As a marketing executive, New York advertising executive Sabrina Prince has launched many brands. And after 15 years in the field she was looking to contribute her expertise to the global good.
A Google search for “entrepreneur, peace, volunteer, women,” brought Sabrina to Bpeace, a nonprofit that matches business experts with entrepreneurs in challenged economies to help them grow their businesses and generate jobs.
Founded in 2002 in the belief that jobs can help decrease violence, Bpeace business volunteers have worked with 200+ entrepreneurs, known as Fast Runners, in Rwanda, Afghanistan, El Salvador and Guatemala to employ 7,000 locals and generate over $81 million in revenue. In 2018, Bpeace will launch in Lebanon, where Skillanthropists like Sabrina will mentor Syrian refugee women who have business aspirations.
Sabrina is just the type of business expert Bpeace relies on to fulfill its mission. Sabrina worked with Bpeace to create a Branding 101 Guide. She then served as a Virtual Mentor, training Balkhi, Bpeace’s regional manager in Afghanistan, to use the guide to teach others. In addition, Sabrina taught concepts like market research and messaging to an Afghan dairy farmer = to increase his yogurt sales.
While Sabrina was concerned that her ad-agency employer Neon would not like her using the tools and skills she had acquired at work for volunteering purposes, she found the opposite was true.
“My company was thrilled about the potential for positive press and they told me to let them know if they could be of any help,” Sabrina says.
It turns out that many companies are more than willing to share their knowledge with entrepreneurs from less developed countries. In addition to connecting mentors with Fast Runners, Bpeace also recruits companies in the U.S. to host the entrepreneurs.
Companies including Spotify, Sapient Razorfish, Geometry Global, and Vitamin Shoppe, have generously welcomed Bpeace Fast Runners, some on a repeat basis. Reliance Private Label Supplements has hosted Fast Runners three times. Last summer, they welcomed brothers Josué and Oscar García Novoa, from Laboratorios SYM in El Salvador to spend three days with the company.
Josué and Oscar were particularly interested in gaining an understanding of the American vitamin and supplements sector and learning how to improve their product placement in the market. Over the course of their visit, they met with 12 employees during a mini-rotation through the company, including with the branded division and the product development team. Reliance staff also took Josué and Oscar on in-store visits. In the evening, Reliance employees treated Josué and Oscar to a night on the town, including a Yankees game.
“We like the idea of impacting the lives of people in developing countries, showing people what we do here and giving visitors a taste of New York,” said CEO Phil Vigeant. “Also we have a lot of employees from Latin American who appreciate that we do this. It’s a shared interest across the company.”
Being a Virtual Skillanthropist or serving as a Host Company are two of the exciting ways Bpeace connects experts and growing companies. But perhaps the most life-changing way is through Bpeace’s Traveling Skillanthropist opportunities. Business experts travel to Guatemala and El Salvador, providing on-site consulting. This gives the mentor a chance to dig into the business and discuss solutions that meet local challenges.
Tim Teran, a seasoned marketing and communications executive with a strong track record of building brands, spent six days in Guatemala City. He worked with two to three Fast Runners a day – from a brewing company to an auto repair shop — to outline their business objectives for the coming year. He also had the opportunity to visit the countryside and enjoy the local culture.
“I find that an immersion experience like this – 16 companies in 6 days – has to change you,” Tim says. “It was both emotionally and intellectually fulfilling.”
Tim says that seeing how Guatemalan business owners accommodate their employees, whose lives are affected by poverty and violence really touched him. In one case a
businessman had created a play area so that some of his employees, particularly his female workers, could bring their kids to work and not leave them at home. In another case, an employer created a place for workers from outside the city to stay so that they didn’t have to travel long distance through dangerous neighborhoods.
“That speaks to how much the businesses owners want to grow their businesses by helping folks who are not necessarily like them,” Tim said.