Giving Women’s World Banking a new home

March 16, 2015

When I look back on 2014, I know that it is the highlight of my tenure with Women’s World Banking so far. When I came onboard four and a half years ago, I worked with our CEO and boards to map out a game plan to strengthen the culture, brand and business model of the organization. Today is proof of how we stuck to it.

In many ways, the past year for me focused on the physical transformation of Women’s World Banking: giving us a new home. We took the opportunity to build a space that reflected all of the change we’ve instituted, together. It would prove a daunting task.

Women’s World Banking was fortunate to operate from an office building on the edge of Bryant Park for nearly 25 years. Though it’s a prime spot in the city now, people may not realize that at the time of entering into the original lease, the park (located only a short block from Times Square) was littered with drugs and prostitution. Fast-forward a quarter century… we all had the privilege to walk through an enchanted landscape of people, nature and history on a daily basis. Finding a new location that would meet the expectations of our staff, partners and supporters was not easy.

The first decision we had to make was do we stay or do we go? There were multiple considerations, such as moving our operations into one of the countries we work in or another U.S. city that isn’t as costly. At the end of the day we decided to stay in New York City for multiple reasons. It is the market that many of our donors call home, it remains a center of influence (a major consideration in our strategic plan), and it allowed us retain the incredible talent of our staff.

Once we made the decision to stay in New York, the real fun began. Would it be Manhattan, hipster Brooklyn, trending Harlem, or spacious Queens? Uptown or downtown? Should I adhere to the mythical CEO “rule” which states the office needs to be within a certain radius of one’s residence or she might not show up to work (or maybe I lose my job!)? How much would it impact the staff if we moved from one subway line to another? Would people figure out where to eat lunch? How much natural light will we have? Can we use an existing office building, or do we want new construction? What happens if the new space isn’t ready and our old lease ends? Will we have a new office to work from or will we be working from home?

The complexity of site selection paled in comparison to the next step: design choice. With so many trendy, and technology-focused businesses moving into the city, the design ante has been raised significantly. Bench seating or offices? New furniture or move everything we had? Will the seats be comfortable enough? What about meeting spaces? Capacity for Board meetings? Knoll, Herman Miller, Steel Case, Target or Ikea? How much should we spend? Who will pay for it? Will everyone hate it?

These are all thoughts that crossed my mind and kept me up at night, but the reality is building a new home for Women’s World Banking was one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had. Here are a few secrets that have saved my hide:

  • Make the CEO happy
  • Show the Board that management is in control
  • Assemble a competent and committed team
  • Use proper change management with the staff
  • Know your budget and live within it
  • Find a great broker and attorney
  • Make smart decisions, not emotional ones
  • Invest for the future, considering both longevity and growth
  • Don’t lose sight of the brand, but don’t remain tied to your past

The result: A beautiful, functional new space in the middle of Manhattan with 42nd floor views. We came in 30% under budget on the overall project and didn’t use a single donor dollar, with the exception of in-kind support from Cisco Systems Inc. and Mayer Brown. We financed everything through investment returns. The economics of the space will provide us with stability for years to come. The modern technology we’ve adopted connects us to the world. It reflects our unique brand of intellect, commitment and focus on serving low-income women around the world.

Two months into our new home and our staff is settled in and happy with the new space. The open floor plan encourages collaboration across teams, and it is inspiring to see the new ideas that are being generated to meet our mission: a day when all women will have access to the financial tools they need to achieve security and prosperity. Take a look at some of the photos from our new space!

Women's World Banking's new offices in Midtown Manhattan

The main conference room

The board room

Our main office space

One of the meetings rooms