My first interview with Nolan Rollins was over a year ago when we discussed the educational programs at his organization, including the Parent Information Center and the Urban League College track, both of which educate students and parents to make the most of the education process for the future success of their children. When deciding to feature women in business this month, it only seemed natural to talk to him about the Urban League’s Women’s Business Resource Center (WBRC) and get the details on this very important program for female entrepreneurs. Not only is Rollins extremely engaging, but his passion for encouraging women to succeed is palpable.
Rollins grew up in Baltimore, the child of a single mother who made it her mission to see that her son received the best education possible. Her tenacity led him to get three degrees, including a master’s in legal, ethical and historical studies and a degree in law. He later served as the eastern region vice president of the National Urban League Young Professionals prior to accepting the position of CEO in New Orleans in 2007. His accomplishments would make any mother proud and it’s most likely that, by developing the WBRC, it’s his opportunity to pay his mother back while paying it forward to women seeking to embark on starting their own business in the city.
When talking about the WBRC, Rollins is very focused on his thought process behind the program. “When you think about this history, future and present of New Orleans, who are the standard bearers for making it what it was, what it is, and what it’s going to be? I would venture to say that’s its in large degree because of women,” said Rollins. “The crafts persons are women. When you think about the restaurants that exist here, they’re dominated by women. If you think about the public relations firms and the other boutique firms, they’re controlled by women,” explained Rollins. “There’s something about this city that has provided a great opportunity for women to do what they do best and those are the things that they’re most interested in.”
The WBRC provides essential tools and resources to established businesswomen as well as those looking to start their own organizations. Working across eight parishes, the program provides an assortment of services, such as counseling with business experts, business development programs, as well as technology assistance and help with the financial and marketing aspects of having a successful business. Most services are free, but more in-depth programs have a cost that can be shared with others. There are also frequent seminars regarding business practices such as management, business plan writing and company organization.
Rollins is very proud of the success of the WBRC and the talented and driven women that it attracts, but his enthusiasm for empowering women doesn’t stop there because the majority of the Urban League’s staff are women. “I was with my senior staff today and I jokingly said ‘you know this organization in it of itself is 98% women’. All the smart people here who make me look like a rock star are all women!” said Rollins, smiling from ear to ear. “I have women here who are overseeing contract buildings, strategic partnerships, and the development of our businesses. So when you push me to the side, and you look at the rest of the organization, and you say, where’s the heart of the organization? Bar none, every single person in leadership positions in this organization are women…I think that’s what makes us so incredibly successful.”
Rollins goes on to compare his and other successful organizations to a well-maintained, powerful automobile. “I bet if you took a poll and you rip the first layer off most of the businesses, most of the non-profits, the churches; take that layer off, and look at them. Look under the hood, and you’ll see that the engine, the carburetor, and even the battery is run by a woman.” It’s refreshing to see a man who is comfortable on the passenger side and all aspiring businesswomen that utilize the WBRC will be able to quickly take advantage of moving from the back seat to take control of the wheel.
For more information, to make an appointment for a consultation or to attend a seminar at The Urban League’s Women’s Business Resource Center, click here.