The Edmonton Native nonprofit shares its biggest learning leading the project Tsegh, an organization that provides clean-energy solutions to developing communities, and how you can make a meaningful difference in the sustainability space.
“Solar Energy Worker” and “Supermodel” are not the most common of the coupled titles. But this is the magic of Grace Mahari. Failing expectations, she says, it is her type of thing. In the midst of a flourishing career – her client roster includes fashion’s heaviest hitters, such as Chanel, Givenchy and Balmain, and she was one of the stars of Mejuri’s Golden Together campaign recently (for a collection Which has a philanthropic angle, naturally) – The Edmonton native founded Project Tsegh, an organization that provides clean-energy solutions to developing communities. “I don’t know what a renewable energy nonprofit founder should look like, but I don’t care,” she says. “That’s how I lead.”
The 2012 Fashion Show in Paris inspired Mahri to make a change after traveling to Eritrea, her parents’ home country, where 70 percent of the population is completely off the electricity grid. Now the LA-based model saw the negative consequences of this situation for the first time: reduced study hours for schoolchildren, community-spread illness caused by evening animal bites, and piles of poisonous black exhaust that left those lucky people Will fill the houses. Own a backup generator. His bright solution? Introducing Solar Panels — a Permanent Option with Big Potential Impact. After a successful first implementation in Eritrea following the fundraising initiative and the creation of a donor base, Project Tsegh (meaning “Surya”, in the language spoken in his native country) has since been in a primary school in Tanzania with solar- Powered accessories that equip local people with the tools and resources to maintain new infrastructure for years to come.
Incorporating the wife of high-profile contacts she earned during her modeling gigs and using her platform, which includes a heartfelt 140,000+ Instagram followers, was a no-brainer for Mahari to bring real goodness. “It’s hard to separate human justice from what you do to live,” she says. “There was something inside me that always wanted to equalize the playground.” Here, Mahri shares her greatest learning under the leadership of a nonprofit and, too, how you can make a meaningful difference in the sustainability space.
Find your “why” and then watch it continuously
Eritrea’s experience of energy poverty itself was a wake-up call that required Mahari to leap into stability. She says that discovering your secret does not mean that you always have to pledge to support a cause or try to become an activist. Even Mahri admits that she has trouble with that philanthropic label. “What I do is what I want to do,” she says. “It’s not because I’m a worker myself; this is what I think we should do anyway.” In this sense, she sees giving back as a long-term investment – a commitment to continuous self-evaluation: “You will always check with yourself how you are contributing to the world and others.”
Do your research (and do it often)
Not having an institutionally recognized certificate for her name, Mahri knew that her lack of experience in the nonprofit world would raise eyebrows. “As a black woman and model, I realized that whatever I do, I will always be underestimated by some people,” she says. To overcome the Imposter Syndrome – a psychological curse, which Mahri admits still unfolds from time to time – she equipped herself with enough knowledge and skills, which she could not be questioned. At the beginning of his undertaking, Mahari turned to free resources and grant opportunities, explaining the ins and outs of nonprofit life, such as proposal writing, management, and transparency. Creating an agile team around him that could fill the gaps also helped. Being an effective leader, she says, is recognizing that you cannot be an authority on every piece of the puzzle. “Not everyone in the Project Tsegh team is an expert on everything – there is no one,” says Mahri. “But everyone has the strength, and they come in and share whatever they can. I find it really polite, really.”
Follow those already working
See an inequality; Sow Your Own Solution – Sounds like a definitive formula, right? While it can be tempting to start a good effort – a very common response in our entrepreneurial-determined culture – Mahri says it’s important to offer your skills and assistance to pioneers already on the ground. “Ask how you can help them and what they need from you,” she explains. “The issue right now is that some people are asking for more work than what they are doing – to teach them how to do it.” Eliminating already burdensome resources, especially those that are BIPOC-identified, only impedes progress. Get yourself up to speed by fundraising, volunteering, asking questions and really listening. “Being more selfless – that’s how you learn what it’s like to be in those positions,” she adds.
Always be ready to pursue your plan
When the epidemic ravaged Project Tsegh’s mission to bring a third solar energy installment to East Africa, Mahari did not slow down his efforts to give back. Instead, it noted racial injustice in North America and teamed up with two established organizations, GroupHug and Trap Garden, to distribute community-based gardening boxes and window solar panels to BIPOC neighborhoods in the U.S. facing food insecurity Work done. She says this type of resilience is important in the nonprofit sector, where the best plans – and best intentions – can quickly deteriorate. “When you go to these communities, you want to serve them in a way, but they can ask for something else,” she explains. This is why Mahri has employed an ego-free policy for his non-profit mission: find the most ideal solution and know what true success looks like despite your initial definitions.