You Gotta Have People

It’s all about community.

Lately, I’ve been struggling through both personal and work issues, and this weekend I was reminded once again how it’s all about the community surrounding me. When you have people who love you, encourage you, and support you every step of the way, everything is possible.

This is also the case for our trainees. In our program, we spend a lot of time talking about how as leaders, they cannot alienate their community. They have to be deeply engaged with the community every step of the way if their work is truly going to have deep impact.

We talk about how they need to begin by gaining support from their community, or buy-in, for the work they’re doing, and how they need to talk to community members to find out if the work they wish to do is actually what the community needs. If those you’re trying to serve don’t want what you have to offer, what’s the point?

We also teach our trainees to assess their program’s effectiveness with their community. This seems pretty obvious, but sometimes we forget when we are doing certain work how we actually need to see if we’re having true impact.

Many of our trainees come from communities where autonomy in leadership is quite common, even though we think most communities in the world as being very communal in nature.  Those who are considered community leaders are often very alienated from those they are there to serve. Such autonomous leadership leaves people making assumptions about their community without actually getting their input, so we encourage our trainees to  engage with their community every step of the way instead of just making assumptions about what they think the community wants or needs.

Often our trainees are quite isolated as community leaders. They are someone who has just a bit more education than their fellow community members, or have just a bit more experience, or just a bit more privilege. Simply the fact that speaking English well enough to participate in our program means they have had better opportunities than other members in their community.  This sometimes leaves them very alienated and alone. They don’t have people who can support them or understand what they are going through. Part of our program is to introduce our trainees to one another, even though they might live in totally separate countries or continents.  The opportunity to get to know one another, support one another, and encourage one another is a way we’re building a community of nonprofit leaders who can engage with one another in a way they can’t find in their own homes.

Part of our training is also to have these leaders develop an accountability board, or a board of directors. They are not only decision-makers for the organization, but also a community of support for the leaders who day-in and day-out are executing the work for that program. This is a team who can help them make sure they don’t fall when temptations arise, people who can help them make wise decisions, encourage them to look outside of themselves and have perspectives from the wider community.

This is just a glimpse into some of the ways we coaching our trainees. Just as we encourage them to not be by themselves, we encourage you to build your community, wherever it may be. Find people who will pick you up when you fall, call you out when you are wrong, show you a different view of the world, and walk alongside you every step of the way. So find your people. Build your community. It’s worth every bit the effort.

-Elaine, Executive Director