Before we begin, my fellow activists/innovators/changemakers/leaders, this is my advice for you deduced from a few years of experience in the NGO world !
Since the Arab springs started, civil society has boomed, mainly in Tunisia and Egypt, unfortunately for the other countries that weren’t as lucky. In Tunisia, more than 10,000 civil society organizations were founded after 2011, more than the total number of organizations registered from the independence in 1956 until 2010.
2011, I was in my freshman year in Tunis Business School and I couldn’t imagine the opportunities that just opened before my eyes. It felt like the construction work for a new and better Tunisia has just began.
More organizations that want to created a positive impact, more people engaged, mostly youth, and active members of the new Tunisia. With all the ups and downs, police and oppression being present at every turn of events. Youth kept fighting, innovative ideas in every aspect of life were popping up everywhere as actual spring unfolds.
I was there and I miss it very much ! I have seen as well many friends rising and shining and many friends failing, losing hope and fleeing the country for a better future.
Now, from Washington DC, I learned more about international CSOs and changemaking processes and learned more from success and fail stories of people I had the honor to meet during my stay. Here are is my advice to the new generation of change makers around the world:
People can do crazy things by their commitment to a cause and take things to the extremes. It’s very noble and important to be committed and devote your time and effort to the cause, but if you devote too much of your life, it is the wrong way to do it, and you will not achieve your desired goals/impacts.
This is a mistake I did, few years ago, it’s like when you love your sports team too much that you join the hooligans putting your life to risk and your future as well. My advice is to have a balance between your personal life, your cause and your occupation. And remember, work is a never-ending task, so just take it easy and don’t use yourself too much. Otherwise, you will burnout*. Trust me it’s terrible. After that you will feel disappointed, exhausted and you will lose your motivation and you will, GOD forbid, opt out and you get a job or for some money…. that is a win for the evil side of the cause.
Solution: Find the equilibrium and keep on fighting !
If you are reading this, there is a great probability that you are a brilliant member of civil society, a great activist in your community/country. My advice to you is to be aware of the traps of international development organizations. They will offer you a great ”salary”, that you won’t reject, for your brilliant level of expertise, think twice what they are paying for; your expertise or something else?
So you start your new job, happy with the illusion that you can achieve more impact for your cause since you are now in a bigger organization, but that implies that you have less time for your organization/initiative, and slowly you will be faced by a decision to leave your own organization that you built with your bare hands, sweat and blood. Then your organization fades into the darkness of unsolvable social issues.
I want you to think about it, how much did you sell your potential positive impact that you were going to achieve it through your own organization ? … wait, let me rephrase, Think about how much did you sell your dream or mindset to international organizations ? I am sure that you don’t agree with many things at your new job, but you will stay because you are selfish and became monotonous and boring. If you work on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, you will see the ”startuppers” (founders of startups), their job is to grow their company and then sell it to a bigger company. Civil society doesn’t work like that my friend. If you sell you organization, you sell your dreams, yourself, and the dreams of other people that you ”empowered”.
I understand that financial stability is key in one’s life, but please don’t lie to people, don’t lie to your community.
3- Impactless Work
In this world, there are two types of people: activists and civil society workers.
While you can decide to be who ever you want, I really don’t like the civil society professional mindset.
Here is a description of each type:
– Work something he/she likes and is passionate about solving it.
– Loves the social issue and works towards achieving and providing solutions to the cause.
– Will gather a team to do a project even when there is no money, because the whole team believes in the impact of the idea and don’t wait for the donors’ approval
– Will go the extra mile for a better impact
Civil Society Worker:
– Usually an office clerks (project manager or coordinator)
– Cares about pictures to submit to the partners more than the actual project and people affected
– Cares about his/her career
– May or may not be interested in the cause the organization is working on
– Focus on worthless details while forgetting about the bigger picture.
Please don’t get me wrong, you can be an activist and also a project manager and still do field work, it is not impossible and there is no shame in doing field work, it’s what this world is built on.
*Burnout: a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress and/or intellectual work. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.
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