Armed with a passion for international work, Erik Dyson, 42, of Mattapoisett, Mass., in July joined All Hands Volunteers, succeeding founder David Campbell as executive director.
All Hands is a U.S.-based nonprofit that harnesses volunteers to provide hands-on assistance and disaster relief to communities around the world, aiming, according to its website, for “maximum impact and minimum bureaucracy.”
In his previous role as senior vice president of Latin America for GTECH Corp., Dyson managed the company’s operations and pursued new business opportunities. Before that, he served as vice president of Latin America and Caribbean. He also has worked in commercial real estate in the Boston area, and served for three years in El Salvador and Costa Rica with Habitat for Humanity International.
He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School with a Masters in Business Administration, and American University where he studied International Business and Finance. He serves on the board of directors for Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island and Helping Hands and Hooves.
PBN: You have just been named executive director to All Hands Volunteers after 9.5 years managing GTECH's presence in Latin America. What about that job and your work in South America with Habitat for Humanity International prepared you for your new role here?
DYSON: My work with GTECH and my experiences with Habitat for Humanity International taught me to be flexible and to wake up every day ready to take on whatever presents itself. During the past six years, I never knew where, on a given day, an issue would arise. I oversaw work in 15 countries and I would have to adjust the response to take into account the audience (in Spanish most times) – whether a government official in Mexico or a retailer in Jamaica. As a result, I have developed a leadership style that is collaborative, but that emphasizes quick decision making. I rely on my team to provide quick analysis and then, jointly, we make decisions based on whatever information is available. I believe this fits right into the All Hands model because we have to react quickly to the unexpected, and be ready to respond anywhere a natural disaster happens – be that halfway around the world, like our 2011 tsunami response in Japan, or in our own backyard, like our recent responses to Hurricane Sandy and the tornadoes in Oklahoma.
PBN: All Hands Volunteers provides disaster relief, and has helped people during the earthquake in Haiti, Sandy and those Oklahoma tornadoes. How do you plan to lead this organization internationally, where will you focus your efforts and why?
DYSON: All Hands has worked extensively in Southeast Asia (we were founded in 2005 after the Thailand tsunami) and we will continue to focus in the region. I also want to ensure we have the additional capacity to react to disasters that occur in Latin America and the Caribbean – given my experience there, without ever forgetting that there will, unfortunately, also be plenty of work to be done here in the U.S. At the end of the day, I have the responsibility to ensure that this fantastic model – of bringing in committed volunteers to help wherever needed – is scaled up to have an ever greater impact on as many communities as possible.
PBN: Name three special qualities you have that enable you to do this work well.
DYSON: Only three? The first is passion – to achieve the best possible results for those in need. The second is creativity – to find a solution that might not be apparent at first glance. And finally, confidence – to unabashedly ask everyone I come into contact with to support All Hands with their time, talent or treasure (go to hands.org to see how you can make a difference!).
PBN: All Hands has to leverage volunteers at a moment's notice in a crisis. How as executive director do you engage and direct your staff to anticipate and fulfill this obligation as needed, and what do you do with “down time” when no disaster is unfolding?
DYSON: At All Hands, we have a core staff that is able to respond quickly and that provides a solid platform from which volunteers can safely and effectively do meaningful work. The time between disaster responses is now increasingly consumed with on-going projects that keep our staff engaged providing longer-term assistance. For example, we have been working in partnership with Habitat for Humanity since early 2012 to build over 300 homes for displaced families in the Philippines.
PBN: All Hands Volunteers will be 10 years old in 2015, but you will have just put in two years here. What direction do you see the agency moving in as it works through its second decade of existence?
DYSON: We will stay true to our core mission to provide immediate disaster response, harnessing the will and passion of volunteers; but we will also be expanding our presence to meet longer-term, unmet needs in the communities where we work. All Hands has done this in the past, most recently with the on-going rebuild efforts after Super Storm Sandy, and we will continue to expand our existing initiatives, in addition to developing new ones, to help communities not only to recover but to rebuild.