Meet the business brain behind HOOP

Alison Schmierer, HOOP Program Director
It’s not all fun, games and
English classes at HOOP. In fact, it takes a lot of work and planning to keep
things running smoothly. As part of our focus on business this month, we caught
up with our diligent Program Director, Alison, to ask how she manages to keep everything
on track.

What’s your average day like?

It varies a lot. I can be visiting
families in Flora Tristan, Skyping potential volunteers or talking to
businesses and universities about possible partnerships. At the moment, I’m making
sure the construction of our new community center runs smoothly and organizing
our programs and teacher training so we’re ready to start as soon as it’s built.

What has been your biggest achievement at HOOP?

One day I basically told the
moms that if they don’t tell us their needs, then as far as we’re concerned
they don’t have any, and there is no reason we should be in Flora Tristan.
After this blunt comment, everyone was silent and terrified that HOOP would
close its doors. I thought I had made HUGE mistake by making such a direct yet
obvious comment. After a loooong minute, one mom spoke up and then another. Soon
lots of moms had opinions and were eager to share how HOOP could improve.
This frank and honest remark
started a conversation that developed into establishing a parents’ board.
We also started a program to create clearer communication and a real
partnership between HOOP and the community. It has been amazing to see how the
moms feel more comfortable speaking out. They know we listen to their ideas and
it’s wonderful to see them find their voice.

What is your biggest challenge?

I’m always trying to make sure
the kids’ attendance is good, which means preparing our volunteers well so they
give great classes. Then when a volunteer finished their placement here, I make
sure there is good continuity between teachers – otherwise we’ve seen
attendance can drop, which impacts the effectiveness of the program.

What’s the best part of your job? 

The moms! They’re incredible and
have been through a lot but always have a smile on their face when you talk to
them about their kids and a great sense of humor.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Finances!! I hate accounting and
it talks a lot of time, but it’s an important part of running a transparent NGO.

What impact have you had at HOOP and on the Flora
Tristan community? 

When I first started I made a
list of weaknesses in the program. Last year my main goal was improving our
English education program, starting our health program and creating English and
business classes for the moms. The parents and kids told us they’ve seen a big improvement
in the quality of our classes and the amount of support they receive from HOOP
like medical and dental check ups. So it has been a successful year but there’s
always room to improve.

What skills do you need to run an NGO? 

Flexibility and the ability to
think outside the box because things never seem to go the way you want and there
are limited resources and funding. It’s also important to be professional, especially
as I’m closely involved with the families, but not too involved personally –
this is a difficult line to walk. Of course you need good management and people
skills since you’re working with volunteers from all over the world along with
the local community so there are a lot of personalities to manage.

What advice do you have for someone looking to run an

Take lots of management and
finance classes! Surround yourself with good people, and always work with the
community and allow them to decide what their needs are – use their wisdom and
insights to build your programs.
Running an NGO takes a lot of
work and responsibility, long days and it can be stressful at times, but it’s very

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