NPO 016: Machelle Norling (Hope Now)

Today's Guest: Machelle Norling
I am a teller of stories. A journalist by trade. A nonprofit convert for life. I found myself in India in 2000 – looking for an experience for my then 13-year-old son that would impress upon him the reality of life outside the US. Life has never been the same. I was working in the field of HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention in partnership with government departments and other NGOs.  When HIV/AIDS began its deadly sweep through India – children were left behind. When kids experience trauma, it is not uncommon for their lives to unravel –especially in the developing world. I have spent the last 10-plus years helping build a home and programming, creating a path to a successful adult life. I split my time between India and Minnesota. While in Minnesota, I find creative ways to tell our story and build relationships with people who care about kids. While in India, we are always working to make sure our kids have what they need to grow. And, I get to spend time with our kids, which honestly is the best part of my job.

Nonprofit Spotlight: Hope Now
In 2008, Hope Now was born out of a desperate need to serve HIV-positive children who had no place to go after their parents died of AIDS. They had 58 children in Chandrakal before the year was out. From the first, Hope Now built their project with two primary goals- to create a loving home and educate their kids. They now reside in Hyathnagar district in the state of Telangana and provide a quality education through college or a trade school for each of their kids. The Hope Now Facebook page.

Lessons Learned:
Machelle speaks beautifully about the work she does (which she articulates as a support arm, recognizing that the folks on the ground at the home are the ones doing the work on a day-to-day basis). In addition to her humility, Machelle has great advice for those thinking about starting an international nonprofit.

1. Listen and understand the context of the culture. Machelle lived and worked in India before she ever began Hope Now. Once she had the idea for Hope Now, she talked with the government to see what they currently offered to HIV+ orphans and then she began to meet with the elders in the local villages. She spent many afternoons sitting in the sand with these elders to learn and listen before she was able to start anything. 

2. Find out who else is working in this space and see if there are opportunities for collaboration, even with organizations working in similar or related fields. Partnering with like-minded or similarly-missioned organizations can be really empowering.

3. Questions to ask the people you're hoping to serve before starting a nonprofit:

  • What is it that you really need? Do you really want this?
  • Am I reading this situation correctly? I'm seeing a hole here, but is it a hole?
  • If it is a hole, do you think it's important?
  • How would you fix it?
  • What is it that you need?
  • What's the best way to solve the problem in your mind?
  • What would you do?

4. Making data personal-- every single number is a person. Knowing the data and allowing that to help you set your agenda and create goals is important. Pushing beyond the data and knowing the stories and being able to relate them to others in ways that makes that data become personal is also important.

5. Machelle touches on how to make a story resonate without dehumanizing the people involved. Instead of focusing on the pictures, images and imagery that represents the challenges they've faced, share the success stories. The challenges must be included in the story, but they don't need to be the focal point of the story. In terms of visual representation, Machelle tries to focus on the best sides of each of her children. (Her new website is full of joyful photos!)

Story of Good #1: Roja
"If I had to carry the weight of the world as she has since 8, I don't know that I would be that successful!" Machelle shared an amazing story of Roja who was orphaned as a young girl, but is now in college! Roja is inspirational to Machelle because of her determination in the face of challenges

Story of Good #2: Swetha
Swetha came to Hope Now as a volunteer for a week and since then has gone above and beyond in continuing to return herself, but also bringing more and more volunteers. Swetha works as a lawyer for Google and has helped to create a solid partnership between Google employees and the youth of Hope Now through mentoring, games and more. To hear Swetha share about her connection to Hope Now, watch this video.

Link to the HIV clinic Machelle mentioned: Nireekshana