From a Branch to the Board: Reflecting on Nine Years of Social Impact

Ahead of the end of his tenure as Global CEO of 180 Degrees Consulting and his appointment as part of the Board of Directors, Nick Charinos pens down his reflections on nearly a decade long social impact journey.

I still remember the first time I came across 180 Degrees Consulting (180DC). It was a warm August afternoon in 2015 in Stockholm, at the Stockholm School of Economics Society Fair. Out of all, one stood out - a group of young students dressed in green shirts who seemed to be having a great time with each other. That initial 5-minute exchange turned into 9 years; and thousands of hours invested later, led me to writing this personal reflection today, as I prepare to step down from my role as Global Chief Executive Officer of the organisation that has shaped me the most as a human being.

Visiting a Projects Presentation evening at Stockholm School of Economics, in 2023, 8 years after the start of Nick’s 180DC journey at that branch

A question that I get asked most frequently goes something like this: “What has kept you with 180 Degrees Consulting for so long?” And I almost always respond with: the mission, the people and the learnings. In this article, I hope to share:

  • My reflections on why the mission, the people, and the opportunity to learn have motivated and engaged me since I joined the organisation,
  •  How working for 180DC changed the way I perceive volunteering,
  • The learnings I have from the mistakes I made along the way,
  • The achievements I am most proud of

The Mission - one of few charities with a dual global impact!

In a previous initiative to identify best practices of organisations similar to 180DC, I was very surprised to find that there were very few charities with a vision and mission similar to ours. So this led me to ask myself; what  excites me the most about our mission?

  • That we enable charities while we upskill students - our goal of enabling charities to do more good, while simultaneously  allowing students to gain valuable experience and skills that will help them find a job and pursue a career in social impact,
  • That we have a global presence with a local footprint - our presence in over 30 countries across 170 universities allows global exposure but local impact,
  • That we have sustained through time - ever since being founded in 2007, our impact model has remained resilient over many challenges, not to mention the COVID-19 pandemic which caused tremendous disruptions in organisations worldwide.

Our dual global impact means that new initiatives have the potential to positively impact both students and clients.

The People - some of the smartest, most socially responsible individuals I know!

I still marvel at how our Global Leadership Team members manage to volunteer anywhere from 5 to 20 hours per week while working or studying full-time. For us, a Sunday without at least two 180DC meetings is not a ‘real Sunday’!

It’s challenging for our members to explain to friends or family why their Sundays are dedicated to 180DC instead of social commitments. Commitment is often evident in the small actions our members take: waking up at 5 am for a Sunday morning meeting, responding to Slack messages during their commute, and spending hours brainstorming ideas for improving our work during in-person meetings.

A photo of the Global Leadership taken in Istanbul in 2022

I vividly remember our first Global Leadership Team Summit in Istanbul in September 2022. Despite being born and raised in different parts of the world and never having met in person, it felt as if we had known each other forever, a feeling that echoed during subsequent summits in Athens, Ghent, and London as well. The shared values, passion, and positivity brought us closer together and reinforced why strengthening a global community of like-minded people is a pursuit worth dedicating time to.

The Learnings - some of the most difficult, yet exciting, problems I have had to solve

From starting off as a Business Development Specialist scoping projects with non-profits around the world, to leading our organisation 5 years later and tackling complex global digital transformation initiatives, each year has brought about new and inspiring challenges  to think about and tackle.

I remember the first major problem I had to solve as a Business Development specialist was how to allocate projects successfully to our network of branches. What seemed like a simple problem at first glance was more complex given the global nature of our operations, our semester cycle of operations, and that branches change their leadership teams year on year! So, finding a solution required a holistic understanding of our operations to ensure it is sustainable.

A photo taken during lunch on a Sunday morning in Belgium with the 2023 executive team after a Global Leadership Team Townhall. Left to right: Will Butler (then Chief of Staff), Chris Garner (then Chief External Relations Officer), Nick Charinos (Chief Executive Officer), Bettina Speigel (Chief Operating Officer), Xavier Tomas (Chief People & Culture Officer) [from left to right names andpositions at the time]

And today, the nature of problems I have had to solve with my team are more complex, yet equally exciting: How can we effectively use technology to upskill our branch executives on how to run their branches and projects more successfully? How can we maintain a strong culture in a global online volunteer community?

Consequently, it is challenging to condense nearly a decade’s worth of learnings into a single article, but I will do my best. From being a better communicator, problem solver, analytical thinker, to (I hope) a better leader and human being, I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to the organisation and the opportunities it has provided me during my 20s.

Re-imagining Volunteering - a small mindset shift that has helped me stay driven and engaged for a long time

In addition to the mission, the people, and the learning opportunities, one particular shift in my approach to volunteering has fundamentally sustained my motivation and productivity over the last 7.5 years.

I view volunteering as a practice where people willingly offer their time, skills, and services to:

  • Learn and develop skills they might not gain as much in their full-time work,
  • Meet new, smart, and interesting individuals,
  • Support a cause or organisation they are deeply passionate about.

The key elements of this definition—“growing skills not typically developed in full-time work” and “meeting new, smart, and interesting individuals”—have been unexpectedly impactful. By framing volunteering as both a personal venture for self-improvement and a means to support a cause you are passionate about, it becomes easier to stay motivated, productive, and engaged in your work.

The three biggest mistakes I made and what I learned from them

Mistake 1: Trying to do too much ultimately leads to ending up doing too little: the importance of focus!

During my first year as CEO, I ambitiously aimed to introduce many new initiatives. However, I underestimated the effort, resources, and lack of focus that adding numerous initiatives would require. This sometimes spread our efforts thin, impacting both our Business as Usual (BAU) activities and ongoing larger-scale projects.

I learned that focusing on a small, prioritised list of new initiatives is crucial. These initiatives should be well-scoped, aligned with our strategy, adequately resourced, and have buy-in from all relevant stakeholders.

Sometimes, less is more, especially when dealing with limited resources such as volunteer time and financial support. So, prioritisation can go a long way to ensure successful execution!

Mistake 2: Balancing volunteerism and full-time work

Despite the importance of reframing volunteerism to help our members see their work in 180DC as equally important as their full-time jobs, there still needs to be a balance and distinction between these roles.

A key example of this challenge occurred during the rollout of our performance management framework in 2023. The intention was to provide a transparent and structured method for facilitating feedback among GLT members. However, many members felt the framework was 'too corporate,' creating the impression that 180DC was becoming an extension of their full-time jobs. This led to frustration and constructive feedback on how to make the framework more relevant for our members.

I learned the importance of creating structures that promote professionalism while preserving the ethos of volunteerism at the heart of 180DC.

Mistake 3: Not taking time off!

Over the last 2.5 years, aside from the occasional week here and there, I haven't prioritised taking time off to recharge. My commitment to being constantly available for the Executive Team and Global Leadership Team members, and my desire to lead by example, led me at times to neglect my own physical and mental health.

Many of us in 180DC, including myself, balance demanding full-time roles with our volunteer commitments. This dual responsibility requires significant energy and dedication. Therefore, recovery and taking breaks are crucial to prevent burnout and maintain productivity.

The advice I would give to my ‘younger self’ starting off a leadership role is to a) have one day per week where you fully disconnect from a volunteering role (Saturday for myself), prioritise taking both short breaks (a long weekend as an example) as well as an extended vacation during less intense periods.  

My Proudest Achievements

The most significant milestones and achievements are always a team effort: the consolidation of hard work, commitment and grit from scope to execution. And I am proud of the hundreds of GLT members I have had the privilege to work with over the last 7.5 years.

Looking back, the achievements I am most proud of, in terms of my contribution and execution, are the ones that helped develop our people, build a strong culture, and ensure our organisation matures from a technology and process perspective.

Helping upskill the next generation of social impact leaders and seeing them grow

During the last 2.5 years, I am most proud seeing some of the members I had the pleasure of recruiting or working with, develop and become leaders themselves.

Chris Garner, our incoming CEO, joined the Partnerships Team I was leading back in 2021, and through a lot of hard work and dedication, climbed the ladder to become one of the most compassionate and thoughtful leaders I know. And his journey is just getting started, and I can’t wait to see his growth in the next 2+ years as he leads our organisation towards the next stage of our journey.

Left to right: Incoming CEO Chris Garner and Chief External Relations Officer Rita Coimbra at the London Summit in 2023

Or Rita Coimbra, our current Chief External Relations Officer, joining the Partnership Team in a similar period as Chris and with much less initial experience in 180DC, having one of the highest learning curves I have seen, and now leads one of our largest portfolios: our external-facing, revenue-generating External Relations portfolio.

Chris and Rita are just some of countless examples: Bettina Spiegel (current Chief Operations Officer), Mark Papinczak (current Chief Digital Officer), Xavier Tómas (current Chief People & Culture Officer), Angelina Lau (current Chief Finance and Compliance Officer), Shivam Jha (former Chief Operations Officer), Niranjan Jahagirdar (former Chief Financial Officer), Varaidzo Ndebele (current Chief of Staff) and many others left their mark and became better versions of themselves.

Seeing your team members grow is one of the most cherished parts of being a leader, and is at the core of our mission as an organisation, which makes me even prouder!

Setting the foundations towards greater organisational maturity

Implementing the right technology, tools, and processes has been crucial to 180 Degrees Consulting's growth from 80 to 170 branches over the last 7.5 years.

I'm proud to have led the global implementation of, which has streamlined the operations of our branches and increased efficiency across our network. We also launched a new 180DC website that has enhanced our brand, attracting more students, clients, and partners. Additionally, we piloted a new Learning Management System to better upskill our branches and showcase the impact of our learning initiatives.

In terms of processes, we've become more agile and aligned by eliminating outdated practices that hindered our growth. Notable changes include ending the 50-50 contribution split between branches and the GLT, allowing branches to manage their own invoicing, launching a new global licensing agreement, and investing in the OKR framework to better align and execute our strategy. These steps have contributed to our organisational maturity and readiness for future challenges.

Building a strong culture centred around our people

At the end of the day, people are at the foundation of all our initiatives. Enabling our global community to do more good, be happy, efficient, and have fun has been one of my primary focus areas.

One of the highlights has been the launch of our Global Leadership Team (GLT) Summits, an annual event where GLT members connect, brainstorm, and have fun. Starting with our inaugural Summit, held in Istanbul, in 2021 and followed by Athens in 2022, we have brought together members from over 30 countries to create shared experiences.

Nick Charinos with incoming CEO Chris Garner, in Stockholm, in 2023

As I write this, we are preparing for our third GLT Summit in Sicily, where we expect 31 members to come together, enjoy each other’s company, and discuss the future of our organisation. This event will also mark the informal handover to our incoming CEO, Chris Garner, who will assume the role on July 1st.

As I finish writing my reflections, I am reminded of one of my favourite books from childhood: Homer’s Odyssey, an epic poem narrating the return of Greek hero Odysseus back home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. After a 10-year long war, his journey to return home lasted another gruelling 10 years, during which time he encountered many perils and all of his crewmates were killed.

One of the key morals of the epic poem, perfectly summarised by the first line of Greek poet’s Constantine Cavafy Ithaca “as you set out for Ithaca hope your road is a long one”, is that it is important to not lose sight of the journey while pursuing your long-term ambitious goals . A journey can be as valuable as the destination or goal, and it has certainly been for myself during the last 9 years in 180DC with countless learnings, friendships, challenges and achievements.

And I eagerly await to see the journey continue under the new stewardship of Chris, Bettina, Angelina, Rita, Xavier, Mark and the rest of our amazing GLT members.

Until then, εις το επανιδείν (see you soon in Greek)!

Read The Report

A year in review


of volunteer work globally in the past year



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