Campaign Profiles

Comfort Dondo
CEO and Founder of Phumulani: African Women Against Violence, '15

Comfort Dondo ’15 knew she wanted to come to the U.S. for college, but that did little to narrow her options for undergraduate education. Out of thousands of institutions across the country, St. Catherine University stood out to Dondo for two reasons: the University’s mission of educating women to lead and influence, and Dew Drop Pond. 

Although the beauty of Dew Drop Pond certainly helped clinch the deal, it was St. Kate’s women-centric vision that captured Dondo’s attention as a young woman deeply interested in the experiences of other women. “It’s not just a place, it’s an experience,” says Dondo. “The mission got me here, but the reality of women serving one another is what kept me here. I felt so supported, and I was able to realize many of my dreams right here on campus.”

Dondo, who originally hails from Zimbabwe, came to the U.S. in 2004 to study nutrition science at St. Kate’s, where she encountered many like-minded international students and created a fulfilling home away from home. That sense of belonging has extended into her post-college years, and Dondo married and started a family right here in Minnesota. 

However, Dondo struggled with domestic violence in her home life. Even as she worked to create the best possible life for her children, she often found herself alone and without the resources she needed to support her family. She quickly became aware that shelters and state resources for victims of domestic violence lacked the key cultural competencies, targeted care, and language resources necessary to serve communities of color and immigrant communities throughout Minnesota. 

In 2018, unhoused and struggling, Dondo decided to create a solution to the problem herself by founding Phumulani: African Women Against Violence. Phumulani is a non-profit center dedicated to preventing domestic violence and sexual abuse in communities of color throughout Minnesota and internationally. Dondo initially established this organization through a grant from the Bush Foundation to start healing circles in Minnesota modeled on the mutual support circles she grew up with in Zimbabwe.

Phumulani — named for the Zulu word meaning “lover of peace” — has since expanded its programs to include affordable housing resources (including Dondo’s own Minneapolis home), community outreach, individual counseling, immigration resources, court accompaniment, culturally-specific nutrition programming, medical support, child care assistance, and criminal justice and legal advocacy for women of color and immigrant women experiencing trauma and victimization across the state. 

Dondo credits St. Kate’s with setting her on a path of compassionate leadership. She paired this skill with extraordinary resilience to establish a powerful community of women helping women survive and thrive in difficult and often perilous situations, utilizing all the tools of their respective cultures and backgrounds. “At St. Kate’s, I had the opportunity to be in the company of women of wisdom,” says Dondo. “It was here that I found my hunger for leadership, as well as discovering a community of international students from the African diaspora and across the world who inspired me to build cross-cultural connections and lean in to the value that each of us brings.”

In addition to her work leading Phumulani, Dondo influences statewide policies to address anti-Black racism and promote culturally-specific advocacy for survivors of gender-based violence through the Survivor Advisory Taskforce to the Office of Governor Tim Walz. She also serves on the cabinet for LEAD & INFLUENCE: The Campaign for the Next Level of Excellence at St. Kate’s.

“I am proud to support the campaign for three reasons,” says Dondo. “One, I want students like me to find the hunger for leadership that I found at St. Kate’s. Two, working on the campaign is teaching me how to use fundraising to challenge cultural financial inequities like the Black tax.” This term describes the phenomenon in which Black Americans who achieve financial success cannot build wealth because they are obligated to help support family and community members with living expenses, educational expenses, and more due to systemic racial economic inequality and discrimination. “And three, I strongly support the campaign’s commitment to expanding scholarships for marginalized students.”

Dondo is a prime example of the kind of capable, compassionate leader who emerges from St. Catherine University, and her commitment to supporting Katies like her continues to this day through her regular volunteer work on campus and her service as a campaign cabinet member. 

Dondo’s contributions to St. Kate’s and to the entire state of Minnesota may be considerable, but for her it all began with a single step. To potential supporters of LEAD & INFLUENCE, Dondo has this to say: “A little goes a long way.”