I sit on my bed. Papers are strewn everywhere, devoured with doodles, scribbled writing, and colorful boxes. I can’t fit enough on any page. I have a whole pack of markers in front of me, a highlighter, and of course, ample sticky notes. As I jot down my thoughts, I continually ask myself “but what is the essence of what we are doing?” and “why?”. I know Emerge through my gut. That is what I love so much about it. True, some parts of my knowledge have been intellectualized. But, Emerge has grown organically, evolving as I get to know one girl at a time. How, then, do I formalize and articulate my feelings and motivations, the hopes I have always had for the girls and women with whom we work, to the rest of the world?
I am facing the challenge that has loomed over me for months: How do we adequately develop a mission that is not only focused but ambitious, that guides our future direction, and that clearly captivates the essence of what we aspire to do? And, how do we make it a succinct sentence? The task feels impossible to me.
Another paper full of ideas complete. I tape it to my wall, next to the other papers. Who do we help? Why do we help them? What do we see? I keep going back to our existing programs. But no… A mission is not about where we are, it’s about where we want to be. What reality do we want to build?
I’m writing this blog not to claim that I a mission-forming guru, but rather to show some of the thinking that consumed much of my summer.
Inevitably, when I first explain my work in developing Emerge Global, people always begin by asking me about the “who.” Who do we work with? What problems have they endured? Somehow, the “tear-jerking factor” seems to be an ingrained necessity for non-profits. But, the more I write about “who,” the more uncomfortable I become with both labels and looking for problems. Here are some of the thoughts I have had in developing our mission:
How can we use labels to celebrate and propel our community forward, rather than simply confining our target group? By specifying and labeling our target group too specifically we trap them in a reality of their past and pain, rather than focusing on the place they want to be. While we should acknowledge intensity, I want our mission to be uplifting and to push our community forward, to make our partners, beneficiaries, and participants proud. How do we all want to be identified? If we need labels in some capacity, they should be empowering and uplifting to all involved: to the women we work with and to those who support us.
Let’s focus on the reality we want to build, not only the reality that we want to fix. It seems to me that many nonprofits often have an invested interest in finding problems. What kind of world depends on problems? I think one of the biggest challenges facing nonprofits today is the fact that their very existence is dependent on the painful realities we face in our world. Of course these problems wont just disappear, but there seems to be something a little odd about having an invested interest in preserving enough problems to have a thriving organization. Somehow, in my opinion, it distorts the truth without celebrating the beauty of all situations. Rather than focusing on problems, I want to focus on the reality we want to construct.
Rather than solely focusing on people of one background, engaging a diversity of backgrounds and experiences will make for a more empowering program. Even if our focus was only girls who’d survived sexual abuse, to really nurture them and accomplish our goals, we should build a more inclusive community of support, where women of different backgrounds come together to begin to appreciate one another. Isolating a population does very little to serve them long-term.
So, what is the essence of Emerge Global? In my mind, it is captured in one word: “emerging.” (Ever wonder where our name came from?) Emerge Global is about the process of opening and being able to craft your own life and help inspire others. But, I want this “emergence” to be strong, powerful, and full of life. Our mission should embody this energy.
I go back to a vision statement that we drafted last year:
We envision a world where all women can actively shape the course of their own life, free from the violence and discrimination of their own minds and others; where the human spirit is free to surround itself with the meaningful self-discovery, expression, and interaction that constitutes beauty; and where women can easily join together to actively build a more healthy and sustainable world for all.
And, through brainstorming with Melodie, our 2008 summer intern, who has a natural brilliance for articulating gut intuition into fluid language, we finally began to come up with wording for our mission…