Photo C/O: In a Perfect World
Manuela Testolini is the head of In a Perfect World, an organization she founded to empower the next generation by creating programs that provide education, mentoring and artistic expression to under served and at-risk youth around the world. In addition to In A Perfect World’s work of building schools, providing grants to inner city classrooms in need, and helping to facilitate youth-driven moments of service, Manuela has created a unique Youth Ambassador Program in which she trains young people to be philanthropists and community leaders themselves.
Growing up I really wanted to be
As young as 9 years old, I wanted to be an attorney… probably because everyone said I’d make a good lawyer when they couldn’t win an argument with me.
My go-to order at a coffee shop is
Genmaicha or Jasmine Green Tea if they have it… if not, any kind of green tea.
I don’t know how I ever lived without
My iPhone! I resisted getting one for so long because, back in the day, a business phone = Blackberry. But my husband bought me an iPhone after we had our first child and I was so happy to have a phone with a quality camera to snap photos and video of our little newborn girl. I still miss having a real keyboard though.
One thing people don’t know about me is
I’m pretty shy but I’m also a daredevil. Jumping out a plane? No problem. Speaking on a stage? Ah, not so much.
My real life hero is
My mom. She left her home country (Egypt) at 21 to visit a cousin in London for 2 weeks and never looked back. She loves adventure! She lived in London for some time then moved to Paris, learning English and French along the way. Within 3 years, she had met my dad, married, moved to Canada and had me. She’s fearless.
What I love about my work is
I am fortunate to be in a position to positively impact the lives of thousands of people, children in particular.
The hardest thing about my work is
Not being able to help everyone. Seeing a problem I can’t immediately fix.
How I got started with my current career
I became disenchanted with the legal system and took some time off to volunteer in a homeless shelter. I knew I had found my calling. I wanted to work hands-on with people to change their lives. I parlayed that passion into doing consulting for different foundations and eventually started my own.
The dumbest thing I did when I was starting out
I tried to take on way too much! I’ve learned to be strategic and to align myself with the right partners.
My typical day looks like
By 6:30, one or two little munchkins wake me up. Then I go straight into getting the kids ready for pre-school or whatever excursion we have planned for the day.
Once the kids are off to school, the juggling starts. I’m at the office checking on work for the day or on my way to my first meeting. I plan meetings from 10-3 so I can pick up my kids at a reasonable time.
We are home by 4:30 and I start making dinner while they work on art projects or just run around together.
We eat dinner together, always. We talk about our day, what they learned, what I learned. And all the politics that happen at pre-school.
If we have time, we go for an after-dinner walk. My toddler likes to “hunt” for snail shells and the eldest is practicing on her bike. It’s a good meditative time, winding down, reconnecting with nature after the busy days we have.
Bath time! During which I’m usually sitting on the floor of their bathroom folding laundry.
I get the kids in PJs, they choose the book they want to read before bed. Sometimes there’s a 2-song dance party to Blame It on the Boogie or Shake Your Body.
I get them both in bed and then I get to round up my day, hopefully having a glass of wine with my Eric husband while we watch Rachel Maddow or Trevor Noah..
Last thing I do is check the calendar for the next day and the next couple of weeks, trying to make sure I’m not overbooked. I’m a very hands-on mom, so I’m the one taking my kids to gym class, birthday parties, all of that good stuff. Between that and both my daily work and travel, I rely heavily on making sense of my calendar.
What does integrity in the workplace look like for you?
There’s a great quote by Oprah that I think sums this up: Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did it or not.
I used to think success mean
My current definition of success is
Being able to revel in failures as much as you do successes, recognizing them as opportunities for growth and enlightenment.
An example of when I had to push through my insecurities
Every time I visit a new community we’re working with in the developing world, it can be daunting. I stay with host families in rural villages, with no electricity or access to clean water. It is all a leap of faith — to immerse oneself in a remote community, facing new foods and a language barrier, surrounded by people I don’t know.
I know my work/life balance is out of sync when
When I’m eating a protein bar for dinner and falling asleep at my laptop. There is a fine line between working hard and working smart. An email sent at 2am isn’t going to get read until the next morning, so why not sleep and send the same email in the morning? It really is about self-discipline.
The last time I created something I was proud of was
I’m most proud of creating opportunities for young people, especially girls, to have their voices heard and their dreams manifested. Most recently, I was privileged to attend the inauguration of a school that we built in Malawi. Words can’t express the pride I feel knowing an entire community will be forever changed through education because of the school.
I wish I could tell my younger self
Not be such a perfectionist. It can be a prison.
The legacy I hope to leave is:
That my children know their mommy worked really hard in service of others and that it was all worth it.