Mariana Romaniak is the Chief Executive Officer of the Ridni Charitable Foundation in Lviv, Ukraine. The organization's mission is the safety and well-being of every child. Mariana attended the Governing for Nonprofit Excellence–Virtual (GNEV) program at Harvard Business School Executive Education in October. In the post below, she discusses her experiences in the program.
What brought you to the Governing for Nonprofit Excellence–Virtual program?
For three years, I have been the head of Ridni Charitable Foundation, which works in Ukraine with orphans, children deprived of parental care and now with children who have become victims of war.
The mission of our organization is the safety and well-being of every child. Due to the war, all Ukrainian children found themselves in constant danger. So our work increased tenfold; protecting as many children as possible was the main goal of the first days and months of the war.
Both my plans and those of our team have accelerated and we embarked on what we planned to do over the next five years. We were convinced this was the time to develop our foundation and help more and more children. We worked on adrenaline and emotions and this gave us strength.
From the first days of the war, we actively received help from our partners and delivered humanitarian aid to the 22 cities in Ukraine most affected by the war. We evacuated 250 children and their caregivers to safe places and provided psychological and humanitarian assistance. We started implementing educational projects and our psychologists started working with traumatised children affected by the war in different regions of Ukraine.
Around mid-summer, when we had already learned to live with the war and our adrenaline wore off, I asked myself the question "What will happen next when the war is over? How can we work not just to solve the problem now, but to find a solution two steps ahead? How do we continue to attract partners and finances and work within our mission?" I realised that I needed help. I needed knowledge on strategy, vision and development of our organization. So I decided to apply for this programme. To be honest, I had always dreamed of it and eventually my dream came true.
Tell us a little about your program experience.
It is a special treat to have a virtual program! The professors and the whole team are fantastic. I felt totally involved in the process every time. I felt like we were physically all together. Sometimes I was very nervous before the class as I was worried about being prepared enough to have something to say to the professors or the team. I enjoyed it because it was the greatest quality learning process I have ever experienced. I am sure that this knowledge will allow our foundation to grow, get through these difficult times and work well for the children's future.
Every time I was amazed at how different cases and various approaches could perfectly fit my story and our organization. It broadens the horizons of our Foundation, inspires, and confirms that we are moving in the right direction. Especially when we were looking at business cases - each time I was able to discover something new and easily adapt it to our field of work.
Did you experience any “aha” moments during or after the program?
To develop an organization, you need to know your mission and your secret sauce and have a quality board that will lead you strategically and allows you to attract resources. After the course, we gathered with the team to discuss the new knowledge and the possibility of its implementation. First, we held an effective strategic session with the whole team, with project managers, accountants, financiers, so that everyone understood the meaning and importance of all the work and that we had a sense of common purpose and mission. Our strategic session allowed us to set goals for 2023 and 2024.
Another important task for the team and for me was to consolidate a very simple but very important question: who are we? It is important that each team member can answer this question in the same way and understand the meaning of this phrase. This sentence, as well as our values, will now be placed on one of the walls of our office so that we can see it every day.
I also realized that now it is important not only to develop our foundation, but also to strengthen relationships with the state and local authorities and to develop the social services market in general. My team and I have now managed to sign a cooperation agreement with the Ukrainian Ombudsman for the Protection of Human Rights and started working on a joint project on psychological rehabilitation of children in Ukraine.
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