In Canada, I have grown a disappointment from multiple occasions of being in design thinking and hackathon spaces and there being a complete lack of knowledge, sensitivity and care for social equity issues or environmental issues (the latter getting more attention at least than issues such as poverty & race). We have million dollar organizations who continuously get funded to do research and educational workshops/panels on social innovation and social entrepreneurship without really generating anything innovative or deep in impact at all. I will give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps there is some significant, deep analysis or research happening in the background and it just hasn't been released yet, or maybe they are working on improving this. But for the number of years of being "in the sector" I have yet to really see any indicators of it.
Coming from being an advocate for youth-led grassroots organizations who are dismantling social inequality in the city of Toronto, it simply makes me feel like it's a waste of money and other resources. It reminds me of a section in the "Reimagining Activism Guide" that the Smart CSO's Lab created, which writes;
"Suffering from the eleventh hour syndrome
Understandably, many activists feel a powerful sense of urgency around their work. Sensing the approaching apocalypse, we work more and faster to avoid disaster. After all, it is our responsibility to save the world before it is too late. This is the eleventh hour syndrome. We have to raise more funds, create more meetings, travel to more conferences, write more reports, send more emails. Activists often find themselves racing against the clock but the work is never done. As a result, activists suffer disproportionally from stress and burnout. With the justification of having to save the world, such activism can unknowingly reproduce the patterns of speed, efficiency and growth of the world we aim to change. Urgency is the reason given for not working at a root cause level – we often hear “there’s no time to transform values”. The eleventh hour syndrome also prevents activists from building reflection into their work. We are always racing to get things done instead of noticing patterns and adapting strategies our as we go. Moreover, in the long run, attempting to motivate our audiences with messages of urgency and scenarios of threat doesn’t work – it becomes normality and the effect vanishes. There are deeper psychological issues at play that we need to deal with. We need to become conscious about some of the personal motivations lying behind this syndrome. In chapter 6 we will dig into this …"
It reminds me of this because, unfortunately it's not only grassroots activists who are working to get incremental W's believing that all the small wins will actually make ripples in the larger systems that we are trying to dismantle; the ones that aren't working for most of us. It's actually also these larger institutions who are trying to get incremental W's or what seem like wins, who are trying to tackle 'innovation' or 'hacking' but really, it begs the question: do these million dollar institutions of 'social change' really have it in their best interest to dismantle the very same values, principles and practices that continuously feed money into them? Of course not. That would be biting the hand that feeds you; eating your own tail.
Then you have grassroots organizations, movements, groups of activists who are using such limited amount of resources to try and get these small wins. Neither are really making significant, profound impact. Our resources are being poured into the wrong things. We are getting swept up into the rat race, the urgency and distraction and non-deep-thinking of capitalism, certainly the 'modernized country's' religion.
I digress. My point is, these two types of stakeholders are sooo far removed from one another. There are hardly any conversations where they're talking about the same topics, or even found ever in the same buildings, let alone neighbourhoods. Social innovation itself is funded from the top, hoping to make change to the bottom. Grassroots activists are coming from the bottom going up. And so far, they haven't met.
Where exactly is the middle? Where is the meeting place?
Such a wonderful resource to apply to inclusion in your work. I appreciate her honesty in her progress towards getting to "All Means All", recognizing that we all have our own biases and inherent -isms by way of growing up in a society amongst other humans and also learning that we don't have to be best friends with people we want to be peaceful and work with and we can work through difference while working towards a common goal. Her list is particularly geared towards physical abilities but this could be applied to many other forms of inclusion.
I originally wrote this on my Tumblr blog in Feb 2015. I was on the streetcar, going back to my office, after having an absolutely enraging meeting with someone from an organization doing similar work with us that asked for advice on how to run their program that they recently got funded for. How did they get funding to do a program they didn't know how to do? How did this organization get invited to apply for this grant stream when we were much more well-experienced, knowledgeable and positioned to fulfill their new stupid funding priority that we had been doing for 10 years? How did we get rejected, turned away from even applying when I found out through the grape-vine that this funding was available? These are exactly the questions I am left with, dear reader.
In my outrage, I started ranting on my phone... typing rapidly and angrily, I felt my face was getting red, sweaty, swollen, I thought my whole head would explode and blow off my body. In that outrage, most of this was written, and the videos and conclusive parts came after I sat down in front of a desktop to complete the rant to give me some sense of release. I think I had been watching and soaking in a lot of examples and conversations around change work and in this piercing angry moment all these connections were formed in my head, the interconnectedness of healing, of humanity, or how we are approaching social change work.
There are some realizations I've had since writing this in 2015 and some things I would slightly alter in what I wrote but some major life lessons I've come to are largely from my own therapy healing process. I've come to understand that codependency runs so deep and so wide in our society. Martyrdom gets mixed up in our need for love, and our sense of duty. Toxically co-dependent folks get drawn into this kind of work. It's all a big fucked up grey, mucky, goopy area. As much as I held funders responsible in this blog post, I realize I as an individual and so many of my activist friends have put ourselves in these situations of hope, expectation and giving up of our powers, expecting them to do all the changing, expecting powerful institutions to change for us. A lot of revelations have arose for me and continue to. I'm not ashamed to share my evolution in my thinking on this topic however, I think it is an important journey that is seriously lacking in exposure - if this can help any up and coming newbie non-profit youth organizer, that would totally be worth it for me.
Here it is:
If you really cared about social change, you would show us how successful grantees faired up to your criteria publicly when you announce your recent grantees so we aren’t left wondering if it was favouritism that got them the grant. You would recommend various ways to get to “sustainability” not just continually asking us what our plan is for sustainability over and over and over again. If you’re really our partner amplifying and acting as a catalyst for us to make social change, you’d help us to understand what sustainability is so we can stop asking YOU for funding over the years.
If you really cared about social change, you would take more time to discover the challenges to us making the impact we want to make, and put more effort into discovering our assets and strengths that you don’t have at a large institutional level.
If you really cared about social change, you would show us off, promote and advocate for our work to gov’t, main stream media etc. To rally more people into our positive Movements and and to get others to support us to make even bigger social change!! If you think we’re hot enough to fund then wouldn’t you want others to too?
You would act as a connector to potential partners with people in other sectors that you are connected to.
Wake up call, Giving us some money here and there is not going to make any societal or cultural shifts. You are sustaining the systemic oppression that exists which means you are perpetuating the very same social issues you are trying to tackle. You are keeping the poor poor, they stay thinking that they can just rely on funding to make long term change. You do not clarify what you do, or correct our assumptions that I’m sure you’re well aware of because we keep coming to you to scale our impact and GET sustainable! Somehow you continue to lead us on. So either change your intended outcomes or don’t fund us at all. Your project funding isn’t producing long term impact in case you haven’t noticed.
If you really cared whether or not we make social impact or cultural shifts you wouldn’t hire your staff as contractors for decades because you should want dedicated program officers who are well taken care of so that they can take care of our portfolios and projects well.
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