It is always easier to do nothing

Every project you start will give you moments which will make you regret walking down that path. You will definitely second guess yourself and the impact you are making. The struggle will feel unnecessary and unrewarding.

The most important thing to remember at such points is – it is always easier to do nothing.

So, the questions that follow are –
1. Do you really want to do nothing and do what is easy?
2. If not, is there another project or method that would help you achieve better long term results?

Every once a while, you’ll realize that what you’re doing is not working. That is a useful realization and there is nothing wrong in quitting for the right reasons.

But, when the answer to the second question is no, it is just worth remembering that you signed up to make a difference. It was never meant to be easy. Maybe you’re not making the world-changing difference you envisioned. But, what you’re experiencing is making a difference to you.

And, that is definitely difference worth struggling for.

Deciding not to do any marketing – Building Help2Grow.org

It has been a long while since I’ve put up a “Building Help2Grow.org” thanks to an implicit choice we made a couple of months back. When we founded Help2Grow.org in January this year, we had many plans on the marketing front – an active blog to tell our story, an active Facebook page to engage the community, an active Twitter feed, a great monthly newsletter etc. Over time, these initiatives have fallen off the rails. The central reason for this is the fact that we’ve had our fair share of struggles over the past few months. These struggles have been on 3 fronts –

1. A distributed team that wasn’t getting its act together. Thanks to a variety of reasons, we seemed to be struggling to get our act together. On the one hand, after 6 months of attempting to run a charity in addition to all our jobs and commitments, the honeymoon phase was definitely over. On the other, a bunch of us faced disruption in our schedules with fairly valid reasons such as cross continental re-locations. We were struggling though.  We seemed to have lost our mojo and our momentum and we needed to gain it back.

2. Troubles with partners. We had a couple of partner situations that were just not working out. We needed to step back and take stock.

3. Legal hurdles. Getting a charity fully functional in India is no easy feat. Despite a solid track record, we were unable to get enough movement on the required legal certificates to receive tax exemption. That’s an ongoing struggle. We had also decided we’d apply for a 501c3 registration in the US as nearly half the team is currently based in the states. All in all, there were a few legal hurdles to jump.

These issues led to a complete loss of momentum. We were soon showing up to our calls but not really getting things done. The frustration began to show, people began to drop from calls, and not preparing for calls became the norm for a couple of months in between. And, somehow, our actions aimed to get the momentum back just didn’t seem to be working. That’s when we stumbled onto 2 insights –

1. We needed a real core team that would keep each other accountable. When we started out, we had a team of 14. Over time, this came down to a more manageable group of 7-8 folks who were actually getting things done. We needed to make this official and begin to create accountability within the team again. So, we did just that. We still keep our whole team copied on emails but we have a separate group on Whatsapp for the core group and we’ve begun expecting each other to show up prepared. A culture of accountability goes a long way.

2. Good managers give their team members clarity on what needs to be done. This was entirely my failing. Over time, I’d assumed that we’d just respond to the sheer magnitude of work by just getting things done. That clearly didn’t happen. Why, I wasn’t doing anything myself. We needed someone to break work down and give people clarity on what to do. I had completely neglected this. So, we spent all of last call aligning on the major projects and priorities and broke up these projects down to granular tasks so we had absolute clarity on what needed to be done. Voila – things have begun moving again.

Through all of these changes, there was no movement on marketing and I took it up as my responsibility. We needed to re-think our initial goals. Over this time, we had implicitly decided not to do any marketing and I thought I’d just make that official and continue with inaction. Hopefully, I’ve made our reasons apparent. But, in case I haven’t, it is a combination of two reasons –
– We have very limited bandwidth. This bandwidth needs to be used carefully so we’re delivering value to our partners who, in turn, can impact the lives of the kids we hope to impact
– We want to be authentic about the problems we’re facing. At this point, we just aren’t at the operational level we desire. And, we need to work hard to fix our ship before we share stories of success. The good news is that we’re putting in the work and should have more to share shortly.

Does this mean you’re not going to hear from Help2Grow.org? Absolutely not. We will continue to share stories as and when possible. It will just not be a key priority. We’re going to work hard to fix the leaks in our ship and deliver value to the kids and organizations we aim to serve. More to follow soon – just forgive us for the occasional silences. We’ll just plan to make it worth it when you do hear from us.

And here’s hoping our actions make a difference..


This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.

Running a distributed team – Building Help2Grow.org

Our team at Help2Grow.org consists of 14 individuals currently spread across 7 locations in 4 countries across 3 continents. While that makes for a cool story, it can quite easily be an organizational nightmare. Here are a few challenges –

1. Finding a time for our calls. We have been meeting once every 2 weeks almost without exception. But, with the recent addition of a team member in Europe, finding a time that works all the way from the Bay Area to Singapore is tough. So, we’ve decided to alternate between 2 slots every month. This way, the folks at one end have to give up their Saturday night once a month while the folks at the other end have to give up their Friday night once a while. And, a couple of folks will have to live with waking up at 5am and 630am respectively.

2. Sustaining momentum. Given the awkward timings and the sheer distances between us, it is easy for one person or the other to lose momentum. We’re all working on this on our weekends and the limited extra time we have during our weeks and one call missed can mean going a long time without contact with the team. Momentum is not easy to sustain.

3. Large amounts of communication via email. You know what they say about asynchronous communication. Yes, we know it is not the same. And, yes, we know face-to-face / video communication will be better. Luckily, many of the relationships are strong existing relationships. That helps. Then again, it doesn’t mean it is easy given the constraints.

On the flip side, these constraints make things interesting. We face the resistance all the time at Help2Grow. Wouldn’t it be easier to not do this at all? Absolutely. Would it be better? Absolutely not. We’re doing this for reasons beyond ourselves and we’re learning a LOT during the process. Besides, these are all amazing first world problems to have and serve as a wonderful reminder of the need to give back. So, how do we keep the momentum going?

Our best recent solution has been to think of it with an analogy – imagine the whole team is on a large boat, can we get 6 people rowing together for a consistent number of hours every week? While we do occasionally see spurts of activity from our team, we realize that there’s immense value in consistent application of effort. So, that’s what we’re working on these days – getting 6 people rowing together consistently. This means we’ve set up systems like vacation and activity trackers so we know in advance when people are going under water and we’ve created an overall management information system (more on this another time) which we use to guide our conversations every call. We might lose people on a call but we want to make sure our systems cover for them. And, one new metric added to the system is.. you guessed it.. whether we had 6 people rowing together this past 2 weeks.

That’s how we “row”l. :-)


This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.

But, where is the impact? – Building Help2Grow.org

A friend asked me an interesting question about Help2Grow.org the other day – “Why are you guys attempting to build this charitable trust at this stage of your life? This is the time to learn. Put it on pause, make a lot of money, and come back to do it at a later stage when your impact could be much bigger.”

I thought about it for en entire evening and put the question to our team the next morning. I love questions like this – they feel painful at the time but, I’ve found that when I really listen for an idea that might change the way I view things and understand the question, it inspires many other interesting questions. In this case, we went down the path of asking ourselves why we are this. This friend did get a couple of the facts right –
1. We don’t have large amounts of money at our disposable
2. We could, theoretically, come back 10 years later and be able to do much more.

Our soul searching resulted in the following answers –

1. If not now, then when? – We all believe charity is a way of life. We recognize our privilege and, thanks to Help2Grow.org, we are reminded of our duty to give back to the community. It is easy to be caught up in our busy lives. Taking action now ensures we don’t let the years pass without action on the stuff that actually matters. And, besides, if not now, then when? We’re not fans of deferred action plans.

2. The process of doing this is changing us. We can’t even begin to list the ways this process is changing us. Aside from ensuring we feel very grateful and humbled when we see our partners at work, we are learning every step of the way. We are learning to work better as a team and really understand and use each other’s strengths for doing good, we are staying in close contact and building stronger relationships among the team by working on difficult things, we are learning to do more and prioritize more, we are learning to take more responsibility and make better decisions with others’ capital  which have real consequences on the quality of lives of kids, and we’re understanding the challenges of driving real change.

This has been challenging.  And, as a result, we’re becoming better people for it. We can’t make the world better if we aren’t learning and getting better ourselves. Change begins with us.

3. We believe in the starfish parable. Here’s a story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley that you have almost definitely heard of. It is so lovely that I’d love to share it again.. 

An old man was walking down a beach littered with thousands of starfish. The tide had washed them in and they would all die if they weren’t in the water soon. He saw a young boy bending down, picking starfish and throwing them in and asked him what he was doing. “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

So, yes, we understand that we don’t have the resources to make the sort of difference a Gates Foundation is making. That said, if we can make a small difference every week to one kid at our partners, we’ll take that. We’re in it for the long run and we are hopeful that a combination of little bits of difference over time will make the world a bit better. That’s why we exist as an organization anyway..


 

This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.

Building Help2Grow.org: Getting to our mission and values

Help2Grow.org was registered in end January this year. As I’d shared in the first post of this series, it felt like the resistance did everything it could to stop this from happening. It felt like a big win.

But, now, we were into February and back where we started – we were a group of about 20 close friends and family who had expressed interest in the idea. 14 of us were serious about making Help2Grow.org a commitment. None of us had ever run or worked in a charity before but were keen to make a difference. We now had to convert this energy into a team that added value.

There were 3 interesting lessons from this period.

1. It is great to start afresh with no baggage. I am not going to make an argument against experience. This is just about a group of us who set out to change things with very little domain knowledge and a lot of desire . It was a clean slate and it felt great. Every once in a while, it is fun to engage in a project like this – new territory, new kinds of challenges, and complete freedom to define things the way we want. We often get caught up in the way things are. It is easy to forget that these things we take for granted in our world were created by human beings just like us.

2. Never assume alignment – take time to discuss what you want. The larger the group, the more important it is to never assume alignment. Yes, we had all started with discussions around the same idea but that didn’t mean much. We needed to take some time to align ourselves around the kind of organization we wanted to build. We all agreed that this could be an important piece of our life’s work. So, we wanted to approach it like a 100 year project and we wanted to do it right. Yes, the whole thing might not work. But, we wanted to give it our best shot. This was an important phase and took 4 weeks at a time when we might have been happier to hit the ground running with field work. Sometimes, however, it pays to go slow before you go fast.

3. Defining our mission, values and guiding principles. Our first 2 team calls defined many ground rules and ways of working that have stuck. But, the highlights were intense debates on a couple of topics – our mission, values and guiding principles. The end result of the debate was –


Mission:To support the underprivileged to sustainably work towards a better quality of life

Core Values:

  1. Integrity – Make and keep commitments
  2. Transparent about intentions – Be transparent, honest, and open about why we do what we do
  3. Respect and responsiveness – Respect everyone’s time, needs, and opinions

This was a messy process as it was a debate held on Google Hangouts with members of team calling in from across continents. We used Google spreadsheets to put down ideas, vote on them and then discuss them. We literally debated every word of this mission statement. Our focus has narrowed since we started and we might have to update it at some point but it has been very helpful in guiding us. The key word in this statement is “sustainable” – with this, we agreed that we wouldn’t do one time donations to any partner (e.g. a birthday lunch). We would engage with a partner for 2-5 years and contribute to them consistently and sustain-ably.

As far as our core values went, we picked those that resonated strongest with us. These are tough values to live by and we have our difficulties living them.. but that’s a topic for a different post.


This blog post was been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.

Building Help2Grow.org – a series

When a few close friends and I met on a saturday evening last year, our discussion centred for a long time on the best way to give to those less privileged than us. We had all tried multiple methods – volunteering our time, giving to charities, and a fair bit of micro-lending. And, we were still discontented. I think it was because we felt we could do it better but didn’t know how. We were all intent to do this back in India as we had all grown up seeing the challenges the underprivileged face and we wanted to do our bit to make it better.

That conversation in early September last year was when Help2Grow.org was really founded in my opinion. Conversations can be truly momentous in retrospect.

A few weeks later, another friend shared some of the charitable volunteer work he did on a Whatsapp group that we all are part of and we jumped at the opportunity to further the discussion. “Why not start our own charity?” – we thought. And we did.

We had 2 challenges in the pre-formal-founding days that we never expected. The first was picking a name. We put all the pressure on our volunteer friend and shoved what must have been close to 200 possibilities  at him – again, over Whatsapp – technology really is amazing. After being stuck in the “we need a name” phase for a week, a couple of us decided we just had to hammer it down. So, the final name was picked and we were ready. Learning – many teams tell wonderful stories of how they spoke of a name and how it just “clicked.” We didn’t have any such luck. We were mentally and emotionally tired of the naming process and decided it was time to pick and focus our energies on making a difference. And, guess what, we love our name!

The next challenge involved getting the India wing of the team together for the formal registration. We wanted 3 team members to sign the trust deed and, somehow, one thing or the other seemed to come up in the last minute leading to a postponement. Initially, there were whispers of this being the universe’s way of telling us what the “right” time would be (or fate). After a month of dithering, we decided it was probably not fate but the resistance. So, we promptly got it done. Learning: Yes, there are times in life when, no matter what we do, life seems intent on executing other plans. However, that is not always the case. It is also up to us to keep pushing to test the limits.

We then navigated our way through the registration and began working towards our first meeting. We had 14 people interested, had registered a charitable trust, created a bank account, and were all set to go.

But, where?

That’s the story I’d like to share with you. It’s a story that is still being written and, most importantly, it’s a story that might not work. This isn’t a series about how to build a successful charitable trust – this is a series about our attempts at building a charitable trust that will last a 100 years. I’d like to take you through our process, failures, occasional successes and learning through the process. One of our core values is to “be transparent about why we do what we do” – so I’d also like to share our intent, dreams, and plans. Help2Grow.org is about giving to the community and there are many ways to give. We’re hopeful sharing these learnings will help too.


 

This blog post has also been posted on the Help2Grow.org blog.

Play for Hope – $10 to make a difference

We, at Help2Grow.org, are proud to support Pudiyador – a charity that has been changing lives by educating the underprivileged community in Chennai, India, for the past 10 years.

Pudiyador’s leadership team want to take 45 of their kids to India’s first 5 day Ultimate frisbee camp for the underprivileged and they need help. Most of these kids have never been outside their hometown before.

We have a campaign on Bitgiving.com –  a crowdfunding website for social initiatives – to help them raise their money. Our target is INR 40,000 and have started out with a target of INR 20,000 (roughly USD 341). So, that means $10 from you could go a long way to help these kids. Please watch the 2 minute video below and the note from Liz and join us by contributing here. And, if a contribution is not possible, we’d appreciate it if you shared the love..

The campaign is on http://bitgi.co/playforhope

Thank you for your attention and hope you have a great weekend.

PS: Please let me know if you have any trouble making the final payment and please don’t worry about any messages that say your card won’t be accepted. I am reachable on rohan@rohanrajiv.com/rohan@help2grow.org.


 

Hello there!

I am Liz, Program Manager for Sports at Pudiyador, a Chennai-based non-profit. We would like to take 45 of our kids to Surat for a one-of-a-kind Ultimate Frisbee camp.

Pudiyador believes in changing lives through education. We provide a safe, interactive, fun, and hands-on learning environment for underprivileged kids. For over 10 years, we’ve been running weekend and after-school programs for over 200 children every year across their centers in Chennai.

I am also an ultimate Frisbee enthusiast and I have been teaching the sport at Pudiyador the past year. We’ve seen how ultimate Frisbee changes the way our kids communicate, work with each other and approach life. We truly believe in the impact that play can have on child growth and development.

And we are keen on taking 45 kids to Surat for the National Youth Ultimate Frisbee camp. Most of them have never travelled outside Chennai before and are very excited.

The Surat Camp will be a first in many ways:
– the first sleep-away Ultimate Frisbee camp ever held in India.
– the first initiative to enable bonding and friendships between underprivileged children from different parts of India.
– the first ever camp of such a scale (160 kids from across India and 30 youth coaches).

At this point, we are short of INR 20,000 to make this trip happen. You can help make this happen! Any additional funds will go towards making the Surat experience extra special for our kids.

Thank you so much!
Liz

P.S: We believe that every rupee creates equal impact and hence, all our donations will be treated and rewarded with the same love.