Stephanie’s Summer Column: Ghana – WEEK 5 and 6 (July 4th – July 16th)
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The word to describe my Thinking Beyond Borders Summer Impact Fellowship in general is: INSPIRING.
I cannot verbalize just how much intellectual and professional growth this summer has offered me. I have aspired to work in the international development sector for a long time. This fellowship validated my purpose in life.
It was inspiring to intern at a non-profit organization with the most hardworking and passionate coworkers. Coworkers who completely immersed me in grassroots work surrounding equity and youth development. That, coupled with the countless seminar discussions and readings I had about how to best be a social impact leader in impoverished communities, was very enlightening. I’m grateful to have met the people I did (especially in my cohort) and to have had such an unforgettable learning experience.
Farewell to My Internship Organization!
My last project was applying for a funding grant for MindValley’s Child-Friendly Learning Project –which aims to offer after school educational aid to students from poorer and rougher childhood backgrounds than their peer counterparts. By using retired educators, MindValley hopes to put a dent in the failing Ghanaian educational system. David (Executive Director), did what he has all summer; entrusted in my ability to see the project through. So even amidst catching the summer flu, I was determined for this to be the best grant application I have done all summer. After all, I have a very soft spot for tiny humans (children).
Side note: everybody was sure I had Malaria because I haven’t been taking any prophylactic pills and was practically dying, but my test came back negative. *Takes exaggerated sigh of relief*
I completed the grant application the Wednesday of my last week. I almost wept because I knew I will have to leave an organization I fell completely in love with. For the last two weeks, I was mentally willing every day to slow down so I could spend more time in this office. Interning in this small office with a staff of only four, sitting in my desk, in this quaint town, has been one of the most rewarding things I have done. This experience tops everything I have done in the summer prior to this. Simply because of how good I felt and how much I learned while doing it.
This experience tops everything I have done in the summer prior to this. Simply because of how good I felt and how much I learned while doing it.
I did not know what to expect when I was placed with MindValley. I’ve never thought much about business or social entrepreneurship. Pretty much shied away from anything that had ‘business’ in it because I assumed it will break my bleeding heart, do-gooder spirit. Couldn’t see myself being all corporate and all. This summer was the absolute opposite of that. I am happy to say that I was wrong and my expectations exceeded. This organization taught me the true meaning of resiliency in the face of failure; that if you truly believe in a cause –like MindValley believes in its mission, then no amount of failure will prevent you from getting back up and preparing for another battle. That’s what non-profit work is, a myriad of small battles, some in which you lose (usually financial), and others you win. All and all, it was such a beautiful opportunity for me to do hands on work surrounding issues that are near to my heart; helping to help alleviate poverty in a region with the kindest humans I’ve ever met.
My last day of work the office had a farewell party for me. Which consisted of eating Banku with fish (Ghanaian dish) and watching a Nigerian Nollywood film over soft drinks. David and Eric (Project Manager) presented me with a Kente scarf and said the sincerest words to me about my potential. David told me he doesn’t see me as just a summer intern but a lifetime member of MindValley and is looking forward to me coming back to visit. I was truly humbled and moved. I’m going to miss working here SO much.
Wrapping Up Seminar Discussions
Abby, our program leader, had to fly back to the States because she had professional development for her Teach For America school. So, for the last week, we were joined by Nora, the program manager for TBB. In our last seminars, we discussed how institutional leaders can keep up the mission focus, discipline, and drive towards mission effectiveness. We all acknowledged that leading an effective social impact intuition requires an extreme commitment. This means that those who take on the responsibility to lead these institutions must also take on the responsibility to make personal efforts that are sustainable and effective. I included some interesting reads below on this topic. However, I will take this section to write about my overall takeaways from seminars. I will answer the concluding question of my TBB fellowship. This is the question that we kept coming back to every single week. When I started my fellowship, I didn’t know the answer to it and am still building on my response, but I think I have figured it out.
How can social impact institutions insure mission focus and effectiveness?
This summer I learned that no two Non-Profits are the same. But I do believe all social impact institutions have the capacity to be both mission focused and effective. If they one, define and truly believe in their intended impact. Two, clearly establish how they will go about achieving it. Along those lines, the institution must have a way to measure their effectiveness, so if it strays away from its intended impact, there is a way to re-focus.
There is significant importance in finding the funding model that best aligns with not only your theory of change, but would not lessen your scope, even if your institution is increasing in scale. Additionally, there is no right and wrong when it comes to how to market your institution using social media and brand building tools. However, how people perceive your brand can have a lasting effect on who buys into what you are providing. So, it is important to know who you are marketing to and who your essential stakeholders are.
The most important way to keep up mission focus and effectiveness in my opinion, is by establishing a healthy institutional culture that emanates what the vision of your institution is and what the intended outcome should be. A social impact institution is only as good as the people who work to sustain it. So, it is imperative for mission effectiveness, that its institutional leaders communicate effectively, are clear in their expectations/intentions, and remain consistent even in the face of adversity. All these qualities will allow for the maintenance of a positive culture, which will carry out in how the institution approaches its mission.
Lastly, I believe that the most effective institutions allow room for error, for mistakes, for lessons, for critical thought and questions. This will foster an innovative environment for not only success but growth. To be really mission focused and effective, an organization has to have balance. This means not being too financially driven to the point of forgetting what is important – the people it intends to help. To counter that, these institutions also cannot forget about the business side of its institution or the sustainability will fail. There has to be an institutional balance. And it is up to the institutional leaders to make sure this balance is maintained.
I’m aware that there are greater complexities to running and maintaining a social impact organization than I have yet to experience. With this being said, after this fellowship, this is what I am sure of; in this line of work, as a social impact leader you should never stop asking questions and being critical of the status-quo. Institutions can always be better than they are currently. If its institutional leaders vow to not get complacent and accept criticism, no matter who from; an experienced superior or even a college summer intern.
- Collins, J. (2001). Purpose: The Corporation’s Search for Meaning. In Good to great: Why some companies make the leapand others don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.
- Mackey, J., & Sisodia, R. (2014). The Qualities of Conscious Leaders. In Conscious capitalism: Liberating the heroic spirit of business. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.
- Eggers, W., & Macmillan, P. (2013). The solution revolution: How business, government, and social enterprises are teaming up to solve society’s toughest problems. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.
- Crutchfield, L., & Grant, H. (2007, Fall). Creating HighImpact Nonprofits. Retrieved December 28, 2015 from http://ssir.org/articles/entry/creating_high_impact_nonprofits
Life in Ghana!
There is a level of peace and absolute happiness I experienced while living here that I have never before. I’m not sure if it had to do with being miles away from my own problems back in the States, so I was able to focus on something other than myself. Or if it was just the greatness of this place. But every day I woke up, no matter how early, I was happy and excited to see what that day will bring. So, you can imagine how heart breaking it was to say goodbye to all of that.
Things I will miss the most:
- Taxi drivers using their horns as just a general form of communication. A beep could stand for “move out of the way, I am coming” to walking pedestrians. Or a greeting to a fellow taxi driver. You can imagine how loud the streets were. It was like driving in New York City, except less aggressive.
- Playing soccer with the neighborhood kids every Friday at 4:30 PM. Especially with Joshua, who was the most carefree 5-year-old I’ve ever met (pictured below). We practically became best friends.
- How genuinely concerned about your wellbeing people in Ho, Ghana seem to be. It took me a while to figure out that when asked “How did you sleep?” or “How are you?” the other person wasn’t simply being polite, waiting for a “fine,” but actually wanted an honest answer. Which will then lead to further conversation about your feelings. Amazing.
It was harder saying goodbye to the group of people that took care of me at the home base for 6 weeks. So much so that I was practically a fire hydrant, how much I cried that Friday. I will include pictures of these amazing people below.
Ghana, I’ll miss you!!
If you are even the least bit interested in analyzing the values and core assumptions related to defining and creating social impact, or seek to attain a greater understanding of how to prevent and manage internal institutional tensions to align with an institutions development and mission, then I highly recommend this fellowship. It allowed me to explore the dynamic reality of leading and managing a social impact institution. If you will like to find out more information, visit Thinking Beyond Borders Summer Impact Fellowship site (HERE). Also feel free to ask me any questions or continue this discourse via email (email@example.com).
If you made it this far, thank you for reading my blog post. It was my absolute pleasure to document this experience and I appreciated all the comments/compliments about my column.
UNTIL NEXT SUMMER!