The most common question that people ask me whenever I speak in conferences and universities is: How can I effectively pursue an advocacy I'm passionate about? What are the different steps involved in putting up a socially relevant project?
I’m not always the most articulate person whenever I'm asked this (because I do have the tendency to ramble when I’m excited), so I decided to put into writing three quick, and hopefully helpful, tips for anyone with a great idea that needs to be actualized.
The first step is to understand the problem you’re trying to address. Most people start with the solution. The problem with this is that it often gives birth to ideas that are shaped by inaccurate pre-conceived notions. You end up with an 'innovative' idea that sounds great on paper but does not actually address the social problem you've identified. Sometimes, these solutions even aggravate the problem.
So hold your excited horses. Start with good ol' research. Immerse yourself in the situation. Pick the brains of other people who have already been working on the same cause. You don’t need to immediately be an expert on the topic, but you do need to have a profound understanding of it so you could rightfully assess what needs to be done, and what solutions you could contribute. Innovations are not always huge and disruptive. Sometimes, all you need to do is to tweak an existing solution to make it even more effective.
The second step is to have an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. This would give you an idea of what you’re capable of right now, and what you need to work on in order for your initiative to be effective. I personally know that I am very good in starting an organization because I’m highly resourceful and a risk-taker, but I need help refining and scaling up a project because I am not as detail-oriented as I should be. So I made sure to work with people who had these skills, to complement mine.
The third step is to take the leap and start it! iYour project does not need to have a grand beginning. If you are able to launch an awesome idea with limited resources, it's a skill that will serve you for life. I was only 23 when I put up Mano Amiga. I had zero background in education and in nonprofit, and zero money in my bank account too (well not zero, but definitely not enough to start a school). So I made a powerpoint presentation and started pitching my ideas. Many said no, but I did find a handful who shared my vision and placed their faith in me.
My biggest enemy during this time was self- doubt. WHY WOULD ANYONE BELIEVE ME? CAN I REALLY DO THIS? Don’t let your fear of failure or your fear of looking foolish paralyze you. Yes, there is a chance it won’t work—but if it does, it is the most fulfilling feeling in the world.
And if you do fail, embrace it. Mano Amiga did not receive any recognition until after its 4th year of operations. Those were four years of sleepless nights trying out new things that don’t always work and modifying flaws in the model. The key is to not get complacent when you’re ahead and not to give up when you’re behind. Share the stories of your journey, even the failures. You'll begin to attract allies and advocates along the way. Always hold on to what drove you to devote your life to this cause in the first place. If you do, giving up will never be an option.
P.S. Working in the development industry is the best decision I've ever made in my life. If I can do it all over again however, I'd probably name the organizations I run with a clever pun. When you're dealing with the gravest of problems, your weapon against disillusionment or numbness is your unfaltering sense of wonder and crazy sense of humour.