Lessons From Running an Online Education NGO in China
A series of reflections on the limitations (and potentials) of high school student-run non-profit organizations.
“初生牛犊不怕虎。” — Chinese idiom
“A newborn calf has no fear for a tiger.” This is both a compliment and a caution, praising the courage that comes with the young while also illuminating the probable dangers.
Among high school NGO founders, there are certain traits shared by all of those that succeed. Hardworking, open-minded, empathy, patience, and consistency are only a few of the many factors that set a capable student leader apart from her peers.
Many have argued that they fit the description. So when 2020 called for leaders to create a positive social impact, students across the world stepped up and set their minds upon paths of solving global challenges.
Like mushrooms after a rain, suddenly, we see student-run NGOs springing towards every social problem — education inequality, systematic racism, poverty, climate change, mental health, etc. — leaving wowing parents, teachers, and friends praising their efforts.
But with schools re-opening and tides made up of ambitious student founders receding, now, we are discovering who has been swimming naked.
It turns out that I was one of those that swam without a trunk.
So with this article, I will be sharing my journey. Through exposing my missteps and their consequences, I hope to offer a fresh perspective on running (and founding) a non-profit organization as a student.
Some topics we will explore together are:
- Answering the “why” for both you and your team
- Starting from the problem, not the solution
- Topping your competition with nuanced research
- Building and maintaining a culture that’s your greatest strength
- Managing your team with empathy to maximize productivity
- Finding the right first customer to kick off growth
- Leading responsibly (making the calls that no one else can)
With these topics, my goal is to uncover the principles that are necessary for any student-run NGO to establish a sustainable and lasting social impact. Be sure to take them with a grain of salt, since I personally do not belong to the group of successful founders (yet).
However, these are lessons I learned from 6 months of committed trial and error in one of the world’s most unfriendly NGO markets — China. And if I can travel back in time to March, these would be the very actions I implement to maximize my chances of success.
Lastly, I don’t plan to publish this article all at once. Instead, I will be uploading a draft chapter once every few weeks. This is so that you can give me feedback, and I can edit my content live to fit your critiques.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org | Can’t wait to hear from you!