Last Monday night a handful of professionals gathered in the offices of the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) to hear staff members explain the inner workings of the organization.
Laura Spano, a Program Officer specializing in genocide prevention addressed the group, “In Rwanda there is a Kinyarwandan word, Mwaramutsai, which means, ‘we survived to see another day.'” She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater to reveal the phrase tattooed along the inside of her forearm. Devon Hirth, a front-end web developer who recently relocated from St. Louis, MO, leaned in for a closer look.
Laura and her colleagues had set out trays of cookies and coffee for Catchafire’s first “field trip,” an initiative designed to give professionals an inside glimpse of nonprofits in the community. “Our professionals really want to know they’ve made an impact when they do their pro bono projects,” said Adrienne Schmoeker, a Community Manager at Catchafire. “We thought it would be powerful for them to hear it directly from an organization, to give them the chance to see for themselves how much good these projects do.”
The professionals, who included Summer Strauch, an Executive Producer in television, and Katie Sherman, a freelance copywriter, took up every available seat, a few perched on desks, and listened as Development Associate Julia Diegel carefully outlined WFUNA’s various programs focused on peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. “We’re not the UN,” she said. “We’re UN cheerleaders. We promote the work of the UN through the local on-the-ground actors all over the world.”
“People ask why in the world I would ever want to work in genocide,” Laura said with a laugh. She explained that the lightning-quick decision to take a radical direction in her career path came on a visit home after graduating from college. She watched the film Hotel Rwanda, the true story of the 1994 genocide of 800,000 Tutsi minorities by members of the Hutu ethnic majority. “I couldn’t sleep. Bad movie for insomnia! But the next morning, I came downstairs and told my parents I was going there to help.”
She relocated to Rwanda shortly after when she landed a position with Never Again Rwanda, a local grassroots organization committed to addressing divisions between young Rwandans post-genocide.
“Rwanda is beautiful and green. No garbage, no plastic bags on the ground. It looks like nothing could have happened there. But the first person I met, the woman who had volunteered to pick me up from the airport, told me she had watched her father die, slaughtered by her neighbor. She still sees him every day.”
Laura Spano and Kimberely Hall, WFUNA
“You work for a nonprofit to feel good and do something good for the world,” said Kimberely Hall, WFUNA’s Digital Media and Education Officer. “But there’s so much competition for funding. The trend now is that NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) are learning to behave more like businesses, improve their branding, show their competitive advantage. We are grateful to learn from the corporate world.”
Kimberely listed the professionals who had come to WFUNA through Catchafire. “Brooke Rothman is awesome,” she said, describing a professional who had completed a brand messaging project for for a program that inspires youths to become global-change agents. “She had us make a collage to help us understand what the branding needed to get across. She’s the one who thought up the title Mission: Possible.”
Kimberely fished around in her drawer and produced a brochure with colorful, expertly designed images. “We were struggling to make people understand the impact of our Go Beyond Fellows Program, where fellows in five different countries get corporate partners to come up with solutions for climate change. So Sash Cantanzarite, [a Designer], created this Infographic, which made it really clear for everyone.”
The evening’s presentation had ended, but the professionals showed no signs of wanting to leave. Small clusters formed around the Program Officers for more questions. “What kind of project do you need next?” asked Phil Chacko, a Management Consultant whose last project was a Market Analysis for the International Free and Open Source Solutions Foundation (iFOSSF).
“We’re going to the places where the conflict is actually happening and working on solutions,” said Laura. “We need a storyteller to bring our objectives to life, not just statistics.” She nibbled thoughtfully on a cookie, continuing, “I work with one woman in Armenia who said living there, between Turkey and Azerbaijan, was like living in a house with no windows because the borders are closed to the two countries. But now, with our work, she feels like she has a way to ensure a genocide – something that has deeply affected her country – does not happen again. She said her house has windows. Those are the kinds of stories we want to tell.