Volunteering With BPEACE - My Own Experience

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 hardest: direct 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:
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 or herself.

Me and my VERA from BPEACE 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 with BPEACE.

Are you in the United Kingdom and want to do similar online mentoring of small business people / entrepreneurs in developing countries? Check out the online mentoring program by the Cherie Blair Foundation.


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