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Ellenore's Note

An Accidental Social Entrepreneur

     Open Hearts Big Dreams started as a Gala in 2011.  We had returned from our first trip back to Ethiopia and visiting our library in Bahir Dar.  I wanted to make a more impactful contribution to Ethiopia through creating a sustainable source of funding for important library and educational efforts.  I had only attended these types of fundraising events in the past.  But I knew from my NGO board service, these events were a terrific way to share progress and bring in predictable funding each year.  Even without practical experience in event planning, I felt confident I could make it successful with help from family and friends. Every organization needs funds to do their work.  As a small organization, this can be challenging and an on-going effort.  Even small events take a lot of energy and planning.  We had a successful first Gala with lots of learning and grew each year from there.
     One of the reasons I felt comfortable converting Open Hearts Big Dreams from an event to its own NGO was because of this experience. Over five events, I figured out how to bring in a certain level of funds annually. I get asked with some frequency to advise people who are starting to have the same thought I did originally.  I am quite sure they don’t like my answer.  “It is hard work and takes planning, patience and resilience. You need to manage all the moving parts and details to pull off a great fundraising event.  There really are no short cuts.”  And then I usually recommend a great book that gave me all the basics. 
     At Open Hearts Big Dreams, we use tenets (a strategy borrowed from my 13+ years as an executive leader at Amazon) to make our tough but critical decisions. They work when applied to our event as well; I listed the top three below.

“We run like a business
Having been a business executive for more than a decade, our founder wanted to take the best of a business approach to drive accountability as well as to generate faster and more impactful results.”
 
     We build a plan to grow each year while keeping our costs equal to or down from previous years.  We want a great experience for our guests but we know our second main goal is raising sustaining funds for the work we do.  We evaluate what works and doesn’t; we continually seek feedback, new ideas and insights that can help us improve.
 
“Supporters trust us because we measure and disclose our impact
We know trust is critical if we are asking people to donate their precious time, talents and funds.”
 
     We share our priorities as an organization at the event to all attendees as well as our financial goals broken down by event elements like silent, live, dessert auction, book sales and appeal to our key supporters. We share progress while we are prepping for the event to those involved and follow up with results whether we met them or didn’t.  We also share what we learned in the process including the positive and constructive feedback we received. Transparency and accountability build trust.
 
“Our results inspire involvement and encourage collaboration
We want results that inspire others to get involved to help.  We know other organizations have been inspired by our results to start their own fundraisers for other worthy causes.”
 
     None of this is possible without a small army of support; same is required for everything we accomplish as an organization.  This includes local businesses and individuals (from as far away as Italy and Indonesia) who donate live and silent auction items as well as sponsor to underwrite some of the expenses.  We have many volunteers who organize details ahead of time and run the different elements on the day of the Gala.  And then there are our amazing attendees, including Board members, supporters and those who are just learning about our efforts. Each decided giving their time and treasure was the priority for this one evening and we are so grateful.  We know our success has inspired similar efforts within other local and national organizations.  Showing what is possible has amazing power to ripple out in beautiful ways. 
     Our next Gala – Power in Literacy – is coming up November 16 and we need our global village to step up and support us again so we can continue our work on behalf of deserving K-12 kids and their communities in Ethiopia. And hopefully we continue to inspire others to get involved in the causes and efforts they are passionate about too.  You can learn more about the wonderful benefit you will receive in Michael’s piece on volunteering below. Thank you!
                                                                                                         ~ Ellenore

Creative Feature ~ Painting by Eyayu Genet
 
     This amazing piece by Eyayu, one of our #ReadySetGo Book illustrators, is a call for Ethiopians to come back to their roots and study their respective foundation.  The lady is reading “Hagar Wold” which is an equivalent expression to “fiction.” So the painting is a call to not fall victim to popular culture.
Volunteering is a Two-Way Street, by Michael Angelidis

     Giving back is very important to any society and volunteers are integral. Today we all lead extremely busy lives and it can be hard to find time. However, the benefits are enormous; providing important support to organizations, like OHBD, dedicated to worthy causes all over the globe. One of the more well-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community which allows members to connect and make it a better place.
    Volunteering is a two-way street.  And, the benefits can be even greater for the volunteer.  It can benefit us individually as well as our family and friends just as much and sometime more than the cause we choose to help. Dedicating time as a volunteer helps us make new friends, expands our networks, and boosts our social, leadership and technical skills. 
     As a high school teacher and coach, I see volunteerism lead to increased ability to work within teams, better communication skills, enhanced problem-solving ability as well as more tactical skills like project and task organization, planning and management – valuable skills in any context. Volunteerism also allows people from different socio-economic or cultural backgrounds to interact in a common endeavor. 
     A couple of my Global Basketball players ran an OHBD fundraiser earlier in the year and shared how life changing the experience was for them.  They learned about the disparity in opportunities globally as well as the power they have to contribute to closing that gap. 
     As I encouraged my students to volunteer with our OHBD events and other efforts over the years, I have seen firsthand the positive impact including allowing people with totally different personalities (shy vs out going, for example) to work together; giving families a chance to have a common purpose, like Ellenore and my family. We have many other family examples, such as, the mother of two basketball players mentioned above volunteers as an illustrator for our #ReadySetGo books.  My students always want to know if we met our goal and often write about the impact being a part of something bigger than themselves. It provides them a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and pride.
     But volunteerism isn’t all serious.  My students find ways to make it fun – planning celebrations after a volunteer event and making what might seem like a mundane job more entertaining by doing it with friends and taking the role, but not themselves, too serious.  I would encourage everyone to see how they can volunteer for something where they have passion or where they want to learn more. OHBD has lots of opportunities, and we couldn’t do our work effectively without the support of many talented, generous people who give us their time and their talents every day.
The Lalibela, Ethiopia School Project, by Metti Mulugeta - OHBD Advisory member

     In May, 2019, I was in Lalibela.  I had a chance to visit this school which has 504 children, 37 teachers and 8 support staff. The Lalibela Monastery there built the school to serve the community. The school opened its doors September 2018 to serve low- and no-income families in the city. It is a traditional school with chalk and black board. The children have note books and pens. They don’t have funds for additional books or a library.
     I met with the Administration and learned the challenges they face in providing quality education.  They were looking for help. Being an educator and a Montessorian, I saw the potential of the teachers and the children. I believed I could make a difference here, and they could benefit from OHBD #ReadySetGo books.
My vision is:
  1. To introduce the Montessori Philosophy of “PREPARING CHILDEN FOR LIFE” to the whole community; this means we set up an environment where the whole child is developed. The teachers and parents together help every child develop the skills essential for success, not only for school, but also for life.
  2. To give the parents of the school education and job training so they have the capability and means to prepare their children for life.
  3. To teach the Montessori Method to the teachers so they can make the educational experience for each child the best it can be.
     For both the parenting and the teacher training, I would use distant education through technology. We would identify local mentors. In Phase One, we will create a Pedagogical Center, install hard wired computer network, establish a library and technology room. We will also provide teacher and parent education planning and training in collaboration with Yeneta School. Our goal is to complete Phase One by August 2020. In Phase Two, we would implement the program for the 2020-21 school year and then evaluate its effectiveness in August 2021. 
     OHBD is exploring this school program as a collaborator and as one of its 2020 Model Program Grant Recipients.     
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