Naomi Ryland tbd* book author

“I wanted to be a hairdresser in the morning, a teacher in the afternoon and a ballet dancer at night.” Naomi Ryland has never been short of ambition or willingness to work. And while she has somewhat narrowed her focus since childhood, her dedication to making a difference in the world has remained untethered. 

We are community builders at heart.

Today, she is following her calling as a co-founder and managing director of tbd*, a community for social impact professionals through which they find everything they need to advance their careers, from jobs to training, inspiration and funding. In her role, Naomi takes charge of business development and strategy. Internally, she describes her main focus as making sure that her team is happy and fulfilled. No small feat while ensuring the company is on track to financial sustainability. 

“We are community builders at heart which is hard to hang onto because funders often don’t feel or see the necessity for investing in those who connect the dots and provide a platform for shared learning and opportunities. A key balance we are trying to strike lies between aligning community building to our revenue model. Because let’s be honest, the need for a business model can put community building on the backburner.”

Let’s talk community

“To me, community is about identity and shared values. The primary value lies in a sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than yourself. At tbd*, we create this sense of belonging in two dimensions: 

  1. Online through interviews and showcasing role models. We show that there are jobs, events, organizations, and ensure that we can offer a certain diversity of offers and opportunities to our community.  
  2. Offline through events such as our annual persist* Summit where we focus on networking and building in-person relationships.

As a community builder, it certainly helps being an extrovert (which I am not). I have found that being good at connecting people  as well as setting boundaries has helped me become good at what I do.

I would love to see deeper connections to some of the welfare and more established organizations in the impact arena

When I look around the social impact community in Berlin, I get the sense that we have grown up quite a bit. It used to be somewhat hipster, young and maybe not always quite as impactful as it could have been. But we have turned a corner. With the launch of the Social Entrepreneurship Network Germany (SEND e.V.), social entrepreneurship finally has a voice in the political arena which is exciting! Next, I would love to see deeper connections to some of the welfare and more established organizations in the impact arena such as the Wohlfahrt that share our vision.”

Setting boundaries

With such fierce dedication to building community, what does life look like outside of work? “I spend part of my year in Capetown with my husband.” Naomi mentions casually. As I look through the glass window of the conference room we’re chatting in, he waves at me. 

I’m flabbergasted. Growing a community of social impact professionals in Europe and a marriage between Germany and Africa? What else you got Naomi?

“While in Berlin, I get up between 7 and 8. I try to take some time in the morning before I start my day at work. It can be as simple as enjoying a cup of tea at home for ten minutes before heading out the door. I always start with a plan for my day. It is not unusual for me to spend 50% of my time in meetings. When meetings begin to take the upper hand, I plan for meeting-free days and sometimes even weeks.” I shift uncomfortably in my chair because… erm… this is a meeting and she probably has real work to do. Boy do I hope I caught her on a meeting day. On with it then! 

“Writing our book “Starting a Revolution” with Lisa Jaspers has allowed me to get a bigger perspective. During crunch time – during the kickstarter campaign for the book launch – I was basically working two full-time jobs. At the same time it was energizing pouring my energy into this project.”

Growing personally and professionally 

Safe to say Naomi doesn’t get bored easily. Does she ever unplug?

“I do need days during which I just don’t do anything.

When it comes to balancing my well-being work load, I am intentional about setting boundaries.

I have reframed my thoughts around investing in my professional and personal growth. For a long time I viewed it as me investing in my work where I was the one who was constantly giving giving giving. And it was not a healthy relationship. More recently, I flipped that idea by doing more of the type of work that at the same time felt like I was investing in myself.”