February 6th, 2007
After living in Mongolia for a year, attorney Lisa Herb went part time so she could found the Alliance for International Women’s Rights, a nonprofit organization that assists women’s rights groups in Central Asia. Since 2005, the Alliance has grown to 50+ volunteers serving women in Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Kazakhstan. Lisa — who’s featured in The Anti 9-to-5 Guide — lives in New York, telecommutes to her Seattle law firm job, and often travels to the far corners of Central Asia for her nonprofit gig.
Why I started a nonprofit from scratch: I saw that there was a true need for volunteer support in Mongolia, and I knew based on my telecommuting experiences that much work could be done over the internet and email from halfway around the world. When I started seeking employment in the nonprofit sector after coming back to the U.S., I quickly realized that if I wanted to do meaningful nonprofit work in a field that interested me, I would have to create my own nonprofit. So I did.
How I did it: I began the Alliance by using my savings and my current earnings from being a part-time attorney. I took a significant pay cut (by more than half) when I walked away from being a law partner, but luckily my life was intentionally streamlined before making the transition — no debt and no mortgage payments. The Alliance started with only four volunteers working short-term positions in one country (Mongolia), on one type of project, and at just one women’s rights organization.
Why I willingly sliced my paycheck in half: I never felt like I was being true to myself by working entirely in a for-profit environment. I wanted to do something that had the possibility of making the world a slightly better place, and that was more important to me than the potential to gain personal wealth. Founding and running the Alliance has given me the ability to feel like I am being truer to myself — although the longer I run the Alliance, the more I realize just how modest its impact is in light of the work that must be done.
My top money-saving tips: I designed the Alliance so that it required very little money in the first few years. Because I donate my time as well as the office space and equipment by working from a home office, there have been very few startup costs. Our in-country volunteers fund their own travel costs, and our remote volunteers use their own computers and internet service. We use Skype (a free computer-to-computer phone and instant messaging service) for our international phone calls and communications with our partner organizations in Central Asia. Therefore, our initial funding needs have been minimal and I’ve been able to operate the Alliance during this first year and a half on less than $5,000 a year.
My next move: There is a tremendous interest among Americans in long-distance volunteering, so we hope to really focus on growing our Armchair Volunteer Program and to make it run more effectively by helping our partner organizations take more advantage of our volunteers. To make sure that the Alliance is sustainable and has enough capacity to grow, we also hope to raise enough funds to hire several people and to support others with insurance, travel, and office supplies.
What’s that link again? Alliance for International Women’s Rights, where volunteers are always welcome.
[posted by Traci Macnamara]