Bonnie Nawara, GROW CEO, Announces Retirement

Bonnie Nawara Headshot

Grand Rapids, MI -- Following a decade of leading Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) CEO Bonnie Nawara announced her retirement at the end of this year.

"These last 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 nonprofit expertise. She said it was her love of entrepreneurship that drew her to apply for the position.

Patti Griswold served on GROW's board from 2000-2010. She was on the selection committee that hired Nawara. Griswold said that of all the candidates that were interviewed, Nawara stood out for her experience as a business owner and working in nonprofits.

"She could really understand the challenges of owning a business and understand the inner workings of a nonprofit," Griswold said. "And, 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 has expanded to offer increased programming and a lending program with technical assistance to the borrowers which 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 during her tenure include:

  • 2012: became an intermediary Micro Lender under the SBA (Small Business Administration).
  • October 2017: Became the first organization in Grand Rapids to receive CDFI designation (Community Development Financial Institution).
  • April 2017, Launched the EmpowerHER program for second-stage businesses. This is a cohort-based, year-long 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.
  • November 2017, Recognized as a Rising Star, as part of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit with Grand Rapids Area 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 West Michigan Hispanic Chamber.
  • 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.
  • Like many organizations, 2020 has been anything but normal for GROW. The organization has worked closely with the SBA, SBDC and other partner organizations to support small businesses in the community. Growing from normal operations of 10+ loans a year to more than 45 so far this year and counting.

Partnerships with the Community Foundation for Muskegon County funded loans exclusively for businesses in Muskegon affected by COVID. 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 ten 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, added many new staff positions, implemented a new CRM platform, created new trainings relevant to today’s needs and heightened the organization's focus on minority communities.

While she is proud of the myriad of 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 laughed.

As for the organization's future, Nawara says, "I look 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."

About GROW

GROW was founded in 1989 by LeAnne Moss to assist low-income women in creating economic independence through business ownership. Over the last 30 years, the organization has grown to support and train women and men at various stages of business ownership. The organization has adapted throughout the Pandemic to provide loan programs, loan support and relevant training for local business owners.