Life's 'Left Turns' Took Her from Midwest to Middle East
Now Abeja Founder Seeks Adventure in Serving Nonprofits
Laura Ingalls Fuqua was a journalism student at the University of Arizona when she took an elective outside her norm, Middle Eastern Geography.
For one assignment, she interviewed Baha’i refugees living in southern Arizona. It wasn’t the typical research paper and it made such an impression that her professor recommended her for a journalism fellowship in Kuwait.
“It was the left turn I could’ve never seen coming,” says Laura.
To most college students, the idea of working in the Middle East after graduation wouldn’t be appealing. Travel to Europe or Central America? Sure. Work for a newspaper in Kuwait? Not so much.
But Laura was up for the adventure.
Born in South Dakota, Laura was often seen with a book between her hands. She was ALWAYS reading – from the small town newspaper her parents published and National Geographic to Nancy Drew and the Chronicles of Narnia.
Reading was the adventure of her mind. It was where she dreamed of escaping the quiet life of the Midwest.
If you talk to Laura’s dad Tom, he would proudly tell you Laura was born to be a writer. She is a fourth generation journalist, and yes, a distant relative of pioneer author Laura Ingalls Wilder.
So it was no surprise to Tom when his daughter went international with her work.
“When you’re in the Midwest, you dream of going to far out places,” Laura explains. “Anything seems possible under those wide-open skies.”
The fellowship she accepted was designed to immerse U.S. journalists in Arab culture, preparing them for careers overseas.
To her, Kuwait wasn’t so different from the quiet life she experienced in the Midwest. Sure, the languages and spices were different, but she had many chances to enjoy Arab hospitality in the homes of local residents.
“There’s just something about people from wide-open spaces,” says Laura. “Their doors are usually open.”
When Laura returned to the States, she moved to Atlanta to write for CNN Headline News. Three years later, she was promoted to Senior Producer for CNN International and worked in Hong Kong, China.
And then 9/11 happened.
“I felt a draw back to the Middle East,” says Laura. “I knew that this was a disaster that would be felt both by Americans and millions of innocent families across the Middle East.”
A former colleague suggested she apply for an emergency spokesperson job with Save the Children in southern Iraq. Laura got the position and moved to Basra in early 2003.
When she arrived back in the Middle East, she found that people were trying to get a sense of what had just happened and their next steps. The U.S. military had just reached Baghdad and, for the moment, Basra was relatively quiet.
Laura fulfilled her contract and later accepted a position with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in northern Iraq. Her role switched from attracting media attention to training Iraqi journalists on reporting skills and professional ethics.
In 2005, Iraq held its first free election in a generation, a milestone for the country. It also signaled the end of Laura’s time in Iraq.
Charity work inspires entrepreneurs
For the next seven years, Laura worked for international development groups in Washington, D.C. Her work focused on elections, human rights, and building strong civil society groups around the world.
So it was a surprise to her friends when she suddenly took a communications job in Phoenix with a national animal welfare charity.
“I like to say my career went from Chechnya to Chihuahuas overnight,” says Laura. "The real reason is that my husband and I were looking for a higher quality of life and Phoenix was a great fit."
The career move also united her with fundraiser Terri Shoemaker, marketer Virginia Trevino and project manager Brianna Klink de Ruiz. The quartet often collaborated on fundraising campaigns at the animal welfare group.
And it wasn’t long before the women decided to form a company together. In 2014, Abeja Solutions began helping clients with fundraising and marketing.
As nonprofit professionals themselves, the Abeja team knew exactly how much of a hassle donor appeals could be. But they continue to be more effective in raising money than email and social media combined.
So why hadn’t someone found a way to automate donor mail?
Serving the nonprofit sector
Beezable by Abeja Solutions quickly took form. The self-publishing tool walks fundraisers through the steps of creating direct mail appeals. Then Beezable prints and mails the appeals in 7-10 business days.
“Our goal is to help nonprofits spend more time saving the world – and less time worrying about how to pay for it,” says Laura.
Today as Abeja CEO, Laura oversees product development, marketing, and business strategy. It’s her job keep Beezable focused on meeting the needs of nonprofit professionals.
As an atypical tech company – one all-female and partially minority-owned – Abeja Solutions hopes to inspire other companies to think about nonprofits more, too.
After all, nonprofits make up over 5 percent of U.S. GDP – contributing some $905 billion a year to the economy.
“Our adventure in serving nonprofits is just getting started,” says Laura.