Volunteering With BPEACE - My Own
I volunteer with an organization called the Business
Council for Peace, (BPEACE), a USA-based nonprofit that recruits
business professionals to help entrepreneurs in countries emerging from war,
like Rwanda and Afghanistan, to create and expand businesses and employment
(particularly for women). BPEACE believes more jobs mean less violence.
By focusing BPEACE's efforts on Fast Runner entrepreneurs, we
count on the reverberation effect that starts with healthier, more
sustainable businesses that result in increased employment, equips
workers with skills, and contributes to more families experiencing less
poverty and less domestic and community violence.
BPEACE volunteers aren't just people with a good heart and, often, they
aren't development experts or aid workers. Rather, the
volunteers are professionals with particular real-life business skills
-- in running a construction company or a cleaning company, in operating a
funeral home, in tool making out of scrap metal, in franchising, in
operating a gas station and convenience store, and on and on. 75% of the
BPEACE volunteers never travel to Afghanistan and Rwanda; the volunteering
is done through the Internet, through facilitated conversations by other
BPEACE volunteers such as myself. These volunteers develop relationships,
in many cases friendships, with the entrepreneurs they assist, and become
aware of the realities faced by people in post-conflict countries.
Volunteers that assist BPEACE in finding USA-based business people to
mentor entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries and facilitate these
relationships are asked to become paid members of BPEACE, contributing
nearly 5% of BPEACE's annual budget. Yes, that's right: I pay to
volunteer. It makes me feel like an investor in the organization.
Well, actually, I am an investor in the organization, literally.
What have I done for BPEACE?
The activity regarding helping the entrepreneur was an intense learning
experience for me -- I do a lot of online
volunteering/virtual volunteering, but this was the kind that's
client service. I felt a particular responsibility for this experience
to be successful. Here's what this very intense online volunteering / online
mentoring experience entailed:
- I started by offering to help recruit professionals in the funeral
industry to help mentor a woman entrepreneur in Rwanda (I found out
about BPEACE and their need for specialized volunteer recruitment via VolunteerMatch;
it's the first assignment I've ever gotten through VolunteerMatch,
after several years of trying. But that's a topic for a future blog,
and NOT a criticism of VolunteerMatch).
- That got me added to the BPEACE email newsletter, and when a call went
out for help writing and editing press releases, I volunteered.
- Then I volunteered to be one of the facilitators to help an
entrepreneur connect with a business mentor in the USA, and just a few
weeks later, I was charged with assisting a man in Kabul who wants to
start a cleaning company.
- I created a draft presentation on how small business people in
Afghanistan could use Facebook for both client/customer development and
better customer services. This presentation was then refined by other
BPEACE supporters and translated into Dari and Pashto. I also gathered
half a dozen examples of SWOT analyses, per several requests to BPEACE
from the entrepreneurs they support who requested more examples.
After all of that, it was up to "my" Afghan entrepreneur to take action.
BPEACE has a local office in Kabul, run by an Afghan-American, to work with
entrepreneurs, but they don't do the work that the entrepreneur must do his
- BPEACE provided me with a briefing paper about "my" entrepreneur in
Kabul. After reading his background and the questions he had regarding
starting a cleaning company, I decided he needed a detailed written
guide in how to create a successful cleaning company. I doubted I would
be able to find a cleaning professional willing to write such a detailed
guide from scratch. I decided I would try to write one myself, and then
have a professional edit it.
- I typed a few phrases into Google
and, surprise, found a
guide on how to start a cleaning company at entrepreneur.com.
I downloaded it and started re-writing it so that it would be applicable
to Afghanistan. So much of the usual "how to start a small business"
information isn't relevant to a place with little infrastructure and
stability like Afghanistan (such as insurance, worker's compensation,
etc.). I drew on what I know about Kabul from my
six months there in 2007, my studies in
development management (which included a lot of study regarding
business sustainability and development), and my
- Next, I sent out a call to family, friends and colleagues via email
and various online networks (Facebook,
asking if anyone knew a person who runs a successful cleaning company,
large or small, who might be willing to read and edit the guide I had
prepared, and would answer any questions the entrepreneur had about
starting or running a cleaning company. Just a few people responded,
saying they might know someone, and just one came through with the name
and contact information for a company: Mops-in-Motion
in St. Louis, Missouri. I note the responses because this isn't the
first time I've gotten a lot of "I'll help" emails that didn't get
beyond initial interest; that's something to consider when recruiting
help for a volunteering project.
- I worked with my Mops-in-Motion
contact to create a very detailed document - 13 pages. Since the
entrepreneur wanted to work with foreign clients in particular, our
document included a glossary of English terms (janitor, green cleaning,
antibacterial cleaners, etc.). It also included information on how to
identify a market niche (the homes of affluent families, the homes of
foreign workers, small shops, government offices, clinics, etc.), what
equipment is needed, how to deal with the lack of clean water in
Afghanistan, estimating business costs, calculating fees, transportation
needs, hiring and supervising staff (including how to ensure the safety
of female employees), billing, establishing a business reputation, and
marketing. Each section included a worksheet, walking the entrepreneur
through development steps for each business process. The US cleaning
company representative also answered the Afghan entrepreneur's specific
questions throughout the guide.
- Once the writing and editing were finished, I asked an Afghan
colleague in Kabul to translate the document into Dari,
so it could be more easily understood by the Afghan entrepreneur (he
understands some English, but really needed the materials in his own
language). I offered to pay my Afghan colleague, but she refused; I had
mentored her myself since I left Kabul in 2007 regarding her Master's
thesis, and she wanted to "pay me back," as it were. She noted later
that the experience was good for her, helping her to understand the
realities of starting a small business in Afghanistan and what kinds of
things international NGOs are trying to do in her country. That kind of
knowledge not only helps her be an ambassador for inter-cultural
understanding in her country, it also helps her be a more effective
professional within the government agency where she works.
- I also found some clip art illustrating "cleaning", and created a
place on my web site where "my" entrepreneur could access the images,
and created a template for a flyer he could use in his marketing
|| In November 2010, I
received a VERA (Volunteer Excellence Recognition Award) from Business
Council for Peace (BPEACE), a USA-based nonprofit that
recruits business professionals to help entrepreneurs in
countries emerging from war, like Rwanda and Afghanistan, to
create and expand businesses and employment (particularly for
women). "We annually search amongst our hard working
member/volunteers to identify those, among so many, who deserve
a particular call-out and recognition..." I won the "Purple
Heart VERA", for helping to support a gentleman in Afghanistan
who wants to start a cleaning business. I "bravely delivered
detailed technical advice... and urged him to stretch to meet
his goals of starting a commercial cleaning business."
Unfortunately, he ultimately dropped out of the program. "And
that has to hurt." Yeah, it did a little, but I then turned her
energies to helping the other BPEACE advocates with their
entrepreneurs and doing some other volunteering with BPEACE --
all of it online.
I'm taking a break from mentoring another entrepreneur for now, but my micro-volunteering
with BPEACE continues. For instance, in September, BPEACE staff sent an
email to all volunteers, asking everyone to help find an IT company or IT
department within a company on the west coast of the USA, preferably in
the NYC, DC or Boston area, that could host an Afghan entrepreneur for a
couple of days, allowing him to learn what it takes to provide quality
computer services and customer support. I sent an email to my various
networks and, behold, multiple
companies volunteered (one or two because of my outreach, others
because of other volunteers).
Do you have hard skills starting or running a business of any kind? Food
service? Motorcycle repair? Motorcycle repair classes? Computer classes?
Raising chickens for meat or eggs? Making furniture? IT support? Ice cream
manufacturing? Anything?!? You can turn your business success
into something to benefit people in post-conflict countries without ever
leaving your home, through volunteering
Are you in the United Kingdom and want to do similar online mentoring of
small business people / entrepreneurs in developing countries? Check out
mentoring program by the Cherie Blair Foundation.
my other volunteering/pro bono
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