7 Lessons I Learned Working at GG
A tribute post to the staff and volunteers of the past, the present and the future.
At GG, we recommend spending time to reflect on our experiences in order for us to connect what we know to why we do what we do. As I reflect on my last 7 years of working in GG, I came up with 7 lessons--a lesson for every year of my work here.
#1 PERCEPTION It is okay to work for a not-for-profit organisation in your early 20s
Look at how young we are!
I used to have the perception that NGOs are meant for the retired, the ‘tai-tais’, and the socialites because working in an NGO wouldn't allow you to sustain yourself. When I first told people around me that I was going to join an NGO, many were worried for my future. Little did I know that social work was an established job in many developed countries and people even study it as a subject! Having join GG in my early 20s, I say that the best time to join an NGO is when we are young because these are our best years. We have a whole journey ahead of us to make a difference in other people’s lives and chart how we want to make an impact for the future; whether it's in the corporate or development sector. Working in GG gave me a whole new perspective of the society's needs and how we can make a change, one life at a time.
#2 PERSPECTIVE Everything starts from a small and humble beginning
The PBP program's 1st ever outing with only 9 students.
As I look back at the past years, I remember that many of our big projects today started off small. For example, when PRUkasih just started it was only available in one community; when we first ran the academic guidance program (PBP), we only had 15 children; when we started providing breakfast (Super Sarapan), we only had 40 students. Sometimes, we do not even get to see the impact of what we are doing and wonder if we should continue on. I remember that my leader used to share the story of how a Chinese bamboo tree grows. It doesn’t grow for 4 years but you would still need to water it, nurture it and fertilize it every day until the 5th year when it will suddenly grow to reach 90ft in 5 weeks! I learned that starting small is good, as taking small steps provides us the opportunity to grow strong roots, which helps us to survive even in the toughest condition just like the bamboo tree. So if you are currently in this situation of starting small and not seeing any growth, keep working on it and wait for your moment of breakthrough!
#3 PROJECT TO PROGRAM Something big happens when you least expect it
Our humble little recruitment booth when we first started in 2011.
From that one PRUkasih community, it became two and we were comfortable with watering it and nurturing it. We were taken by surprise when our corporate partner Prudential Assurance Malaysia Berhad (PAMB) was given the mandate by the regional management to allocate significantly more money into the project so that it can become a long term CSR program to benefit more people in Malaysia. For something that I initially thought was one of my ‘co-curricular activity’ in my scope of work, soon changed to become my full time responsibility. I learned that when we are faithful in doing the small tasks today, we will be given bigger ones tomorrow.
#4 PEOPLE AND PARTNERSHIPS We can’t go on this journey alone...
Like-minded friends and partners that makes work fun.
I recently read an article that we should be careful on who we befriend in our office. Working in an NGO, I believe it is the total opposite of that advice because we are in the business of serving people and we should start by having strong relationships within the organization. Friends often ask me, how do you stay in GG for so long? I believe one of the reasons is because of the amazing and passionate group of people I get to work with. I learned that a strong tribe (that is what we call ourselves) is one who encourages, challenges and appreciates one another.
In addition to that, we also need like-minded partners for us to run this race and succeed together. It is difficult to make an impact alone as we will fall short in certain areas, therefore collaboration is important in order to leverage on each other’s strengths. I learned that “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. No hiking adventure is as fun unless we have the right people to journey with. So, bring the right people on the journey with you! I want to take the opportunity to thank PAMB for believing in us right from the beginning and for bringing us along on their CSR journey!
#5 PRIORITY Work is important but so is your health
My favourite place for a retreat - Ba'kelalan, Sarawak.
It is a misconception that NGO work is laid back and easy, even more so when we are in the building phase, striving to grow our work and impact. I would say that 2014 was the busiest year, which took a toll on my health. It affected my mood and most of the time when people asked me “How are you?”. My answer would be, “I am busy” or “I am tired”. I learned that we consistently need to find time and ways to keep our lives balanced and in-check. Work is important but I also believe that we can only give what we have. Avoid burnout by planning rest periods in advance. Take time to retreat from the busyness of life so that you can relax and refocus again.
#6 PURPOSE Things are possible when we believe in it
Relating to point #3, with a greater amount of money entrusted to us comes greater responsibility. To date, the CSR collaboration between GG and PAMB has provided financial protection access to 40,000 low income households, and financial education to more than 50,000 children. This dream was given to us 5 years ago and never in a million years had I thought we would achieve it, and yet we did. On hindsight, I learned that everything is possible if we believe. We just need to have faith, the right purpose, and stay focused to achieve it. What about yourself? How do you incorporate the right purpose in what you are doing?
#7 POVERTY The last but also the most important to me
The biggest lesson I learned in GG is definitely from the Yau Char Kwai uncle which I shared previously here. Throughout my time in GG, I have come to know that the poor are the most generous and hardworking people. Even though they do not have much financially, they still give freely because they know what it is like to be in need. They work hard labour jobs and most hold a few at a time. I learned that although they may be financially poor, they are rich in heart. Sometimes when we work in an NGO or volunteer in one, we come from the perspective that we are the ones giving and doing good to others. However, most of the time at the end of day, we realise that we are the ones receiving the most and being blessed through the experience.
These are my personal reflections and I hope it encourages you in some ways. Although my time working in GG is coming to an end, I know I will carry these lessons with me wherever I go.
THANK YOU NOTE:
I would like to thank a few groups of people who have impacted me in many ways during my time here in GG;
To those who have left before me, thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and for being part of the pioneering work in GG.
To the current tribe in GG, it has been an amazing journey with all of you. Thank you for all the support you have given me and I wish you many more amazing years ahead.
To the Special Projects and PAMB team, thank you for allowing me and trusting me to be part of your journey. It has been an honour working with you and I look forward to greater things!
To the GG and PAMB volunteers, your dedication and sacrifices know no bounds. I admire your passion and desire to impact the lives of the people we serve. Thank you for supporting this cause with your time, talent and treasures.
To the future staff team, your life will be changed and I believe you will never regret making this decision.
THANK YOU & ALL THE BEST!