An idealistic, driven woman comes to terms with the realities of life in the global nonprofit sector.
In this debut, Bergman combines memoir with an analysis of the shortcomings of contemporary humanitarian relief organizations. The author, a pastor’s daughter in a family with a genuine ethos of service, began her career at 23 as an intern for an organization combating human trafficking in Cambodia. A few weeks later, the organization persuaded her to take over after the director’s sudden resignation, and she found herself in over her head, strapped for resources and stretched beyond her limits. She also failed to balance her own well-being with that of the people she served. Eventually, Bergman returned to her home in Canada, and underwent a long, personal process of self-examination, during which she grew to understand her own tendency to overextend herself. She then found a position in which she was able to do the work she was passionate about, but in a way that allowed her to thrive, rather than wither. The book touches on the structural problems of the nonprofit sector, from the salaries that keep professionals below the poverty line to the unrealistic expectations of donors. But Bergman focuses primarily on individual-level change, effectively using her own experiences as a way to show colleagues how to transition from offering aid to working for justice. Specifically, she urges them to see the populations that they serve as partners in changing the world, not mere objects of charity. As a result, Bergman’s idealism and passion for her cause are evident throughout the book. Occasionally, she indulges in overly dramatic prose (“From the lens of a small-town girl with sanguine expectations and fervent dreams”), and she sometimes chides people who fail to live up to her own standards. That said, the book clearly shows the author’s growing maturity over the course of the narrative.
A memoir that ably addresses the challenges of meeting one’s personal needs while also serving humanitarian causes.