Juha-Matti Santala
Community Builder. Dreamer. Adventurer.

What Rails Girls taught me about non-organizations

Finland is the promised land of organizations. Almost every citizen is or has been part of a non-profit organization during their life and most of us have been a board member in one or two or … well, let’s just say some of us do it a lot.

As I grew up here and was for the majority of my life a conservative by-the-book guy, everytime I planned of starting something new, I immediately thought about starting an organization, establishing a board, organizing a founding meeting and monthly board meetings and thinking about the paperwork. Long story short, I didn’t start a lot of things.

I had been a secret fan of Rails Girls movement for quite a while before I gathered enough courage to email local organizers in Helsinki. For a long time I felt that since I wasn’t a professional developer and not a Ruby on Rails guru by any means, I never asked if I could join. Lucky for me, in the fall of 2013 I found that courage, emailed Lotta who was doing one in Helsinki Nov 2013 and she replied and took me in.

Rails Girls Helsinki, November 2013 — Photo by Yu Shen

After that one slushy weekend in Helsinki, I’ve coached and/or organized bunch of Rails Girls workshops all around: San Francisco, Helsinki, Turku, Jyväskylä, Salo and helped a bit on the side with the global community. One of the magical things that happened though was what I learned.

Rails Girls Turku, March 2015

Rails Girls local chapters are not registered organizations. They are just groups of (let me say, amazing) people who gather together and spend their time helping women learn programming all around the world. Organizing these workshops got me comfortable with doing stuff without starting a formal organization.

When I started Turku ♥ Frontend in December 2015, I was already in a situation where starting an organization felt like a distraction. I didn’t want any of that board meeting nonsense. We become a community instead of an organization. We don’t have members, we don’t have a board and (as an obvious consequence) we don’t deal with money. We look out for local companies who can sponsor us directly by buying the beers and snacks for the events. Sometimes it sucks that we can’t take sponsorship money but as money usually complicates things a lot, I’m more than happy to make that trade-off.

Turku ❤ Frontend meetup in March 2016

The most important change has happened in my mindset. Instead of deciding to do something and creating structure around it, I just do it. If the structure one day becomes inevitable, then I cherish it. But until that day, I’ll just keep doing it. Today I realized that I never actually made a decision to start a meetup community. I just started a Facebook group on a whim and that group grew virally to become a meetup community. The story of how that happened can be read here.

I have the luxury of having a full-time job where my main function is to help others do the same. To start building things: businesses, non-profits, their life, anything. And anywhere I go, I find that I’m surrounded by amazing communities of people willing to chip in with their time, knowledge, expertise — or sometimes — money. And I love it.

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