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An account by Dawid, recent volunteer here at LAFF who made the big leap from his usual 9-5 to working with LAFF. He offers a valuable insight on the transition, his experience and the struggles of small NGO’s.

Find the unedited version here: http://www.crossingrubicon.org/blog/finding-soul-in-the-corporate-machine

 

My previous job was as a JavaScript Developer in a small team of a behavioural marketing company.  I became Senior Data Analyst and was able to do what I really liked: managing databases, coding, querying, generating reports, graphs, and all that has to do with data.

There was, however, a part of me that has always longed for something different. Part of me knew that my job was good and secure, and for most of my life I thought that is all one needed. The other part had always wanted to break free, work in social development or non-profit sector, but having no academic background, therefore a very limited network, I could not see a way to step into that world.

After many long discussions with a dear friend of mine about the possibilities of transitioning my skills to a non profit I decided to undertake a short volunteering trip in Nepal where I learnt that being with people focused around the same cause and equally dedicated to do something about it, meant much more than just a good paycheck.

And so I wondered: could I push myself to work in a place where I would feel like that every day? I decided to take action. I spent countless hours researching what I could do to get into the non-profit sector and that is how I stumbled upon MovingWorlds. Their mission resonated with me as much as it could. I wanted to volunteer, expand, and adapt my specific skills to the social development world.

Experteering that changed my world

One of the projects I found on MovingWorlds and was accepted to, was Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator position at LAFF.

What has data analytics in common with monitoring and evaluation – you might ask? Thanks to my friend’s advice, a lot of pushing, and enormous amount of believing in me, I started learning more about how traditional M&E changes its nature nowadays to be even more data-focused and progress further in the “era of data”. After a few courses,  I began to see a clear path where I can fit in that world. For the first time in years I felt like I had a clear goal.

During my placement in Cusco I had a job interview with an organisation from New York and I remember vividly when I was asked the following question: “What, in your opinion, are main differences when working for an NGO and working in a corporate environment?”. I did not have to think twice about it. Working for LAFF reminded me of the golden years of my previous employment, the first three years of a startup when there was a handful of people and twice as many jobs to do. Thanks to the prevailing and common mindset “do whatever is necessary for the good of the team” we did everything we had to, but we did it because we wanted to – and that made all the difference.

Very important fact is that LAFF learned very quickly that my skill set does not end on data and M&E by asking questions that normally would never be asked. They had specific needs but they were never a top priority to fill volunteer positions but in my case of a “tech guy”, they asked me about them a few weeks before my arrival.

It turned out I had exactly what they needed. The organisation was in the middle of Salesforce implementation that was taking ages. Once they found out I have the skills needed to progress with it, my priorities and focus changed. Adaptability of an organisation kicked in big time and I was impressed by it. You need something, you have somebody who matches your needs – you act on it, you do not wait around for weeks to see if it is right. I was given the responsibility, trust, and I have never felt better.

It’s a trap

Small, volunteer-led organisations do not have capacity to hire many professionals these days, and to be honest – the technology trap is still out there because it is a no brainer whether an organisation should pay a fundraising expert or a technician. Technology is still considered to be a very difficult area of life for most people and it’s partly the reason why non-profit organisations find themselves in the so called “technology trap”.

The study published in 2016 by OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) explored the distribution of users’ computer skills and unfortunately only 5% of the population (almost quarter of a million of people were surveyed in 33 countries) have high computer-related abilities.

While having worked for LAFF I realised that there is a big talent gap between small and mid-sized NGOs and those big ones that can afford technical staff thus leading to the conclusion that experteers like me have an important role to play. My 5.5 months were filled with work, ideas, improvements, discussions, but also knowledge sharing and advocacy about important technological issues (security for example).

I am glad I was and still am part of LAFF’s digital transformation that will hopefully take them one step further to be more advanced, productive, and independent in regards to technology.

Soul in the machine

My main goal was to find a place where I can feel included again, feel like the work I’m doing not only matters but is also creating a positive change. Experteering with LAFF has fully brought those feelings back and I have felt like I was on a new path. Where is it leading? I have no idea but the path feels right and it has led me to my next experteering project, this time for MovingWorlds.

I know how hard it is to see yourself changing your career or even wanting to be involved in the “other” world. Sometimes it is difficult to do it on your own and not everybody would be lucky to have those around who’d give you the final push.
Making the leap is never a quick decision you make in the heat of a moment, even when some people paint it that way it is never like that. Let the idea grow in you, explore, talk to people, past experteers, leaders in non-profit sector, your friends who perhaps volunteered before. Find a place you would like to see yourself in, whether it’s a 6-month experteering project, a new career, or a yearly holiday that instead of lying on the beach, you can spend making a real difference, and go for it!

Most of us, especially technicians, developers, and admins, work in some kind of corporate environment that just feeds the big machine. We all know we have to pay our bills, support our families, and save some dough for our future but thanks to the opportunities of working with organisations like LAFF and MovingWorlds you can not only find but most importantly be the soul in that machine.