This week I’m bringing you an interview with Elisabetta Colabianchi, co-founder of the nonprofit Kurandza, which provides girls access to preschool, primary school and high school in southern Mozambique. She also runs the Global Dream Collective, where she teaches other purpose-driven women how to start or grow their own nonprofits and social enterprises.
Elisabetta loves her work because she’s able to use her skills and talents to create opportunities for girls and women to learn about leadership, financial management, and health. These are the things that matter to her and it’s what makes her work feel meaningful on a day to day basis.
In this interview, we cover what meaningful work means to Elisabetta, how she started a nonprofit with a degree in biology, and what she wishes she could tell herself 10 years ago.
I’m excited to introduce you to Elisabetta and I’m thrilled to announce that if you register for the Meaningful Work Blueprint during the month of September, I’ll be donating 10% of your registration fee to Kurandza's #IStandforGirls campaign.
My hope with this collaboration is that we can sponsor a few girls for the next school year. Sponsorship means everything is covered for the school year... tuition, books, uniforms, and holistic health programs (to name a few).
To learn more about this incredible organization or sponsor a girl directly, visit Kurandza.org.
Can you tell me a bit about your background in terms of work and education?
I graduated with degrees in biology and foreign languages from the University of San Diego. I also earned a minor in Peace & Justice. I thought I would go into medicine. But, while studying abroad in Milan, I discovered that I wanted to work in international relations. So after college, I moved to New York with the hopes of working for the UN.
How did you discover your interest in starting a nonprofit?
Three key experiences—attending the University of San Diego, living in New York City after graduation and volunteering with the Peace Corps—allowed me to work for several non-profits and international NGOs (non-governmental organizations).
While I am so thankful for my experiences, I saw that many of the big organizations used a top-down approach, creating initiatives based on what donors wanted and not on what the communities or beneficiaries actually wanted or needed.
I saw a disconnect between planning at headquarters and the work on the ground. This disconnect inspired me to start my own grassroots non-profit, based in southern Mozambique, the same area where I had lived and worked during the Peace Corps for three years.
Was it always your plan to start a nonprofit before you were 30?
No! My original life plan looked something like this: work for the UN for a couple of years, work for a non-governmental organization, go to Columbia University for an MBA and then start my own nonprofit.
When I saw it written out along with a timeline, I realized I would be 35 starting my own nonprofit! I didn’t want to wait that long so I decided to learn as I went and started Kurandza when I was 27.
What was it like getting the nonprofit off the ground?
Getting a nonprofit off the ground is no easy feat, but for those who want it bad enough and who know that it may take some months (or years) of embracing challenges and sacrifices until it starts to take off... then it’s 100% worth it.
While in NYC, I worked for a nonprofit during the day and at an Italian restaurant during nights and weekends. I was able to save a good chunk of money. These are the funds I used to start Kurandza.
I didn’t know much about starting a business when we first started, but I’ve been able to learn as so much along the way. Investing in research, mentoring, and connecting with others on a similar path have been critical to me growing this non-profit.
What does meaningful work mean to you?
Meaningful work for me means doing something with a purpose, something that makes a difference in the world. Many times it’s something that you would do even if it wasn’t your job. For me, meaningful work involves teaching others what I have learned and using my skills and talents to make an impact.
If you could go back five or 10 years and give yourself one piece of career advice, what would it be?
I would say to not worry so much. In college, I was very serious, always doing my work. Don’t get me wrong: I had fun, I studied abroad, and I got to do cool things, but I would have taken some other courses, too, just for fun. I also would have taken a few business courses because that would have helped me better establish Kurandza.
I also would have taken a different attitude towards side gigs. These jobs might not seem glamorous, but they can enable you to do what you love. They can allow you to pursue your passions. There’s nothing wrong with bartending, waitressing, translating, etc. You don’t have to look at it as a burden. You don’t have to dread it. You can look at it in a different way: it’s allowing you to do what you want to do.