Lidia Bastianich was honored at the BPeace gala last night for her work as a entrepreneur and role model. Bastianich actually came to this country after living as a displaced refugee in Trieste, Italy. Her subsequent success makes her a living example of what BPeace is trying to achieve. (She is pictured above with Bpeace chairperson and co-founder Toni Maloney, left, and two board members.)
BPeace offers grants, training and support for female entrepreneurs in conflict and post-conflict regions like Afghanistan and Rwanda. It is composed of an international network of business professionals who volunteer to help the women build their own businesses—something that both alleviates poverty and helps foster peace. The idea is that more jobs equal more peace, something that makes sense when you think about it.
BPeace is helping several food businesses get off the ground, including a tomato paste company and a raisin producer, both in Afghanistan.
Before the gala, I had the chance to interview Bastianich briefly about BPeace and where she’s been eating lately.
Tell us about what entrepreneurship means to you and why BPeace’s work is important?
My achievements, like anyone’s, have social and philosophical value, but the economic value also needs to be there. That puts you in a forum in which people will pay attention to your ideas. The women and men who volunteer for BPeace give of their knowledge and their money to start someone else’s life down that path. This not only makes a difference in others’ lives, but also it says that we are all on the same level philosophically.
What steps did you need to take to become a successful businessperson?
Well, in the United States, the opportunity is here. And I had the strength of my family behind me, not just emotionally but physically, my mother making pasta. And they helped me financially, they gave me seed money. BPeace offers seed money to these entrepreneurs, and that’s the first step, which enables them to get to the second step. The second step is to feel confident enough that you are producing something of value that other people will pay for. My life has come in a complete circle, and I’d like to give someone else the same chance that I had.
What restaurants have you been enjoying lately?
I go to most new restaurants because most are friends. I happen to enjoy Asian food quite a bit, and I like Momofuku Noodle Bar, and I love eating in Chinatown. I enjoy Egyptian…to me, food communicates a culture, so I always compare what I’m eating to Italian—what ingredients they use, what they do it.