“Volunteering at Headstart is a training in leadership”
Two years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to Headstart Network Foundation, a volunteer-driven organisation that’s India’s largest early stage startup community. Back then, Headstart was present in 9 cities. As of today, we are 20 cities strong, and in the process of launching a chapter in Goa and Pondicherry each in the coming months.
At Headstart, our goal is to foster entrepreneurship in India by empowering early stage startups through our initiatives. Some of these initiatives are Startup Saturday, Headstart Mentor, Headstart Higher, Headstart Kickstart and WE@Headstart. These initiatives have been designed to tackle problems faced by early stage startup founders.
It was in August 2015 that we had our first national volunteer retreat. Volunteers from 9 cities huddled to strategize and ideate on how Headstart can have a better impact. This year, we united again despite the fact that volunteers were now spread across 20 different cities. Coordination was challenging as most volunteers have their day jobs/startups to cater, but in the end, as true to our style, we pulled it off! .
The retreat was filled with chapters catching up with one another, discussions of future strategy, presentations, training sessions, dinner parties, and more! The following were the key focus points from the three day retreat:
It’s the high degree of integrity of the people associated with us that enables us to thrive and bring about a change to India’s startup ecosystem at the grassroots level. As Headstarters, we are expected to work with utmost diligence and honesty. We are trusted to display the highest level of ethical standards not only towards our organization, but also towards all the different facets of our life.
Leading by Example
How do you inspire someone to do something extraordinary; to go out of their way, give their all, and believe in one common mission? It is to lead by example. The examples set by high performing volunteers who have demonstrated consistent impact in their respective cities inspire volunteers in other cities to do the same. This culture of leading by example is part of what has made us 20 cities strong.
Even at the city level, we encourage individuals to take a stand, and lead by example. This form of leadership highlights the growth made at the city level and contributes to our vision of making India one of the strongest entrepreneurial ecosystems in the world.
Without being open to collaborate, open to constructive feedback, open to adopt and most importantly, open to listen, it’s nearly impossible to achieve an organization’s goals. It’s one of the most important qualities of a volunteer.
It’s extremely challenging even for for-profit organizations to retain their employees. However, a not-for-profit, volunteer driven organization like Headstart, has been able to retain its key volunteers for several years. This is mainly due to the fact that apart from being ecosystem enablers, we’re also ‘people-enablers’. We constantly push each other to be the best versions of ourselves. Given the stigma and conservative mindset in India, most entrepreneurs do not get the mental support system they require from folks at home. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that around 30-35% of our ex-volunteers have started up themselves! We take great pride in being a part of such a community!
When we grow as individuals, it also helps us grow together as teams. Our volunteers truly believe in our goals and they give a hundred percent in whatever they do. When team members bring in their dedication, ideas and even their challenges, we are able to build on that and together, solve problems that we never could have solved on our own! Coming together with our own challenges and solving them together is what helps us achieve a greater level of self-satisfaction. The simple fact is that the volunteers do what they do because they’re motivated by this and also enjoy it.
Come, join us!
With an audacious goal of scaling to fifty cities internationally by 2020, things are going to heat up from 2017. If you’re a creative, passionate individual with a strong desire to be a part of the startup ecosystem and feel you can contribute to our vision, join us! You can sign up here: bit.ly/HSVolRec.
If you have read till here, kudos, you already seem to have been inspired! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.
Written by Nikunj Thakkar
City Lead, Ahmedabad Chapter, Headstart Network Foundation | Founder & CEO, DataOne Innovation Labs