One year in Atlanta, GA as an ATLAS Corps Fellow from Moldova serving at Points of Light passed quickly. It was a year full of personal and professional achievements, as well as loses and challenges. It was definitely a year of learning and personal growth.So looking back, what are the several lessons I have learned?
People should be put at the center of change
I first heard the expression “putting people at the center of change” at Points of Light. It resonated with me because it was nothing new under the sun, a simple yet powerful message. The human capital is the most important asset nowadays. Companies, realized it a while ago and today struggle to acquire talent in various innovative ways. Google – through its incredible benefits, IBM – through its philosophy of engaged IMBers are just several examples. Putting people at the center of change for nonprofits is core business. Empowering people, motivating and recognizing achievements usually leads to incredible outcomes. Individual change makers do incredible things worldwide every day. For decades Ashoka Fellows have been implementing innovative ideas to tackle local issues. ATLAS Corps, through its own model of global service, gives each fellow the unique opportunity to create change in his host organization and his own life.
People in Moldova often blame socio-economic struggles for the absence of investment in human capital. I think starting investing in people, especially millenials and younger generations, is the solution to our problems.
This is a topic I discussed not once during my monthly blogs. Although nonprofits in
the United States differ one from another in respect to budget, structure, size and
background, I was fortunate to work for a big nonprofit which operates pretty much
business-like. It still amazes me how transparent certain aspects of the organization
are, how communication flows internally and externally and how easy it was for me, an outsider, to get access to people and information which was crucial for my work.
Skills-based volunteering is the new “it”
For the first time I have heard of skills-based volunteering was at Points of Light. In fact, Points of Light was the pioneer in designing a skills-based program in 2009. Today, Point of Light is engaging is supporting the skills-based volunteerism movement with both nonprofits and companies. The recently launched tool for assessing nonprofit readiness is a great resource to help nonprofits prepare and get ready to embrace pro-bono and skills-based volunteers. The national Billion+Change campaign is a continuing success and its billion+ endorsement in hundreds of corporate pledges is just the tip of the iceberg. The high yielded service will soon be embraced by more and more agencies and companies. Every day I learn about new initiatives to propel skills-based service. Just recently I learned about a young social entrepreneur, who co-founded MovingWorlds, an initiative to connect skills-based volunteers with opportunities globally. Since volunteer service is shaping rapidly, I am looking forward to witness how
Points of Light and alike-focused entities will tackle these changes in innovative ways. I am also looking forward and enthusiastic to consider ways skills-based volunteering can be implemented back home. Someday.
The power of networking
Networking is a powerful thing. I knew that before, but only during my fellowship and
several years into my professional like, I was able to realize its significance. Networking requires effort, but it is worthwhile since the more people you know, the more chances you have to make an impact, whether positive or negative. Not once the “theory of weak links” worked for me and helped me attain valuable milestones in my work. Even if we consider for a second that the “theory of six degrees” is true, the power of each individual is amplified through networks. If we believe that the world operated like a global village, networks seem not that difficult to build cross-border.
Discovering diversity and having fun
Being a fellow in a satellite city, with moderate support from the ATLAS Program, I had to learn the ups and downs of living in Atlanta by myself and with the other satellite fellows. Bonded by common difficulties, we developed strong ties. We shared a home, memorable adventures and personal drama. Nevertheless, we had fun. I will never forget the trip to New Orleans, Helen, Tampa or Savannah. Neither will I ever forget that there is no such thing as a typical Spanish or Brazilian (I know, I must confess I sometimes fall in the trap of stereotypes). The people who passed my path in US this year were amazingly diverse. ATLAS Corps brings together incredible people with great achievements together. Each of them shaped my experience into a truly memorable one.
Being an ATLAS Corps fellow is not easy. Most often it includes giving up a good
job back home for a somewhat uncertain adventure. You have to overcome daily
struggles as a foreigner, prove daily your worth and that you can do it. Financially, the fellowship is challenging and at times expectations are not met. Nevertheless, this is a life-changing experience and I would have repeat it if I had to do it again. This is a great opportunity to challenge yourself and discover new skills and abilities, most often unrelated but totally transferable to a professional setting. If you are lucky, you will meet amazing people and have a lot of fun while developing professionally with your host organization. I have been lucky. I also worked hard. I am definitely looking forward to my next half a year as an ATLAS Corps fellow.