Marie Sullivan was the leader of Arizona Women’s Education and Employment (AWEE), which offers a diverse range of training and support services throughout Maricopa and Yavapai counties.

December 1, 2013

Michael Gossie

AWEE creates renewed hope for the hopeless

Over the course of more than 30 years, Arizona Women’s Education and Employment (AWEE) has given hope and helped improve employment opportunities for more than 90,000 women, men and young adults. Az Business magazine caught up with Marie Sullivan, president and CEO of AWEE, to talk about the impact her organization has had on the community.

Az Business: What does the community need to know about AWEE?
Marie Sullivan: AWEE is a constantly evolving organization that has shown the ability to respond to shifting environments while sustaining our core mission to change people’s lives through the dignity of work. AWEE teaches, coaches, and connects people to jobs and education that will positively impact their quality of life – that includes primarily women, but men and older youth.  We are vibrant and have a unique place in the market – a boutique business enterprise serving thousands of individuals a year.  A Mighty Mouse in our industry.

AB: How is being CEO of AWEE different from leading a more traditional company?
MS: AWEE is a small business enterprise. Instead of selling a traditional “product,” AWEE markets a mission and serves people who want to make that mission part of their lives, whether as a participant, an employee, a volunteer, or a donor. We are similar in that we identify our customers and pursue a dedicated agenda to serve them. We are different in that we need multiple partners to achieve the measure of our success: changing people’s lives through the dignity of work. Being a CEO of AWEE means balancing the demands of a small business with fulfilling a mission that resonates to multiple stakeholders without harming or compromising those we have been called to serve.

AB: How has the struggling economy impacted AWEE?
MS: The economy has hit AWEE hard just as it has other nonprofits and small businesses. With a lagging economy, despite all the good will, our resources have been impacted. Balancing our resources with growing numbers of individuals to be served has been the most obvious way the struggling economy has impacted AWEE.

AB: What has been your biggest challenge?
MS: The biggest challenge AWEE has faced has been in the past few years, mostly due to a shift in resources available to support the work we do. In response, we have explored and implemented new ways to do business to maintain integrity to our mission and continue serving those struggling to find work with those employers struggling to find good employees. It’s the ability to be flexible and nimble in the face of these challenges that gives us the opportunity to sustain our organization and serve our community.

AB: What accomplishment gives you the most pride?
MS: The absolute greatest accomplishment is the knowledge that individuals’ and families’ lives are changed in a positive way through the dignity of work because of their motivation and commitment to improve their lives, and the skills and support the AWEE staff give each day to make that happen.