Don’t ask for a team. Make your own team.

A team member shared with me that it was particularly difficult to initiate a project solo. So help was requested on our mailing list. I thought to myself, this might not be the right way to approach the problem.
What if instead of making an open request for helpers, you hand-pick a highly effective team of people. I came to realise that having people that can help you is only one part of bringing a project to success. The other half of it is to pick the right people to be on board.
Here is my answer on how I approached big projects in the past.

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Why am I not getting paid at Helios Makerspace

I was recently asked why I didn’t want to get paid at the Non-profit organization that I founded.

It is an important question to ask when you think about it. It is linked to important core-values on how we operate at Helios. We created the workshop so that we can provide to everybody access to a communal space. Consequently, that will also benefit the founders since we will get access to a workshop too (and also, all of us are living in apartments).

The fact that we went with the NPO model was the argument that allowed us to not charge our members extra money to financially benefit the founders and thus, the topics of salary has always been put aside since there were no expectations that the founders were going to be paid. Furthermore, it came down to the organisation’s philosophy on how we deal with the team. I can say to any volunteer at Helios that my only benefit is free access to the workshop. That is also exactly what they get, there are no financial privilege between the founders, the board and the volunteers. It appears to have motivated the team to move forward since there is an incredible sense of fairness between each member of the team. My common saying is: “I do it because I love it. Every member of the team do it because they have a passion for Making. Salaries have nothing to do with passion.”

One of many reasons why we can charge a super affordable price for people to get access to tens of thousands dollar equipment is because we are all volunteers. Of course, it is important to note that we are eventually going to hire people. As the workshop grow bigger, we are planning to pay for an on-site technician/workshop supervisor to deal with the maintenance and safety. And much much further down the line, we will hire people for accounting, marketing and event management.

To answer the question “Why are you not paying yourself”: I want to convey a sense of ultimate fairness to each and every member of my team. If they are volunteering without monetary compensation, I will also do it without monetary compensation. Perhaps further down the line, if there is a clear justified need to pay for a manager (AND that the budget allows it), than it is in the power of the council to decide if I get that title. But that has not been an initial goal of mine.

As a closing remark: for sure, one day we have to grow and have a higher cash flow, even as a NPO. But as of now, it is simply not realistic to budget salaries in the early in the infancy of Helios. We can definitely hire employees 3-5 years down the line but that is 3-5 years down the line when the organization is financially rock-solid stable. I never went into the creation process of an NPO with the money in mind. The NPO was created to solve a community challenge.

Sfora School for Autistic Children

Today, I have met with the Founder of Sfora School for Autistic Children: Nguyen Thu. Hands down, she is the most inspiring person I have met to date.

In a small but somewhat tall 3 stories building, the school helps autistic children between 6 and 18 with the help of mentors and teachers. We walked through the common room towards the staircase to the 2nd floor, I could see children drawing and painting, others were singing and practicing piano. As we reached the 2nd floor, she explained to us how important this school was for her and that she made it her life’s mission to help children in Vietnam. Nguyen shared with us how hard it was for parents in Vietnam to deal with an autistic child due to the lack of infrastructure but also the lack of knowledge on the condition. Violence at home is often an issue and considerably slows down the growth of the child. Most children goes to Sfora during the daytime but some other also live at the school to better help them. A major difficulty, she said, was that parents often ask “when is my child going to be normal” or “when is my child going to be ready for regular school”. Many tries to rush the growth of the child and sometime prematurely remove them from Sfora to put them in a normal school. In these situations Nguyen has witnessed the stop of progression and in some situation, a return to past behaviors. “It breaks my heart to see this, but without the parent’s cooperation, I cannot help the child”, she said. You could see the genuine, almost motherly, care that she gives to her students.

Despite how difficult Sfora’s mission is, she showed an incredible amount of strength. When you give yourself a mission, you can’t give up; you have to follow through your project.

What is most inspiring is that she doesn’t appear to expect anything back from her community. The only thing she wants is to see the children in her school smile and grow. There are no words to describe how much passion and effort she has for her social entreprise. Her unconditional love for each and every child in Sfora, her willingness to spend, pretty much, 7 days a week taking them under her wings is truly an example of an extraordinary person doing extraordinary impact on the local community.

Sfora Facebook: URL
Sfora Website: URL

A Great Mentor

During my internship at Bombardier, I had the opportunity to work with an absolutely amazing leader named Stephen L. The following text was written in 2011 to nominate Stephen to the Concordia COOP Employer Award. He played a large role as my first great mentor.

I once read a quote from Russell H. Ewing: “A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting”. I can relate very well my experience at Bombardier with Ewing’s saying. Stephen is a very enthusiastic leader and love to help his team. He follows up with every members of his department and insure that the team’s chemistry and happiness is ‘top-shape’. As an intern I did not really know where I was heading during the first month. I lacked confidence on my performance and skill-set. Throughout my journey at Bombardier he kept encouraging me, pointing out my strength and reinforcing what I did right. It was basically positive reinforcement. It allowed me to go forward and gain an enormous amount of confidence. As I progressed in my project, he shared with me methods on how to manage my time and stress. His lessons have not only been very relevant for my professional life, but also my personal and academic life.

I admired his focus on his team’s health. If a team member is overloaded and overly stressed, Stephen would not hesitate to give some time off to decompress and come back the next day. His work flow was elegant and flexible. I did not feel stressed or forced to work on a project. Instead, I felt responsible for the delivery of the product. I was in charge of the project and Stephen was my guide. He pointed me towards what he believed was the right path while leaving me with the option of choosing my own paths.

Stephen’s admirable leadership had direct consequences on my life. I have never managed my time and stress so efficiently. My communication skill has greatly improved. Thus, I feel a lot more confident talking in front of a large group. After my internship, all these improvements gave me the confidence I needed to become the president of the IEEE Concordia. I use the positive reinforcement he used for my own team. ‘President’ is merely a title. I don’t see myself as a boss. I see myself standing beside my team, on the same ground as my peers.

Stephen allowed me to grow into a better and bigger person. I admire his vision and strong work ethics.