Pam Friedman was a Wall Street banker. Rebecca Powers built a successful sales career with IBM.

Often, they were the only women in the room. They learned how to be scrappy and resourceful – self-reliant.

In their previous careers, both gave little thought to the contributions they were making or could be making to their communities. Those days are over.

In a recent interview, Pam Friedman, co-founder of Silicon Hills Wealth, and Rebecca Powers, founder of Impact Austin, discussed their evolution as entrepreneurs and philanthropists as well as Friedman’s recent decision to be a major sponsor of Impact Austin.

How did a former Wall Street Banker and a former IBM executive become powerful voices for the community?

Friedman: I co-founded Silicon Hills Wealth Management in 2013 on the premise that investment choices not only can change people’s lives, they can make an impact on entire communities and society at large. After leaving my career as Executive Director of High-Yield Bonds in London and then spending six years teaching investment management at The University of Texas at Austin, creating Silicon Hills enabled me to use my experience to support women in an industry that just didn’t cater to women. In five short years, we’ve grown to over $220 million of assets under management with an incredibly smart and caring community of clients.

Powers: I founded Impact Austin in 2003 with a profound belief that “ordinary women” can make an “extraordinary impact” by pooling their financial resources. I had previously never given a penny to my community. Never said the word philanthropist. The spark started when I read a magazine article about a group of women in Cincinnati, Ohio, who pooled their individual $1,000 donations and gave $124,000 to a dental clinic for the homeless. Now, we count nearly 500 women as Impact Austin members, who have collectively put nearly $6.5 million to work in dozens of nonprofits in Central Texas over the years.

You’re both so passionate about helping other women and the impact of women coming together to make a difference. How are each of your organizations empowering the women of Austin?

Powers: What Impact Austin does is give women the courage, the confidence to make other investments in their community based on what they learn. There are 6,000 different nonprofits in Austin, and we are dedicated to educating our members on the needs in the community. Our grant-making process educates members on how to evaluate and score grant applications to identify the best proposals for their charitable dollars. We’ve developed a reputation for being an “army of informed philanthropists” who has changed the face of giving in Austin.

Friedman: There are way more than 6,000 investment opportunities out there, and it becomes so overwhelming. For every article you read that says the market is going down, there’s another one that says the market is going up. Women are often afraid of investing – either it is too complicated, or they view advisors as untrustworthy. I make it a priority to educate my clients and explain to them what the market is. I cut through all the noise to help women focus on what really matters to them.

So tell me a little more about what brings you two together?

Friedman: I joined Impact Austin in 2015 after learning about it from a close friend. Over the years, I’ve seen so many parallels in the mission of Silicon Hills and Impact Austin. Our organizations empower women to take control of their finances and strengthen our community by supporting each other. When Impact Austin presented an opportunity to be a Corporate Empowerment Partner, I was delighted to step up my involvement, and I encourage other local women-owned businesses to step up as well.

According to a study by Allianz Life Insurance Co., the majority of women are now responsible for household finances and 67 percent of them say that’s improved their quality of life. What is your best advice for these women leading their households?

Friedman: You have to be a fiduciary to yourself first. You have to know what it is you want to achieve and how are you going to plan for that. Hope is not a plan. I think it’s easier for women to talk about their investing ideas with someone who understands that. And I think women advisers do.

Powers: You can have a voice in your community. Educating one another and working together toward a common cause are the principles upon which we built Impact Austin. Women found out they could enter the philanthropic world for a thousand bucks. Many didn’t know they had a voice. Some of those first members had very deep pockets and didn’t know how to get involved in the community. And now 15 years later, some of them are making six-figure gifts. That’s a huge investment in our community by women who didn’t know how to do it.

Friedman and Powers both said learning to evaluate investments, make sound financial choices and choose charities wisely are all ways women can take care of their families and strengthen their communities.

You have a voice. Collectively, you have a powerful one.


Credit: Katy Smith, freelance writer for The Business Journals

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