For Janece Kleban, fundraising and working in development for non-profits was in her blood. Her mother is a consultant and does strategic planning for both local and national organizations, so Janece was able to see firsthand how this type of work impacts everyone in the community. During college, she led her collegiate chapter for Habitat for Humanity and spent her school breaks traveling the country and building houses. This led to 16 years in the non-profit industry, a certification in fundraising from University of California-Irvine, and a long list of promotions and professional achievements, including recognition as a Top 40 Under 40 by the Washington Business Journal, but her last eight years at Goodwill of Greater Washington had perhaps the biggest impact on her current path.
“The thing about Goodwill is that while it is such a strong social enterprise, it also is run very much like a business because of its retail footprint. With Goodwill, there’s so much about business that you learn, which I think is quite unique. And having a seat at that table, being able to learn those skills, inspired me to think differently about my path. I’ve been in (the non-profit) space for 16 years and I felt inspired to build something of my own.”
Running a Small Business in 2020
Janece thought about how she could build a business that would positively impact the community and fight racism. She continued to work full-time while developing her business. Things were going well and then March 2020 happened.
“My business, Ask Jenna, is an experience concierge service. So connecting busy professionals to the things that they’ve been wanting to do in the region, but haven’t had time to plan, which is such a great idea in January and February of last year. And then by March 13th, I was questioning whether it was the best idea.”
The Value of Experience
Despite the challenges of opening a small business during a global pandemic, Janece was able to keep things afloat and create a thriving business. That is not to say that it was easy. Fortunately, she had plenty of problem-solving experience to draw on when the going got tough.
“There are some days where I feel concerned. And I’ve realized, those peaks and valleys happen often enough, for better or for worse, that the brain and the body become adjusted to it. You know better how to accept it, how to receive it, and how to move past it.”
At the same time, the pandemic was nothing compared to her experience as a Black woman in America.
“I will say, my experience right now as a Black woman has been more difficult than starting a business. This time has just been very, very heavy. We can scream. We can be upset, but I need action. I need solutions. Starting my own business was my way of being a part of the solution”
Janece’s Advice to Up and Coming Changemakers
For other women who want to be a part of the solution, Janece’s advice is to show up, be vulnerable, and accept that you deserve a seat at the table.
“I feel that my heart is more open to receiving when I can show up as who I truly am, shoulders down, ready to listen and to lead, and to be able to ask for help and to feel vulnerable. I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to be perfect, or quiet; that I didn’t have to either know everything or say nothing; that there’s a part that you can explore there. As women, we should be able to show up with curiosity, with questions and the ability to receive and not feel that we have to have it all figured out. I think once we can shed that, if we can shed that, it will be a huge relief.”