It takes courage to chase your dreams, especially when it means leaving a high-profile career to wander into the unknown.
That’s exactly what Zeina Saab did when she quit her job with the United Nations in New York to go back to her native Lebanon and found her own non-governmental organisation. The Nawaya Network helps underprivileged children develop new skills and hone their natural talents. Saab was inspired by a trip to rural Lebanon, where she met a young girl who had created her own fashion sketches.
“I realized that this girl could become the next big designer,” she says, “but because of where she was a living and a lack of resources around her, it was going to be very difficult for her to realize her dream.”
So Saab decided to develop a network where young, talented people can get help to access opportunities and resources to fulfill their potential:
“We want to create designers, athletes, musicians, writers, photographers and filmmakers. Just harness their talents and help bring it to light,” she says.
Two years after founding The Nawaya Network, the organization supports 50 youths and employs three full-time staff, six part-time interns, around 40 volunteers and mentors. Zaina Saab tells CNN how she got her dream off the ground and made it reality.
Diversify the funding
When The Nawaya Network first launched, it heavily depended on grants and received funding from the King Abdullah Fund for Development in Jordan, USAID, and the Global Fund for Children. In order to make their programs financially sustainable however, the NGO formed a partnership with a Lebanese chocolate company, and is currently seeking other patronage.
“Through online donations, corporate sponsorships and grants, this is how we seek to remain financially solvent,” Saab says.
Prepare not to get paid – in the beginning
It took years before Saab could draw a salary from her job, and she first had to demonstrate what tangible assistance The Nawaya Network was giving to its young charges:
“Once people see that our youth are really benefiting and we’re really making a difference in their lives and the quality support we give, then they start to see that we are a credible organization and that’s where more of the funding and the support comes in.”
Get out and about
While her job at the U.N was exciting, Saab felt that she wasn’t able to see for herself what impact her work had on people she was trying to help:
“I felt like I needed to get out of my cubicle and come to the field, come to Lebanon and meet and interact with the youth that I wanted to empower,” she says.
Be sure before you jump
“I would say that if you feel that you’re not ready to take the plunge, then you’re walking on unstable territory and it’s a risky step to take,” says Saab. “You have to be 110% convinced that you will not regret your decision to leave your job.”
Saab adds that even if your venture doesn’t succeed, there’s still a comfort in knowing you tried to achieve something that you were fiercely passion about.
“But take the plunge when you feel that you’ve had enough of your current life and you just want something new,” she adds.
Choose an area you know
Saab was born in Lebanon and raised in the United States, but she visited her home country every summer as a child. The contrast between the two countries made a lasting impression on her, and she wanted to use the skills she gained in America to improve the conditions in her birthplace.
“I felt that I wanted to get into a career that worked on poverty alleviation, empowerment, conflict resolution and economic development, so this is how my path came about… because of the experiences I had as a child,” she says. Watch the video below for more tips on how to launch a charity.