In 2017, our partners from Romanian-American Foundation asked me to write a text for their report under the theme: The Change Makers. I decided to write about a determinative experience I had, which led me to quit my well-paid job in a corporation for a value-based job in the third sector.
I was attending my first community foundation conference ever. Alina, the director of ARC’s community foundation programme at that time, invited me to come and meet the faces behind the community movement and see if I fit in. I decided to go with my two-year-old son. During the lunch break, I was in the hotel room with my son, and he started singing his first song ever. I felt blessed that I could witness that moment and that I was in the middle of a group of professionals with whom I could share such major event in my life as a mother.
I wrote in my Change Makers article about how I wasn’t the only parent who brought her child to the conference, about the fact that 2/3 of community foundations are led by women. ‘Some of these women, established their organizations during pregnancy or while in maternity leave. The change we make is really powered by the children (born, unborn or imaginary) of all the people who work together to build the community foundation movement.’
‘For me’, I continued writing, ‘the real change makers are those kids growing up going to conferences with their parents, donating their birthdays, running or swimming for children who are less fortunate than they are. The community foundations are not a story about today, but about the future of our communities’.
One day after submitting this article, while I was at the Canadian Community Foundations Conference, I got a phone call. It was my son’s teacher telling me that my boy had fever. In a second, I turned from being an inspired professional, to being a helpless mum. I got home a few days after. My son’s sickness didn’t escalate, but the question it generated stayed with me for a long time: how do we take better care of ourselves and our close ones in order to serve our communities better?
Since 2016, I have been working with a growing number of Romanian community foundations. In these four years, I have been on the road for at least 100 days in total, visiting organisations and participating to events all over the world. Being on duty around the clock, people in the Third Sector are often missing out important moments of their own lives. I started from my personal story, but each woman I work with has a different one: some are in the moment of their lives when they need to take care of the old or sick parent, some have given themselves so much to their organisations, that they have lost themselves, some are postponing to start their family life, because they are too dedicated to their projects.
There are no official statistics about how many women work in the Romanian NGO sector. In the case of the community foundations this is how the situation looks like: there are 19 organisations in the network, and female executive directors run 11 of them. Out of 67 employees in the network, 56 are women. The ratio changes when it comes to boards, where more than half of the members are men.
One year ago, I participated in a leadership programme that gave me lots of answers about what a leader is, but left me with many questions about being a woman leader. What I wonder is: When we will start showing empathy for our own people and standing up for ourselves the way we stand up for the people in our communities? What if being very personal, makes you more of a professional?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I know the women in the organisations and the communities I work with, will help me find them. What I propose is redefining the idea of being a (woman) leader so that it fits the realities of the sector. Working in the third sector is a way of living, that has to make space for all the other roles we have to play everyday. We are in a paradoxical time in history, where we don’t need more power, but we need to give away our power and actively search for new leaders in places where we have not looked for them. We need to make the sector more equitable – both in terms of salaries and opportunities – so that it gives women more self-respect and more self-time and it attracts more men in the workforce.
Rucsandra Pop is Community Foundation Program Director at ARC Romania