She’s the Founding CEO and Vision Keeper of Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange & President of Counts & Co. A Conversation with Stephanie Counts
In 2005 Stephanie Co-Founded WIE, an award-winning non-profit organization whose goal is to build and bridge social capital among women of diverse cultures with outstanding multicultural programming and the distinction of being the only organization of its kind in the region. Ms. Counts is also President, Counts & Co. a strategic consulting firm providing creative solutions to profit and non-profit businesses.
Q: For those in our audience not familiar with Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange (WIE), can you tell us about the organization along with your role as Founder & CEO?
SC: WIE is an award-winning non-profit organization whose goal is to build and bridge social capital among women of diverse cultures. WIE provides outstanding multicultural programming and has the distinction of being the only one of its kind in the region. WIE’s programs exist for the sole purpose of building trust and personal relations across race and culture. Our programs provide the opportunity for thought-provoking exchanges around topics of diversity, the importance of racial/ethnic identity, trust between groups, and how to develop cultural competencies in which everyone can thrive.
After conducting research the Co-Founder of WIE and I realized that there were tremendous opportunities to build and bridge social capital among all women. I served as CEO for five years as we built programs and infrastructure. Passionate volunteers worked side by side our journey toward success.
Q: How many members does WIE currently have?
SC: In recent years, WIE has moved from membership based to a donor based organization which supports programming. Our database contains over 5,000 donors, supporters, volunteers and attendees of conferences and events.
Q: You Co-Founded WIE in 2005 … share with us some of the success stories you’ve had through the years?
SC: I am proud of all the programs we’ve implemented over the years which include multicultural conferences, cross cultural conversations, multicultural community dialogues in corporations and churches, mentoring across differences in high schools and universities, knowledge seminars and most recently The Champions, a group of multicultural men who come together monthly for community dialogue and building trust across race and culture.
Most recently WIE has held eight podcasts entitled “Trust Across Race and Culture: The Pandemic Impact”. Through the eyes and voices of Multicultural Women we examined what has been happening with race and culture - primarily with Women of Color and Men who entered this conversation as “The Champions.” We discussed how the pandemic played a role in uncovering deeply rooted racism. Are we All In This Together? The podcasts are available on the WIE website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Google Podcasts.
Q: Do you feel there is still much work for WIE to do?
SC: The work of WIE is especially critical in the turbulent times we are facing. We are experiencing two pandemics – COVID-19 and the cultural and racial divide. WIE will work vigorously to continue its mission of awareness, education, action and advocacy for cross-cultural diversity, inclusion and equity programs in Charlotte and across the nation.
Q: Tel us about your strategic consulting firm Counts & Co. Who are your primary clients?
SC: Counts & Co. is a strategic consulting firm geared toward providing creative solutions to for-profit and non-profit businesses. Since its inception in 1996, Counts & Co. has had the great privilege to serve a spectrum of organizations and companies. Highlights include designing and developing plans for emerging women’s organizations in third world countries for the World Service Council, Geneva Switzerland; served as a consultant to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund on busing and school desegregation cases; developed organizational assessments and diversity plans for corporations; developed and implemented a Marketing/Investment Plan for the redevelopment of Charlotte’s South End; responsible for marketing in the Carolinas the first Gullah Festival in Hilton Head, SC honoring the heritage and contributions of Native Islanders. Served as the Project Manager for “Conversations on Courage”, collaboration between the Levine Museum of the New South and the Community Building Initiative (CBI). This project commemorated the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education and engaged over 1500 opinion leaders from business, government, non-profit and the civic arena who shape the vision, policies, and practices that guide Charlotte’s growth and development. The exhibit “Courage” and “Conversations on Courage” has received national acclaim.
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
SC: “Follow your Dreams” When you are faced with obstacles believe in YOU. When you believe that you are on the right track and come across a barrier or hurdle- turn it into an “Action Plan”
Q: Can you tell our audience one of your most memorable moments in your career?
SC: I had the opportunity to serve as a White House consultant and author on public school choice and travel across the country to many U.S. school districts working on their school reform and re-engineering efforts. Working with Children, Women and Families do it for me.
Q: Can you share with us which woman inspires you and why?
SC: My mother and grandmother gave me unconditional love and inspired me to reach for the sky and I could be anything I wanted to be.
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
SC: It sounds cliché but it is REAL- “Being All Things to All People” This is what women do- this is who we are and it truly will occur in the environment we are currently living in. The resolve for each women is unique but whatever works- spirituality, meditation… Acknowledge and create an “Action Plan”
Q: What is one word of advice you can offer to young women who want to reach your level of success?
SC: It took me a long time to get here but establishing” Work Life Balance” is going to be the key to success. High achievers frequently have difficulty with balance however; your mental and physical health, family, and children must be factored into the equation.
Also surround yourself with positive true supporters of you and your dreams.
Q: What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
SC: The times we are living in have created so much uncertainty. Truly nothing will be “business as usual” This generation must learn to FOCUS and eliminate the multifaceted energy surrounding us, become Tech Savvy, well read and researched on evolving business models especially in their field of interest and find Mentors who bring wisdom and guidance.
Five Things About Stephanie Counts
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama powerful and authentic at the same time.
2. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?
Maybe I would have pursued my legal career and owned an interior design store.
3. Favorite dessert?
4. Who is your favorite author?
5. What’s your favorite city and why?
Hilton Head Island, SC – We have a home there that we always looked forward to getting there and enjoying the beach and the serenity,