A few years ago, at the start of our staff retreat, I announced to the team that we were going to write our exit strategy. We had six months before we had to close down the organisation and therefore needed to figure out what work was worth continuing and who we might hand this work over to.
This was just an exercise, thankfully. The purpose was to challenge our own assumptions about how essential we were and think about what our legacy might be.
As it turns out, most of it was not essential. In a short space of time, we agreed that a large part of our work could be handed over to other organisations or institutions, or stopped altogether.
But there was one strand of our work that was left. Something that we felt we could not hand over to anyone, and that was to become our core focus for the future: our policy work. In particular, the fact that we work on all children’s rights issues - including what some might deem radical or controversial - and resist the single-issue approach by drawing clearer links between different issues.
Besides guiding us to define CRIN today as a think tank, this provocation paved the way for the establishment of The Rights Studio as its creative sister, and had a deeper impact on how we approach and do our work. It revealed to us that in our desire to be respected, taken seriously and invited to contribute or speak, we had gotten into the habit of saying yes to everything. We became a part of so many groups and coalitions, I am sure some of them were merely groups that had meetings to plan more meetings. But that’s about ego or fear of missing out, not about impact or efficiency.
Bruce Lee once said, “being wise is not adding more, but removing, hacking away all the unessential so that the truth will be revealed unobstructed.”
When “hold on a minute, why are we doing this again?” became an uncomfortable question to ask, we had to admit how hard it is to stop doing something we may have been doing for a really long time - even harder to leave a group we may have been a part of because people might be upset or offended. Agreeing that we need to cut areas of our work is easy. Actually doing it is where the difficulty lies. We are not there yet, but we are making progress.
Part of it is that we lack self-awareness as an organisation. How certain are we that we are essential in the pursuit of justice and equality for children? If we did not exist, would someone invent us?
The answer is not about measuring our impact better. Of course that is essential and it is probably the only way anyone will fund our work, but it goes much deeper than that. The way we measure our impact tends to be very short term based because it often has to fit into a format predetermined by donors, all the while knowing full well that we are unlikely to live to see the true impact of our work.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try, or continue to broaden our perspective. Are we changing the status quo or are we now a part of it? Are we building the world we aspire to live in, or merely painting over cracks in the ground below us? It is entirely possible that while we may have some impact within our small field, we are inadvertently having a negative impact on other areas of social justice, or other sectors. Good intentions don’t necessarily lead to good outcomes.
How will we be remembered? As people who added a missing link in the chain of history, or merely as an organisation that is “funding itself into existence,” as social entrepreneur Sam Conniff Allende said in Be More Pirate? And are we the right people to be doing this work?
While we ponder those questions often, we now see this ‘exit strategy’ as a healthy practice we need to do on a yearly basis - like good intentions for the new year, or the art of writing where the art lies in cutting out the unnecessary words to make room for clarity.
Fine tuning what we do is pointless if it is not grounded in clarity about who we are, what we stand for and how that guides what we do. Luckily for us, pirates had done this centuries before us and it is in their stories that we found inspiration to write our very own Pirate Code.
While we believe the work we do is a positive contribution to the wider movements for justice and equality, The Code is our compass. Without it, we might just be a bunch of people doing projects and fighting the waves while lost at sea.
So - how will you be remembered?
Words, Veronica Yates and illustration Miriam Sugranyes
“What do you do when the highway’s famished? When it eats people? When soldiers are walking on the streets beating people up, what do you do? Where do you go when going forward is no longer possible? I think you steal through cracks. I think you do what fugitives do. I think you do what the slaves on slave ships did when they were dominated by colonial powers. You learn to fall down and sit still and await the crossroads. You learn to listen. You learn to compost yourself.” — Bayo Akomolafe
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin