Feeling in the Dark: Navigating Leadership

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  • Daniella Flores
    Daniella Flores
  • By Daniella Flores

    Kerala, India — To lead a venture, you have to stay eager, fearless, persistent, and adaptable. During the course of the last two years, I have held on tightly to these principles through the terrifying, exhilarating, and extremely rewarding ride that has been my experience at Rainwater for Humanity. Standing now with steady eyes on the future, I reflect on the winding past that has preceded our ambitious mission.

    I joined R4H in the fall of my sophomore year at Brown University, with wide-eyed arrogance from completing my first year of college. My co-founder and friend, Sam Lee, first introduced me to the group and its challenges: a promising social enterprise lacking internal structure. My experience in the non-profit sector and my particular skills in management motivated my involvement, and I jumped in headfirst. Unknowingly, I began my adventure as a social entrepreneur, confident that I could fix the group’s problems with careful planning. However, the first shattering lesson I learned was that even the most well calculated strategies can’t prepare you for all of the actualities in the field. What started out as a simple problem of organization quickly spiralled into other obstacles of language, location, and culture. If the project was going to succeed, I had to limit method on paper and trust madness in the field. I had to be not only willing, but also eager to learn unconventionally, fearless to take action—to go out and ask for a villager’s perspective, to extend my reach for advice and to shape my understanding as I progressed.

    With this mentality, I became vice president of the group the spring of 2013. Shortly after, I travelled to the field in the summer with Sam, who had assumed the role of president. There, the trials we encountered additionally confirmed that we knew less than we’d presumed and that deliberate planning did not guarantee success. It was this field experience that taught me a second crucial lesson: to balance eager flexibility with firm persistence. There came many times when we felt as if R4H stood at the edge of a precipice. But, as one advisor says, you have to get creative when your back is against the wall. In staying determined that summer we learned to be resourceful. We resurfaced with brighter promise by receiving the Ford C3 grant, hiring our first employee, and establishing close relationships with invaluable mentors.

    Our ‘13 trip to India paved the way for the activities R4H has pursued throughout this year. Our operations have culminated in incredible accomplishments: an unexpected improvement of our business model, the official incorporation of our organization in the U.S., and a partnership with a key Indian non-governmental organization. The last has comprised the focus of our efforts this past year. Sam and I eagerly, fearlessly and persistently pursued critical, but measured negotiations to support the implementation of our program long-term. With unwavering resolve, we adapted in the face of complications, and we began to accept the impermanence of our plans. We drafted them only to tear them apart—learning not to grieve at our failures—until we collected enough pieces to stitch together our vision. Now, in our last year of college, we look forward to another field visit this July, equipped with our tentative plan and expectant of change.

  • Interpreter family, Daniella Flores