Handing over the reins. By Claire Michelotti

The Cedar Foundation Tanzania will soon be bidding farewell to its Executive Director, Claire Michelotti, as she finishes her time with us. Read now and see what she has to say about the joys and challenges of heading up a non for profit in Tanzania.

Hello everyone!

I’m Claire and I have been working as Executive Director of Cedar Tanzania for just over a year and a half (since January 2018).  Prior to that I was the Operations and Funding Manager from when the organisation began in 2014.

What part of the job have you most enjoyed?

That’s easy – the people. It may sound cheesy but working with a team of inspiring, energised and enthusiastic people is infectious and is what has made this job so incredible for five years. The nature of our work as a development organisation can be hard, and there are days where progress does not happen as fast as one would wish.  Working with a team of passionate individuals who persevere in the face of adversity makes all the difference and has been awe inspiring. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the team, not just professionally but about life in general too.

What part of your job has most flummoxed you?

Kiswahili flummoxes me daily!  Although this doesn’t stop me from trying and subsequently sounding like an idiot on a regular basis! After five years of being here, I had high hopes of being close to fluent by this time, but embarrassingly I am nowhere near. Luckily people here are very understanding and appreciate it if you try. Plus my pigeon Swahili has conveniently broken the ice on a number of occasions so it’s not all bad.

What has been most challenging for you leading a non-profit in Tanzania?

One of hardest parts of the job I think is working out where it is appropriate for Cedar Tanzania to step in and help a person or a situation directly, and where we should step back and instead try to empower a community or an institution to step in.  Oxfam’s campaign based on the saying "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime’ is an approach that runs through Cedar Tanzania. This is the only way that we will reach our goal of helping people help themselves in a sustainable way. However, this approach takes time, and when you’re in a place where life can be brutal and unforgiving and where there is suffering, it can be very hard not to want to help directly. As such, although our overall approach to development is to build capacity, we sometimes do also step in and help directly if we deem it appropriate. The process of establishing this however can be difficult and painful, especially if the outcome is not to reach out directly.

What will you miss most about working at Cedar Tanzania?

Apart from missing the Cedar Tanzania team, I will of course miss the people from the communities we serve. I will never forget the elegance, strength, humour and hospitality of the community members I have met and known since being here, despite some of the heart wrenching challenges they face.

Weirdly enough, I will also miss the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the job – like when a law is introduced overnight and you have to put things in place quickly to comply as an organisation, or when we have to deal with crocodiles on the shores of the lake close to the health centre. Obviously, these things are also challenges, but they make the job exciting and different which I enjoy immensely. 

Can you write a brief introduction of the three managers that will be replacing you?  

Please meet the three formidable individuals who will be replacing me – Paulina, Vivian and Caroline. 

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Paulina will be Director of Health Programmes, leading on all aspects related to healthcare including the significant task of overseeing Kamanga Health Centre.

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Vivian will be Director of Projects assuming responsibility for our broad portfolio of field projects.

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Finally, Caroline will preside over central office functions including finance, HR, communications and fundraising as Director of Central Operations. We are very fortunate to have these three inspiring women on board and I am excited about Cedar Tanzania’s future with them leading the way!

Why three?

Well, three is the magic number no?

Jokes aside, when I started working at Cedar Tanzania, we were just starting out. As is common in many start-ups, people’s roles were typically broad and covered a number of aspects – including mine. The size of the organisation meant I was able to work across multiple areas, from project work to fundraising, from finance to operational delivery. However, as the organisation has grown, the workload has equally grown and I think we have now reached a point where my role can easily be split between three clearly defined roles.

The other reason is because we had three very talented people whose strengths were in different areas and who complemented each other beautifully. It made sense to give all three more responsibility so they could work as a team and support each other.   

And what of Mark O’Sullivan? Is he still around?

Oh yes, he is definitely still around! As our intrepid founder and Country Director, he is key in ensuring that we continue to deliver our work with vigour and flair! I have no doubt that Mark and the three new directors will take Cedar Tanzania to new and exciting places!

What legacy do you think you will leave behind?

Wow that’s a hard one. Hopefully a tidy desk although I haven’t got there yet!

None of what will remain when I leave Cedar Tanzania has been as a result of just my work – it’s all been because of team-work so it’s not strictly ‘my’ legacy. However, I’ll admit I feel happy at the thought of leaving an organisation that is growing and thriving, much like the communities we work in. I suppose I also feel a certain sense of achievement when I think that now, there is a health centre providing key healthcare services to people in a place that badly needed one five years ago.   

What are your hopes for Cedar Tanzania?

Strategically, I hope that Cedar Tanzania and its projects will continue for decades to come, lead by Tanzanians with the full support of the Government of Tanzania.

My ambition hopes are that once The Cedar Foundation is well established in Tanzania, it will go on to achieve the same somewhere else. With Cedar Bulgaria shining bright as the very first ‘Cedar Foundation’, and now with Cedar Tanzania as the second, I see no reason why the organisation could not continue to grow globally.

From a more emotive perspective, I hope the spirit of Cedar Tanzania lives on throughout its future, whatever form this may take. ‘Changing Lives’ is not a motto that was chosen lightly. Cedar has certainly changed mine.