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2021 Economic Impact Awards Lifetime Achievement in Business: Nancy O'Reilly

Passion with Purpose

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The path to progress for Nancy O’Reilly is lined with people to her left and to her right, up ahead and following behind.

“No one gets anywhere by themselves,” she says assuredly, as if she’s uttered the phrase hundreds of times before.

It rolls off her lips like a mantra – one she believes and shares whenever she speaks.

The speaking engagements are an aspect of her multifaceted social-profit business, Women Connect4Good Inc. The 10-year-old Springfield-based nonprofit serves as a hub to facilitate women’s equality initiatives on a global scale.

“That’s what it’s all about is building a community of like-minded women who really get it and understand what it’s going to take to make a difference,” she says. “That’s what we’re doing – one organization at a time, one woman at a time.”

Though surrounded by others, O’Reilly stands tall in her own right. There are times the path of women’s equality is narrow, and she acknowledges she had to look herself in the mirror first.

“I’ve always been in search of ways to help women to find their voice. I had to start with me,” she says. “Then I could help others to do the same.

“And it’s working. By golly gee whiz, it’s working. I used to be out there banging on my drum, going, ‘Is anybody listening?’”

They appear to be, now.

O’Reilly’s Women Connect4Good team receives five to 10 requests per month for speaking engagements and funding.

“I don’t accept all of them,” she admits.

She also has a personal brand built by her four published books, podcasts and blogs, regular event appearances and hosting, and financial contributions. Her latest books, “In This Together” released in 2019 and “Leading Women” in 2014, combined have sold roughly 5,300 copies and counting.

Women Connect4Good, the hub, has roughly a dozen active partner organizations around the spokes. At the center is the 501(c)(3) WC4G foundation to funnel donations and make contributions to related initiatives, such as the ongoing #LiftWomenUp campaign.

The resulting accolades are far-reaching: Last year, she received an award from the National Women’s History Museum, along with actress Andie MacDowell, and later this year will be honored with the Mosaic Award at the Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference. In 2018, O’Reilly was among 20 women sharing the stage with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the Canales Project awards in Washington, D.C.

The springboard
O’Reilly’s career started in clinical psychology – she has a doctorate from the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology – and work in marriage and family therapy. But it’s taken flight with her efforts in women’s empowerment and leadership.

She runs the social-profit business and a for-profit entity. The latter represents her other life passion: horses.

O’Reilly owns the Southern California Equestrian Center in Somis, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Spanning 21 acres, the estate holds 100 horses – mostly of the Arabian breed – and features two arenas, a 50-stall barn, covered round pen, a quarter-mile track and a dozen pastures. The center has a California kind of claim to fame: It was once owned by celebrity Zsa Zsa Gabor.

“I really like living at the barn. I get to see the horses every morning – that’s what I like,” O’Reilly says.

The Springfield native splits time between her California properties – a second is in Montecito – and a patio home office in Highland Springs.

She says the people most responsible for her motivation in this life work are her three daughters with ex-husband Larry O’Reilly of the O’Reilly Automotive Inc. family.

“I don’t think unless I had these daughters that I’d be so adamant in making sure women were treated fairly and they were empowered and had a voice,” she says of Lauren, Leigh and Ragan. “It’s my personal and my professional passion.”

Bridging the gap
Her work reaches locally, nationally and internationally. One bridge to all three is her involvement with Convoy of Hope, a Springfield-based international humanitarian organization.

O’Reilly is a major funder of Convoy’s Women’s Empowerment program since traveling to Ethiopia with a team about eight years ago. Convoy co-founders Hal and Doree Donaldson were on that trip, where the group visited schools, served lunches and met with women in their businesses and homes to hear their stories.

“We met with several hundred women who had gone through the program,” says Doree Donaldson, vice president of Convoy: Women. “She was right there listening, right there crying together, rejoicing together for what was happening.”

Donaldson recalls she and O’Reilly both hugged a woman in the moment and took a picture with her.

“She does more than just write a check,” Donaldson says, recalling another work trip the two took to Tanzania. “She is incredibly intentional. That always impresses me to see someone get out of their comfort zone. I’ve seen her rub shoulders with the poor and the suffering and seen her heart. She truly cares about people and wants to be part of the solution.”

With contributors like O’Reilly, Donaldson says the program has served over 46,000 women and girls in 16 countries.

O’Reilly remembers the impact on her: “What was exciting about these countries was that when women succeeded, other women applauded them. That was extremely powerful to watch.

“It fit the mission of what I wanted to do with women and girls.”

For O’Reilly, the mission is about gender equity – everywhere on the globe.

“This is a movement,” she says. “We want to move the dial.”

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