Matthew Oh on the Power of Youth in Starting a Non-Profit Organization

India School

Yesterday, Matthew Oh introduced us to his nonprofit Forefront and explained it’s holistic approach to building self-sustainable communities in third world countries. In the second half of our interview, Oh shares how his youth has benefited his non-profit and why everyone should go after their dreams sooner rather than later.

SHY: Forefront is fairly new since it started last year. What is some of the progress you’ve made thus far? 

MO: We have completed phase one where we built several water wells. And the places that we built them are on busy roads, so even a person passing by who needs water can go and get that clean water. We’ve also created a small basin there to keep that area more sanitary. We’ve also worked on the sustainability piece of the water well.

Now we’re working on the school phase. We’ve begun the groundwork, the foundation and the administration portion of the school, and we’re starting up the whole architectural and building process for our primary school. We hope to launch our primary school this year. Not hope, but we will.

SHY: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced this past year with starting the organization? You’re 27 years old – have there been challenges due to you being young in age? 

MO: No, I think that it’s great that I’m young. I don’t like to listen to whatever the world says about having these types of qualifications or qualities. I believe that if someone has a vision, a purpose, a drive and a passion, then they can accomplish anything.

For me, it’s been a learning process overcoming whatever challenges that come my way. I think the biggest learning experience is patience and waiting. Being young, we have all these goals, but it’s about careful planning, consideration, and choosing your battles. What’s really important? What’s going to be the most effective? We don’t want to be a nonprofit that just takes the money and does whatever. Yes, we’re implementing, but we don’t want to do it without careful consideration and thought. Everything that we do has a purpose; it has a function that leads up and ladders to the overall sustainability plan. So I think that’s something that I’ve learned in terms of challenges. But it’s been great. Being young, the possibilities are endless. There’s nothing that’s stopping you, so it’s been such a great opportunity each day that I’m thankful to God for, being able to do what I love.

SHY: Why did you choose to begin Forefront’s work in India? Do you plan to branch out into other countries in the future? 

MO: We’re definitely open to any country, wherever there’s need. We have a specific person on the team who is all about scoping; we have a whole scoping and embedding process where we look at the need, the impact that we can have, the resources, et cetera. So we’re definitely open to any country.

The reason for choosing India for me is because India is the place I’ve been year after year. I guess after going to a place year after year, you always look at what’s different and what has changed. When I went back year after year, there wasn’t much change. I think when I went to India, I personally heard stories and saw firsthand the lack of water and lack of education. I also heard things about the social system there, and that rang and tugged at my heart. And there was a local contact there who’s just as passionate as I am to go about implementing these changes. So that’s kind of how it started.

Forefront Team Pic

SHY: How old are the other members of Forefront and how many are there? Are most people your age, and if so, how has that helped or hindered your progress? 

MO: I think we have 15, including myself, on the organization. We just brought in some interns recently. We’re in the 20s and 30s range. It’s great because we know the current generation. It’s very important to know college students and high schoolers, because they’re going to be the next generation of activists and they’re very vocal on social media. They’re very passionate and they’re very purposeful in that way. It helps that we’re on the younger side, so we can understand and relate to them and see what’s trending and what’s working now. Not only that, I think we’re all passionate, and we have the mindset of being innovative and doing things right – not being afraid to take risks and changing the system. It’s contagious and that’s kind of what is plaguing our organization.

SHY: How do you balance your full-time job as a senior process engineer at Unilever with running a nonprofit? 

MO: It’s all about staying focused and being reminded of the purpose; that’s what keeps me going. And it’s important to have a good group of friends that remind you. Visiting India also helps to put things into perspective. But I love my work at Unilever. I love the nonprofit. It’s all about what’s important to you. For me, these are the important things in my life, so I’m able to joyfully and gladly do both wholeheartedly. I haven’t really thought it to be a burden. But it’s been a great experience and a growing opportunity for me.

SHY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Or where would you like to be in 10 years? 

MO: In ten years – don’t tell my manager this – I would like to do full-time nonprofit work. That is my goal. I would love to see myself in 10 years visiting other countries, seeing the impact of our work that we’ve done together, hearing stories of lives being impacted, changed, and transformed. How they’re going out to other places because they’re inspired by us to go out and do the same. I think that would be the most fulfilling thing for me.

SHY: What is your real-life super power? 

MO: I would say being myself. I think that growing up, I definitely tried hard. I definitely at many times tried to mask myself to be a certain type of a person. But I think the real thing that I want to say to readers is that I never imagined that I would do this. I didn’t grow up saying this is what I wanted to do. But opportunities came, and I seized them. Similarly, I just want to encourage all the readers that anyone can be a superhero. Anyone can do this line of work. Just like I didn’t expect it, opportunities can come to them. We think that a superhero has to be someone who makes grandiose changes and is on headlines and newspapers, but I think a superhero is just someone who goes outside of themselves and makes a good impactful change. For me, it’s just doing each day what I’m doing, given the skills, talents and the passion that I have. I think that’s being a superhero.

SHY: Who is your real-life superhero? 

MO: As typical of an answer as this is, I would have to say my mom. She’s very strong. She would always say, “Who cares what people think?” She’s a go-getter. She’s really strict but she’s also very loving. Those are the qualities I find admirable.

SHY: What is something you do every day that you think everybody else should do? 

MO: Reflect. It’s very easy to be swayed and taken off course by the distractions of the world, such as materialistic things. I admit, I have an affinity for Apple products, and it does distract me many times. But I also get a lot of inspiration from them. So just reflect, remembering who you are, why you do the things that you do and what keeps you going.

SHY: How would you like to be remembered? 

MO: I would like to be remembered through the stories of lives changed that are shared.

SHY: Do you have any advice for our readers mainly in their 20s and 30s on entrepreneurship and creating a nonprofit? 

MO: I would say step one: know yourself, your talents and your skills, and how you can be most effective. Two: dwell on a plan. Nothing good comes out when you make rash and immediate actions and decisions. It’s all about dwelling, thinking, reflecting and exploring different options and reading a lot of articles and papers and educating yourself. Three: ask yourself, are you ready to do whatever it takes to get there? Four: rally your close friends and family. And five: believe and go. Just go and don’t compare yourself with others, because that makes it about competition. This is where you have to keep your purpose in mind and keep going. Slow and steady wins the race.

SHY: Is there anything you want our readers to know that I haven’t asked? 

MO: I would just end with this – let’s do it together. Like I said before, you don’t need to be a superstar to be a superhero. Everyday people can become superheroes or have the impact to be superheroes. The thing is, it’s not a one-man show. I would say get involved, look for opportunities, talk to people, hear stories, and gather your intel, because it’s only going to continue to grow you and build you to help you become who you will be. Then, don’t live for just yourself. There needs to be something bigger because by looking at yourself, it’s very easy to get hung up on your weaknesses and failures. It can bring you down. But when there’s a bigger purpose for other people, then there’s something to live for and something to continue to do. And you never know – an interaction you had once or one thing that you learned in school that you thought you would never need again, it’ll come back. It could be used for something because you’ll never know what you’ll be doing in 30 years. I didn’t know I was going to do this. Amongst my friends in college, I was always that event planner – I guess now too. Back then, I would always complain. I know I can do it, but I wish someone else would do it. Little did I know that it would come in very handy to what I’m doing now, and it helps me a lot. So just keep the little things, the everyday things that may seem mundane, because they will grow you and build you as a person.

Liked this? Check out part 1 to learn more about Forefront! 

Written by Diana Kim

Yesterday, Matthew Oh introduced us to his nonprofit Forefront and explained it’s holistic approach to building self-sustainable communities in third world countries. In the second half of our interview, Oh shares how his youth has benefited his non-profit and why everyone should go after their dreams sooner rather than later.

SHY: Forefront is fairly new since it started last year. What is some of the progress you’ve made thus far? 

MO: We have completed phase one where we built several water wells. And the places that we built them are on busy roads, so even a person passing by who needs water can go and get that clean water. We’ve also created a small basin there to keep that area more sanitary. We’ve also worked on the sustainability piece of the water well.

Now we’re working on the school phase. We’ve begun the groundwork, the foundation and the administration portion of the school, and we’re starting up the whole architectural and building process for our primary school. We hope to launch our primary school this year. Not hope, but we will.

SHY: What were some of the challenges you’ve faced this past year with starting the organization? You’re 27 years old – have there been challenges due to you being young in age? 

MO: No, I think that it’s great that I’m young. I don’t like to listen to whatever the world says about having these types of qualifications or qualities. I believe that if someone has a vision, a purpose, a drive and a passion, then they can accomplish anything.

For me, it’s been a learning process overcoming whatever challenges that come my way. I think the biggest learning experience is patience and waiting. Being young, we have all these goals, but it’s about careful planning, consideration, and choosing your battles. What’s really important? What’s going to be the most effective? We don’t want to be a nonprofit that just takes the money and does whatever. Yes, we’re implementing, but we don’t want to do it without careful consideration and thought. Everything that we do has a purpose; it has a function that leads up and ladders to the overall sustainability plan. So I think that’s something that I’ve learned in terms of challenges. But it’s been great. Being young, the possibilities are endless. There’s nothing that’s stopping you, so it’s been such a great opportunity each day that I’m thankful to God for, being able to do what I love.

SHY: Why did you choose to begin Forefront’s work in India? Do you plan to branch out into other countries in the future? 

MO: We’re definitely open to any country, wherever there’s need. We have a specific person on the team who is all about scoping; we have a whole scoping and embedding process where we look at the need, the impact that we can have, the resources, et cetera. So we’re definitely open to any country.

The reason for choosing India for me is because India is the place I’ve been year after year. I guess after going to a place year after year, you always look at what’s different and what has changed. When I went back year after year, there wasn’t much change. I think when I went to India, I personally heard stories and saw firsthand the lack of water and lack of education. I also heard things about the social system there, and that rang and tugged at my heart. And there was a local contact there who’s just as passionate as I am to go about implementing these changes. So that’s kind of how it started.

Forefront Team Pic

SHY: How old are the other members of Forefront and how many are there? Are most people your age, and if so, how has that helped or hindered your progress? 

MO: I think we have 15, including myself, on the organization. We just brought in some interns recently. We’re in the 20s and 30s range. It’s great because we know the current generation. It’s very important to know college students and high schoolers, because they’re going to be the next generation of activists and they’re very vocal on social media. They’re very passionate and they’re very purposeful in that way. It helps that we’re on the younger side, so we can understand and relate to them and see what’s trending and what’s working now. Not only that, I think we’re all passionate, and we have the mindset of being innovative and doing things right – not being afraid to take risks and changing the system. It’s contagious and that’s kind of what is plaguing our organization.

SHY: How do you balance your full-time job as a senior process engineer at Unilever with running a nonprofit? 

MO: It’s all about staying focused and being reminded of the purpose; that’s what keeps me going. And it’s important to have a good group of friends that remind you. Visiting India also helps to put things into perspective. But I love my work at Unilever. I love the nonprofit. It’s all about what’s important to you. For me, these are the important things in my life, so I’m able to joyfully and gladly do both wholeheartedly. I haven’t really thought it to be a burden. But it’s been a great experience and a growing opportunity for me.

SHY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Or where would you like to be in 10 years? 

MO: In ten years – don’t tell my manager this – I would like to do full-time nonprofit work. That is my goal. I would love to see myself in 10 years visiting other countries, seeing the impact of our work that we’ve done together, hearing stories of lives being impacted, changed, and transformed. How they’re going out to other places because they’re inspired by us to go out and do the same. I think that would be the most fulfilling thing for me.

SHY: What is your real-life super power? 

MO: I would say being myself. I think that growing up, I definitely tried hard. I definitely at many times tried to mask myself to be a certain type of a person. But I think the real thing that I want to say to readers is that I never imagined that I would do this. I didn’t grow up saying this is what I wanted to do. But opportunities came, and I seized them. Similarly, I just want to encourage all the readers that anyone can be a superhero. Anyone can do this line of work. Just like I didn’t expect it, opportunities can come to them. We think that a superhero has to be someone who makes grandiose changes and is on headlines and newspapers, but I think a superhero is just someone who goes outside of themselves and makes a good impactful change. For me, it’s just doing each day what I’m doing, given the skills, talents and the passion that I have. I think that’s being a superhero.

SHY: Who is your real-life superhero? 

MO: As typical of an answer as this is, I would have to say my mom. She’s very strong. She would always say, “Who cares what people think?” She’s a go-getter. She’s really strict but she’s also very loving. Those are the qualities I find admirable.

SHY: What is something you do every day that you think everybody else should do? 

MO: Reflect. It’s very easy to be swayed and taken off course by the distractions of the world, such as materialistic things. I admit, I have an affinity for Apple products, and it does distract me many times. But I also get a lot of inspiration from them. So just reflect, remembering who you are, why you do the things that you do and what keeps you going.

SHY: How would you like to be remembered? 

MO: I would like to be remembered through the stories of lives changed that are shared.

SHY: Do you have any advice for our readers mainly in their 20s and 30s on entrepreneurship and creating a nonprofit? 

MO: I would say step one: know yourself, your talents and your skills, and how you can be most effective. Two: dwell on a plan. Nothing good comes out when you make rash and immediate actions and decisions. It’s all about dwelling, thinking, reflecting and exploring different options and reading a lot of articles and papers and educating yourself. Three: ask yourself, are you ready to do whatever it takes to get there? Four: rally your close friends and family. And five: believe and go. Just go and don’t compare yourself with others, because that makes it about competition. This is where you have to keep your purpose in mind and keep going. Slow and steady wins the race.

SHY: Is there anything you want our readers to know that I haven’t asked? 

MO: I would just end with this – let’s do it together. Like I said before, you don’t need to be a superstar to be a superhero. Everyday people can become superheroes or have the impact to be superheroes. The thing is, it’s not a one-man show. I would say get involved, look for opportunities, talk to people, hear stories, and gather your intel, because it’s only going to continue to grow you and build you to help you become who you will be. Then, don’t live for just yourself. There needs to be something bigger because by looking at yourself, it’s very easy to get hung up on your weaknesses and failures. It can bring you down. But when there’s a bigger purpose for other people, then there’s something to live for and something to continue to do. And you never know – an interaction you had once or one thing that you learned in school that you thought you would never need again, it’ll come back. It could be used for something because you’ll never know what you’ll be doing in 30 years. I didn’t know I was going to do this. Amongst my friends in college, I was always that event planner – I guess now too. Back then, I would always complain. I know I can do it, but I wish someone else would do it. Little did I know that it would come in very handy to what I’m doing now, and it helps me a lot. So just keep the little things, the everyday things that may seem mundane, because they will grow you and build you as a person.

Liked this? Check out part 1 to learn more about Forefront! 

Written by Diana Kim

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