The honest truth about why I decided to throw a dress-up, glamourous party for a bunch of women!
After a small battle with a local business publication over trade name infringement, Ann Clarke, the Founder of COWOI, attended a breakfast event characterized as an awards ceremony for women in business. It occurred to her that 1) it was put on by men, 2) there were actually award categories for men, and 3) there were a lot of men on the stage! There was really no awards ceremony in our area created BY women FOR women, specifically for women-only. She also recognized that women had done amazing things in areas in addition to business: education, the arts, medicine, sports, advocacy, science, government, and nonprofit work, to name a few!
It also seemed glaringly obvious that the contributions women have made in so many areas of our society had largely been overlooked, under-appreciated, and under-valued. Ann was determined that our women’s vision, innovation, creativity and leadership needed to be honored on a much larger scale. Maybe it was time to throw a dress-up evening event, with a champagne reception and a sit-down dinner for these women of vision! Not a fund raiser with silent auction like so many galas, just a party! The Advisory Council agreed, and the Women of Vision Gala was created.
In the spring of 2010, COWOI send out a "Call for Nominations" to Northern Colorado, seeking women who have demonstrated visionary approaches in their personal and professional lives. We asked ordinary people to bring us women who have made a contribution to the well-being and empowerment of women and the betterment of their community. We wanted Nominees who have enriched the lives of others with intelligence, talent - and vision. We also sought Nominees who embodied character traits rather than their career areas. That first year we had 72 Nominees from many career fields and volunteer groups. We wanted them all in the spotlight but ended up with 20 on the stage. That first year was so successful, the Women of Vision Gala became an annual event.
Every year when we sent out the “Call for Nominations” we were astounded at the amazing women in our own back yard that no one outside of their field had ever heard of. All of the nominees and those eventually selected had this in common: they were told, "Nobody can do anything about that!" But they all said, "I will do something about that!" They were determined - fearless - unstoppable - and empowered. They were of all ages, from teenagers to octogenarians. They were elite athletes, political activists, educators, inventors, writers, innovators and creators. Their missions impacted not only people but animals as well. They made a difference not only locally but in many instances, across the country and even across the world.
We hired local video producers and filmed each year’s Honorees, encapsulating their passion & projects in short videos played at the Gala before each received her award (and a swag bag filled with gifts from COWOI Members). Even though every woman on the stage had undertaken huge projects, some were singled out for having made a difference on a whole higher level. That's why we created three special awards: Woman of Courage, Woman of Inspiration and The International Woman of Vision Award. In 2014 we lost Dr. Joan King, a Founding Member of COWOI and the recipient of our first International Woman of Vision award in 2010. In her honor, that award became known as The Dr. Joan King International Woman of Vision Award.
In 2018 COWOI created a 501c3 nonprofit Foundation to administer the Women of Vision Gala. In 2019 we were proud to host our 10th Annual Women of Vision Gala.
Like many organizations, in 2020, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic caused COWOI to cancel the Women of Vision Gala. In 2021, public confidence for in-person events had not returned, so the Gala was canceled again. By the end of 2021, the viability of the Colorado Women of Influence Foundation was in jeopardy, but in 2022 we re-launched, going “back to our roots” and tucking the Foundation away until a time when the Women of Vision Gala returns. As we re-build our Membership, we continue to host & sponsor events which resonate with our Members. The Women of Vision Gala may return, but not until we have a strong volunteer base to undertake such a massive project.
In the meantime, COWOI continues to honor and celebrate women through smaller, more intimate events: Lunch with a Leader and Coffee & Conversations. We still love putting women into the spotlight, just on a smaller scale.