Mart Lättekivi: Never take volunteers for granted

Meet Mart Lättekivi, volunteer coordinator of the awesome sTARTUp Day 2019.

His long volunteering background, knowledge obtained from FISU Volunteer Leaders Academy and great performance as a volunteer manager at SELL games and World University Ski Orienteering Championships made him a perfect candidate to lead volunteers at sTARTUp Day 2019.

«I’m volunteering when I’m giving everything I have without any pay and I’m glad when I do it.»

sTARTUp Day is the biggest business festival in the Baltics. Over 100 high-profile speakers and 4000 guests gather at one place to discuss business, innovation and new technologies, share startup success stories and lessons learned. A skilful core team with the help of 130 volunteers ensure the success of the event.

Zelos at StartUp Day 2019 - case study

What was your first encounter with volunteering?

I started volunteering at a very young age at local fencing competitions. At the time I didn’t know I was volunteering. In my opinion, I was just lending my hand for the greater good and I’ve been doing it ever since. Although, now I know exactly when I’m volunteering – it’s when I’m giving everything I have without any pay and I’m glad when I do it.

What was your most memorable volunteering experience?

If I have to bring out one moment at gunpoint, I’d say it was the beginning. It was that bold and thoughtless moment when I said to Tarmo Jaakson, the former secretary general of Estonian Academic Sports Federation, that I’d like to be a candidate for FISU Volunteer Leaders Academy. It was that moment when I brought myself into something bigger than I was prepared for. I didn’t know what the whole rollercoaster ride would bring me, but I’m happy I said yes. Perhaps the most valuable experience to be learned is to agree to do bigger things than you think you’re capable of. Only then can you level up.

This year you were a volunteer coordinator at sTARTUp Day. How did you like the atmosphere and community of the event?

Every event holds its personal atmosphere and so did sTARTUp Day. sTARTUp Day is like the city it’s hosted in. It’s small enough for you to get everywhere on time. It has enough activities for every taste and the programme is also designed so that everyone has something to do there.

But I believe that the best aspect of sTARTUp Day was the organizing team. We had this amazing chemistry, where everyone was supportive and it was such a delight to work with them. It was only possible because we had enough time to get to know each other.

Don’t think that it was easy to organize sTARTUp Day. Absolutely not! It was one of the toughest obstacles I have ever had to overcome. But with my team supporting me and me supporting them, it was so much easier. All the positive vibe hanging on our heads during meetings, seminars and the festival itself, made organizing look like a child’s play. When in reality it was the sleepless nights planning every second of sTARTUp Day and preparing for every disaster that might occur during the festival.

«Perhaps the most valuable experience to be learned is to agree to do bigger things than you think you’re capable of. Only then can you level up.»

How do you take care of your volunteers? How do you support them?

When it comes to volunteers, the first thing one needs to realize is that those people, that come to your aid, aren’t obligated to do anything and they come to help during their free time. One needs to evaluate their contribution and their willingness to help out. The moment you start to take your volunteers for granted, you have lost. You have lost your right and approval to manage volunteers.

Words are a powerful tool when working with people and when you give your volunteers the right to choose their own path, they will gladly help you out. They want to help you out. I always encourage my volunteers to show themselves. I want them to show what they are capable of. When they are on the mission of being a better self, you can be sure that every task they take is their top priority. If you want your volunteers to follow and help you, you have to care for them and not for a second think of them as someone to be taken for granted.

Working with a big team is always a challenge. What is the most interesting challenge for you to tackle?

The challenge of such a big team is making sure that everybody knows what they are doing. Creating a system, where everyone knows exactly what’s happening throughout the whole festival, is a difficult task. In addition to personally communicating with all the volunteers, you have to make sure that the core team shares relevant information with them. It isn’t that easy of a task.

Since organisers constantly have something to do, volunteers aren’t always their priority. Making the core team and volunteers work as one is like making teachers and students work on the same level. At first, the teachers will think of themselves as someone higher, but eventually, they understand that being one team is best for both sides of the party. My biggest challenge is to make that realization come true as soon as possible.

«If you want your volunteers to follow and help you, you have to care for them and not for a second think of them as someone to be taken for granted.»

What do you like in the profession?

The best thing about being a volunteer manager is the volunteers – all those bright-eyed and entrepreneurial people who want to accomplish something. They surround you with their positive energy and make you feel more alive than you have ever imagined possible. They make you understand the value of hard work and they make surviving a week, with only three hours of sleep each night, seem like nothing.

When I look back at sTARTUp Day, I’m not having a picture of the venue or the speakers in my imagination. I see all the 130 volunteers smiling back at me and the blast of positive energy that I get from their happy faces.

What would you advise yourself back when you were just starting as a volunteer coordinator?

If I had to look back to myself as a starting volunteer manager, I would tell myself to be more caring about the volunteers. Although I wanted everyone to feel confident about their tasks and my support, I now see how it could have been improved.

There were moments where I saw aspects, that should have been taken care of, but I decided to turn a blind eye. It was a mistake, but at least I learned from that situation. Now I am more aware of how my actions affect others. Sometimes doing nothing is a bigger mistake than doing something wrong.

How do you see volunteering in 30 years?

With the development of technology, volunteering and team-leading have much to learn. I believe that at the moment Zelos is one of the first startups to take a step forward in that matter. In 30-years volunteering will be appreciated as much as it is done right now, maybe even more. Though it will be easier for team leaders since we will have the technology to help us out. Estonia is well-known for our technological advancement and hopefully, in 2050 we will be known as the country of startups and innovative team-leading solutions.

How did Zelos help you during sTARTUp Day?

I liked that I was able to find a free volunteer for a job when everyone seemed to be busy.  It saved me a couple of times from quite a disaster.