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Bite-Sized History: Tamra Ryan & The Third Law

“In short, I learned that it’s society that holds certain women back. But I also learned about something far more moving: the resiliency of the human spirit… I have seen for myself the value and impact of a woman believing she is worthy of a better life.” – page 10 

In 2013, Tamra Ryan published The Third Law to critical acclaim and buzz. It has since won several awards, including the 2017 NYC Big Book Award and the 2017 Independent Press Award in the Women’s Issues category. The Third Law is a collection of stories, observations, and reflections from Tamra’s first ten years as CEO of Women’s Bean Project. It seems appropriate then that ten years later Tamra and I sat down to look back on her writing process and to look forward to her next book in progress. 

“I’ve never been entirely certain we are doing everything correctly, but I know we’ll continue to make improvements until we figure it out. We have to. The women and all those who will come after them are counting on it.” – page 35 

Tamra’s vision in writing this book was first and foremost to educate. “The things I’ve learned were important for other people to understand,” she says. More than anything, she wants The Third Law to clear up naiveté and misunderstanding about the type of work Women’s Bean Project does and what social enterprise means as a whole. Nowadays social enterprises are much more common, and The Third Law has stood as a reliable resource for those interested in community leadership.  

Through fourteen chapters, The Third Law expands upon the major factors conspiring against a woman’s success. Each chapter focuses on a broad topic like the corrections system, addiction or single motherhood. While the individual stories and accounts she cites are often heavy with emotion, her writing does not wax too poetically about the women’s lives. The drama is kept to the events themselves, allowing the reader an honest look into the history of Women’s Bean Project. A few chapters, like “The Devil You Know – Why Domestic Violence is So Hard to Escape” and “Beautiful Boy – When My Life and Work Collided,” allow an insight into Tamra’s personal life and connections to the Bean Project. It allows a more vulnerable and empathetic look at the work and woman in question and demonstrates Tamra’s passion for the organization. 

So how do the sentiments and history contained in The Third Law extend into modern Women’s Bean Project policy? 

“One of the greatest difficulties we face at the Bean Project is the complex interplay between mental illness, poverty, and drug abuse. We must find a way to address all three challenges if we expect the women to maintain long-term employment. The Bean Project’s role is to provide a safe and accepting work environment where a woman can develop a foundation for her future while we also help the women gain access to affordable medical care, acquire subsidies for affordable housing, and enroll in programs that provide safe places where their children are well cared for…The rest is up to them.” -page 149 

Tamra returns to the issue of mental health support at multiple points in The Third Law. It is one of the main touchpoints of self-perpetuating poverty alongside drug abuse as both a cause and effect. As the Bean Project moves forward, this focus on mental health is at the forefront of our program design. Post-pandemic, it has become glaringly clear how much of an effect trauma can have on a person’s wellbeing and personal success. Through collaboration with organizations like the Colorado Mental Wellness Network and Maria Droste Counseling Center, participants have access to onsite therapy and counseling in comfortable, private meeting rooms. Through the new three phase system, participants spend their first month in Stabilization, gaining access to resources for childcare, housing, mental wellness, and other essential needs. 

“If a woman decides she is ready to change and is taking the steps to create a new life, perhaps we should get behind her and enable her to do what she needs to do to find employment, stay sober, and stay out of prison. We mustn’t stand in her way. We must give her a chance and not assume that the mistakes she made define who she is now.” – page 216 

Tamra’s sentiments about participants in recovery or on probation reflect a long-standing policy of strengths-based support. When a participant enters phase three, Job Search, we do not assume they will be going into food manufacturing permanently. By working one on one with a job coach and utilizing the Get a Job Kit designed by the nonprofit Women’s Empowerment, a participant identifies her strengths and passions to narrow her search to a perfectly fit job. 

“The number of women we hire at any point is determined by our sales projections and the inventory needed to meet those sales. It’s overwhelming to see a roomful of women who want a chance to change their lives and feel that we have failed them because our sales can’t justify hiring more.” – page 232-233 

This overwhelming feeling extends into the modern day. As we enter the second quarter with a robust participant roster of twenty-six women, the highest number in nearly two years, the sales department has ignited with the mission of keeping many hands busy. 

So what’s next? 

When I started my interview with Tamra, I believed her second book would be a continuation of the first. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that it extends beyond Women’s Bean Project and into the practice of leadership itself. Recently named a Colorado Titan 100 [link] for the second year in a row, it is no question that Tamra has demonstrated exemplary leadership in her tenure at the Bean Project. However, her writing includes interviews with other leaders across a myriad of industries and will focus on “how to be a leader worth following,” a concept she has named “Followship.” 

Tamra’s influence on Women’s Bean Project is ingrained into its history and continues to be as she enters her twentieth year as CEO. We end our Women’s History Series with perhaps the most influential figure in Bean Project history behind our founder, Jossy Eyre. 

Tamra continues to write in her personal time, as she did with The Third Law, and anticipates a possible launch sometime in 2024. 

“My greatest wish is that Women’s Bean Project will someday put itself out of business. I wish we could provide services so effective and long lasting that the impact would be felt by future generations as well as today. My greatest fear is that in twenty years we will be serving the daughters of the women we serve today. I believe that when we change a woman’s life, we change her family’s life.” – page 237 

Quotes excerpted from The Third Law by Tamra Ryan, published by Gilpin House Press 2013 

 

 The Bite-Sized History series was written by Monica Magee on behalf of Women’s Bean Project. 

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