Going from nonprofit to for-impact

Lessons learned from YLAI 2018

The process towards YLAI was a challenge from the beginning, the selection process, the wait and the expectation. The news that I was selected for the Fellowship came with another challenge, finishing my thesis and finish all the necessary documents to graduate before september, a race against time that I was used to going through architecture school and creating Semillas, but this time the emotional value of it was a lot greater. Attending to my graduation was a necessary moment, at the time, the paper seemed like the ideal verifier of my qualities, legitimacy and experience. All of that would change later.

Any way I made the dead line and a month later I was in a plane towards the midwest, Detroit, a city where I would have to live for a month, that I’ve heard very little about and what I did hear wasn’t very positive. My main concern was if I was going to find any common places with my context in such a large city. What could the “motor city” have in common with San José? What was I going to learn from such a large, sparse and developed city?

My other great concern was seeing myself as an entrepreneur, I’ve never seen myself as one and never had the thought of calling myself one, just like the architect title, all of that would change later.

Months later all of those doubts disappeared into becoming my driving force to keep working in Semillas. I learned a lot about nonprofits, about the city and about myself.

About Semillas

Creating organizational culture is way more than redacting our values (and then putting them away)

It’s about the way we make decisions, it's the way we talk about what we do, the way we communicate it and to whom.

It’s understanding what the definition of scale is in our organization, the scale of our impact, our performance and success indicators, size, time and space of our projects, and that definition of scale is the same for every one in the organization.

Also is how we see our organization, how we talk about ir, the team relationship and most importantly is the discipline and consistency of all of those qualities.

Stop thinking about ourselves as nonprofit and become a for-impact organization

Understand Semillas not a social charitable collective of professionals that donate their time but an organization that aims to multiply the impact that public spaces has in every community of Costa Rica.

This impact has an important economic a social value, that will improve the local and national economy creating a service that should be esteemed in that way.

Stay lean

Creating change is a task composed of a bunch of little tasks, and day to day they sum up and they all count. But the most important thing about those small tasks is understanding their purpose and measure their impact in our context and our definition of scale.

Measure, measure, measure

Every action should be evaluated, measured, documented, represented and necessarily communicated. This could lead to the multiplication of impact (because if you can see it you can understand how to multiply it) and to new accountability and transparency practices.

This accountability strategy added to an efficient communication strategy with stakeholders, donors, volunteers and colleagues, could lead to new alliances and diversification of funding.

Much of what we need, we already have it

Constant mapping resources (self-observation), identifying opportunities, problems and action strategies is crucial.

If Semillas is a building and we make a three dimensional model of it, four years after its conception, would we build it the same way? and are there any elements left?

Create flexible strategies

Give ourselves the possibility to change the plan, go back, fail and fail fast.

Start small and iterate

Evaluate, measure and repeat.

Stronger together

Being distrustful of sharing the things we do is not consistent to what we do. Collaborating and sharing will always be a learning opportunity.

Founding and running a nonprofit has no directions manual, planning and strategizing will always be important but it will always be surrounded by uncertainty. Be prepared for it and don’t let it sink you down.

In the second part of this entry I talk about the city and a little bit more about myself.