Unveiling Orion: Behind the Scenes with Amani Loutfy

Amani Loutfy’s road to her position as Orion’s Operations Manager is an interesting one. From running an art collective, to working in local government and helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina get temporary shelters, she’s accumulated a wealth of great experiences helping businesses and charities deal with transitions. We recently sat down with her for an inside look at her background and to get her best advice for a great weekend away from San Francisco.

How did you find your way to Orion?
I found my way to Orion’s CEO, Jesse Robbins, in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. Jesse was involved with this organization called World Shelters at the time, and I went down to Biloxi to volunteer with them. I met Jesse there.

We were deploying temporary shelters for people beginning just a week after the storm. There was no power, no 911 service, no anything. I was his logistics person tasked with figuring out who we were going to give shelters to, in what order and what teams to deploy.

Over time, both Jesse and I moved from Seattle to San Francisco. We remained friends after our experience working together in Biloxi, so we would reconnect from time to time. We were talking one day and he told me about Orion (or what was then OnBeep). He said, “As soon as we get funding, we need somebody like you. In fact, we need you.” And then a week later, he called and said, “So, that thing I was talking about happening? It happened and we need you.”

My expertise is in transition management, so I helped everything go from being centered at a kitchen table to getting business licenses and things likes that. It turned out that there was more I could do on an ongoing basis, so I came on full time in May of last year. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did you get involved in transition management in the first place?
I sort of came by it naturally. I had a business in Seattle that was a crazy, multimedia art collective — there was a bar, an event space, a recording studio…we booked events. That ended around 2005. All of us who worked there had worn a ton of hats because there were only 10 of us running the whole thing. My official title at the collective was Director of PR.

From there, I went and worked at a PR firm specializing in developer-neighborhood relationships and served as interim executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in Seattle. My job was to identify what needed to happen in the neighborhood, put the resources in place and then hand it off to a permanent director. I think that wet my whistle for the sort of transitional stuff. Shortly after, I moved to San Francisco and started working for Black Rock Solar. I was friends with their then-Executive Director from my time in Biloxi, so I helped them get set up as a charity. After that, I freelanced for awhile before coming to OnBeep.

You’ve done a lot of work with nonprofits. Any in particular that you’re very passionate about?
I’m really involved with Berkeley Shambhala Center, my meditation center. I’m the Director of Communications, which means I help manage their website, direct campaigns and put together marketing plans. I also am passionate about helping out with anything animal-related. I love animals!

What do you do for fun?
I’m a photographer and I garden. I like to road trip and go camping.

What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
This one time, a friend of a friend asked me where would I go if I could get away from it all. My go-to answer had always been “Go to the Bahamas and swim with the dolphins,” and when I told him, he said, “Great! Book it!” We went to Grand Bahama Island, which was awesome. Swimming with the dolphins was incredible. I’m also pretty excited about a trip to Egypt that I’m planning right now. My dad’s from Egypt so I want to see where he’s from. I’m going all over — Cairo, Luxor, Port Said, maybe Sharm el Sheikh if the weather is good.

What’s your favorite local getaway?
I love running away to Sausalito. I’ll go to the beach, then have fish and chips at this amazing restaurant, Fish. It’s cool because you go in and on the fish case, they have the name of the boat where the fish was caught. It’s super local and the best fish and chips I’ve ever had.

Do you have any fun stories about Orion?
It’s always fun around here. Everyone is such a character. We’re always laughing. We used to play this game called Space Team, which is a collaborative video game and everyone’s on a team. You have to read what orders are on your screen and bark them to everyone else on your team and meanwhile, they’re looking at their screen and barking orders. So, you’re trying to execute and give orders. It’s basically pure chaos, but it’s a lot of fun to play with the whole office.

What excites you the most about the future of Orion?
I think knowing that we’ve created something that has changed a bunch of peoples’ lives excites me most. We’re making an impact in the way people actually communicate and enabling people to do the stuff they’re already doing more easily.