At SOIL, extreme care is taken for every new hire, for every volunteer chosen to help with the organization’s mission to increase sanitation in Haitian communities while simultaneously renewing depleted soil and increasing economic opportunities for local residents. Development Director Leah Nevada Page is one of the few foreign-born staff members; though she has lived in Haiti on and off for years, she now works remotely from Virginia, a member of the new digital workforce.
Nonprofits are quickly beginning to realize that remote work is the future, especially in international organizations with offices sometimes spanning the globe. Companies no longer have to recruit close to home or provide relocation packages for the perfect job candidate; with digital communication connecting us like never before, many hires now come from a global pool of candidates with competitive experience and specialized skills.
Leah agreed to work remotely for SOIL after deciding to move back to the United States to be closer to family while raising her two young sons. It shows that, since she was transitioning from a Haiti office-based assignment to a home assignment, she was known and trusted by both the organization’s staff and its leadership.
Leah says that it was her connection to the organization, and the communities that she worked with when she worked with SOIL in Haiti, that convinced her to stay on once she moved back to the US. She said that she was buoyed by the impact she could see taken effect in Haiti.
"There was always a sharp contrast in my work for SOIL that kept drawing me back,” Leah says. “When I took on short-term assignments with larger international organizations, I did not always see the same positive results.”
She says that SOIL’s narrow focus, and it’s practice of putting locals in charge of developing programming, is what gets the organization’s strong results and is what allows her to focus her own efforts on fundraising, advocacy, and education in the U.S. and Europe.
Naama Haviv, Executive Director of Panzi Foundation USA, had a similar experience when she was asked to lead efforts to advocate for and raise awareness of the work Dr. Denis Mukwege was doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo to promote women’s health and end the cyclical violence of rape through the efforts of Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundation DRC. Naama says that, after working for a decade in the fight against genocide, with a focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo, when Dr. Mukwege extended an offer for her position, she couldn’t say no to him.
She established her office in her home and hired Elizabeth Blackney to be in charge of Panzi USA’s media and communications. With Naama working on the West Coast and Elizabeth on the East, they are more of a team than an employer and employee. They travel to the Congo at least once a year to keep up the connection with their team, and Naama keeps up with her coworkers on Facebook.
“When you don’t have an office environment and don’t have updates on your coworkers’ personal lives, you miss out on team building,” Naama says. “You get work friendships with people you really rely on and trust.”
Naama is surprised she doesn’t miss an office more. She said that collaboration is made easy with Asana, Google Chat, Skype, emails, and her phone. She finds that disconnecting to get her work done is easier and makes her more productive.
She says that, with technology being dependable in the States but spotty in Congo, she has to remain flexible to be able to connect with her counterparts at Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundation DRC, and that she was used to remotely connecting with contacts about policy making and advocacy in Washington DC and other parts of the country and world.
Photo by Endre Vestvik, Dr. Denis Mukwege at work serving the community of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Leah says that she experiences much of the same when connecting with her staff members in Haiti. She has done away with tasks that require her to manage other people. Though she also uses Asana and Skype to connect with her team, she focuses much of her time on managing fundraising efforts and grantwriting. She says that working from home, or coffee shops in the surrounding area, allow her to focus in ways she couldn’t in Haiti.
Leah says, “Working on development with people based in the U.S. and Europe, it’s much better for me to be in a quiet environment with strong internet because I can focus on the outreach and writing that I needed to do without the interruptions of the office.”
She says that she also sometimes helps her colleagues out in a supportive role because the digital infrastructure in the U.S. is much more reliable; she often downloads files and sends them to the team when their internet is down or a download fails due to size limitations. She says that they were early adopters of Dropbox, and that it is irreplaceable for them.
Even though both women love working remotely, they both say that they intrinsically trust their team members, for both creating the programs that their organizations need and keeping operations running out in the field. This allows both Leah and Naama to focus on outreach and raising unrestricted funds to keep things going, so they can funnel those funds to SOIL Haiti and Panzi Hospital and Panzi Foundation DRC, where their colleagues can help the people who need them most.