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What I learned from starting an NGO in the middle of a pandemic

One of my 2021 resolutions should be along the lines of wishing to post more. Let me invoke my constant excuses and admit that I have been both busy and overwhelmed by everything that has been going on in the last year, thus my writing took a backseat. Upon came the realization I need to put an end to my utter perfectionism when it comes to posting on my blog. I have to admit that, at the end of the day, sometimes I write pure trash, sometimes I conceive blissful poetry. As long as you are going to sit around and read whatever I have to say, that is fine by me. Thus, every week I will solemnly (or not) vow to post a little tiny fraction of what I have learned from my week. A piece of advice and a short story here and there and I think I can finally keep to my writing.

This week brings about a question I have received quite a lot in the past few months: how did we manage to create an NGO from scratch during a roaring pandemic? I mean, if you want the truth: definitely privilege. What I mean by that is that we were lucky enough to find ourselves bored at home, instead of sick or weary we are out of jobs. The creation of our NGO doesn’t necessarily deserve applause as much as it represents a thank you from us to the greater community. I still have trouble accepting compliments from people, albeit they stem from a sincere place. My mother raised an unsaturated woman. That is more of a curse than a blessing, but that is for another week to shine upon.

Let me tell you this: it was difficult. No, it was painful at times. It still is. When I made the decision that this is what I will focus on in the later half of this pundit year, I came unprepared, lacking patience, connections, mentorship, and whatnot. It seemed that I had closed more doors in my face than open them. For a good portion of the time, probably because of my height as well, there was a sipping feeling of being too small. Of not being taken seriously by the others. I was trying to teach high school students how to sell themselves to colleges, when, in reality, it seemed I couldn’t do it myself. Staring long enough in the mirror, it will crack open and leave wounds unstitched. The begging was dragging its feet and it was rough, which prompted a depressive and bulimic episode out of me. The way I treated my body was absurd – to say the least. However, it’s been 8 months since three girls shared a common mission and took on one hell of a responsibility: to create dreams.

Here is a list. Do what you will with it:

  • What I learned in this job is that men will try, regardless. I had this vocalized by my therapist whenever another week of us trying to close down a deal passed and yet another man had to sexualize, demean, flirt, or unprofessionally speak to us. The job seemed plagued at times. It made us uncomfortable. It made us question if this is what we truly are: “tiny” women trying to discuss business, yet are only sees as negotiations on the table. I learned how to walk away, purify my thoughts, and try again. At the time being, I cannot fight the system by shouting at the top of my lungs, but I can work with it. Our business does not require men that objectify us or condition the deals through sexual prompts. One way to not get fully infuriated by such events is to remind yourself why you started in the first place. For the next generations. For the greater education. For free access to quality.
  • In the beginning, you might have to work with people you despise. People that do not do their jobs. People that expect astronomical incentives for what the rest of the team sacrifices in the name of gratuity. This will make you angry. This will push you to quit, maybe a thousand times. I know it did for me. I have come a long way to realize that the mission we set about carries a much larger goal than to gratify temporary feelings of frustration. There is always a solution, but more often than not, it takes a billion different scenarios to get to it. Realize that billion (though used metaphorically here) is a clear cut number, thus it has an ending. Rationalize your values and goals by the end of the day: people that carry a negligent personality will only have themselves to blame. Keeping constant to your role will only prove to the rest of the team that you are a reliable partner. Oh, yeah, disclaimer: might be the hardest part. Good luck.
  • It is FINE to take a break for a few days. I remembered I announced a one week break from anything related to the NGO and, to my utmost shock, it did not collapse to the ground upon my return. No dust has evaporated from the shadows, nobody quit, the numbers were constantly raising, and the rest of my team took the lead while I was away. Overworking is a must in the beginning of any business and, unfortunately, I don’t own a shorter path to the end success of it all. However, constantly overworking leads to no visible progress. Lack of creativity in ideas. The infamous “I am bored, I need a change” that is justifiable by your constant animation in a field you have given your soul to. Your mind and body need a break to reconnect to the center.
  • Avoid fights. Create connections. This took me a while because, for the longest time, I always wished to end an argument (especially when I knew I was right) with the opponent recognizing the defeat. In business, this goes against the long term benefit. By forcing the other person to admit they were wrong will only erase a possible future connection. I realized along the way I might need the strangest people for some of the strangest things. The word “need” is invaluable. There are ways around it, but it is better to build a bustling network of scratches on the back than fueled tensions. Tension brings wrinkles, connections get the job done.
  • Be careful how your team perceives you. When your colleagues become your friends, it will only make it harder when they do not do their job. That is not to say do not engage in friendly conversations, however, keep in mind that there is a risk you are taking at the expense of both you and your business.

See you next week, where, hopefully, I will be writing from Boston!

Julia

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