Reflections on Being 30

30 years.jpg

Dear Reader,

It’s been a while since I wrote blog post, but I’m taking the occasion of recently turning 30 to reflect on what it means to me, where I stand in life now and my perspective on what is yet to come in the future.

To start, I’m glad to say it’s been hectic, rewarding, challenging, stressful at times but most importantly an enjoyable journey. Looking back at the last 10 years, I feel blessed to have been faced with many challenges, phases of life, career changes, love life changes, and I even lived abroad for a short while.

In the past 10 years, I’ve changed 4 jobs and had a complete career shift from IT into Management Consulting. In that period I’ve also earned 6 international certifications and a masters degree. I’ve establish multiple NGOs, elected to the Board in some, advised numerous others, trained more than a 1,000 youth and professionals alike, travelled to numerous countries, met some of the most inspiring people but most importantly married the love of my life and got a beautiful baby boy.

Now that I’m 30, I feel I’m at the nexus of life where I’m definitely more mature, experienced and knowledgeable than any of my previous years, but I’m also less interested in many things, less eager about proving myself here or there, less enticed by new adventures and definitely less willing to take risks.

Overall I feel more rooted in who I became, my family, my country, my friends, my network, my comfort zone in general. Yet 2 things I can’t seem to quench, my curiosity and my ambitions. I constantly feel restless to learn more and achieve more things in my life. In every avenue I take whether it being professional life, academic knowledge, volunteer work or personal/social life… I constantly am on the lookout for what is yet to come, what is next, what the future will bring.

This restlessness is sometimes a much needed fuel that keeps me going, to aspire for more impact and growth, to do more and learn more. Yet at times it somehow feels like a burning desire to take some unwarranted risks, to dedicate more time and effort in things that might not necessarily be in line with what is best at the moment, to dream of things that are not yet attainable nor practical.

One thing I know for sure is that my brain never stops pondering about the possibilities that lay ahead, the “what ifs”, the different ways I can be spending my time and effort. Sometimes I get that urge to just quit my job and break free from the never ending rat race and go freelance, do what I am passionate about, explore different options, establish some social enterprise or simply just hustle my way through life. Sometimes I feel like I want to take a whole quarter of un-paid leave and just spend time with my wife and baby, do some volunteer work, travel around different countries, experience new things that I have been wandering about.

Then reality check comes in and reminds me of all the pros and cons. It reminds me about the lifestyle I’ve put my self and my family in, about the responsibilities of being a husband and a father, about the potential of not being able to provide to my family the basic needs if things go south.  The debate goes on for a while in my head, and usually this happens late at night while gazing out from my balcony to the view of the city, the sea and nature. I realize that the 3 of them are co-existing, balanced somehow, even though some take a toll on the other, but they co-exist and have found their equilibrium (though they are ever changing, they still stabilize somehow). So I remind myself of all that I’m doing lately, from work to volunteering to quality time with family and friends. It gets me to realize that the sea ought not take over the city and nature, nor the city to overtake the others, and balance is the key to sustainability. So I calm myself down and hold my horses from going irrational.

30 is an interesting age, a time in life where one is equipped to do much more than before, but also has many more guidelines and responsibilities. It’s exciting and calming at the same time. It allows me to reflect on the many things that have passed and been achieved, and the many more things that are yet to be done. It reminds me that 3 decades have passed, and God willing, I’d have many more yet to come, so there is still time to do a lot. It gives me the realization that the world doesn’t move as fast as I hope it would, things don’t change as rapidly as I’d like, achievements don’t come by as frequently as I desire, nevertheless there is time and patience is a virtue.

For now, I’m going to take it easy and enjoy the 30s, keep on dreaming and aspiring, keep on pushing for more and learning more while still ensuring that I’m well rooted and grounded, lest I leap into the realm of the unknown.

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Unsung Hero – Youssef Aziz

It’s been quite a long time since I wrote any posts on my blog, but there are certain things that can’t be kept silent for too long. This is a message of gratitude to an unsung hero.

369751_529295847_1488966648_n_400x400I’d like you to meet Youssef Aziz,
a dear friend of mine, an activist, an a true unsung hero in several NGOs I’m engaged with.

This gentleman works behind the scenes, does double the effort than most, has the kindest of hearts and a brilliance that is rare to find.

Topping all of that, he is down to earth and a true believer in the values of the organizations he joins/founds/advises.

What triggered my post is the fact that this week…one of the dear NGOs to his heart, and mine, has been officially shut down. It wasn’t shut down by force or by external factors but by an unanimous Board decision, including Mr. Aziz. The choice was tough for all of us, but I know for a fact that it is by far the toughest on him than any of us.

In spite of all that, he’s been orchestrating the process, handing all the necessary documents and coordination to ensure a smooth and successful transitioning for the status of the organization.

But his efforts, input and value is not just about this NGO, but rather for the past 9 years I’ve known him in, he’s been the most trustworthy, consistent and resourceful individual in my volunteering experience.

So to you Youssef I want to say, your work shows when the organizations you’re involved in succeeds in whatever decisions it takes. To you I say, and bluntly, if it wasn’t for you, at least 4 NGOs that you and I know of/volunteer with/advised, wouldn’t have succeeded or existed. So what you’ve done, is setup the infrastructure for those NGOs to be built on, serve others and grow.

On my behalf, and undoubtedly on the behalf of many others, I say thank you for who you are, what you’ve done and what you continue to do day in day out.

 

NGO Competency Model Process

NGO Management Competency Model

NGO Competency Model Process

With the proliferation of NGOs in Lebanon and around the world, there is a growing need to empower their staff and volunteers with the needed skills, knowledge and abilities (KSAs) or what is also known as competencies to do their role properly.

In parallel to that, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent annually on training workshops and courses for NGOs. Yet most of them happen without a structured approach to assess the actual needs and gaps to design the appropriate training/coaching/mentoring programs that best fit their situation.

In this context, I’m proposing a full fledged study that incorporates literature review, focus groups, interviews and surveys to do an in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis of the necessary competencies for individuals managing NGOs.

The aim is to do this study with a multi-stakeholder approach that involves not just the NGOs but also the donor agencies, training providers and academicians.

As a result of the study, an NGO Management Competency Model will be developed. Based on that competency model, potential capacity building programs (training courses, workshops, mentoring programs and coaching sessions) will be designed to cater to the different needs of organizations and their staff and volunteers.

The above concept is not uncommon in certain industries and professions like Human Resources and Project Management professions, so a similar approach will be adopted for the aforementioned initiative.

Let me know your thoughts on the above and if you feel you’re interested in playing a role in this study.

NGOs 101: Categories of NGOs

NGOs 101 Series

Considering that NGOs target various geographic scopes, they can be categories accordingly. Below is a breakdown of their categories:

Community Group: Family Associations, Village Cultural Clubs.

Local NGO (LNGO): Aie Serve, Sesobel, Greenline, Ayadina, Beeatoona, Ibtissama.

Regional NGO  (RNGO): MENA Entrepreneurs Summit, Anna Lindh Foundation(EuroMed), African Aid Network, European Youth Federation.

National NGO (NNGO): MentorArabia, Injaz, Safar Fund, USA Red Cross.

International NGO (INGO): PMI, World Vision, Red Cross, Rotary, Greenpeace, Save the Children, Oxfam.

It’s important to clarify here that the following International Organizations (IOs) are NOT considered NGOs: UNDP, ESCWA, UNESCO, ILO, OPEC, FAO, Arab League..etc.

Let me know how that sounds.

NGOs 101: What are NGOs?

NGOs 101 Series

Many times I get asked: What are NGOs? The answer is usually a bit more complex than you’d expect.

But before going into my own definition, let me share with you some definitions by some renowned sources. So here they are:

  • “A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any government.”- www.UN.org
  • “A non-governmental organization (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level.” –  www.NGO.org
  • “A nongovernment organization is an association which is based on the common interests of its members, individuals, or institutions has no governmental status or function, and is not created by a government, nor is its agenda set or implemented by a government.” – www.SIL.org
  • “Private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development” – www.WorldBank.org

 

Now the problem is, none of the above is complete or accurate, here is why:

  • The UN definition misses out that such organizations should have a cause for the benefit of the community and that they should be not for profit. According to UN definition, most private sector companies would fall under the category of “NGOs”, which is obviously incorrect.
  • The NGO.org definition misses out that they should not be initiated, managed or has members of NGO bodies. Moreover, it limits the to “voluntary” work, while in reality there are thousands of NGOs that have paid staff.
  • The SIL.org definition also misses out on the not for profit part, thus once again being an inadequate definition.
  • The World Bank definition misses out on many factors. Their definition misses out on the fact that should not be initiated, managed or has members of NGOs, nor that they should be not for profit. Just to name a few that is.

 

In this context, after further research, discussions and meetings with stakeholders from NGOs, I’ve managed to identify the components that one can use as a checklist to check if the organization in study is an NGO or not. Here are the components or attributes if you’d like to call them so:

  • Is a legal entity founded by natural or legal persons.
  • Not initiated nor managed by any government.
  • Doesn’t accept membership of governmental bodies.
  • Works to fulfill community needs rather than profit, i.e. not for profit.
  • Can be based on voluntary work, paid staff or both.

 

Using the above, I can assure you that you’d be able to clearly identify what is an NGO and what is not. You can put them in a definition as follows:

“An NGO is a legal entity founded by natural or legal persons that is not initiated nor managed by any government nor does it accept membership of governmental bodies. An NGO works to fulfill community needs rather than profit, i.e. not profit, and it can be based on voluntary work, paid staff or both.”

Thus, the following organizations are not, and should not, be considered as NGOs or labeled as such: UNDP, ESCWA, UNESCO, ILO, OPEC, FAO, Arab League.

I hope that clarifies the issue for you and I look forward to hear your feedback on the definition.

From 2013 to 2014: Reflections & Projections

2013 2014Now that we’ve embarked on 2014, and after spending some time reflecting on how everything went in 2013 in my life, I’d like to share some of the milestones and things that were important to me in 2013 and some of those that I have planned for 2014.

Over the years, I’ve learned that when we share and write what we have achieved, we value it more, and when we do the same for what we dream and plan of, we somehow become more psychologically motivated and committed to achieve it. So I do recommend you share the same, whether here as a comment on this blog posts or with your network somehow.

 

So here it goes:

 

2013

 

Personal:

·       Read A Lot: Just a quick estimate, I read around 3 articles daily on topics of interest, each ranging from 1 to 5 pages. So if I take an average, I read about 1,000+ different topics in 2013 alone.

·       Learned to Let Go: For someone like me who likes to stay on top of things and feeling in-control, it was a tough journey. But nevertheless, I did manage to let go of some personal relations, roles in NGOs and the actual need to be in-control of so many things.

·       Spent More Quality Time: Yes, this was a key goal for me to have a more balanced life in 2013, and I am glad to say I truly value the quality time I spent with family, friends and loved ones.

·       Traveled to New Places: In 2013 alone, I traveled to new cities I never visited before and are London, Oxford, Cappadocia, Mersin, Khartoum and Dubai.

·       Slept More Daily: As of early December, I managed to sustain a 6~8 hour sleep per day (up from just 3~4 hours previously).

 

Career:

·       Got Promoted: Through my work at CMCS Lebanon, I got promoted to the position of Deputy Operations Manager and will be starting my new role as of January 2014.

·       Coordinated A New Program at AUB-CEC: Also through CMCS Lebanon and in collaboration with AUB CEC, I’m proud to say I played a key role in launching and coordinating the Region’s 1st Project Management Postgraduate Diploma. But to be honest, team work is everything, and the team I work with at CMCS and AUB are the ones who truly made it all happen.

·       Trained A Lot: Throughout 2013 I gave more than 10 training courses at AUB and others, while I’ve also introduced a new certificate based training course about Business Analysis called Certified Business Analysis Professional (CBAP) which I’m also the only certified professional in Lebanon till now.

 

NGOS & Volunteer Work:

·       Transitioned Out of Aie Serve: For 7 years, I served as a co-founder and president of Aie Serve and it was about time to let a new leadership come in place and shine. So I’m proud to say that we successfully did an elections where a whole new Board was elected and I transitioned to become one of the organization’s Advisors.

·       Revived Global Shapers Beirut Hub: In December, leaders of the Global Shapers Community from the World Economic Forum visited Beirut, and with their support and some Shapers in Beirut, I’m glad to say that I’m playing a role in reviving the previously dormant Beirut Hub. Thus 6 new Global Shapers were recruited in December.

·       Launched A Youth Project at PMI Lebanon Chapter: With the support of my fellow PMI Lebanon Chapter Board, we’re launching a new Project Management for Youth Initiative in collaboration with PMI- Educational Foundation.

·       Partnered with CSR AL Ahli: Another highlight for me is making a partnership between Aie Serve and CSR Al Ahli Group to provide Mentors for CSR in Action program to give Social Innovators who are working on serving the community the needed support to succeed.

·       Coached, Mentored & Trained Youth: Throughout the year, I realized I enjoy and become full of energy when I am training or coaching or mentoring youth, and thus I spent hours and days with 10s of them in training workshops, meetings, sessions and retreats.

 

 

2014

 

Personal:

·       Take Care of My Body: A healthy mind is in a healthy body they say, thus I’ll be focusing taking better care of my own body whether through sports, a healthier diet or just simply less stressful schedule.

·       Sustain Balance: Keep on the sleeping habits, take more vacations and continue spending quality time in abundance.

·       Keep Reading: With my current reading habits I guess I’m on the right track.

 

Career:

·       Excel At Managing Operations: Now that my new role involves working in Operations Management, I’ll be going the extra mile to learn more about it and excel at it.

·       Expand Training Regionally: Now that CMCS has some stellar training courses and workshops, it’s prime time to take them regionally in 2014.

 

Academic:

·       Start My Masters: I’ve got my eye on 2 Master Programs, and will be registering in one of them before the end of year if God wills. Eventually, it’s about time I proceed my academic growth after acquiring 3 professional certificates in the past 3 years which are PMP, CBAP and GPM-b.

 

NGOs & Volunteer Work:

·       Support Aie Serve’s Growth & Sustainability: With a new Board in place and a Strategic Planning Retreat scheduled early January, I’ll be doing all I can to ensure the new Board and all Aie Servians continue their work properly, grow and enjoy the journey.

·       Grow Global Shapers Beirut Hub: Now that we have a bigger team, January will be the month when the Hub will do their first event.

·       Transition Out of More NGOs: New challenges arise every now and then and in 2014, I’ll make sure to take on some of those, but to do that, I’ll need to drop of some of the current load. In this context, I’ll be transitioning out of my role in PMI Lebanon Chapter and Alumni UNESCO Club.

·       Building A Regional Network for Rule of Law: Through being a John Smith Trust Fellow, I’ll be working with other fellows all around the region from Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, and Bahrain, to build and  institutionalize a network of chapters in each country to promote and work on rule of law.

 

 

That is about it for the time being, and I hope you enjoyed it and perhaps got inspired by a few things here and there.

 

I’d really like to get to know your reflections on 2013 and your plans for 2014! 🙂

Volunteering: How It Changed My Life!

volunteer

Believe it or not, volunteer work changed my life. The first time I volunteered I was 11 years old! Yes that young. In fact I’m glad my school (ISC) had something called Student Life Organization (SLO) which engages students in their school life to run this student led organization that acts something like a Student Affairs in a typical school.

Starting at that young age helped me overcome some personal weak points, from shyness to knowing how to interact and deal with people and responsibilities. Yet the seed it planted in me…didn’t stop there, it grew multiple folds to flourish in my university life and beyond.

From the first year of university, I just had that drive to give back to community, to serve, to grow, to meet people and so I ended up joining student societies and clubs at my university (AUB) as well as cofounding an NGO called Aie Serve among my involvement with many others that I am still involved in till this day whether as founder or Board Member or Advisor or simply as a member.

So here are some of the things I believe volunteer work gave me:

  • Opened my mind to new ways of thinking about life.
  • Gave me a purpose beyond my own self and my day to day life.
  • Got me to meet the most inspiring people I would have never dreamed of knowing.
  • Made me more friends that I could have possibly done in 50 years.
  • Gave me life changing experiences and challenges that made me mature way faster than many of my colleagues and friends that were not involved in volunteer work.
  • Made me feel proud about the achievements I was able to accomplish with the teams I worked with to make Lebanon a better place to live in. From improving the life of underserved children to giving back to nature through tree planting and beach cleanups to mentoring youth to training and sharing knowledge with aspiring young leaders to many many maaany more.
  • Gave me opportunities to learn how to manage projects, lead teams, do strategic planning, explore my training skills, brainstorm for ideas that will make the world a better place…just to mention a few.
  • Lead me to having a career in consultancy and training that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t do all the volunteer work I did, simply because a typical university life and a 8-5 job wouldn’t have given me half as much opportunities to learn, grow and meet new people.

So my recommendation to you, no matter how old you are or what your social/economic/academic/marital status is, if you’re not engaged in some volunteer work already, then get to it! You can never do too much volunteer work, the more the merrier, and trust me it just gets better with time, just make sure you join the organizations or causes that you feel passionate about or at least interested in, the rest will follow!

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