A new year starts at ENGAGE

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No doubt that 2014 was a very intensive year for us. It was also a very key year as we decided to strategically narrow down our focus only to the disability sector. It is true that a few years ago we had started supporting youth with visual impairment but at that time our mission was much more “generic” like “promoting the volunteering inspired society” that means doing a bit of everything. Also for the same reason in mid 2013 we had started a pilot project, Coaching4Learning, an interesting coaching experience focused on English, Nepali and math. While the pilot was not totally successful, I feel that the program, being a pilot, was quite promising and surely with time, it could have evolved especially with more capacity building. Then in the first quarter of 2014 we had to prepare for a  "pitching" in venture philantrophy competition to be held in Singapore. That offered us the opportunity to introspect and analyze what we were doing.

We asked ourselves “Is our mission compelling enough? How much impact can we realistically believe it to achieve by working in different areas”?

The months of March, and April were definitely exciting but also really tough for us. There is nothing more difficult to ask ourselves then if we were doing good enough, if we were heading towards the right direction. It was an incredible brainstorming and strategic planning session with lots of pressure coming from the pitching organizers to have an incredibly super presentation. It was so hard to explain that thanks to them, thanks to their criticisms, we were pushing ourselves to reinvent what we were doing.

This is the way that the concept of inclusive volunteering emerged. We decided to get focused only and exclusively on disability by working with but most important by working for youths living with disability, showing that volunteerism can be a game changer to make  society a level playing field.

Not surprisingly the pitching in Singapore did not go that well. Certainly we did our best everything in the last moment according to the best Italian and Nepalese traditions (after all different countries have always something in common) but the sweat, the criticisms received did actually work wonders because they helped us refocus and thanks to that we came up with a much stronger product.

We can proudly say that we are now in the business of inclusive volunteering and we are working incessantly to prove that our model works and it is worth an investment. Certainly we still have a long way ahead if we think that the same model needed to be recalibrated and readjusted recently to make it even stronger and more compelling.

We are now working on ENGAGE’s Pyramid of Change where through sport, leadership and learning a youth living with disabilities have the possibility to play sports, developing his/her leadership by becoming a volunteer, proving to society that s/he can also be an active agent of change. Further on the “pyramid” we still want to propose the ENGAGE Fellowship, as a premium high quality product for promising youth with disabilities.  You can see that you never stop learning. It is often times frustrating but achieving great goals also requires lot of efforts and introspections.

Not that now everybody understands what we do. Once a potential donor simply told us that “they support only full time experiences” not fully understanding the true value of our work. Also that failure turned out to be a sort of “blessing” for us because it pushed us even further to think and improve our model.

Now with 2015 the challenges ahead will be to “sell” our revised model. Yes now we are ready for a full massive fund raising drive. We need money not only to scale up but also to survive.

We will try to focus more and more at the intersection between sport, learning and leadership, not developing it from scratch but building on what we already know and what we have been doing so far. Youth living with visual impairments and youths who are wheelchair users will be our primary target of intervention. We will try to involve as much as possible in our planning and implementation,

We know that we are trying to do something extremely new, something “intangible”, something difficult to grasp. I often look back at my successful fundraising years in Africa where I could almost easily raise money to build a school or a health center.

We know that not being a disabled people's organization, ENGAGE needs to be humble and understand more and more about the real life experiences of persons with disabilities. We also had to apologize publicly once because we thought it is all right for a person living with disability to be carried over when the lift is not available. Such a lesson!!!

The year just closed ended with one event jointly organized with VSO, a market place and forum discussion on inclusive volunteering. The event called “EVERYBODY CAN SERVE, The Power of inclusive volunteering” went pretty well with more than 150 persons coming and more than 25 organizations, including private companies, having a stall. (see http://setopati.net/society/4872/Event-calls-for-inclusive-volunteerism/ , http://myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=89558)


Yesterday the last day of the year we got an invitation to have a stall to a market fair organized by the National Federation of the Disabled Nepal. It was an event targeting persons living with disabilities looking for a job. While we are not job providers, we were there looking for amazing citizens that despite their disabilities can volunteer and join ENGAGE. It was a first time for us.

To conclude 2014 was a difficult but certainly positive year. For a workaholic like me it was absolutely fun though I do not hide the challenges faced. But passion is my fuel. I can never be out of it. All this was possible thanks to the trust of our Board and an incredible colleague who has shared all my pain.  She believes madly about ENGAGE that she is making a huge difference. Without her support, patience and highest commitment, ENGAGE would not be what it is now. Thank you it is good to know that ENGAGE is also yours.

We were also lucky to have other friends and interns helping us so much. Thanks to a tiny group of organizations who always believed in ENGAGE and always have been ready to cooperate with us. Thanks to all of them. Last but not to the least we were blessed by having a very small group of advisors, some of them who recently “join” ENAGE.

To them, mine and my wife Kalpana personal tribute

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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