trillion dollars in revenues and at least four million new jobs.

When asked why she founded Count Me In, she said that diversity is the key to growth in the economy, and that women cannot be players in this economy without money and that business ownership is key to financial influence, social impact, and overall community development. Merlino pointed out that, “Many male-owned businesses have failed, and communities have faltered because they are only operating with one hand.” She argued that, “The community is stronger when it realizes that it needs both men and women-owned businesses. Communities that empower women and help them grow small businesses to large businesses, are successful.”

Merlino used an example from Norway to make her point. In the late 1990’s and the early part of this decade, most public corporate board members were male, and all lived within a ten block radius of one another. Once the homogeneous composition of these boards was brought to the public’s attention, the trade minister enacted legislation in 2003 that promoted gender and geographic diversity on boards. Boards of directors in Norway are now composed of successful men and women, and most agree that the gender diversity on corporate boards has improved performance by bringing a new perspective to issues and recommendations.

In fact, today in the U.S. only 2.6% of women-owned businesses earn over one million dollars, compared to 6% of male-owned businesses. For many women, microloans have been tools that have helped them start their businesses. And while a great entry tool for some, these microloans have kept businesses small and have not allowed for a continuum of growth. She notes, “Growth is not for every woman, nor is it for every business. Women need to realize that there is a path for business growth.” And, Count Me In is committed to helping one million women understand and follow the growth path. Through events and online social media tools, Merlino’s organization helps empower the female entrepreneur to grow her business.

“I believe that women are not aware of their own power,” said Merlino. “I am here to help them harness their power, solve their economic problems, and move from microbusiness entrepreneurs to large corporate owners, which leads to community leadership opportunities, public office, and corporate board participation.” As Merlino reinforces often, communities are stronger with diversity in their leadership, and she feels moving one million women towards businesses that earn over one million dollars will create jobs, bring revenues to the local economy, improve collaboration, and advance communities.

Count Me In!

Beth Parish is a Doctoral student teaching business classes at Regis University. She sits on the board of Rocky Mountain MicroFinance, a Colorado-based microlender committed to helping promote self-sufficiency through business ownership.