Planting the seed: starting your own NGO

An interview with Grace Alawa, Executive Director of the Nigeria-based NGO Sustainable Actions for Nature, in which she shares her journey in setting up her own NGO and offers advice to those who are 'planting the seed' to start their own NGO
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Today, I had the great opportunity to connect with Grace Alawa, Executive Director of the Nigeria-based NGO Sustainable Actions for Nature and our WildHub Community Advocate! 

With a background in the medical and microbiology fields, we spoke about her career development and how she, in the midst of the pandemic (2020) decided to set up her own environmental organisation. Grace and her team’s mission is to encourage people to take care of the earth, ranging from awareness raising to setting up a circular economy. 

Our conversation also focused around the barriers that Grace has faced in setting up her NGO, including:

  • Funding (from 14.30 min): Grace used her own money to take the first step (e.g. register her NGO)
  • Values (from 17.30 min): your and your organisation’s values should influence the type of partnerships you build. Grace deliberately uses her values of honesty, integrity and trust to check whether potential partners have a similar value system. 

I am trying to build a foundation of integrity, honesty and trust… [and] I rather let go of an opportunity… I had to learn by making mistakes.” (Grace Alawa, Executive Director, Sustainable Actions for Nature) 

  • Security (from 20:40 min): the importance of creating relationships based on trust with your partners and donors to communicate circumstances around an area’s security. 

People’s perception of Nigeria’s security was a challenge.. The community is actually happy to see people come to do things there… Keep a low profile, communicate with the people, and the people will be happy to welcome strangers” (Grace Alawa, Executive Director, Sustainable Actions for Nature)

We also discussed the next steps for Grace’ organisation Sustainable Actions for Nature, the kind of support she needs to continue her work and advice she can offer to others who would like to set up their own NGO or are in the process of doing so:

  • Advice when starting an NGO (From 26:40 min):

When you are starting an NGO, you really need to know which cause you identify with. When you have identified your cause, you should know that you should be able to do this without funds. You should be able to do it with everything in you, whether you are paid or not, you should go ‘all out’ to be able to address this cause. That’s why I founded an environmental NGO, because it’s something I can relate to. I don’t need a push to be able to do anything when it comes to the environment. I can do it whether you wake me from sleep, whether I have eaten or not eaten. That passion needs to be there. Whether you have funds or not, you will need to think of creating ways to still get your message out.” (Grace Alawa, Executive Director, Sustainable Actions for Nature)

  • The type of support Grace currently needs for her organisation (From 28.40 min): Partnerships and collaborations is what Grace is currently looking for in terms of progressing her NGO.

Funds are important, yes, but it’s [through] true partnerships and true networking you can actually meet the needs for funds.” (Grace Alawa, Executive Director, Sustainable Actions for Nature)

  • How Grace made the first connection with a funder (from 29:45 min): She set out volunteering for an NGO and through this work met other NGOs and built a reputation of honesty and trustworthiness. This is how Grace gained opportunities for her NGO. 
    “It was building a reputation and having the other organisations recognise me” (Grace)
  • Further advice for people who are starting/have started their NGO (from 32:43 min): The need to be patience, starting an NGO doesn’t happen in a day:

Nature is there for us to learn. If you look at where you plant a seed in the ground, it takes time to germinate, it goes through different stages, it doesn’t immediately start fruiting. It’s the same thing with having an organisation, it doesn’t just happen at once. You must be patient, you must be persistent, you must be resilient. There are going to be days when you want to give up, but if you know why you started it, you can patiently pass through each season.” (Grace Alawa, Executive Director, Sustainable Actions for Nature)

  • How being a WildHub member benefitted Grace’s career development and organisation’s development (from 34:00 min): Through WildHub, Grace and her team received pro-bono training, bursaries for training courses, and useful relationships for the future of her organisation.
  • Grace can also provide opportunities to interns (from 36:28 min), including training in population surveys, advocacy, grant writing, to help you create your ‘lightbulb’ moment. Contact Grace here

A huge thank you to @Grace Alawa  for sharing her journey and lessons learned with us! 

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Go to the profile of Susan Winslow
6 months ago

Thank you so much for sharing this. I've had the pleasure of meeting Grace and she is quite the powerhouse!

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
6 months ago

Wonderful to hear! Grace indeed mentioned meeting you recently in Kenya in our interview. Great that you were able to connect in-person! 

Go to the profile of Thirza Loffeld
6 months ago

@Fai Collins Ndi and @Aiita Joshua Apamaku : content that may be of interest to you too. Hope all is well. 

Go to the profile of Chrissy
6 months ago

Fantastic work, Grace <3

Go to the profile of Fai Collins Ndi
6 months ago

Great experience and insight from Grace. I've learned a lot. Thank you so much Thirza and Grace for setting up this discussion. 

"I listened carefully to the presentation, it was very good. I liked it, it uplifted me, and I found myself wanting to continue listening to Professor and Madam Nyimale Grace Alawa. Wow, it's a very, very good presentation."

Its so interesting presentation. Thanks for sharing with us Madam Grace