After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2006, Milena worked for several years as an investment banker at JPMorgan in New York City. Craving adventure and purpose, she quit her job after 2.5 years and become a Kiva Fellow, through which she volunteered at microfinance institutions in Bosnia, Kenya, and the Philippines.
While overseas, she developed the idea for Pando, based on her experience as a grassroots organizer in college. She now lives in New York City and is pursuing her dream of starting an organization to empower home-grown community projects.
Today, Pando is a nonprofit that empowers people to step up as leaders and develop new, local solutions to the problems in their communities.
Daily Point of Light Honoree, Milena Arciszewski shared the story below at a Points of Light event.
The first time I stepped into a HandsOn Network action center, I was a shy, pimply, 14-year old girl living in Fairfax, Virginia. I was given a list of volunteer opportunities and suddenly I felt energized. Important. Like a woman of influence. I embraced the list and I embraced service, and began to spend all of my free time at homeless shelters or cleaning up parks. Volunteering became a part of my identity. Making a difference was no longer a nebulous concept reserved for my girl scout troop; it was an idea and a mission that I could incorporate into my daily life and into my soul. My early volunteer work with the HandsOn Network helped me to develop the confidence I needed to start pursuing my own ideas while in college. As a Junior at UVA, I organized a bookdrive that collected several thousands textbooks to benefit a university in Afghanistan. The experience changed my life and I became even more determined to play a role in creating a better world. The success of the book drive also led to an unexpected job opportunity. Suddenly I found myself working as an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase. However, my heart belonged elsewhere. I lined my cubicle walls with photos of elephants and baboons and after 2.5 years I quit in order to volunteer abroad. As a Kiva Fellow, I volunteered for a year at microfinance institutions in Bosnia, Kenya and the Philippines. I am now back in New York, and am the Founder of a nonprofit called PandoProjects, which will launch this coming Saturday. Pando harnesses the creative potential of people in my generation, and encourages them to develop creative, local solutions to the problems in our communities. In our pilot, we are helping 16 amazing New Yorkers launch grassroots projects that tackle different issues in NY, from domestic violence to unemployment. The MacArthur Foundation has called us “the new face of activism” and we are on the brink of making an extraordinary social impact in the United States. I believe many people have brilliant ideas for tackling global challenges; they simply need basic tools and encouragement to make their ideas happen. My goal with Pando is to help thousands of Americans pursue their ideas and create the change they want to see within their own communities. If I had never volunteered with the HandsOn Network, my life would be dramatically different. I wouldn’t have started the book drive. I wouldn’t have been able to get a job at JPMorgan. I wouldn’t have had the crazy desire to volunteer in Africa. And I definitely wouldn’t have been motivated to start my own service-oriented nonprofit. The HandsOn Network does more than match people with volunteer opportunities; they inculcate the next generation of leaders with a sense of purpose, compassion, and responsibility to take care of our planet. To me service is not an afterthought; it is a way of life. And for that, I can thank the Points of Light Institute which brought us here today. As PandoProjects grows, I will continue to espouse the values of Points of Light. And maybe, just maybe, they will become a future partner, connecting me to their fantastic network of Americans looking to change the world. My favorite quote is from Margaret Meade. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” Points of Light, thank you for mobilizing the American people. And thank you for mobilizing me. I have never felt happier, more empowered, or more excited about life than at this moment, as I start Pando and share the values that Points of Light taught me. Thank you for this award, for your time, and for changing my life. Milena Arciszewski graduated from the University of Virginia in 2006, where she was an avid volunteer. She worked for several years as an investment banker at JPMorgan in NYC, before quitting to volunteer abroad as a Kiva Fellow. She spent one year serving at microfinance institutions in Bosnia, Kenya and the Philippines. She returned to the U.S. to start her own nonprofit, Pando Projects, which empowers Millennials to step up as leaders and develop creative, grassroots solutions to the problems in their communities.