GWEN NAVARRETE KLAPPERICH
Chief Learning Consultant, Klapperich International Training Associates (KITA) LLC
Selected to be part of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) Enterprising Women of Color Business Center’s Inaugural Business Certification Training; Certified Woman-Owned Small Business
Gwen Navarrete Klapperich got her start in training and development over 20 years ago and has become a passionate leader for talent development, accessibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has made it her life’s mission to eliminate learning barriers and increase opportunities for those who face challenges in the workforce.
After working for several organizations, she started Klapperich International Training Associates (KITA) LLC with her husband in March 2017. While the company is based in Hawaii on the island of Oahu, they serve clients across the continent and aim to expand internationally.
Gwen credits her grandmother in the Philippines as the inspiration for KITA’s core values: kindness, knowledge, righteousness, care, collaboration, and responsibility—all of which are reflected throughout the company, its work, and its clients.
“I’m most proud of the fact that I was able to bring my grandmother’s lessons into fruition,” Gwen said. “She was an entrepreneur in the Philippines, and she just turned 100 years old. Every time I talked about my job or work, she said, ‘You should be a job giver; not a job seeker.’ She was born in the 1920s and started her businesses in the 1940s, so she was way ahead of her time in that respect. She put her employees’ kids through school and donated a lot to the church. She taught me that you can use business to make an impact and you can run a business according to your values.”
KITA focuses its services on four areas: employee training and development; diversity and inclusion; performance consulting; and health and safety training. The company is also a member of B1G1, a movement of over 2,500 businesses around the world that have committed to becoming a “business for good.” KITA donates five percent of its income to local and global charities that relate to the United Nations sustainability model with goals to increase quality of life for others.
“When I take on a project, I think about if my values align,” Gwen explained. “Is what’s important to them [clients] also important to me?”
One of Gwen’s challenges as an entrepreneur and small business owner has been building relationships. Although her business is based in Hawaii, she spent most of her career on the continent and is working to grow her local reach. Upon moving to the island state, she audited a Hawaiian Studies class to familiarize herself with the history and culture of her new home.
As a woman of color, Gwen noted additional challenges. “It’s the same struggles that a lot of women face—not being taken seriously, not portraying enough confidence or suave,” she said. “Men ask for forgiveness and women as for permission. I’m still trying to overcome that particular aspect of what it takes to be a businessperson. I’m not really a ‘sales-y’ person or marketing guru. I’m just trying to figure out who I am so I can market that.”
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Gwen paused her business to develop her brand and website as well as refine her business strategy. “I’ll never be 100 percent there, but at least I have more clarity now,” she said. “COVID was hard because I had to stop my business, but I used that time to figure out what I wanted to do. When I restarted, I knew which direction I wanted to go in.”
In 2020, Gwen learned about the MBDA Enterprising Women of Color Business Center through business counselor Kelli Namba. She connected with the Center’s director and was part of the inaugural Business Certification Training cohort.
“The class helped me understand a lot of things about the SBA and federal government,” Gwen said. “The instructors led by the hand, and I went through the process with them. I just got certified and it took over six months. If it hadn’t been for instructor Mari Villa, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do it. I’m really indebted to her for helping me through that process. I want to thank the YWCA for having this program. It’s important to give people that knowledge and leg up, which doesn’t cost anything except their time.”
Gwen plans to develop and focus on the thought-leadership aspect of her company around people who are neurodiverse or may not have same privilege level as others. She continues to work toward a world free of learning barriers and where everyone can get what they need. Additionally, she’s exploring a social enterprise business model and B Corp certification.
To her fellow women entrepreneurs and small business owners, Gwen offers the following advice: “If you really want to start a business, just do it. Do it as a side hustle or gig work if you’re not ready to do it full-time. That’s where a lot of businesses start—part-time and then grow into something to support full-time employment. It’s not hard to start a business; it’s hard to start and maintain. There’s always going to be a reason. If you’re always waiting for that perfect place, you’re never going to start.”