An interview with Molly Mattessich
What’s your favorite part of a typical day?
Getting to the office is something that I look forward to every day, because it is when I feel most connected to people. First thing in the morning, I spend about 15 minutes checking in with online communities, and get the jolt of energy that comes not just from my cup of coffee but from reading what everyone else is up to and inspired by.
Are there any words of wisdom that help guide your work or your life?
I’ve spent a lot of time, decades in fact, pondering my vocation. Ultimately, I had to make that choice and find, “where the world’s greatest need meets my greatest bliss.” In my current work, I have found that. I also read Parker Palmer’s book, “Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.” His words inspired me and I continue to ask myself every day, “is the life that you are living the same as the life that lives in you?” Having my actions be congruent with my thoughts and desires is not an easy thing to do, but to me this is the challenge for each of us: to do what we are meant to do and not always what is expected of us.
Tell me about your business, charity or cause. Share your passion.
Eight years ago, I lived in a rural village in Mali for two years serving as a Peace Corps volunteer and it was the most transformative experience of my life. Many of those months also were the loneliest of my life and when I felt completely disconnected to friends, family, and everything that was familiar. Now, I’m making up for the disconnect by managing the online communities for the National Peace Corps Association, the leading nonprofit organization that supports and engages serving and returned Peace Corps Volunteers to help them continue being of service to their communities and the world. In this role, I launched and still manage Africa Rural Connect (ARC), an online platform that gives a voice in the international development community to those who may not previously have been heard. On the ARC site, we’re trying to come up with solutions to the agricultural challenges faced by people living in sub-Saharan Africa. So far, it’s been rewarding to see the creative, thoughtful, and practical plans proposed by people participating from over 130 countries and the partnerships being formed that are helping the ideas to take shape.
If you could change anything you have done in your business, charity, cause, what would it be?
Get rid of the cynics in the development space. It’s easy to criticize an idea but don’t do it unless you can offer an alternative plan in the same breath. I wish that people would continue to be positive and support ideas, partnerships, and initiatives. Negativity is the easy way out. I’d rather engage with problem solvers.
The concept that it’s hard to build something, and so easy to destroy it. This equation has to change. I also wonder who I should be talking to or connecting with that I don’t know about.
Who gives you the best advice about your business, charity, cause?
On a professional level, I get lots of feedback from my advisor, a man outside of my organization who served in the Peace Corps nearly 40 years ago and has a breadth of knowledge about business, service, and international issues. Personally, I get advice from a close circle of intimate friends and my boyfriend, who doesn’t let me rest too long after any success, but encourages me to think creatively and move on toward the next goal.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I took this position never having managed the launch of a large-scale website. I dove into the projects and was able to draw on my knowledge from other very different jobs and volunteer roles to make all of the pieces come together and succeed with the constraints of a nonprofit budget. I’m proud of hiring a hard-working and committed team of people to help make it happen.
I’d like to see the National Peace Corps Association become as much of a recognized brand as Peace Corps, the government agency. People generally serve no more than 2 years in the Peace Corps, but they are a returned volunteer for the rest of their lives. Our mission is to help volunteers prolong that Peace Corps experience by offering opportunities to teach about it, share stories, continue serving others and perpetuate the rise of caring and connected global citizens.
If you were in charge of everything in the world for a day, what’s the first change you would make?
I would want to make it mandatory and possible for everyone in the world to travel to another country if they haven’t already. We can all benefit from a little perspective on our lives, no matter where we are from.
Bio: Molly Mattessich launched and now manages the online platforms for the National Peace Corps Association: AfricaRuralConnect.org and Peace Corps Connect.org. She also leads many of NPCA’s public relations, marketing, and business development initiatives. Her work on Africa Rural Connect is profiled in the just published book Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler of Forrester Research.
From 2002-2004, she served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, where she initiated a market clean-up venture, educated villagers on how to prevent water and food-borne illnesses, and became fluent in Bambara and Malinké.
Molly earned a degree in psychology from Wellesley College. She is Co-Chair of the Wellesley Women in Nonprofits network in Washington, DC. You can follow her on Twitter at @MollyMali. Find Africa Rural Connect on Twitter @IdeasforAfrica and the National Peace Corps Association @PCorpsConnect.