After a 30-year career in real estate, Donna Fleetwood now owns an art studio in Santa Fe, NM. She coaches real estate agents on how to be successful with more clarity, focus, ease and grace. On her LinkedIn page, Donna refers to Bpeace as a nonprofit that “has made a huge difference in my life.” Donna talked with Chief Growth Officer Susy Cheston to share her Bpeace story.
What inspires you to give back through Bpeace?
I joined Bpeace in 2009 as a synchronistic way to support women.
I went to the UN Commission on the Status of Women and was heartbroken by what I learned about women who were struggling to support their families. Someone passed on an email with information about Bpeace. I got on a call with co-founder Toni Maloney and ended up participating in the Race to Innovation in Afghanistan and Rwanda.
Can you share a “moment” with a Bpeace small business (Fast Runner) that was meaningful to you?
I’ve got so many, it’s difficult to pick just one.
I was matched with a woman named Latifa from Afghanistan who had a dream of starting a kitchen manufacturing business. A year in, another volunteer Skillanthropist, Paula Wilbert, joined the team, which was a huge help. We worked with Latifa for 5 years during which she launched her business in Kabul. She got training in the U.S. thanks to the State Department and stayed at my house for a week. Latifa worked with a cabinet manufacturer in Lancaster, PA, and other U.S. businesses. During that time, she realized that men had to be part of the process and partnered with her brother, another Fast Runner.
The kitchen manufacturing business had to be closed after a couple of years because of threats by people who did not like men and women working side by side. After that, Latifa became a prominent women’s leader in Afghanistan as a proponent of education and women’s rights.
In 2022, after the Taliban takeover, three Bpeace volunteers—myself, Paula Wilbert and Bpeace board member Marla Gitterman—helped Latifa get out of Afghanistan and she is now in Canada with her family.
To this day we have a close personal relationship. When Latifa was here with the State Department, she stayed in my house. We stood in my back yard, and looked at the moon. She said, “I will always think of you when I see the moon.”
What other Bpeace projects have you worked on?
I did Customer Service training and helped write a manual for the first ice cream store in Rwanda.
I hosted a group of Rwandan Fast Runners (Bpeace graduates) for a week as they visited local business.
I co-authored a sales manual for Guatemala and El Salvador.
I went to the first Fast Runner meeting in El Salvador with Toni so we could listen and learn from the entrepreneurs.
I worked with a Guatemalan furniture maker, Rodrigo Duarte, who spent three days receiving training in Lancaster, PA.
I’ve done several G-files (Bpeace business profile reports), including one in 2020 for a woman-owned stained-glass manufacturer in El Salvador.
How were you able to balance your work, life and volunteerism?
I worked in real estate and had a wonderful assistant who was on board and really helped support this work. I became more efficient at work so I could make time to work on my passion.
I love being given latitude to build the relationship and be creative about what we can do for growing entrepreneurs.
Have you introduced anyone to Bpeace?
That has happened organically from talking about my experiences. I remember recruiting someone I met on a plane. I used to go out and speak to women’s groups, for instance I served as a speaker for an International Women’s Day event locally. Latifa was going to arrive the next week and the company that was going to have her for training had just pulled out at the last minute. Through a contact I met at that talk, we were able to contact the CEO of a different company and they were happy to help.
People loved hearing about the opening of the ice cream store in Rwanda. I was in Toastmasters and would give the talk to schools and women’s group; one year I even gave the presentation to the Model UN at Penn State.
How would you describe the Bpeace distinctive?
We’re all interested in business. The connection that Toni put forth made sense to me: “More jobs mean less violence®.” I can help create some peace in the world by building business.
I also felt a clear calling to support women. From the beginning it was a huge focus that we were helping women-owned businesses.
In El Salvador and Guatemala, we are giving families a reason to stay and grow in their own country. I think this is one of the most important things we do and it can solve all kinds of issues.
To explore how you can help make a difference through Bpeace, please contact Susy Cheston, Chief Growth Officer, at email@example.com.