"My Water Just Broke!"

by Bianca Neff, Executive Director

A 4-Year Pregnancy?

I'd been pregnant for a long time.

Believe it or not, Petra Peacebuilders was actually conceived back in 2011, just as I was finishing my research and dissertation in the UK (Bradford) as a Rotary Peace Fellow. Due to various factors, Petra's gestation turned into a 4-year process, which I learned is actually pretty standard for NGOs with such magnitude of vision for transforming an entire sector. In Petra's case, our vision is to help change the way the peacebuilding and humanitarian sectors approach the resilience and wellness of their staff.

I faced significant challenges during Petra's pregnancy. Severe financial and other capacity limitations led to a false start or two. Logistical and legal requirements of my becoming a dual citizen in Spain pushed the calendar back a good 2 years...and then an agonizing season of clinical depression also decided to rear its ugly head. Sheesh!

There were macro-level limitations, too. I believe there was a fundamental lack of readiness for the sector to receive what Petra has to offer. But I sensed this starting to shift about 18 months ago, in summer 2015.

Jump to June 2015

The noticeable shift happened in June 2015, in São Paulo, Brazil at an event that happens every 3 years called the Rotary Peace Symposium.

Rotary flew me and dozens of other Peace Fellow alumni to this strategic event where I co-led a groundbreaking session on the impact of trauma on Peace Fellows and their work. To my knowledge, this was the very first time a Rotary event hosted a breakout session like this. Usually these events highlight the great work that Peace Fellow alumni are now doing in the field, but now we were starting to talk about how often this actually negatively impacts them, along with what their continued needs in the field are well after their time as active Rotary Peace Fellows.

The Rotarians present sat wide-eyed at the gripping stories from Peace Fellows in the field. Kidnappings, bombings, daily life in conflict zones, and living with the resulting trauma and psychological fallout. It was raw, it was real. Meanwhile, the Peace Fellows in attendance could breathe freely in a safe place where they were truly, truly understood.

It was an incredibly impactful 90 minutes.

(For a first-hand account of that dynamic breakout, see this testimonial from UK Rotarian Dick Hazlehurst.)

For Petra, this powerful encounter between Rotarians and Peace Fellows at the 2015 Peace Symposium was an important turning point.

Long story short: Rotary's openness to testing the waters with this type of breakout led to a wave of support from Rotarians who have now caught fire about the need to be more present in caring for peacebuilders in the field -- not just Rotary Peace Fellows but global peacebuilders across the whole sector.

After São Paulo, things back in Malaga began to quickly move forward for Petra in the wake of that Peace Symposium. I realized: "I think my water just broke! It's time for Petra Peacebuilders to finally be born. The momentum is such that now is the time."


a prominent rotarian 'midwife' joins us

Petra's strongest Rotarian supporter is probably Loretta Butts, a prominent Past District Governor from District 5240 in California who immediately linked up with me with a newly-burning passion for this cause ... and so I put her to work! She is now a fundamental pillar of Petra's Board of Directors. Loretta's amazing network and drive have strongly positioned Petra for strategic funding for Ascend, Petra's pilot project which is scheduled for rollout in 2017.

As things accelerated I had to make an important choice, so I took the leap and quit my day job in November 2015 to prepare the legal framework for Petra to be born.

This website was written and built over Christmas 2015 (did you know it's practically impossible to incorporate as a nonprofit without a website?). Our Board of Directors was then solidified by January 2016 -- and what a great team Petra has in them! After officially incorporating in the state of Virginia in March, we soon had our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the IRS in hand.

After 4 years, Petra Peacebuilders was born as a fully-functioning, IRS-recognized nonprofit in April 2016!

First Days of Life

It was the right thing to wait as long as I did -- 4 years! -- before launching Petra. Now a new "mom", I'm thrilled at having birthed something that I know will bring beautiful, positive changes to our world by impacting people doing really important work in truly critical places.

(Read a guest blog I wrote about how launching a nonprofit is akin to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, ha!)

Is it easy? No! I worry about its health, about how we'll get the resources for Petra to thrive. It's a tricky balance of trusting God that Petra is meant to be, and that I need not fear, while also working hard to be a responsible steward of this precious gift.

The Petra team is steadily making our way as a nonprofit, and the positive momentum continues! Doors are opening right and left. It's a lot to manage, to decide, and then implement. I'm so thankful for Petra's awesome Board to help make strategic, unified decisions.

time to grow!

We all know it takes a village to raise something well, right? If you like what you're hearing so far about Petra's story, would you consider partnering with us with a regular monthly donation, with volunteer services, or with helping us to strategically grow our network with someone in your circles who is sympathetic to our work?

Rotary Peace Fellows at Rotary Peace Symposium, June 2015

Rotary Peace Fellows at Rotary Peace Symposium, June 2015

Drop me a line anytime at bneff@petrapeacebuilders.org!

I welcome you to visit the Petra Peacebuilders website (www.petrapeacebuilders.org) to DONATE TODAY.

This is a critical time for Petra -- this baby is growing fast and she needs lots of uncles and aunts to help her grow healthy!


Bianca Neff, Executive Director
Petra Peacebuilders, Inc.