GROW CEO Bonnie Nawara announces retirement

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Bonnie Nawara Courtesy GROW

The leader of Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women is retiring at the end of the year.

Bonnie Nawara, who has led the organization for 10 years, said Monday that she will be hanging up her hat as of Dec. 31.

“These past 10 years have been a whirlwind, and it’s been an honor to lead the organization to a whole new level,” Nawara said. “GROW is now at another pivotal point for the organization, and it is time for new energy to take us into the next 10 years, as I pursue other interests.”

Nawara came to GROW with 20 years of experience as a small business owner and in the nonprofit space. She said it was her love of entrepreneurship that drew her to apply for the position.

Patti Griswold, who served on GROW’s board from 2000-10, was on the selection committee that hired Nawara. Griswold said that of all the candidates that were interviewed, Nawara stood out for her varied experiences.

“She could really understand the challenges of owning a business and understand the inner workings of a nonprofit,” Griswold said. “She really is a person of action. At that time, GROW needed someone to take it to the next level. That is exactly what she has done.”

Under Nawara’s leadership, the organization expanded to offer increased programming and a lending program with technical assistance to the borrowers that continues to flourish. To date, the loan program has deployed $2 million into the community. This year alone, GROW has deployed more than $430,000 in loans to both startups and small businesses directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Key achievements

2012: GROW became an intermediary microlender under the Small Business Administration (SBA).

April 2017: Launched the EmpowerHER program for second-stage businesses. This is a cohort-based, yearlong training program for women entrepreneurs who have been in business for at least a year and are looking for assistance with stabilizing and/or growing their companies.

October 2017: Became the first organization in Grand Rapids to receive community development financial institution (CDFI) status.

November 2017: Recognized as a Rising Star, as part of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce

2018: Added full-time staff to Muskegon to support lakeshore communities

May 2018: Named SBA Michigan Women’s Business Center of Excellence

April 2019: Received the Non-Profit Champion Award from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

September 2019: Received Corp! Magazine’s Salute to Diversity Award

2019: Celebrated the 30th year of the organization with a special Seeds of GROWth event, including a special presentation by Le Anne Moss, GROW’s founder

GROW worked closely with the SBA, SBDC and other partner organizations to support small businesses in the community during the pandemic, growing from about 10 loans a year to more than 45 so far this year and counting.

It formed a partnership with the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, funding loans exclusively for businesses in Muskegon affected by COVID-19. And most recently, GROW was awarded a $400,000 CDFI FA award, which will provide additional funding for the organization’s revolving loan fund. GROW was the only West Michigan lender to receive such an award this year.

“Looking at all of these accomplishments, and the exceptional work the entire staff has done throughout the 2020 pandemic makes me very proud. In 10 years, we moved from a provider of training and education to a lender with one of the strongest technical assistance programs in our community,” Nawara said. “That technical assistance (training) carries over to the support of our lending program.”

Internally, Nawara helped to solidify the overall operations of the organization by doubling the budget, adding many new staff positions, implementing a new CRM platform, creating new training relevant to today’s needs and heightening the organization’s focus on minority communities.

While she is proud of the many ways GROW has expanded under her leadership, she does have one regret — “that I never learned how to spell entrepreneur and always had to look it up,” she said, laughing.

As for the organization’s future, Nawara said she looks forward “to watching GROW from the sidelines.”

“GROW is laying the foundation for its next iteration that will provide a higher level of lending and technical assistance to all our community’s entrepreneurs,” she said.

A new leader has not yet been announced to replace Nawara, but GROW said the process has started, adding she will continue to support GROW and the board throughout the search and selection.

GROW

Founded in 1989 to assist low-income women in creating economic independence through business ownership, GROW supports and trains women and men at various stages of business ownership.

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