Yoda would be happy – I’m learning about time. Specifically how much time things take. More specifically how much time organizational development takes.
When I came back from West Africa in 2003 I started Île sans fil with Mina Naguib and David Vincelli. Within 6 months we had a big team of motivated volunteers including powerhouses like Philippe April, Benoit Grégoire, Daniel Drouet, Daniel Lemay, Allison Powell and others (check out this Mirror article to see how
pretty macho we were).
One year later, we had a growing network and user base, we had created an open source software project that was addressing our needs and was useful to everyone else in the community wireless movement. Promoting it got me published for the first time (which was awesome!). Many of us started to be invited to speak at conferences and the group started doing projects with academic and media partners.
We were sprinting along, barely setting goals before they would be in our rear-view mirror.
However, organizational development, partnerships, administrative tools and processes – those have taken a long time to put in place. At least, what has felt like a long time.
ISF is currently hiring it’s first full-time staff, is sending (or more accurately, is helping to send) 4 volunteers to the Community Wireless conference in Vienna where one of them will be presenting, and is going to be announcing an alpha version of our second open source project, Authpuppy, and we are working on institutional partnerships and projects with key funders.
And I am not that involved in any of those things. Credit belongs mainy to other people. New people like Laurent Maisonnave, Norman Graziani ( Geneviève Bastien, etc. (there’s many other people that have key roles at ISF, but I’m just giving examples).
As a founder, it’s been frustrating that we are still working on some of the same problems that we were working on in 2004 (hello, portal page [glare]). But much more than that, it has been amazing to see the organization take on a life of it’s own – not just beyond me – that happened early on, but beyond the initial generation of key volunteers. That required an organization, not just good, skilled individuals. The ongoing success of ISF is due to organizational development – continuing to pay attention to the organizational culture, strengthening the board with external members, developing our financial management, learning the language funders use (hello “économie sociale“!) . Things that seem to be minor, or at least non-priority areas, but actually that are directly in our critical path to furthering our mission.
I had no idea in 2003 how long it would take to do the necessary organizational development to allow us to make our first full-time hire. If I had known, I might have been reticent to start this project. However, seven years to move from a grassroots project operating in a marginal domain (collective appropriation of technology, citizen technical innovation) to a credible partner and staffed organization is probably a realistic amount of time, especially considering the people that started the organization didn’t have experience in non-profit administration or fund raising.
Through my time on other boards, I’m also learning how quickly (and slowly) organizations move. To accept that certain things can’t be rushed and that they should be judged with a realistic time frame in mind.
I’m glad – because it helps me lower my stress level but more importantly because it makes me a better strategic planner and community organizer.