Boss Lady - Sarah Fennel Buchanan

Bella Vita launched a blog titled “Boss Lady” in March 2017 - after years of being inspired by the women that we are friends with, work with, or do business with, that are building their empire doing what they love.  Running a business takes work, and getting started takes courage.  At Bella Vita, we wanted to take this opportunity to praise and encourage some of the great female entrepreneurs we have met over the years and we hope to inspire more young women (and men) to follow their instinct/talent/passion and become entrepreneurs.  


My team and I are reaching out to the woman owned businesses that inspire and amaze us on a daily basis.  We will start with a brief background, then dive into the nitty gritty of running a business, what keeps them inspired, and everything else in between.


I was born and raised in Fayetteville by my two wonderful parents. I am in the middle of my two brothers. I went to college at University of Texas at Austin where I studied French. After college, I helped open a restaurant, taught at a Montessori school and in 2005 went to volunteer in South Africa. The following year I started the non-profit Restore Humanity. I married the best human I know in 2015 and we live in Fayetteville most of the year, but usually spend 2-3 months in Kenya each year.

  1. Give us your elevator pitch. Restore Humanity is a non-profit organization based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, but all of our work is done in western Kenya. Our principal project, the heart of our work, is our JCO Children’s Home where 19 boys and girls live and call home. We provide everything for them and they live with us until they graduate high school. We keep it small because we want it to feel like a “home” and not an institution. We have a full Kenyan staff there and it is run by my Kenyan Partner and Co-founder of the Home, Juanita Opot (another Boss Lady to be sure). We also have our RH Scholars Program and have 3 Kenyan Students attending University right now, one in Kenya and two here in Arkansas. We have an Outreach Program that this year paid for 47 other children in need to attend high school in Kenya. We have a maxi-pad program that provides pads for almost 500 girls and we support other projects in the same community when funds are available.

  2. What is your business? A non-profit organization, Restore Humanity

  3. When did you start your business? September 2006

  4. What inspired you to make the leap? I was inspired by a volunteer trip that I took in 2005 to South Africa. I lived there for 5 months and I saw tremendous need. I also saw non-profits actually doing good and non-profits mismanaging funds and doing harm. I came home from that trip and told people in Fayetteville what I had witnessed and they all were looking to me and asking, “Well, what are we going to do?”. So I found myself in the middle of people who needed help and people who wanted to help. So I took the leap.


  5. What helps you get started each morning? Coffee, diet coke, 10 mile jog, meditation?? I drink Yerba Mate tea every morning, read a little of the Bible (I am currently trying to read the entire thing) and meditate for 10 minutes. If I do all of these things my day is usually pretty steady.

  6. Tell us about a day in the life of running your business. Well, that all depends on where I am on the globe and the time of year it is. There is a flow to our year due to travel and our fundraisers. 

    So if I am in Fayetteville and NOT having an event in the next month, then my day includes anything from writing thank you notes to donors, catching up on emails, preparing for small presentations, communicating with our staff and students in Kenya, helping out our two Kenyan RH Scholars that are going to the University in Fayetteville, preparing Financial statements, doing accounting, preparing for a Board Meeting, writing our blog, sharing what we are up to on Instagram, preparing the next fundraising campaign, following up on the previous one, or having “Dream sessions” with my husband (where we look to the future of Restore Humanity and what it holds). We have also been working recently a lot on creating standard operating procedures to map out precisely how we do everything we do. For the last 10 years it has been a one woman show (on the US side) and only this year has my severely underpaid husband come on board to assist me in grant writing and defining the organizational structure necessary to grow our team.

    If I am in Kenya, I spend the day meeting with staff, going over our kids records, visiting the schools and clinic we assist, but my favorite part of the day is coloring and playing with our kiddos that live in our Children’s home every afternoon. They bring so much joy to my heart.

  7. What keeps you motivated? The smiles on our kiddos’ faces that live in our JCO Children’s Home or hearing a story of their success in school. I think of how they were when they joined our home and how they are now and that motivates me more than anything in the world. With our older kids, our RH Scholars who are now attending University, each one of them will periodically send me a message to tell me thank you or how well they are doing or tell me about their plans to help others and that keeps me going when I get worn out.

  8. Describe your dream day. Being near the ocean, preferably the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar. The beach, swimming in the ocean, relaxing and reading a book or just staring at the horizon.

  9. What is your greatest strength/super power? My husband says I have a talent for not accepting ‘no’ as an answer

  10. Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat? Instagram

  11. What do you do in your free time? (Ha! What is free time?!) Usually I read a good book or binge watch shows with my hubby.


  12. If an investor gave you 1 million dollars to use toward your business, how would you spend it? I would start an endowment fund for our JCO Children’s Home.

  13. What’s the biggest risk you ever took; how did it go? I have felt since I was a kid that I was supposed to go to Africa and in 2005 I took the leap! It was a risk because I didn’t know anyone, I had never been and I went alone. I spent about 2 months on Google searching for “volunteering in Africa” and ended up deciding to go to South Africa. I bought my ticket, packed my bags and followed that insistent pushing from my heart. It didn’t really occur to me how much of a risk it was until I was about an hour outside of Cape Town, South Africa and I realized that I would be arriving around midnight, alone and I had no idea where I was going. The non-profit that I would be volunteering with gave me no other information except that someone named “Lisa” was picking me up. I had no phone numbers, no phone, and no access to the internet. When I arrived, there was a man (clearly not Lisa) standing there holding a sign that had something which sort of looked like my name written on it. After watching him for a bit I decided to go and talk to him to see what other info he could give me to confirm that he was the right person. I wasn’t totally sure, but given the circumstance, I had to just take a leap of faith and go with him. Thankfully it all turned out alright that night, but the next 4 months of my life would turn my world upside down. It was fascinating, terrifying, painful and the most meaningful time of my life (up until then). It was full of risks, but oh so worth it.

  14. Name something you hate doing but have to do for the good of your business. How do you make it tolerable? Probably the least exciting part of my job is entering our numbers into Quickbooks. It is tedious to be sure, but it is such an essential part of what we do. I just have to remind myself how thankful I am that I get to do this work and that we even have transactions to record, otherwise none of what we do would even be possible.


  15. How do you handle discouragement? I have found that failures usually open new doors to better opportunities. I do get discouraged, but it doesn’t last too long. I love solving problems and I am perpetually searching for the silver lining. So feeling discouraged often leads to something greater on the other side.

  16. Which iconic person inspires you? If I can only choose one, it would be Nelson Mandela. The short version of why he inspires me is that he spent 27 years in prison essentially for being a black man and fighting for his rights. He came out and the nation of South Africa was waiting with baited breath for his guidance. He could have easily focused on anger and resentment and revenge. But he chose the high road and spoke of forgiveness and kept peace in his country and provided a path forward. If he can forgive being wrongly imprisoned for 27 years of his life, in a particularly horrible prison, I might add, then there is hope for all of us.

  17. Do you have a favorite, inspiring quote? “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.” By Rabindranath Tagore. I have many favorites, but recently this resonates the most.


  18. If you could choose anyone to pick as a mentor, who would you choose? Probably Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health.

  19. Who are you in your next life? I honestly would hope I could do this again ☺

  20. Any secrets on how you balance the ins and outs of running a small business? I think self-care is the most important thing. Being your own boss has its perks, but it is also difficult. One of the hardest things for me is giving myself permission to rest and take time off. We are often hardest on ourselves.  This has been especially true in my case so I’ve had to learn some difficult lessons in order to appreciate that “you cannot pour from an empty cup.”  So take care of yourself.

  21. What’s the best advice you have for other women wanting to be entrepreneurs? Do it! Follow your heart and listen to your intuition. If you have something that keeps pulling at you to do, just go for it! Life is too short not to try! It is hard, but if you are doing what you love, it is always worth it.
Sarah and her Kenyan Partner and fellow boss lady, Mrs. Opot
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Support Restore Humanity and make sure you follow their work on social media:
Facebook
Instagram
Twitter
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Bella Vita Jewelry has teamed with up with Sarah to create this custom necklace to support the girls in Sirembe, Kenya.  Girls in Kenya miss an average of 4.9 days in school each month because of their periods. 50% of the necklace proceeds will help provide feminine hygiene products to these girls so we can keep them in school!   

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