Concerned with Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate, Paige Johnson got to work doing what she does best — thinking like an entrepreneur.
“I felt like one of the things that was really lacking in our work with these women to help them achieve good, productive lives was (a focus on) their economic betterment,” says Johnson, founder of the Gilded Sparrows Network and founder and CEO of Ten-nine Technologies.
Johnson started the Gilded Sparrows nonprofit in 2017 to support and mentor women involved with the criminal justice system as they work toward economic independence. The two-year, multi-step program helps women identify skill sets, develop a business idea, create a product line and build an online presence.
“Entrepreneurship is uniquely able to connect your work to your own money,” Johnson says. “When you make something on your own and sell it, there is a power in that that is different than getting a paycheck.”
Kay Grundy, one of the 14 sparrows who has been through the program, owns PLUSH by Kay, a hand-sewn decorative pillow company.
“In the beginning of the Gilded Sparrows program, we meet four days a week, waking up early and coming in to do something productive,” Grundy says. “That got me from feeling depressed and not knowing what to do to being ready for a job and also having a business as a backup and to help financially.”
Though the network also helps women find traditional employment, Johnson says, “When they see themselves as the creator of something, as the owner of something, it uniquely helps them reframe themselves in a way that is empowering. It helps them see themselves as powerful and capable.”
Other active Gilded Sparrows businesses include Hair by Jill, a cut-and-color salon; Angel against Trafficking, a nonprofit assisting sex trafficking victims; and OKIE SmallScapes, a plant and plant workshop business.