Fresh out of Education? Here’s what you can learn from running an NGO

Most young people near the start of their career are not typically thought of as leaders in the workplace. Why?

Because you inhabit a low spot in the office hierarchy and have lack experience and practical “hands on “skills, but with a plan (and right attitude) you can become a leader.

I was in Mexico two years ago, where I was offered the opportunity to chat with one of the founders of Global Dignity. He passionately told me about an organization that he co-founded. The organization was active in most of the world, except in Denmark (where I live).BUT I have never been employed in or managed an NGO before. Hence,I must admit that I hesitated when the co-founder offered me to become chairman of the board and be responsible for the organization in Denmark. No money available and no formal organization. Sounds like a scary plan. But it is not. Considerable things can be learned from the NGO world, and I would like to share some of the learnings in this blog.

Lesson 1

Be passionate about the cause.

You are certainly required to be passionate about the cause because then you appear more credible than other people. Afterward, you should find people who share your passion or who quickly understand the meaning of what you do and want to be a part of starting something new.

These people are typically already those who are close to you and trust that you know what you are doing. They are willing to commit an extraordinary effort for you and the cause that you are passionate about. You will typically find them in the inner circle of your network.

Lesson 2

Be a leader.

Since most young or new professionals haven’t successfully managed others in the workplace before, they aren’t always taken seriously that way. This can be your chance to show what you are capable of. You have to take ownership and be decisive. Just like in an ordinary organization, you have to part with grumblers and disloyal “colleagues.”

Furthermore, you should be ready to part with people if they do not live up to the organization’s values, even if you need the manpower.Since people can leave an NGO (because they do not have any formal obligations) you learn how to be aligned, being an active part of a team, you learn how to communicate and respect others’ opinions and skills, being an active listener etc.

Lesson 3

Set clear goals.

Goals are everything. You learn how to set goals, so that you know exactly what you want to achieve and how it is done, making other people understand and recommending the cause to others will be easier for you to perform.My advice it to have a clear set of ethical rules and values in place because they are the most important benchmarks of your organization and will make your tasks easier.

At a certain point, you will encounter a long period wherein you grow, get publicity, and create an agenda – a period when the IT systems break down, people lose source codes, posters are delayed, people do not show up as agreed, and so on. An additional challenge is when the person who is responsible for fixing these issues is suddenly on vacation and something similar.

At the same time, you attempt to write a strategy plan that is realistic, is understandable, and can be executed.At this time, your hard-core group will be worth its weight in gold. Give them influence because they are the ones that you depend on.They must feel that it is their organization and that they are jointly responsible. Democracy and involvement are very important (just like in any normal organization). You must give them titles so that they ARE responsible.

Hereafter, people begin to assume specialist positions and take responsibility for growth and expansion. You start seeing that issues are dealt with and that there are fewer (constructive) conflicts. Things become organized. You start implementing routines. People appear more serene and go about their everyday tasks. A form of solidarity arises. Your task is to constantly check that YOUR passion and drive are intact, and navigate among potential conflicts.

Lesson 4

Be patient. Oh my god – be patient.

I am serious about this. Be patient. Building something without a penny in your pocket is definitely a challenging task. None of the volunteers are paid for their work, and we have not received any funding whatsoever.
This situation has certainly been a test of my patience. People come and go. One day they are there, and the next day they tell you that they cannot contribute anymore (with or without a valid reason).

Building an NGO often feels like taking three steps forward and four steps back.

• People came, people left.
• People said they could do something, but in the end, they either could not or would not do it.
• People signed up but did not show up.
• People showed up but did not contribute the expected effort.
and so on.

However, after two years, our organization has brought together a hard-core, well-qualified, and highly competent volunteers who dedicate their precious time to build, manage, and run Global Dignity Denmark. In a volunteer organization, creating a “hard-core” group of “employees” who will stay with you through the ups and downs takes time. In an NGO, you are offered the opportunity to absolutely test people’s true passion for the cause. Passionate people will stay with you when things become tough.

Lesson 5

Remember to celebrate

You need to remember to celebrate – given that people do not get paid for their work, you have to pay extra attention to the social aspects of running an organization. Maybe you are busy and travel a lot like I do, but what you can achieve with text messages, e-mail, FaceTime, etc., is incredible. Show them that you are there. Show up sometimes and help with practical tasks, such as setting up chairs and so on. Show that you are in it together.Starting and managing an NGO on the level where we are now has been one of the best learning experiences that I have ever participated in.

Thus, I highly recommend that you get involved in an NGO. You most likely have a cause that you are passionate about, a cause that needs a voice in the society. That voice can be your voice!

Soulaima Gourani is the CEO of Tradeconductor,Copenhagen MBA, CBS “40 under 40”, Europe Young Global Leader, WEF “Nordic Thinkers 20”

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Natasha Hodgson is the Content and Community Manager over at Enternships. She loves writing about inspiring things, and Nicolas Cage. Luckily, those two things are not mutually exclusive.

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