Activists

Back in January, I was asked to join a discussion centring around the strategy and identity of my organisation, Difrent.

I have been part of strategic conversations before, but this was different. This wasn’t just about the desire (need?) to grow. This was about understanding how we were different – both from our competitors, and the organisations we may want to compete against in the future.

Of how people saw us. Who we were.

A word that was used quite a lot in the room was ‘Activist’.

Now this was before the global spotlight was shone on a Swedish teenager. Or people started supergluing themselves to the fence of a politician. Activism in the sense that most of you may use the word – positively or disparagingly. For there is a lot of the latter, these days.

As it wasn’t a word I would commonly use in the workplace, I wanted to try and find my own route to it. To understand what it meant to me.

What about passionate?

I was once told never to use the word passionate in an interview setting. It can mean very little in terms of a differentiator as to why you are all there. We are all passionate about something at work, even if it is pivot tables in Excel.

Frustrated seemed more apt. I’d spent nine years in my previous role trying to push for openness (data), transparency (ways of working) and development (giving people a fair chance), that in the end I got out because my frustrations overrode my passion to make a difference.

My CEO, Rachel Murphy, used the word ‘rebel’ when we expanded the conversation further. Which isn’t far off the mark for her. When I think of the work Rachel has done in the past. Then compare it (for this blog at least) with some of the Hollywood films of the 50s, 60s or even 80s (The Outsiders) where the protagonist is a rebel, or heads up a gang of rebels – this is often how it plays out. Thick skinned, direct, determined – Rachel and her teams (which now includes me) rock up to a sleep town and put the fear in to the locals. In this case, make them actually deliver on the work they have to do.

Which is, in essence, what we do. We deliver outcomes, with a series of partners who want to see their “sleepy towns” unsettled by hoodlums with MacBooks, and a strong urge to make a difference. Who ‘cut through the crap’, get folk talking, understand the problem – but then make sure our partners are both skilled and empowered to carry on, after we have gone.

So as I see photos of octogenarians being carried from the street, by the police during a peaceful protest, I am still unsure if I can confidently express what it means to be an activist organisation, as part of an elevator pitch.

But as someone who knows all too well why organisations like mine are desperately needed across the whole of the public sector and beyond – I can channel that frustration, comb back my slick hair and head to the next sleepy town in desperate need of a showdown or two.

So that’s me.

Part activist, part greaser. A rebel with a slack channel.

(* Please note Sleepy Town is used with artistic license in order to crowbar an analogy with Rachel Murphy, as a toothpick chewing hoodlum in an activist sense. No public sector bodies were harmed in the making of this blog post)

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