Social Change Podcast: Gian Paolo Montini, Volunteering in the third sector – Episode 5

Andrea: Good Morning and welcome to the new episode of the Social Change Podcast realized by the Social Change School in cooperation with Eduway social business.

We are ready to welcome to our podcast Gian Paolo Montini, part of the advisory board of the Social Change School and the one of Soleterre Onlus, General Director of Peter Pan Onlus ODV.

Gian Paolo Montini: Good Morning I am really happy to be here with you.

Andrea: The first question that I want to ask is based on the fact that you worked for a long time in the for profit sector and then from aerospace engineering you moved to the non for profit sector (NFP). How did this happen?

Gian Paolo Montini: We can say that it was a mid-life crisis coming from a passion, as you have already explained in the beautiful presentation of my professional path. I fell in love with technology and science since I was a child, buttons were my passion, because they could activate something from a distance and I wanted to know how this could happen, the second thing I fell in love with is: people. Since my teenage years I have put this passion of mine into different activities, supporting young people and welcoming centers, minors etc…

After years in corporate while volunteering on the side I realized that I never actually linkedin my brain and my heart, so I decided, together with my wife, at a time when we were parents of 2 young girls to change in different steps. So I the beginning I wanted to know how it would have been to be a manager, I did an MBA, and I got even more involved and decided to look for an opportunity to be a manager in some organizations, when I was more or less 40 years old, I feel in love with the organization Peter Pan, founded by the mothers of sick kids.

Andrea: Before knowing more about Peter Pan Onlus and what you do now , we would like to know a bit more how it was to come from the for profit sector, what changed?

Gian Paolo Montini: the diversity from the for profit to the non for profit, is not so clear, not at all. There are different objectives and the actions we do are different, also the stakeholders are really different, in my corporate experience I acquired an approach goal-based and also to manage different project that then I used again in the NFP, in my first professional experience did not had a mission related part, but gave me in any case a fundamental base that enabled me to be way more efficient and useful in the NFP sector.

My path started as a night-shift guardian while studying to be an engineer, I really started from the bottom and this shaped my professional skill set and attitude.

Andrea: You talked about mission vision and goals, but which are the ones ODV Peter Pan Onlus has?

Gian Paolo Montini: Peter Pan Onlus was founded by mothers of children that died because of cancer therapies, more than 20 years ago, inspired by their own kids, because there were a lot of families  living in their cars to be next to their sick kids, hospitalized at Bambin Gesù hospital in Trastevere. These mothers decided to focus on helping other families to find a place where to stay when their kids are in a hospital, since 2000.

There is not only the hospitality factor in the project but also the listening part from the organizations side towards the families, that is really important. It is difficult without listening to understand the needs of the families to understand them, and we had the chance to do it and from there our job developed with awareness, so our mission became richer and richer.

Our mission is the vision of “never let alone those in difficult times” activating a network that can help and support with services and sensibilization of the public both general and institutional, that rarely listen and understand these kinds of situations.

Andrea: Thanks for this explanation, listening to you it’s really clear the mix of passion and competences that make you unique, can we analyze this two factors, to understand how to conciliate them.

Gian Paolo Montini: Passion is for sure the key to building the castle of competences and professionality that enables us to reach our goals, the base that allows us to understand our direction and our aspirations, where do we see ourselves in the future, the rest is something we learn by doing. I developed some skills directly in the NFP, because before I ever took care of institutional relations, because I was more of a technician. I realized I could do it and I even became better in relating with others and building a network in this specific field.

For the skills: in some cases you need to study, some other ones you can learn by doing using specific tools, like technology that supports us a lot, but the most important tools come from the relationships because in the third sector, the most important skills are the soft skills, that actually  empower you to the point to actually make a change in project and activities. I believe that the best kind of leadership for this sector is the diffused one, where the responsibilities are shared and everyone focuses on some specific things having different competences, in order to reach the common goals in a better way.

Andrea:  I would like to focus on skills and passion, and talk about volunteering. How can the two things be put together in your organization? How can volunteers with a big motivation but a lack of skills actually support your mission?

Gian Paolo Montini: To have both is really hard but in some cases it happens, volunteering is connected to time availability and not constant support, making it really hard to actually develop some specific skills.

In our organization we found a winning option, to have volunteers with specific responsibilities and not just a person doing random stuff, working in a clear structure following clear rules, because this makes it possible for all the stakeholders involved to work better.

Efficiency doesn’t worry me too much, while effectiveness it’s more important from my point of view,  and it happens organizing volunteering like a corporation, the volunteers need to be involved in the calendar and the decision making process, to have clear the direction of the organization and support especially in emergency cases. For this reason a clear structure it’s a key, and it was present since the beginning because of the genial idea of the founders, with different teams , rules and responsibilities. This is important in each organization to make also volunteers feel part of something and have clear the importance of the actions as part of a project.

Andrea: We ask you to give us from your point of view a small piece of the NFP, and which you think Are the needs for the future.

Gian Paolo Montini:: in my sector, connected to pediatric surgery, we are asking ourselves a lot of questions, because in the last years science changed a lot the needs of the families, but we know that only a small part of the world can  take advantage of these new technologies and discoveries. This change is leading towards a change for the needs of the families, before a family needed to move for 6 month to 2 years more or less, now the protocols changed so there is a need to move back and forth because the hospitals cannot handle this in every region.

The first new necessity then is to focus on the transport other than the hosting part, because they may need to move once, twice per month, job and school are also important problems, and Covid 19 accentuated them.

Parents lose their jobs to stay next to their kids, or already lost it before. The brothers and sisters that follow the sick kids change school and in some cases cannot follow virtual lessons.

Psychological support is needed in most cases, for the whole family, and also the reintegration into society is fundamental.

For all these reasons I believe that the challenge n1 for pediatric oncology is to create a network of integrated support in medicine and science, an international protocol that makes every oncologist and pediatrician aware of new cures and discoveries.

We need to do the same in our organizations, in part we already are, but there is a need of a more professional structure not only based on volunteers, not only a bed where to sleep is needed but also support to actually solve the problem, especially in managing logistically the difficult situation.

Andrea: After what you said many things come to my mind, we do not have time to deepen each topic, but I would love to ask you a question, do you have something that happened in your professional life that can be considered a turning point?

Gian Paolo Montini: two main things happened, one related to my profession and the other to emotions,

At the beginning of my career, one of my first managers, made me do a lot of multitasking and after some time asked me to move abroad for a project, while my wife was pregnant some weeks before she was going to give birth to our first child, and I moved with a one week notice in order to persecute my career, and it was the second most important decision of my life after marriage, this was a first step towards then changing my professional path.

The emotional event that shaped me, is connected to a little girl who arrived in the organization, who always saw me as the General Director as someone far and at the beginning never smiled to me much. She stayed with us a long time and one day she came to the room where I was having a meeting, without knocking at the door, got in and raised her hands asking me to take her into my arms. This memory became even more strong one week after, when she didn’t make it. That made me realize that to just be there sometimes it’s important, that its not the one day we add to our lives that will change it, but it is important how much life we give to each day to ourselves and the others, and that hug made me even stronger into being happy of my professional choices.

To listen to the podcast in Italian click here! 

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