When Maia Ramarosandratana reminisces about the early days of Projet Jeune Leader, she most fondly remembers sitting around a large table with her seven youth educators.
“Friday was the best day of the week, when our tiny one-room office would burst with energy and noise from the youth educators arriving, dropping their backpacks, and pulling out their weekly reports – all while excitedly chatting over one another,” says Maia. “They couldn’t resist sharing their stories from the past week – both good and bad – as soon as they stepped in the door.”
During that pilot year in 2013, Maia brought this first cohort of PJL educators together to debrief, connect, and learn each week. The then 21-year-old was more than just the founder of the organization, she was a mentor and coach to her young team. “I loved helping them sort through their issues, whether it was better managing an unruly class, coping with students’ sensitive counseling cases, or finding the confidence to assimilate with other teachers at their partner schools.”
Maia’s early dedication to mentorship has defined the organizational culture at Projet Jeune Leader. Nothing exemplifies this more than PJL’s current technical team – Managers, Coordinators, and Assistants - who were all once youth educators; for nearly all, their first real job was with PJL.
Maia strongly believes in harnessing the passion and potential of Malagasy youth, promoting internally, and heavily investing in capacity building. “I see many nonprofits of PJL's size outsource work to one-time international or high-level Malagasy consultants from the capital city. This has never been my approach. I believe that if the work can be done internally -- even if that means spending the time to guide and mentor my team (or myself!) through a new skillset -- than it is more sustainable and beneficial to do so.”
Staying true to this youth-led, values-driven approach has been worthwhile. Under Maia’s leadership over the past 7 years, PJL has grown from a 9-person to a 70- person team, from a $25,000/year to a $400,000/year operating budget, from reaching 2,700 to 26,400 middle school students.
Now, Maia has a chance to benefit from mentorship herself as one of the newest recipients of the Gratitude Fellowship, joining more than 150 social impact leaders in the Gratitude Network.
The Gratitude Network identifies “game-changing” social enterprises around the world who are improving the lives of underprivileged and under-served children and accelerates the success and growth of these organizations by impacting the leadership. Through a months long process, Maia was selected for a global cohort of 33 innovative social entrepreneurs from among 1,200 applications. As a Gratitude Fellow, she will participate in a virtual leadership development program to help hone her leadership skills, work with her teams more effectively, and accelerate PJL’s growth and impact.
Maia already has a long list of things she hopes to gain as a Gratitude Fellow. She is excited to refine her management skills and learn strategies to balance the day-to-day operations with the other responsibilities of a strong Executive Director, such as fundraising and strategic partnerships. She wants to learn how to better streamline PJL’s financial and human resource operations, as well as continue to build and hone PJL’s strategy to scale.
True to the values she imbedded into the organization since its start, Maia is also ready to take her learnings as a fellow back to her Malagasy colleagues. “Since our founding, I knew I wanted – and needed – to create pathways for my young team to grow into leadership positions, and equip them to be successful.”
“As Executive Director, I believe one of my greatest responsibilities is to empower my team with the tools and confidence to successfully carry out our mission, and motivate them as much as they motivate me. This is one of the reasons why I was so drawn to the Gratitude Network. Not only does it match my leadership approach, but by joining the Network I aim to improve my own capacity to support my team and continue building a robust, sustainable pipeline of organizational leadership.”