Building bridges for immeasurable impact

Karen Brokensha is a long-standing friend of Nation Builder who shares her encouraging story to spark fresh thinking in others, and remind us of the power of bridge-building. In 2013, after eight years in the Hospitality Sector, Karen moved to the Non-Profit Sector as the Coordinator for iThemba Lethu in KZN. Five years later she became the Youth Programme Manager at The Clothing Bank Durban and in 2020 stepped into the Donor Relations and Marketing role at The Domino Foundation (and quickly dove deep into their Disaster Response Unit!). Today she runs her own consulting business, Matatu Marketing, to build families, businesses and communities through intelligence and insight to establish enterprises that will endure.

Many may not understand the weight that comes with working in the Non-Profit Sector. There is a sacrifice that those who choose this passion-as-vocation must make – it can be a lonely and isolated career. This rings especially true for those that bear the responsibility of “keeping the lights on” and the doors open for their Non Profit – the NPO Coordinators, the fundraisers, the CEOs and more.

After just a few short months at iThemba Lethu, fresh to the NPO sector, I felt the pressure, responsibility and enormity of my role. There is a level of occupational trauma that persists when you have to carry the weight of inequality – facing the lack and struggles of our nation – while trying to fit it all into a neat piece of accountable reporting to present to a donor. The funding of iThemba Lethu rested squarely on my shoulders, and the burden was akin to searching through a desert for the next lifeline.

When I joined Nation Builder in 2013, then known as Muthobi Foundation, I found solace in the relationships and connected with their heart to empower and embolden the NPO sector. Every gathering that Nation Builder hosted, from the coffee to the debates and discussions, felt like a “pause-moment” to gain strength and be recognised for, and supported in, this arduous and exhausting work. Nation Builder offered an oasis to myself, and many other weary NPO professionals.

Through these moments, conferences and conversations, my confidence began to grow and somewhere along the line my mindset shifted from that of begging for funding to building lasting partnerships. I found the courage to enter relationships with the corporate sector on a more  equal footing. I learned how to “do my homework” on funders and find the right fit rather than wasting time and resources through a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

As my career in the NPO sector has grown and evolved, I have carried this confidence with me, and kept a strong affiliation to, and with, Nation Builder. I firmly believe that the more we invest in both the NPO Leader, and their operational teams, as well as the CSI Manager, and their corporate culture, the stronger our impact will be in our nation.

We must continue to bridge the gap of understanding, find community-centric footing and build true partnerships. Bridge building like this only happens when we understand the value of both sides of the social impact conversation.