5 Dos & Don’ts of Leading Volunteers

Being a volunteer myself involved in leading volunteers, I get to reflect often on how things are done and how to improve.

It is without doubt that leading volunteers tends to be tricky as you’ll have to ensure motivation and commitment are high at all times. Moreover, you’ll need to take care of the feelings and aspirations of the volunteers, no matter how young or old they are.

So to make things simple, I am going to share with you 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts in managing and leading volunteers:

Dos:

  • Thank volunteers at every milestone, every good report, every job well done. There is no upper limit of how much you can thank them and how. It can range from a simple thank you email, a tap on the shoulder, to inviting them for a free dinner/lunch/get-away.
  • Give volunteers space to make decisions and have a say in what is being done. Barely anyone likes to do donkey work or to simply follow steps given, let the volunteer role be more demanding and challenging.
  • Lead by being a role model, show the way and be the first to step up for action. It takes people a very short time to realize preachers from doers.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up… oh and did I say it’s important to follow up? You wont imagine how smooth things will go if you just remind people if they missed something ,follow up on tasks to be done and make sure things are progressing as planned. If you just sit there and expect volunteers to get things done without any follow up..at least at the beginning, then you’ll be surprised.
  • Be friendly, polite and respectful. Yes they may seem trivial, but so many times discussions, emails or meetings can become tense, issues urgent, stakes high…that you might lose your temper, say something mean, be a bit harsh or disrespectful. Once you do that..you know you’re going to lose some one from the team or lose their trust and respect to say the least.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t underestimate any volunteer’s abilities, knowledge, network or creativity. You’ll be surprised with how much people can do when you believe in them.
  • Don’t blame or criticize volunteers publicly. Keep morale high and respect of others to each other and to yourself, if you have something negative to say…say it one-to-one.
  • Don’t take all the credit. Give credit where credit belongs… if the team is doing a good job, you owe them the credit, not yourself.
  • Don’t be biased for personal reasons. Give work, credit or thanks for those who are doing work…not for those you like or you’re friends with.
  • Don’t keep information hidden to yourself. Sharing knowledge, experience, information, contacts ..etc. with your  team is key to show them you trust them and to empower them with what they need to lead…to become self-motivated and self-managed.

I hope those few things help you out! 🙂

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Project Management for NGOs: Lecture Given to PMI Lebanon Chapter

Last month I’ve given a lecture/session titled “Project Management for NGOs” to the PMI Lebanon Chapter as part of their monthly lectures.

In this context, I thought of sharing it with you. So below you’ll find the session description, learning outcomes and the link to download the presentation for your own knowledge and entertainment…. let me know what you think! 🙂

Session Description/Summary:

The world today has hundreds of thousands of active NGOs majority of which are project and program based and depend on ongoing grants and funding to secure resources for their projects. With grants and funding summing up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, the amounts being lost on failed projects, unmet objectives and re-work is counting up to tens of millions of dollars.

Many leaders of NGOs consider this as a reasonable and un-escapable price to pay due to the fact that it is hard to recruit enough qualified project and program managers in the NGO field due to the short period of engagement, low wages with respect to private sector and lack of well identified project management training, tools and techniques.

With thousands of program managers, program coordinators, project managers, project coordinators, assistant program and project managers and so on and so forth, there is a huge gap to be filled for both the organizations and the individuals working in them.

What many don’t realize is that PMP standard can apply to NGOs by simply matching many of the terminology that is used by PMP with those present in NGOs. This lecture will help you understand how.

Lecture Learning Objectives:

  • Understand and Define an NGO
  • Identify the Numerous Types and Fields of Work of NGOs
  • Understand the NGO Project Life Cycle in Most NGOs
  • Map NGO Project Related Terminology with PMI’s Terminology

Link to Presentation in PDF: PMI Leb Chapter – PM for NGOs Presentation by Afif Tabsh – April 2012

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NGOs, Project Management & Serendipity

NGOs play an essential and integral role in the sustainability and growth of our communities and environment. They deal with a wide spectrum of topics including but not limited to orphans, elderly, recycling, global warming, advocating rights, economic development, education, awareness…etc.

For more than 12 years, I’ve been passionately involved in NGOs and along the road I managed to create some, or be on the Board or advice & consult others. Throughout the years, most of the NGOs I’ve known have been managing projects and programs. They design projects, write proposals & budgets, implement projects, evaluate them and so on and so forth. Yet I long to see some common project management terminology, standards or methodology on how to do all this.

Years ago, the private sector has identified certain standards for project management, best practices, processes, tools, techniques..etc. These standards are helping corporations in all shapes and sizes, from the multi-nationals to the small local enterprises, in achieving their projects on time, within budget and fulfilling the necessary scope. Yet, surprisingly, and in-spite of the fact that most NGOs work on projects; we somehow missed the idea of having an agreed on, industry-wide standard, best practices and methodology . So you might ask yourself and what if we don’t have a standard, what does it really matter? The fact is, many NGOs miss essential project milestones, have projects that go over budget, short of scope and delivered their outputs behind schedule, if delivered at all. Time, effort and money spent to lead to a positive impact on the society sometimes are lost do to lack of proper project management (from planning to implementation to monitoring & evaluation)…but the question is why?

Lebanon alone hosts thousands of registered NGOs as per the Ministry of Interior. Majority of those NGOs are project and program based and depend on ongoing grants and funding to secure resources for their projects. With grants and funding summing up to millions annually, the amounts being lost on failed projects, unmet objectives and re-work is counting up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s if we’re only talking about the monetary value of things. On the other side, consider how many lives could’ve been saved with the same amount of money that has been lost or re-budgeted, how many schools could’ve been built, how many trainings would’ve been developed, campaigns launched…etc.

Many leaders of NGOs consider this as a reasonable and un-escapable price to pay due to the fact that it is a volatile and ever changing industry that becomes active in disasters and emergencies, rather than in times of peace and order. Thus adequate time for planning and assessments isn’t always available. Moreover, I’ve heard several times from people working in the NGOs industry, that it is hard to recruit enough qualified project and program managers. Mainly it is due to the short period of engagement in temporary projects, low wages with respect to private sector and lack of well-identified project management standards, training, tools and techniques.

Yet what many don’t realize is that things are much simpler than that. In most cases, there is no need to recruit highly qualified project managers, if you can build the capacity and empower those that are already there. As for the standards, trainings, tools and techniques, they do exist! The same standards that apply for the private sector, governmental sector, army and others…apply for NGOs, with minor customization. There are two internationally known standards for project management: Prince & PMP. Both of which are very popular, with the second being of a bigger base of certified professionals worldwide.

With thousands of program and project managers/coordinators and teams in NGOs… there is a considerable gap to be filled for both the organizations and the individuals working in them.

We, those passionate about NGOs and the community, should not keep on managing our projects based on serendipity. It’s about time we get our Project and Program leaders trained and certified to live up to their responsibilities and get that impact we are so passionately working for!

We owe it to ourselves, our donors & supporters and most importantly to the community we are serving…so what are we waiting for?!

 

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Awarded the Ambassador for Peace Certificate by UPF

I have recently been awarded the Ambassador for Peace certificate by the Universal Peace Federation and so it was a delightful surprise to know that I joined a network of leaders from all walks of life all around the world in further promoting Peace, Inter-religious and human development.

Consequently many started asking me, “So what does it really mean? What do you do?” …so here’s a small briefing about it hoping it will quench your curiosity 🙂

What is an Ambassador for Peace?

Ambassadors for Peace are part of a global network of leaders representing thereligious, racial and ethnic diversity of the human family, as well as all disciplines of human endeavor. They stand on the common ground of shared principles and arecommitted to the path of promoting reconciliation, overcoming barriers, and building peace.

So what is the Ambassador for Peace Award?

The Ambassador for Peace award honors achievement and signifies a new appointment to a mission to serve the common good.

What do Ambassadors for Peace do?

  • Exemplify the ideal of living for the sake of others.
  • Promote universal moral values, strong family life,inter-religious cooperation, international harmony, renewalof the United Nations, responsible mass media, and the establishment of a global culture of peace.
  • Transcend racial, national and religious barriers.
  • Contribute to the fulfillment of the hope of all ages, a unified world of peace, wherein the spiritual and material dimensions of life are harmonized.
  • Serve as members on national, regional and global peace councils promoting and safeguarding world peace.
  • Develop a broad strategic alliance of partnerships among individuals, educational institutions, organizations, reli-gions, corporations, the media and governments.

So I hope you all join me in this life long journey of serving the community, being at peace with ourselves, families and community and further promoting ethical values.

Arab Spring, the Economy & Social Entrepreneurship


My dear reader, for a while now we’ve been hearing endless analysis, campaigns and strategies about each one of the above topics individually..from the Arab Spring to the Economy in the Arab world and last but not least “the” topic in town: Social Entrepreneurship.

What I’ll be doing in this article is drawing on the inter-connectivity of the 3…specifically to shed light on the big picture of the current Arab world and how things are heading.

The whole discourse is based on readings, observations, analysis and discussions I had with people across the Arab world from opinion leaders, to CEOs and senior management of companies, activists, governmental officials and so on. Here it comes…

The so called “Arab Spring” started from Tunisia, where Boazizi put himself on fire to revolt in the face of injustice, lack of work opportunities and his sense of hopelessness… he just gave up on his life and on going anywhere but downhill. Yet, Boazizi was not an ignorant man nor a weak person, he was a man of modest education, hard worker and a lot of perseverance. Yet what he lacked was a job, a sustainable and decent income for himself and his family. His story isn’t an “island” but rather a story shared by so many across the Arab world, from illiterates to PhD holders, who are facing difficulties in finding a job…and the unemployment rates are soaring higher than ever.

With the youth bulge in the region, which the World Bank estimated in 2010 that 60% of the Arab world are people under 30 years old, the market is becoming a highly competitive place for job seekers. Millions of Arab youth are working hard on getting their education, graduating and then…the rest is unknown. The funny/sad matter is that the higher the degrees the youth are getting, the harder it is to find a job in their hometown. One asks himself the question of why? How come? …but the answer is simple..there aren’t enough jobs out there…the infrastructure and companies aren’t equipped well enough nor are they growing fast enough to accommodate for this influx of highly educated workforce…and the list can go on.

Consequently, most of those youth who are jobless and are not being heard…have no where to go but the streets…to demand change..to demand jobs..to demand their dignity to be safe-guarded…and when you have thousands and millions of educated people either in low-paying jobs or jobless …they will revolt…they will seek to make things better…one way or another.

Now the case is that many Arab countries, the economic status they have is different, the social behaviors are different, norms and cultures may also be different…yet what all of the revolutions have in common is demanding change..a change in governance…a change to the better…a change to put up leaders who care for the nation more than they care for power…a change that will bring about economic growth, jobs, resources, dignity for the people and a sense of equality and justice.

Now if we take a bird’s eye view on this whole matter, and with some research into past revolutions across the centuries from the French revolution until today…one can simply realize that after every revolution..there comes some chaos before order is restored…and things will look better hereafter, much better.

Moreover, how things will look in the future…is not much of a mystery either…history repeats itself, with minor modifications. The issue in the Arab world is not the lack of money or resources, there are billions of it in cash yet it’s how we’re making use it(or the lack of).

In this context, the future of the Arab World in the coming 10 years will include the following general guidelines:

  • Educated youth will start seeking to create jobs for themselves, rather than seeking jobs. They will starting making some start-ups, capitalize on the entrepreneurial/innovative skills and become more willing to take risks rather than seeking a stable governmental/corporate jobs.
  • Numerous capital ventures, angel investors and impact investors will start popping up to support Social & Impact Entrepreneurs who not only seek making profit but also leaving a positive impact on the society along the way.
  • Arab nations will realize that each country will not be able to sustain and grow on its own … thus cross border/pan-Arab economic and infrastructure projects will be launched. From unifying electric grids, to opening borders for trade and travel, to creating joint ventures, to mega infrastructure improvements to lure more investments and build a ripe ground for further corporate growth. This will look something similar to the Marshall Plan set by the US to aid Europe rebuild itself and prosper post World War II, yet its Arab based for Arab’s benefit.
  • Family based businesses will nourish and especially those that are gulf based, state supported, and/or “royal”. With the rich getting richer, we can expect some major growth in family based conglomerates.
  • Educational systems will start shifting into more specialized degrees, informal learning, on-the-job learning, and major involvement of technology in the whole learning process.
  • Real-estate business will no longer be the major industry in many countries, to be replaced with other industries like ICT, manufacturing , agriculture, telecom, consultancy, tourism, research/think-tanks amongst others as well. Thus requiring a more diverse workforce.

The above 5 general headlines will start taking place naturally, one step at a time, to accommodate for the political/governmental changes as well as the expected chaos in some of the countries. These new opportunities and systems will encompass creating jobs for almost 100 million youth that will be joining the Arab workforce by 2020.

If jobs are not created in the thousands every month across the Arab world…the economies will not grow nor sustain, governments/dictators/leaders will tumble one after the other…until the wealth is more evenly distributed, dignity and financial-independence is secured for the millions who are graduating annually.

Until then…the Arab Spring will continue, chaos and instability in many countries will prevail until the void is filled and nations start rebuilding themselves, one brick at a time.

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Human Capital Management in NGOs

To be honest I’ve researched for a while to get my hands on some useful material about Human Capital Management(HCM) in the NGO sector, especially in managing volunteers…not just staff. Yet I’ve failed to find substantial and relative material to build on. Therefore the following is a compilation of my personal experience in HCM in NGOs, specifically in Lebanon, through Aie Serve and other NGOs/Clubs that I train and consult.

To  make the discussion more meaningful I’ll separate HCM into 5 discussable stages, read on for the details:

Organization’s Structural Design

To truly create a Human Capital strategy for the organization, work needs to start on the Organizational Structure first. In this context, a lot of NGOs have a staff based structure, or volunteers structure, or simply committees or even no structure at all aside from the “Board”. This will need to change since adopting an HCM strategy, the structure will need to be redesigned to better fit the current needs and provide space for growth in the future.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • What is the current structure and is it really implemented on the ground?
  • Does the structure provide space for further growth or does it need total make over?
  • Do the positions fit in and complement each other or are there gaps?
  • Is the NGO based on volunteers, staff or both? Do they know how to interact?
  • How is the decision making done and who has it in the organization? Centralized or diverse?


Setting Roles & Responsibilities

After setting the structure, its time to know what does each and every person do exactly. The interesting and surprising part here is that many if not most of the NGOs I work with have incomplete roles & responsibilities description of the team. Many people are left without clear delineation of what tasks shall they do, what are they responsible of, who do they report to, what decisions can they make …and so on and so forth.  Therefore it is essential that each person in the organization not only knows where he/she fits in the structure but also know what role do they play. Moreover, if they wish to grow..then the path they should follow need to be clear.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • Are there Duty Descriptions or Roles & Responsibilities documents for the positions?
  • Are people aware of each other’s role’s and responsibilities?
  • Is regular updating and upgrading for those documents done?
  • Who is involved in drafting and modifying those documents?


Setting & Implementing Recruitment Processes

Now that the structure is clear and so are the roles & responsibilities of everyone, the challenging part is how to get those people onboard. Having a consistent and clear recruitment process is essential to ensure that all potentials are tapped and the right people are recruited.  To do this a recruitment process needs to be designed in a way that it reflects the culture of the organization, the way people will be dealing with each other. The process should be clear for all those in the organization so that they understand what shall they do if they want to recruit more people.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How do people apply for the NGO?
  • Does the NGO recruit volunteers or staff or ?
  • Do members of the NGO join by invitation only or do they have an entry point?
  • Is there a standard procedure of interviews and applications or ?


Training & Coaching

Once everyone is onboard and in place, the time comes where people need to better understand how to do what they’re supposed to do. At this point, training and coaching all the new recruits comes in place. So developing a clear and flexible training program and coaching process are necessary to ensure that the new recruits are empowered with the appropriate information, skills and tools to do their duties properly. Moreover, the coaching process shall allow the recruits to not only do their roles properly but also to excel and grow as a person, and perhaps suggest improvements to the process.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How will the new recruits know what to do and how?
  • Who will be training/coaching them?
  • Is there a training manual in place?
  • Is there a clear coaching procedure and standards?


Performance Evaluation & Enhancement

After having set everything and people are performing and excelling, it’s very important to measure the overall performance and growth of both individuals and the organization. It is important to ensure that both individual and organizational goals are synchronized for this process to work. Moreover, assessment metrics will need to be developed either at the “Roles & Responsibilities” stage or throughout the process of execution so that a clear evaluation can be done at important turning points and end of year assessments.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How would you know or measure that someone is doing their role properly?
  • Who is responsible of assessing/evaluating?
  • Can a follow up and training process be designed to build the skills and fill the gaps according to the results of the evaluation?

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My Addiction: Volunteerism


Day in day out I find myself more and more indulged in volunteer work. For years now I’ve volunteered in numerous organizations, clubs, campaigns and on some personal initiatives. Yet I wonder sometimes: What makes me volunteer? What makes so many people around me volunteer as well? And how come so many others don’t even find sense and logic in why we volunteer…

At 12 years old, I started my first volunteering role in a student based organization at my school called “Student Life Organization” (SLO). I took the first step in my life-long volunteering journey but never knew that it will a life changing experience back then.

During my school years, I took several roles in the “SLO”, joined clubs and a varsity team…but I never really thought I will go this far from university and on.

University too was full of “extra curricular activities” and so I joined clubs, committees, groups, organizations and didn’t stop there…I launched even more clubs and organizations myself…and I still serve in them day after day.

Some ask me why do I put so much time and effort? How come I don’t get bored of all those meetings, activities, workshops and projects? How come all those trainings and activities are for free and we even all pay to do them?

My answer is simple, it’s an addiction. It’s both a hobby and a conviction.

Moreover I believe it abides by Newton’s Laws of Motion (I know it isn’t meant for humans but humor me here). According to Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Without force acting on an object, nothing will change. So if I may compare, a person at rest tends to stay at rest so we could say that all people need then is a little push, some “force”, to get them going. And once in motion, people tend to stay in motion.

That is exactly why I constantly try to motivate or “push” people to volunteer, to do something, to join me or others in some organization/activity/campaign. You never know when this small thing you volunteer in becomes a life changing experience.

The beauty of it is that unlike regular work or chores, it’s not tiring but rather refreshing and invigorating. It fills you up with so much happiness and energy to know that you have helped someone, served your community or saved something in the environment. For me it has been the sole source of optimism and motivation to do everything else in my life.

If so many millions around the world volunteer everyday …and they keep doing it..then there should be something to it.

On a final note, I believe if you haven’t volunteered in something yet..take the first step and do something and do it now! 😀

Succeeding First…

I felt like sharing some thoughts about success and one’s journey in life…so here it goes…

Many of the people around me, especially from the civil society entourage, have that savior complex, or the martyr complex for the sake of human kind, world peace, environment, human rights, justice…etc but I believe they are forgetting one basic thing before getting to all that….and its succeeding first.

I mean succeeding in one’s life, whether academic, career-wise, family, social life..etc before being able to save the world or save anyone or anything for that matter. If one cant stand on his own feet, he wont be of much help to anyone…because he’ll probably be unstable and dependent on others and thus will in turn need someone to support and “save” them beforehand.

Yes I feel I have that moral obligation towards my community and my environment to assist it, to serve, to change things in a positive way….but I don’t put that before my own self…

Perhaps some people share that moral obligation, others simply work for the community or environment to enrich their resume, others for the financial income they might get…but never the less…its counter productive for anyone to start dreaming of saving anything in this world before having his/her feet strongly rooted in the ground or else the sheer weight of the responsibility will throw him/her off balance….crumbling under the endless initiatives/program/project/campaigns needed to achieve any tangible change…any sustainable endeavors.

So take this simple advice from a simple person…succeed first and then do your best to save the world….

A tree to grow successfully needs strong earthed roots…

 

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Global & Local Trends…

I was skimming through some of my research material and notes from the past few months and I noticed some trends and themes that are either widespread or are emerging, both on the local and the global level.

This is no way comprehensive but I felt it is worth sharing with you so here is a selection of 7 global and 7 local trends and themes… enjoy!

Globally:

1. General widespread of trends of non-structured, non-standardized approach to education and training. The recent trends focus more on one of the following rather than on the material: Personal Relations, Arts, Sports, Values(religious, cultural, social…etc).

2. General decrease in globalization trend and a major outburst of interest in entrepreneurship, local corporations, social enterprises, SMEs and local based initiatives. This is especially true in countries that were dominated by western products/services/companies.

3. General decrease in the age group of politicians, gov officials, international organisations’ managers..etc with respect to past years. That is, we are seeing younger people take lead in positions and places that previously were solely based on seniority or are in one way or another given to senior citizens.
4. Sharp increase in promoting and empowering women in technology, governmental positions, education, and basic human rights.

5. General increase in the support of the Arab & Palestinian rights towards Israel and the understanding of the dynamics and history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This has been seen in the dwindling financial support of some countries and corporations to Israel as well as closing,in Europe and Australia, of some media outlets and PR companies that were strong supporters/followers of the Israeli State.

6. Sharp increase in Chinese and Japanese civil society activeness. This is in number of CSOs(includes NGOs, Clubs, Parties, Media Outlets…etc), the type of projects and the size of projects being initiated.

7. General increase in Chinese, Russian, Korean, Turkish, Iranian initiatives to voice out their interests and culture to their neighbouring countries and major zones of interests in the world (including Levant, MENA and GCC region)

Locally:

1. General increase in the public understanding for the need of less politicised discussions, campaigns, and talk-shows. This reflects in the major shift of many TV to start putting comedy/joke/social shows, less political talk-shows/documentaries, and thinner political sections in daily newspapers.

2. Sharp increase in the interest to go back to the mother language(Arabic). This reflects in the number of NGOs, academic institutes and media outlets that are using more Arabic, promoting Arabic or solely have started to teach/spread Arabic.

3. Sharp increase in the investments and inbound capital put in Lebanon from Lebanese diaspora, Arab states and some international companies.

4. Sharp increase in the interest and pricing of real estate in Lebanon and Beirut in specific, especially that the country has been calm on the “security” level.

5. Sharp increase in interest on banning smoking and drugs. This has been reflected in Laws that the parliament have passed, in the police/army investigations being held and the endless CSO campaigns and initiatives on the above mentioned 2 issues.

6. General increase in the interest towards being “Green” and the environmental impact of our day to day actions on the environment. Soon I expect some major campaigns to be launched on environmental awareness targeting governments,NGOs and the general public. The campaigns will probably be both local and on the Arab region.

7. Sharp increase in the number of cars sold in Lebanon in the past year and still going up. The impact reflects very negatively on the traffic jams in all over Lebanon and Beirut in specific, the pollution bill we’re paying and the deterioration of many roads faster than expected due to the volume of daily cars/buses/trucks passing on it.

I would like you to consider those themes, try to see how are they affecting your life or what is your stance on them and perhaps launch this online-discussion starting from this post….

I’m looking forward for your additions/suggestions/questions/comments.. 😀