Ivana Radimecká: Our team is like a family

For seven years, the daily role of Ivana Radimecká, director of the non-profit organization White Light I, has been to maintain a therapeutic community for people with drug dependencies.

What activities does the civic association White Light I engage in?
It provides all levels of care for people with drug problems. We have a contact center in Teplice, a field facility devoted to active drug users. Another level is the White Light I therapeutic community, which offers a treatment program and resocialization, and we even have a social-legal agency that deals with follow-up care and sheltered housing.

What is the daily regimen in the therapeutic community?
We have a typical village home with a barn in Mukařov, near Litoměřice, to which we can admit clients over the age of 15 who are recovering from drug dependency. But because it’s a long-term matter we have to work on their psychological and social adaptation through a structured daily regimen and group therapy. In the morning we start with calisthenics, followed by work therapy – with the clients cooking, doing the laundry and cleaning, tending to livestock, the land, and the greenhouse, or helping local farmers. The strict rules they must follow put them in a very demanding situation – they weren’t used to taking care of themselves, not to mention others.

Your therapists must have lots of empathy, but they also must know the limits on how close they can get to the clients in order for the treatment to succeed. What characteristics are necessary?
Besides empathy, charisma is very important, as without it they wouldn’t get the respect of the clients. They are very capable socially, as they’ve been conditioned by life on the streets and they can sense what’s going on inside yourself. That’s why it’s so hard to find the proper limits and distance. Whenever employees arrive they usually get too close to the clients, but as time passes they discover that they’re being manipulated. Then it’s far more difficult to maintain respect.

So you recommend that at the beginning one should clearly set limits, possibly shifting them later?
It definitely pays off, even though it’s difficult. Our team functions like a family for the clients, and our role is parental. We work in a friendly atmosphere, spend our days and nights together, go on week-long outings… so our work relationships are completely different from those of office workers.

Is it hard to find good therapists? How many employees do you have?
It’s very difficult, due to the low financial remuneration, among other things. The average gross monthly wage is around CZK 14,000 for a therapist. This includes night duty, weekends, and around-the-clock operation. So it’s mainly young people who do this work. We invest a lot in their education, but unfortunately when they have to support a family they leave. At the time, we have seventeen full-timers in our facilities, nine in the community.

What leadership style works well for you?
I’m democratic, sometimes excessively so. We often vote on issues, but I have the right of veto. I think when you work with a team like ours it’s not good to assign tasks by fiat. It’s better to get the team to identify with the task. Otherwise they’d treat the work as a routine or do it poorly.

Career highlights
1991 graduated from the Faculty of Pedagogy in Ústí nad Labem, (Czech studies and social science)
1991-94 taught at the Agricultural high school in Libverda Děčín
1997-98 worked part-time as the manager at the White Light I therapeutic community
1998 – present serves as the director of White Light I therapeutic community
2003 worked at the Cranstown Drug Services after-treatment center in London
2003 named director of the White Light I civic association in August

Are you aware of any shortcomings in your management style?
I’m phlegmatic, and often I don’t address matters until I’m forced to. I’m definitely not much of a planner who checks off tasks from lists. I’m always telling myself it won’t happen again, but somehow I keep running into problems. I just let people talk me out of things (laughs)!

What managerial errors have you made?
I’m guilty of errors of omission – for example, I still have far to go in public relations. I understand that if we want to attract sponsors we must increase our visibility, but we lack funds and personnel for targeted PR!

What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
The hardest thing was drawing my team close around me right after I replaced my husband in the position. He founded this community and attracted the staff, so he was something of a guru to them. When he left to join the government and his wife replaced him, it was a shock for most of the people, especially the men. Those who couldn’t handle it left, the others built a team. Our common goal and willingness to work helped.

What is your communication system like?
My door is always open, anyone can come. I don’t insist on formality, I don’t play the role of the big boss. I’m on a first-name basis with everyone.

Money is the non-profit sector’s greatest problem. How much time do you spend seeking out financial resources?
An awful lot. It’s exhausting. We get 70% of our funding from the state budget and we have to get the other 30% from outside sources. So every year we suffer from uncertainty. Additionally, all sponsors prefer giving money to children, sports, or culture. The target group of people with drug dependencies isn’t “in”. How can we plan strategically and develop ourselves if we don’t know if we’ll survive the coming year? That is very frustrating.

Do you have any advice for new managers?
Learn from others, listen to them, but stay true to yourself. Don’t be afraid of taking responsibility for your decisions. Have a vision.






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