Quad-City support helped 'push' Women Lead Change expansion, CEO says

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Women Lead Change CEO Tiffany O'Donnell has a vision for her Iowa-based organization. 

She traveled across the state Wednesday to announce Iowa Women Lead Change has a new name. The 12-year-old women leadership organization removed "Iowa" from its title to better represent its expansion into different states, and she hopes it will also lead to expanded operations in the Quad-Cities. 

"This is why we are removing geographical boundaries," O'Donnell said in a letter. "Iowa women led the change. It's now time for all women (and men), wherever they may be, to lead change."

The non-profit was formed in 2006, stemming from a women's leadership conference in Coralville. Headquartered in Cedar Rapids, Women Lead Change, or WLC, now has operations in Des Moines, Davenport, Dubuque and Sioux City. 

"I'm not sure we could have had this success in any other location," O'Donnell said in an interview. "We feel like Iowa was the perfect place to launch something like this with the support we've gotten. Our allegiance is tight enough that there is trust among Women Lead Change and our partners that's really allowed us to garner information, share information and really (cause) change." 

O'Donnell said the expansion into Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska and South Dakota was an "organic process" that started around five years ago. In the Quad-Cities, for example, last year's merger of WLC with the 20-year-old Women's Connection opened doors to more partnerships in Illinois, she said. 

"The response of the Quad-Cities to having Women Lead Change in the region has been a huge push for us to take this step," she said. "We recognize and believe we're doing good work, but it really solidified our feelings when we arrived in the Quad-Cities and built on the tremendous work of Women's Connection. I'll always be grateful to the Quad-Cities for welcoming us." 

In addition to a new River Drive office in Davenport, the organization's growth over the years has led to more staff being hired on. She said WLC now has seven staff members, including Director of Events Deanna Woodall, who is overseeing the Quad-City region. 

"Since our inception, we've used a third-party logistics organization for event planning, which is a very large line item," O'Donnell said. "We've gotten to the point where we can now have that in-house, so it's allowed us to allocate resources for a director of events and an events coordinator. That's also opened up the opportunity for new programming." 

She said WLC is seeking grant funding to continue to add staff in the Quad-Cities, including a regional manager. 

In addition, new programming will be added in the Quad-Cities this year. In July, she said WLC will launch Quad-Cities Women Connect, a program where companies pay a fee to be represented on a board of advisers. Based on the Chamber model, the board of senior leaders meets monthly to have strategic discussions, share best practices and explore development opportunities. 

Women Connect members also are invited to quarterly workshops with business experts, she said. 

O'Donnell said national and global corporate partners have made it possible for WLC to expand into border states. She hopes to continue adding staff and programming, plus broaden the organization's reach by live streaming events.

WLC will maintain its offices in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Davenport, she said. 

"Our mission remains the same. We are dedicated to the advancement, development and promotion of women," O'Donnell said. "That means fostering environments where individuals can be successful. And it's really about improving the economy and workforce development. We look at it through a gender lens, but it's about workforce development. It's about leveraging all of the talent available."