By: Caitlin Chandler

For this month’s glimpse into the people who make Torchlight tick, we sat down with Reshma Pattni. Reshma is one of Torchlight’s co-founders and oversees the company’s financial and administrative systems, making sure that money gets to the right places and people have tools to carry-out their work. Reshma’s deep experience with social justice movements - she started going to protests when she was a kid - now informs the many layers of her work.

CC: What are some elements of how Torchlight operates that reflect its value system?

RP: Torchlight’s values are essential to our model. Many of us have been friends and colleagues for years, so there’s really a sense of caring and respect for one another. There’s also a lot of appreciation among us for what each person brings to the table and active collaboration among us all to create new models for what social justice looks like at work. We are committed to individual’s growth and meeting our members where they’re at in the professional consulting world; some folks have freelanced for years, but for others, working with Torchlight is their first time as consultants. We bring this empathy and intentionality both to our team and to our projects. Related, we prioritize clear communication - when you respect and value your team, you want to make sure you’re clear with each other, and that there are platforms for everyone to share their ideas and learn from each other.

CC: You’re the brains behind Torchlight’s administration and financial management. What does it take to keep the Torchlight Collective running smoothly?

RP: The most important part is finding creative and efficient ways to make sure our team has what they need to excel and be able to work smoothly and easily. Sometimes that’s a tried and true method, and other times it’s creating something new. Being flexible in finding the right solution has been key. We all care deeply about the work that we’re doing and bring a rights-based approach to what we do. I work to ensure our infrastructure and systems reflect our rights-based approach. I love that my role on the team lets me use my system-oriented thinking and obsession with details to support this work!

CC: Working with a virtual team has challenges. How do you ensure people feel connected to Torchlight despite being based in different countries? What does the future of virtual work look like?

RP: I love learning about organizational culture and how to best support teams. There are amazing advantages that come with being able to work remotely, but it can be isolating – we all need human contact. A quick fix I use often is to do video calls whenever possible, even for quick questions or check ins. It really helps to feel like your team is there with you. Outside of that, I read as much as I can about tips and tools for remote work and teams. As our world is increasingly using remote work, there’s more research, ideas, and tools for navigating it successfully.  I try to keep an eye on what new tools and trends can help us stay connected and work effectively.

As for the future of virtual work, I think it’s an undeniable wave. Remote work can provide an opportunity for more people to engage in interesting and rewarding work, without requiring them to be local. It allows teams to work together based on shared skill sets and passions, as opposed to shared geography. I know that with Torchlight, virtual work lends great geographic, cultural, and experiential diversity to our team, and means we can work with fantastic consultants wherever they are. I think this will continue, and the tech and creative folks will continue to provide new tools to ease the way

Some of the sites Reshma checks out on the regular are: Freelancers Union (especially the Blog and Resources section), The Management Center (out of DC), and the NYT Work Friend section.

CC: What advice would you give to a young person starting out?

RP: If you are passionate about working in the social justice space, know that whatever your skill set or interests, there is a need for them! I knew from a young age that I wanted to work helping people and understood that doing social justice work was just part of my DNA. In college and right after, I thought that meant I had to be on the program side. Over time, I learned that I preferred doing the stuff that supports the program work and teams. I have a unique fondness for a beautifully executed excel spreadsheet and eventually realized that handling finances, HR, and other operations issues for organizations -- applying our social justice values to our own work -- is important and necessary too. For young people just starting out, seek out opportunities to learn more -- both about the fields you’re interested in and what work you like to do, and go from there.

CC: Increasingly donors and governments are making space for young people. What do you think youth movements will look like in 10 years time?

RP: Working with youth movements for over 20 years, I’ve seen tremendous progress in young leaders' access to decision-making spaces, and now more than ever is the time to use that access to make the changes for social justice that were envisioned. When I began this work, we fought to prove that young people had a valid voice. Today, it’s exciting to see the ways in which youth voices are starting to be more incorporated in the work and hopefully, increasingly, in the decision-making processes and programming.

Ten years from now, I hope youth movements are sought out and incorporated into the very bones of policy work done by governments and organizations around the world. Not as a voice that “should” be included, but as critical and knowledgeable voices and powerful political change makers.