Over the last year and a half, I’ve been part of a student organization called ‘Stardust-DTU’. It is a volunteer organization on entrepreneurship and innovation. When I joined, we were 5 students committed to building something extraordinary. We were committed in resurrecting the organization and making it grow. It was an obsession for us and we managed it quite an extent too in the last year and a half if I could be so proud. Our focus, was on the activities and what we did. We did not, however, focus on our management or solve the main problem we were facing.
Continuity is a huge problem
All student organizations seem to have a problem that doesn’t necessarily get a solution: continuity. It is a thing most other non-profit organizations don’t necessarily deal with: students/people moving out of the organization and fresh blood taking its place. With people moving out, there is not only a lack of students who have an extensive knowledge to take over, there is not an extensive support system to assist them in doing that. Information rather than being conserved, just falls out. It seems to disappear rather than have a small leak which is usually the case.
I’ve been part of so many trial and error methods, mentoring methods, amongst so many others in figuring out the solution. Previous members of the organization stick around for some extra time and answer questions. But even that can only do so much. The guy who is running the organization now should ask the right questions to get the answer that he/she needs from the alumni. Most often, the questions are wrong. Asking the right question is only half of the problem. More often than not, it is hard to convey all the relevant things through a meeting even when the right questions are asked. Some times, there are so many questions and the answers are extremely long!!
The other solution is to have an extensive journalling system stored online. Stuff the cloud storage system full of documents and pray that it works on some level. The problem is, you get sick of reading all the documents after some time and you don’t want to keep referring to a guide. And it is impossible to write a book/guide to do all of the things. Time is a constraint. In fact, it is the biggest constraint. But, my half year in charge of Stardust has been to rebuild a part of its foundation and position it better for the guys who come after the team we have right now.
Has it been solved?
The question has been burning for some time now. Yet, I feel that this issue is not solved with a solution that is a simple lead bullet. As I took over the organization, the way I felt I could approach the problem was building fail-safe mechanisms and structuring the organization around these mechanisms. Here are my thoughts on the structures I have tried to incorporate. Before I start, I’ll like to make this clear:
These are my views and my opinions that seem to work for the situation our organization has been in. It may not be the exact way someone else has to work to conserve information and maximize the life of a student organization.
That said, let us start:
Strip the organization to bare basics and focus on its key idea. This was a huge problem we had. Our lack of clear vision and clear value proposition affected our ability to perform at high efficiency levels. Additionally, it was just impossible to go forward from our position and get someone to join us just because we couldn’t put our organization in words. When it is clear and precise, any person can understand it and it becomes easier to talk about it.
Keep people who have been closely associated with the organization nearby and easy to get in touch with. Also letting the new ones know that they can approach them is mighty helpful. We have worked with a lot of mentors in creating our Student Incubation Program. Some of them have worked closely with us in rebuilding the organization. Having them as a contact to new management just in case they need support and to answer questions is remarkably useful.
A comprehensive, organized and clearly functioning cloud storage system. When I first joined, we had inherited a bloated, convoluted and poorly organized mess of a storage system. The process has been clear in cleaning out the junk and organizing them into clearly split boxes that new people can easily identify and utilize without someone guiding them.
Arrange skeletal process structures for creation, planning and execution of activities. Completely rigid structures are hard to create but a framework that can be expanded upon is remarkably useful. It also provides opportunity for new people to take up these skeletal structures and improve them or augment them with newer ideas. It encourages a sense of ownership and at the same provides a great foundation to work with.
Make sure the organization needs the bare minimum of people to survive and run. This is an important fail-safe. In case there are not a lot of students in the organization, a minimum group should be able to handle the core services and deliver the value promised by the organization. Our fail-safe minimum is 3.
These are pretty much the core points. In addition to all of these points, our advisory board, which has been quite unused is something we plan to utilize more. That would be the last point. In case the organization has an advisory board: ask questions, gather advice, use them or discard them but get help in case the ship feels like it is wayward.
What is next?
Well, the organization I’ve been part of until now is something I’m moving on from over the summer. The guy who would like to take over has already been part of the decision processes. He has been in-charge for now as I focus on my work for the thesis. I’d know in a year or maybe even less whether the ideas I’ve worked on is good or not good. From the looks of it, my friend who has taken over is comfortable with the resources he has and the overview he has been provided at the helm. And I am fairly confident that whatever we’ve created until now can be used. That is quite an achievement from where we were in early 2014.
To be clear, once again, I am not saying all of these would work to actually build continuity. I just feel that you’d need comprehensive measures in such a student-driven organization where the flux is consistent in its periodicity but the magnitude wavers quite a lot. These points here are what seems to be working for our organization. It may work without issues in yours or it may need small to large tweaks in some others. It may just fail in some of the others. But I hope if you are reading this, it is useful for you. I would’ve gladly accepted something like this when I was part of the organization. Until next time: May the force be with you.