Then & Now: Graves pivots HR work from bank to nonprofit

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 527 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the July 4 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Beth Graves recently transitioned from a career in the banking industry to the nonprofit sector.

In September, Graves joined Bentonville-based nonprofit Lifewater International as senior director of employee development after working for Fayetteville-chartered Arvest Bank for 15 years.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Graves said she reassessed what she wanted to do. She was familiar with Lifewater and had a friend who had worked for the organization that completes projects to provide safe drinking water for impoverished rural areas in other countries.

“I saw the posting, and I thought, ‘I think that’s something that I would love to do,’” she said. “I had never worked with international organizations before, so I loved that aspect of learning something new. That it was a Christian nonprofit also made it very appealing to me.”

The nonprofit has operations in five countries, including the United States, and has human resources managers in each country. She works with the managers as they develop policies and procedures and handle personnel issues. Globally, she is responsible for employee development, including training and compensation.

The nonprofit has 179 employees, including about 28 in the United States.

“We’re spread out from California to New Jersey, with the bulk of us being in Bentonville,” she said. “Most of my employees are overseas that we work with.”

Graves, 54, was the human resources manager for Arvest Bank in Siloam Springs when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named her to the Forty Under 40 class in 2007.

She was promoted to senior vice president and regional human resources manager and was responsible for the bank’s Springdale and Siloam Springs markets. She also worked as a talent management program manager on the bank’s talent development team.

“I got to work with some amazing women on that team,” she said. “Learned a lot about talent development…developed some manager training modules and focused a lot on succession planning and leadership development.”

Before the pandemic, her office was in Lowell, and she worked remotely for the bank for about a year before joining Lifewater.

“Even during COVID, we were able to continue developing and delivering development opportunities for the team,” she said.

She noted that the transition to the nonprofit sector was not a significant challenge because her work is similar to what she did in banking.

“I have always focused on developing relationships and serving my employees to the best that I can to help them grow in their career,” she said. “I’ve always seen that as my role is helping others be successful.”

The most significant difference in her work at Lifewater is that it is international. She’s been learning to navigate the time differences between the countries where the nonprofit works. For example, there’s a 12-hour time difference between here and Cambodia.

After COVID-related restrictions were lifted, Graves recently traveled to Uganda and spent a week touring the nonprofit’s programs there.

“It was a fast and busy week, but it was amazing,” she said. “We got to go out and see the villages. We work primarily in remote areas. We don’t do urban water. We do remote water [projects]. We got to see what women and children are doing and how they collect the water from streams.”

She said she visited a site that didn’t have a safe drinking water source and watched how residents would kneel over a small bridge to fill water cans.

“It was very moving knowing that our work is helping to improve their lives,” she said. “It was very confirming that I had made the right choice in moving to Lifewater.”

In 2018, she graduated from the Graduate School of Banking at Colorado.

She expects to retire in about 10 years and hopes to remain with Lifewater until then as she works to help it and its employees grow.

Graves and her husband, David, reside in Siloam Springs and have two sons and two grandsons. She is president of the football booster club for the Siloam Springs Panthers and a member of the P.E.O. chapter in Siloam Springs. She enjoys watching sporting events, reading and gardening.