Kavy Lenon is an advocate for her community on and off the job

Friends and colleagues call her “Wonder Woman,” but for Kavy Lenon, advocating for her community is what she does off and on the clock.

“When people ask (me to volunteer), and I know it serves a greater purpose beyond myself, I make time for it," says Lenon, a Norton Shores resident. 

Lenon is the supplier diversity manager at Meijer and, for the past decade, has been a contributor in promoting the growth of diverse-owned businesses through various opportunities by coaching, educating, advocating, and community outreach. 

Outside of her professional work in supplier diversity, she has volunteered on boards and committees for Lao Lahanam Association, Grand Rapids Asian Festival, Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission, Lakeshore Advantage, Veteran Owned Business Roundtable, and Experience Grand Rapids.

“I think I have a hard time saying ‘no,’” Lenon says. “I have so much energy and so much passion.”

Taking action close to home

Lately, Lenon has been prioritizing giving her time and talent to topics close to home. She was asked by the Ottawa County Department of Public Health to help the area’s Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community get vaccinated. She also coordinated an April 24 unity rally at Holland’s Kollen Park to help bring awareness, solidarity, and understanding in response to the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes across the country.

“This is the time that we can’t be silent anymore,” Lenon says. “How can we step up to the plate and really share in expressing ourselves that hatred is not acceptable?”

Lenon was born in Laos, but her family moved to Sacramento, California, when she was 5 years old following the unrest from the Laotian Civil War. While growing up, she was exposed to the business world because her parents owned and operated restaurants that served doughnuts in the morning and Asian cuisine in the evening.

Supporting a sense of belonging

After her sister moved to West Michigan and started a family, Lenon followed and was hooked on the beauty and the four seasons of Michigan.

Lenon says that, for her first eight years in West Michigan, she focused on her work and family. While watching her nieces and nephews grow up, she began to see the need to make West Michigan a more welcoming place for Asian Americans.

“There is future talent here that we want to keep,” Lenon says. “How can I support the initiative of a sense of belonging in West Michigan? That’s what really drives me.”

This began her journey serving and volunteering with organizations that help West Michigan become a more inclusive place for minority communities to live, grow, and work.

Increasing supplier diversity

Professionally, Lenon leads the strategy to improve Meijer’s partner diversity for internal and external processes. Lenon says that her transition from manufacturing to retail is exciting and relies on the process and procedural toolkit she's developed over the years. This May, Lenon led a supplier diversity event giving diverse-owned businesses nationwide the opportunity to showcase their offerings for interested Meijer merchants.

“As the world is changing, I feel that more retailers are adapting into the supplier diversity space because they recognize the need.”

Lenon says that supplier diversity as a concept began in the 1980s as compliance, but in the past five years has become a business imperative. This is thanks in part to increasingly diverse marketplaces across the country and the consumer demand for inclusive practices and products from businesses.

“When you have a population that is fairly diverse, how are you going to reach a different consumer base?”

Understand customers’ needs

Lenon’s advice to smaller organizations that want to improve their supplier diversity is to identify what they do best at and what future audiences they want to reach.

“Understand your customers' needs, the (business) gap, and the creativity you can bring to the table,” Lenon says.

While the challenges of her work and advocacy in her limited free time may seem overwhelming to others, Lenon says she continues to be motivated by the energy of like-minded people. The needs from the past years, specifically the pandemic, have focused her energy and balanced her calendar.

“I’m always looking at what is my priority and where I can make the greatest impact, and that’s how I’m trying to balance it.”

Learn more about supplier diversity or the organizations Lenon is involved with by visiting these websites:

Meijer Supplier Diversity 
The Grand Rapids Asian-Pacific Festival 
Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission 
Lakeshore Advantage

Read more articles by Luke Ferris.