“Approximately two months ago I was leaving my comfortable life in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to begin a new journey in the United States of America. I decided to quit my promising job in a consulting company, leave my friends and family behind to embrace new life and career challenges and try to find answers for many of questions. Who am I? What matters to me? What motivates me? What is footprint do I leave on the world? What is my role in the society? How can I change the world? “(Jonathas Barreto, October 31st, 2011)

 The fact that sometimes we have to roam long distances to find answers that might have always been around us always intrigued me. The beginning of this blog post is actually an excerpt from my first blog post as an Atlas Corps fellow. The goal of this modest post today is to reflect about the most important lessons I have learned and whether the questions I raised almost one year ago have been answered. So, Why do I do what I do?

Being an Atlas Corps fellow and far away from Brazil was an exceptional opportunity to gain an outsider’s perspective of my country, my career and inner values. I believe these twelve months were crucial in shaping my professional and personal future. Here are some of my major achievements and leanings this year:


1. To think positively and keep smiling

It is human nature to assume that everyone sees you in the same light that you see yourself. It can come quite shocking when there is a discrepancy between these two perceptions. During these twelve months in the United States, I was rather challenged by some people’s lack of geography and culture knowledge. However, I learned that every time that I was inquired about my country, or whether Spanish was the language I spoke, I got the opportunity to talk about my country and culture, be positive, understanding, make friends and dissolve stereotypes and misjudgments.

2. To ask big questions and pay attention to little details

Points of Light (my host organization) envisions a world in which each person has discovered his or her potential to make a difference and committed to take action that can change the world.

We witness today how increasingly complex social challenges are being addressed with increasingly constrained financial resources. We are also witnessing the emergence of powerful new innovative solutions brought by social entrepreneurs, technology advancements, investments of global corporations, and growing number of impact-driven cross-sector and multilateral collaborations. I joined Points of Light with an aggressive goal to expand our international network of Volunteer Action Centers globally. Due to different circumstances in my work, I got caught in situations where the best solutions seemed to be many miles way. With the support and encouragement from my supervisor, I learned to take a step back and make big questions. It was very important to me to be able to learn the importance of paying attention on every little detail without losing the big picture.

3. To accept mistakes and not give up

Most of my career I focused to help nonprofits and other ventures to scale their social innovations. After attending business school, post graduate courses and lectures, as well as working for almost three years with Ashoka in Brazil, I was naïvely convinced that I have mastered the art of social innovation scaling. When I was challenged to support Points of Light in their international effort to expand the HandsOn Network in 15 new countries in 3 years, I thought that it would be an easy task. Nevertheless, after many failures, some wrong hypotheses and unrealized expectations, I realized that there is not a simple receipt for scaling up success. This experience as an Atlas Corps fellow was critical in leading to accept my mistakes, take a step back and start again from the scratch based on the lessons I have learned.

4. To view problems as opportunities

Being outside my comfort zone and at the same time free of my usual responsibilities and routines, opened the immeasurable opportunity to seek for new challenges and possibilities around me. Probably, one of the biggest lessons learned, was to view my problems as opportunities to do things in a different way. For instance, my financial constrains became a chance to improve my cooking skills, the lack of reliable public transportation in Atlanta became an opportunity to walk and exercise more and eventually learn how to drive a scooter. Work-wise, I had the challenge to engage in volunteerism, a subject fairly unknown to me and every day, during every meeting I was offered the chance to learn something new, hear a different point of view and reshape my own perspectives.

5. To be hopeful and resilient

We all experience adversity because of daily changes and serious loses. During my experience as an Atlas Corps fellow serving at Points of Light in Atlanta, Georgia I faced daily cultural challenges which included the fact that it was the first time in my life that I had to speak English 24/7 and was challenged living under an extremely limited budget. Since I was a kid I learned that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and this experience was definitely the best opportunity to teach me that being resilient does not mean going through life without experiencing stress. Being resilient means learning to face challenges, enjoy the opportunities and above all, learn from mistakes and just do our best.


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