Reflections on trip to IAF Alliances in USA

 

By Caitlin Burbridge and Daniel Mackintosh

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Helen Keller

For 2 ½ weeks in January 2018, we ran with the Industrial Areas Foundation in California and New York City. The IAF has been building broad based organising for 78 years and now has over 70 organisations throughout the USA. We went on a 6 day training at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, then spent 2 days in Los Angeles with OneLA and another 2 days with the 3 alliances in New York City: the East Brooklyn Congregations, Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches.

Below are 8 reflections from the experience:

  • One of the Leads we spent time with said that all organising, for the organiser, is ultimately about the organiser: how does it help with our learning and development to become a more effective public person? She asked us to reflect on these questions: do you like the person that organising is helping you to become? What are the reasons that you would leave this work? What would make you stay? Encouraging organisers to see organising in a different context develops our character, creativity, challenges our approach and builds a deeper sense of an international organising vocation.
  • One of the IAF’s strengths is their commitment to members paying 1% of their operating budget as dues. The IAF city wide alliances that have remained strong (there are some that have been weakened by relying on grants and needed to be reorganised) have kept to the 1% rule, and focussed on recruiting big organisations. So, for instance, East Brooklyn Congregations has a membership of around 40 organisations and a budget from the membership of $250 000 (about £141 000 – so an average of £3525 per organisation). The result – they hire 3 fulltime, excellent and experienced organisers, are focussed and confident, their leaders deeply own the organisation, and they can win, big! It was impressive to walk around East Brooklyn and see the thousands of homes that they won, the new safety and sanitation changes on the local streets, the parks redone, the schools established etc. They have literally rebuilt the area. In reality, an organiser cannot work with more than 25 organisations in a deep way – so the question is how to build a solid dues base that enables us to do transformational work. This also allows alliances to pay organisers a wage they can raise a family on.

Nehemiah - EBC - best

Nehemiah Housing built by East Brooklyn Congregations

  • Organisers are committed to learning and challenging one another – shadowing one another each week and having daily phone calls to test ideas, reflect on experiences, challenge one another, and develop the practice.
  • There is a significant investment in cohorts. These cohorts are groups of organisers of similar experience that go away for 1.5 days 3 times a year to a quiet spot to learn, reflect, support and challenge one another. It is based on a particular theme and led by a senior lead organiser. Before these learning retreats, organisers are expected to read 1-2 books, then prepare a 5 minute rounds on ‘how does this reading relate to your work’, followed by reading group sessions and chances to share current work and challenges. The following day, a senior organiser runs a mini-lecture on the key theme and some of the issues raised the previous day.
  • The IAF has a very strong commitment to understanding the organising tradition. It is built by reading and reflection. They have all read and refer in a meaningful and knowledgeable way to a core set of 30 articles and 30 books that form the basis of the institutional organising tradition. Staff development is still key – daily phone calls, regular time between supervisor and organiser is important.
  • IAF organisations are built around their leaders – including a culture that moves organisers between different alliances regularly. This ensures organisers do not become tired and the work does not become about them. It also ensures leaders don’t begin to depend on being ‘serviced’ by organisers, but they own their organisation.
  • There is a deep understanding of when to act and when to not act. It required one alliance to stop all activity and action for 18 months so that they could rebuild the organisation.
  • The quality of relationship with leaders is excellent and really focused on their self-interests, who they are as public people and what that means for their own development. Leaders are committed to building the organisation, doing 121’s, recruiting etc…
  • Really remarkable and impressive organising in a really wide range of locations.

REFLECTIONS FOR BOTH ORGANISERS AND LEADERS THAT WE ARE REFLECTING ON:

  • Who am I organising?
  • How am I thinking about the development of leaders in the alliance?
  • How are the people I am working with growing as people? Do they enjoy who they are becoming?
  • How am I folding leaders into relationship with one another?
  • Do institutions see a budget as a theological document?

We hope to be able to encourage a deeper culture of learning and running with other organisers in the UK, encouraging IAF organisers to visit and UK based organisers to visit the IAF.

May our collective and international work go from strength to strength.

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