By Nora Pillard Reynolds, Co-founder & Executive Director
This is part 4 of a 4 part series
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LESSON #7 – SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO PUSH YOU
At the end of January 2015, my husband, Wil, accompanied me on a trip to Waslala – a final trip together to Waslala before we added our little guy to the mix. Rio (meaning “river” in Spanish because it relates to water) joined the party on March 26, 2015.
WfW had been growing; however, we’d struggled to identify a sustainable organizational structure to match fundraising growth with our operational expansion in Waslala. Wil and I were sitting in the hotel in Managua en route to Waslala when he turned to me and asked:
Wil: You all have kept things going for over ten years and reached over 4,000 Waslalans with water. If you stopped now, would you consider it a failure?
Wil: Then you need to step up.
Despite knowing that we’d have a new baby on the scene and that balancing both of our professional goals and responsibilities would be challenging, he pushed me to step up as Executive Director of Water for Waslala.
Wil has canceled conferences and moved meetings in order to accommodate my travel to Waslala. He has planned the weeks when I need to be in Waslala in order to leave the house later and get home earlier to make sure someone is home with the little one. He has served as a very patient thought partner as I figure this out as I go (i.e. how do you pursue an acquisition strategy as a nonprofit?).
In many ways, it didn’t MAKE SENSE to step up as Executive Director in April 2015 (with a two week old baby), but looking back I have learned more this year than I have yet to realize …and one of the things I learned is that I married someone who will provide that push when I need it!
LESSON #8 – LEAD TOGETHER
I have worked with Junior Gasparini (our most recent WfW director) in different capacities since 2004. When our former director extraordinaire, Iain Hunt, left the role to head to Villanova, I called Junior and asked him to take over as director on an interim basis while I worked to fill the role. Junior has several coffee farms in Waslala from which he draws his salary and he supports WfW because of his belief in the work and the mission. I asked him for three months and he agreed…. that was in 2013 (here we are THREE YEARS later)!!
In January 2015, I knew that the year ahead was going to need to be a sprint. Despite a great team and excellent work in Waslala, as an organization, we were in a tough financial spot. Business as usual was not an option. We needed to increase our pace of work in Waslala to meet demand and, thus, we needed to increase our funding dramatically.
I sat with Junior outside Hotel Waslala as the sun set for the day. I knew he was ready to talk about how we could put plans in place to transition him out of the role so he could focus on his coffee farms. I also knew that what was required of WfW over the next year would be impossible if I did not have him as an “all in partner.” I started the conversation…
We’re in a tough spot financially, but I believe we can turn this around. We are doing great work in Waslala and we’ve kept at it for over ten years. But, we’ve grown into an organization with different needs. This is not work that can be done at night and on the weekends to raise funds to support a growing organization. So, I have a proposal for you….I will take a break from teaching classes at Temple this year to focus on what WfW needs.
That got his attention…he turned quickly and looked right at me with an expression of surprise since he knows I love teaching…and waited for me to continue.
But…I can’t do it without you. I need you in as a full partner with me because I know that together, we can get the organization to where it needs to be. Are you in?
He was quiet for a minute as he looked into the distance. I knew he was stressed and tired from several years working two full time jobs. I also knew he believed in this work and the potential as deeply as I did. He turned back to look at me and responded, “well then, let’s do it.” I suddenly felt like I had pressured him into this and tried to offer an “out”…if you need time to think, I’d rather you are sure before you make this decision.” And his response: “No, I don’t change my mind. If you’re in, I’m in.” And…we are now completing twelve years of working together…
LESSON #9 – DON’T HOLD ON TOO TIGHT (it was never “mine” to hold onto)
In May 2016, Junior was able to share the news of Water for Waslala’s transition with Padre Nelson in person. Padre Nelson smiled as he responded,
“I helped to plant a seed and someone had to care for that seed for all these years and now that seed has sprouted into a plant that will continue to grow.”
And, isn’t that exactly the goal? To build something that is bigger than any one of us.
Personally, letting go is hard. It means having to admit that I don’t have my next trip to Waslala on the calendar. But, holding on means limiting WfW’s growth for my comfort (and maybe ego). I know what happens if I hold on. WfW continues to make slow progress and it would be impossible to reach our mission (at least in my lifetime).
But, that isn’t where our story ends. As I stood in front of more than 100 community members in Waslala last month for the official launch event (Transition event photo album), it really hit me. As part of the Agua Para Waslala Program Alliance, WaterAid and El Porvenir have assumed the mission – total coverage in Waslala by 2030. In this next chapter, we FINISH our mission!
Stop to think about that for a minute….finish.our.mission!! When does that even happen?!?
The mission of total coverage in Waslala is more work than any individual or organization could accomplish alone and the Agua Para Waslala Program Alliance brings together individuals and organizations with experiences, skills, and resources that complement one another. Most importantly, the Agua Para Waslala Program Alliance explicitly aims to facilitate coordination among local actors and institutions, municipal government, community water committees, international NGOs, funders, etc. We all know that, together we will reach universal access to water and sanitation in Waslala!
Get ready, chapter 4 is going to be quite a ride!!