We had the pleasure of interviewing Dancia Kendra Susilo, Executive Director of The Missing Link Project. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
Hi Dancia, Great to have you with us today! Please share with our readers about The Missing Link Project.
It’s a new nonprofit organization based in Ottawa, Canada. We focus on helping underprivileged youth gain more opportunities for their future by developing and delivering programs in Fitness, Mental Health, and Business/Financial Literacy. These can all be applied directly to their current life and will be a part of their future for the rest of their lives. Whereas other similar organizations focus only on physical activity or general learning, we educate youths about how to create their fitness and mental health plans and how applying the knowledge helps them in the long run. They can sometimes get high school credits for their efforts.
What drew you to this nonprofit?
Generally, I’ve always loved helping others and getting involved in the community. This, however, hits close to home. I grew up under the poverty line, and as thankful as I am to have learned financial management early in life due to poverty, it’s not a fun experience. Living under the poverty line coincides with many other problems, such as having a dysfunctional home life, bullying at school, and being under constant stress. I had the mentality that I had to do everything on my own. I felt like I had no one. Kids shouldn’t feel the way I felt. They shouldn’t have to worry about the things I was worried about. Alas, sometimes life pushes us in that direction. I hope that by working for The Missing Link Project, I can help that little girl in me and the thousands of others in the same situation as I was.
How did it feel when you were offered this position?
I was shocked, exhilarated, and terrified all at once. The Founder, Matthew Halawnicki, was a client of mine. I was a start-up business coach, and he wanted to launch his personal training business, Strength Therapy Fitness. His business was up and running successfully within two years, in the middle of Covid. He knew I was looking to get into the nonprofit sector, perhaps joining a Board to begin or middle-level management. Due to my work ethic and skills, I have proven while being his business coach; he thought I would do well setting the foundation of his organization. I was up for the challenge but was nervous since I was still unfamiliar with the nonprofit sector. I spent months learning how nonprofits begin and the laws around them. I definitely feel more confident now.
What was most surprising to you about the nonprofit sector?
Everyone knows each other! Perhaps it’s just Ottawa being a tiny city, but every upper-level management person seems to know each other. When I started my role, I made a list of all Executive Directors in the nonprofit social sector in Ottawa and started emailing them personally for mentorship or guidance. I also reached out to hundreds of people via LinkedIn. Most people ignored me since I was a nobody but the few who took the time to respond made all the difference. They boosted my confidence, affirmed some of my strategies, and connected me with others. People who ignored me before were now willing to sit down and meet with me. Now we often meet for leisure in addition to working together.
What would you say to someone entering the nonprofit workforce?
As much as people are there to help the community, you still have to deal with internal and external politics. There’s a lot of making and breaking alliances to protect your image and the organization’s image. For instance, you wouldn’t want to work with an organization with a Director who has questionable ethics and financial management. Luckily in Ottawa, most people and organizations have been amazing, willing to collaborate, and not interested in petty drama.
What was the biggest challenge you were facing?
I was mainly frantic about the lack of consistent space. We wanted to have classes booked at neighboring universities, but in my experience, a lot could go wrong. This concern was remedied by our partners, who met with me once and offered their space after an hour of knowing me. I am so honored and humbled to be surrounded and supported by such amazing leaders. We are now partnered with Causeway, Operation Come Home, YouTurn, and Youth Services Bureau.
How has this changed you?
My original friend group was dwindling down due to Covid and people moving. This job opportunity opened me to a new set of like-minded people who uplift and inspire me. I think “good enough” was good enough for my old circle of friends, but the people I am meeting now are more driven and willing to go above and beyond expectations and needs. We are all community activists driven to leave our homes better for the next generation. We have fun by developing ideas and creating new networks. That’s refreshing for me. It may also be because everyone else is quite older than me, but I feel like I am constantly learning with them and growing as a person in addition to being a supportive member of the community. As a result, I joined the Centretown Community Health Centre as a Community Advisor for their Quality Assurance Action Team and joined Ottawa Victim Services as a Director.
What have you learned since working in this new role?
Self-care is more important to stay on top of than ever before. Every Executive Director friend I have made could not stop stressing about how to be kind to myself, take my vacation days, and have time for myself to reflect. The job is generally a lot of work for relatively little pay, so I understand. I think most Executive Directors unofficially go into overtime each week with how many people they help and all the events they attend to represent their organizations. I like to listen to Reddit Stories, and I started watching more childhood shows when I wanted to shut off my brain, and I do some self-reflection every day. Before doing all that, I quickly burned out and ended up in excruciating pain. Never again.
What are the strategies that helped you become successful in this launch?
Networking is my (not so) secret weapon in everything I do. This was no different. This launch has been successful because of the advice and help of other community leaders who wanted me to succeed. Working hard without help would have taken me over a year to set up the foundation and ensure it was up to standard. I met these people by searching for their contact information and trying to reach them over email or in person. I’m not afraid of rejection, and this has helped with my ability to network. Special thanks goes to John Heckbert, Executive Director of Operation Come Home, Adam Joiner, CEO of Boys Girls Club Ottawa, and Catharine Vandelinde, Executive Director of Options ByTown. The person I owe the most thanks to is someone who also became one of my greatest friends: Hailey Hechtman, Executive Director of Causeway Work Centre.
How can we contact you if we want to work with you or keep updated with your work?
Thank you so much, Dancia, for giving us your precious time! We wish you all the best for your journey ahead!