So I was given this incredible opportunity. It was to open a new office branch of a Norwegian NGO working in the Middle East. They realized that to be sustainable in the future, their funding would need to be more diverse than just Norway.
I'd been in this space for a handful of years and my previous experience lent well to the role I was taking on. It was a leap of faith for sure, but I was excited for the opportunity. I wasn't looking for new work, as I was incredibly content and happy where I was. But this was new levels of responsibility, a chance to build something from the ground up. I couldn't refuse and accepted.
I was the sole employee in the U.S. and had one board member who recruited me. We needed to build a board, establish an office, understand the NGO and philanthropic landscape in the U.S. and begin raising money. It was a steep learning curve but it was enthralling.
Suspicion and mis-trust set in from day one. My Middle Eastern / Swedish boss that recruited me questioned my loyalty to the new organization. He made it clear that he was the seasoned "mentor" that I needed to learn from, and what he said "goes". No doubt I was in a new space and had a lot to learn but I also knew that the reason he hired me was because he didn't understand the culture and couldn't contextualize like I could. He needed me, just as much as I needed him.
In my 3 years with the company, I made some enormous leaps. I set up the office, established numerous partnerships, won large grants, hosted successful events and built a brand. I learned a lot about myself and working with other personalities and dispositions. I learned too, that I need to trust my gut and if I sense uneasy from the beginning I should listen to myself. The 3 years was marked with success but also set back. I moved 3 steps forward, but was dragged three steps back. I regularly argued about strategy and took on unnecessary and enormous stress. My boss was sadly an incredibly fundamental conservative in his approach to leadership which is typical to what you find often in the Middle East. Being the boss, equated to being right. I even sacrificed trusted relationships for the organization.
What frustrated me most however was after three years of building a brand from nothing, it slowly began to atrophy once I left. Relationships were dropped, funding was lost and the reputation reached new lows. Groundwork that I laid for new opportunities and partnerships were wasted and that is saddening because I know the cause itself suffered. Today, I hear they have gone through two or more replacements in a few years, funding is down 75%, board members have been changed and more. I wish I could look back and say that the organization has continued to grow but I now see the only thing that did grow once I left was me.