I started a new job last week – still at Save the Children UK, still campaigning on issues that I’m passionate about, but now as Director of Campaigns and Organising.
It’s a new role for Save the Children, that’s the outcome of a larger re-organisation we’ve gone through over the last few months to look at how we can be even more deliberate at focusing our resources on achieving change for children, but the blog about how we’ve done that is for another time.
But as I’m moving into my new role, the thing that I’m most excited about in this role is the explicit inclusion of organising into our public campaigning approach – I’m very literally making the move from mobilising to organising.
I hope having organising not just in my job description, but at the heat of the work of our Campaigns and Organising department will help us to be more intentional about embedding this into our approach.
I see my role is now all about leading a brilliant team of campaigners to help to build power of those who want to join Save the Children to help secure change for children.
But as I start, I wanted to offer a few reflections that I’ve been thinking about what putting organising more explicitly front and center of our campaigning approach will mean in the coming year, and in particular what I think it might mean for me as a leader.
I’m very aware that, like many others, we’re on a journey with organising – building on work that we’ve piloted in the last few years and following many others, like Shelter who’ve embedded community organising at the heart of their new strategy or colleagues at Save the Children Action Network in the US who have helped to shape some of our thinking.
So I’m sharing this in the hope it’ll help others who are exploring what organising could mean for their campaigning.
1. Intentionality – we’ve definitely got a strong organisational ‘memory muscle’ at Save the Children UK – a way of approaching an opportunity that has often been about moving quickly to mass mobilisation. We’re not going to lose that overnight, nor should we, as sometimes that approach is going to be the best approach, for example, our recent work on calling on the UK government to bring back UK children trapped in NE Syria, but if we’re to embrace an organising approach it’ll require us to learn some new habits, and that means being intentional about asking ourselves if moving directly to mobilise is going to help us build power for our cause in the long-term?
2. Patience – organising is about relationship building, which takes time and will mean that results aren’t going to be immediate to see – so a big challenge is going to be about being patient with the space, time and resources we have – we’re often used to campaign cycles where we can quickly see outputs, but at the end of the year I hope we’ve made more decisions where we’ve chosen to be patient with our organising approach, rather than reverting to a more transactional mobilising approaches. Ask me in a year how this has gone.
3. Accountability – I’m rightly held accountable for specific indicators in my role, but often I’ve found our KPIs can incentivize us to work towards report on the volume of activity, and not tell the whole story. I’m sometimes aware that I’ll be reporting on 10s or 100s of high-quality actions being taken, which can appear small in comparison to other indicators – so that means we’ll need to look for new metrics that help us to report on the work we’re doing and get better at telling the story of the impact we’re having.
4. Understanding – organising is an approach that gets mentioned in lots of conversations between campaigners at the moment, and I’ve found even in recent months as I’ve been talking about with colleagues everyone has different understandings and confidence. There are of course specific approaches – but for me, moving to more of an organising approach is not about adopting a specific ‘school of thought’, but exploring using the principles that Hahrie Han so brilliantly outlines in her book – skills and principles that in my experience come very naturally to many campaigners.
5. Involvement – If mobilising is transactional, then organising is relational – which means that we need to build an approach that actively draws others into shaping our strategies and approaches – that could be diaspora communities, our existing Campaign Champions and importantly for us at Save the Children – children and young people. In this approach, we’ll have to be less protective of the ‘how’ even if we remain focused on the ‘what’ – the change outcome we’re all trying to achieve.
6. Honesty – I’m not going to get this right all of the time in my leadership, we’ll make mistakes, assert too much control, revert back to old habits, but rather than wait until we’ve ‘cracked’ it as an approach I want to be open and honest about the journey we’re on, hence the motivation to share this on week 1 – I want to be challenged by, get help and new idea from others. So this post serves as an open request for that!
3 thoughts on “New Year, New Job”
Thanks for writing this Tom. Really excited for you and looking forwards to seeing how the transition goes. I’d love to catch up for a coffee to chat about how it’s going in future, to discuss ideas and challenges. I’ve been doing a fair bit of work with other organisations exploring the transition to organising, both in the Organising for Change trainings and in consultancy.
Patience and involvement are so key! Inside the organisation as much as outside. You need buy in across the organisation, and a vastly increased willingness to take risks and let go of control. Elsewhere I’ve found when this can be challenging for functions like policy and advocacy, re-assuring them that their work is still super valuable and that this is an ‘and’ not ‘instead’ has really helped.
Wishing you so well with this.
This is a brilliant post and articulates well the challenges in embedding more organising/ people-centric approaches in large NGOs. I am hugely impressed that Save is starting this journey. As always, I would love to help feed in and informally learn with you from this journey you’re embarking on at Save. A coffee, catch up or knowledge sharing on this would be great Tom.
Hi Tom, great read and echoes some of the thinking and changes we’ve been making in our campaign approach over the last year – and still really feel at the start of! I’d be really interested in how you’re going about it and sharing how we are too. If you’re up for a cup of not coffee at some point that would be great!