How She Got There: Elizabeth Firgeleski, CEO & Founder of A Global Friendship

Name: Elizabeth Firgeleski
Job Title and Description: CEO and Founder of A Global Friendship
Instagram Handle: @aglobalfriendship

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

There really is no typical day, and much depends on the time of year and what we have going on. One of the many upsides of running a grassroots organization is that you get to wear many hats, sometimes even in the course of a single day. I lead our board of directors, so my work day may entail meetings with board members, planning with staff our project activities, working on the budget, leading our fundraising initiatives, and then some. Although managing so many responsibilities at one time can be tiresome at times, this aspect of my work is also very fulfilling – it's helped me to grow professionally on many levels, and gives me a sense of ownership and decision-making power over project activities and their impact and the direction in which I want to take the organization.

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is being a voice (and witnessing the benefits thereof) for those without voices. We all know the tremendous feeling of knowing that someone has your back, that someone is there to advocate on your behalf when you are silenced or denied a forum for speaking out on injustices that inhibit one’s own empowerment. I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to extend these feelings of support and trust in others to the women we serve through our programs.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

My very first entry-level job was in fashion – I worked as a fit model. I found myself in this position as a result of my genetics, and having a ‘perfect size’ body. But I found this work unfulfilling and eventually spent my free time volunteering for cancer research and as a canvasser on the streets of New York City for other causes that I deeply cared about. I quickly became a top fundraiser because I strongly believed in the mission of the organizations I canvassed for and had the magnetism and interpersonal skills to easily connect to potential donors and convey messages in a way that resonated with and inspired people.

Many college women are looking at careers outside of the United States. Since your work with A Global Friendship has taken you all over the world, what advice do you have for women looking to work in a different country?

When leaving familiar territory and heading out to work in very different socio-cultural settings, it is crucial as women that we equip ourselves with mountains of self-confidence and unwavering trust in our own personal capacities. At the same time, maintaining self awareness and an open yet introspective mind that regularly recalls the purpose of our international career and lifestyle are also essential. Additionally, it is very important to be patient with others and with ourselves as we leave our comfort zones and face language barriers that can be exhausting and cultural differences that challenge our own world views.

When we visit new places, each day may bring about a unique and unfamiliar challenge; no two challenges are alike, but fortunately, with each new challenge comes new lessons and unexplored possibilities, and as a result of which limitless potential is revealed to us.

Additionally, what tips do you have for young women who want a career that makes a difference in the lives of others?

You have to be 100% confident and believe in, and [be] committed to, your own vision and the mission that you represent and allow to become a part of you, whatever mission that may be, as there are infinite ways in which you can help others. Think deeply on the sector that suits you best or that you’re most interested in, given your background, skills, and/or passion, and research the organizations doing great work within those sectors, in terms of their approaches and/or impact. Network with those linked to the organizations you are interested in, or the field you want to be in, with the intention of professional growth and better understanding the skills you should develop to excel in your field/job of interest. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others, ask lots of questions, and don’t hesitate in building up those skills and experience!

One of the most beautiful things in this world is to make someone else smile, and there are few things that feel more rewarding. So go for it! This world needs more people creating positive change.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

There are so many great pearls of wisdom and quotes out there that have helped me out along the way at different times whether it be by encouraging me to believe in myself or motivating me when the wall between me and success just seemed way too high and wide. Above all else, I would say LISTEN TO YOURSELF and TRUST YOUR GUT. You know yourself and your journey in this life best, and only you can tap into your deepest creative and compassionate mind.

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

All of my successes were built on the shoulders of failures/mistakes. Mistakes are necessary for growth and I value them because of the lessons that ensued. One mistake in particular that I made was wanting to see the good and believe in everyone, and refusing to properly assess whether or not potential volunteers had the genuine and unwavering passion, stamina and determination to fulfill the tasks that needed to be accomplished as AGF staff volunteers. I realize now, in hindsight, that it would have been better to wait it out and more rigorously vet for and find the right people for the job rather than so easily trust everyone that presented themselves to me as potential AGF volunteers.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

A moment that left me feeling truly grateful and yet dumbfounded at the same time was when I realized the meaning behind the fact that masters and PhD candidates were expressing interest in documenting the activities and impact of AGF in their international development classes and/or in their theses. In this moment, it hit me that AGF’s work had a cascading effect with the potential to bring in and impact the lives of many more people than I had initially expected.

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

Integrity and ethics are huge to me – when I assess the potentiality of new hires, I look carefully into whether or not individuals hold deeply within their hearts the values that AGF embodies. Aside from aligned values and a solid character, new hires should have equal amounts of passion and work ethic.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

Creating a start-up can be challenging – complication after complication may arise which can often be discouraging. Perseverance is paramount, and I encourage any young woman to continually ask herself what motivates her, what is constantly on her mind, and where she sees gaps that need to be filled in terms of access to and utilization of services and overall well-being of vulnerable populations. There are numerous ways in which one can create positive change in this world, but all of them begin with a simple question that we must ask ourselves – “What is my inner voice/intuition telling me?” I was fortunate enough to have listened to my inner voice – the founding of AGF was the result of this. We need to more often trust in and listen to ourselves, and surround ourselves by supportive individuals who believe in us, because beautiful things will happen when we do just that.