Hi friends of Hack4Impact UIUC!
We just finished the 4th semester of our entire existence! What a wonderful milestone! When Alvin/Varun graduated and handed David and me the less than one year old Hack4Impact, I didn’t know whether I could live up to their footsteps. Many organizations wither away after their co-founders leave but this organization was the total opposite - it thrived, and not only did so but did so tremendously. This, I believe, was attributed to all of us and how we cared. That's it. It's amazing to see each person dedicated to prioritizing giving back and making an effort to help tackle the many issues in our world, giving over 10 hours/week to do so. It's so incredible that I'm saying it because I believe it's fully true and I actually see it. This is what makes us special!
As a very young organization, setting the core foundation of a tight-knit community and culture was crucial. This is because once they are set in stone, it takes tremendous energy and time to enact new impactful change (initial expectations are of importance and will determine a person's future involvement and dedication to an organization). As with all organizations, the success of Hack4Impact would come down to its people and its culture. We want to grow into empathetic and socially aware alumni and for this organization to accomplish that, we believe it all comes down to culture. Thus, this was our number one priority this semester.
From what I've encountered, besides the innate desire of being understood, people not only want to do something meaningful with their time but want to create meaningful relationships; relationships where there is mutual respect for each other's differences while being open and supportive of each other. Collaborating with people that equally care and are willing to put in the time makes a huge difference in how each of us feels about our work. Likewise, giving people the opportunity to meet people with similar interests and passions while being in an environment that facilitates bonding enables people to go beyond just "professional" relationships. In fact, a lot of members mention that the community is a huge reason for why they want to return!
I believe when teammates truly trust each other and feel safe to learn and listen to others, people then gain a sense of unity and unlock their greatest potential to grow. If I were on your team and you didn't trust me, you may be defensive and closed off in your thoughts which isn't collaborative at all. Thus, we might as well do separate things. But if we both trust each other, we are willing to share and understand each other's viewpoints to generate new insights. Consequently, that trust allows for superb products and deliverables for the non-profits we work with. This was very apparent in this semester's teams (well, previous semesters too, but the closeness of teams have been in an upward trend) where the products have been higher in quality. I find that members are more inclined to be willing to work on our products for longer together because they find a sense of ownership (which is influenced by the people around them).
So, how did we go about creating such an environment? In order for real community and relationships to materialize, members must be committed and understand that relationships take time and aren't built out of one's convenience. By keeping members accountable to our 8-10 hours/week we are able to put time aside, which might not always be convenient for some, to meet with other people and have fun. Instead of explaining everything in words, I've posted photos at the end of the letter! I'd love for you to check them out.
Obviously, we still have much to grow. Can we work to have more of an inclusive and accepting environment where underlying problems can be discussed and open? Can we have a community where each member feels safe to share about themselves and their feelings without being judged? Can each person keep each other accountable to our organizational values and our high standards instead of just the leadership doing so? This will be the next phase of our pursuit for an even stronger community.
It was a semester of many firsts: