I am just beginning my 10th year at INTRAC, a year that starts very differently to all the rest. I’m now in my eighth week of working from home, having gone into family isolation before the INTRAC office closed and lock-down was imposed on the UK. Wondering what on earth I’m doing with my life is becoming my ‘new normal’ (the latest British political catch-phrase). I’m not a key worker, my family is comfortable in every way, I live in Oxford, a city that epitomises British elitism and privilege, and as I enjoy a warm spring in my garden I feel extremely removed from the hardships, injustices and discrimination that I spend my working life attempting to tackle. So at times it is hard not to question what value I’m adding to global society.
And yet, on this anniversary I am feeling extremely proud to be part of INTRAC and to have dedicated the last nine years of my working life to furthering its cause.
Over the last few weeks we have run a series of internal workshops, where staff members attempted to agree INTRAC’s priorities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’ve just completed the first virtual sessions with a few members of our network of freelance consultants to expand the conversation (with more of these to come). INTRAC is a small and extremely busy organisation, and as usual it was difficult for my colleagues to take time away from the projects, training courses, evaluations, and management tasks they are working on to stop, reflect and strategise.
The problem of ‘finding time to stop’ frustrates me immensely. My work at INTRAC is multi-faceted, but the core of my role is to promote reflection, learning and knowledge generation; to encourage critical thinking, ask the difficult questions, and push for change in the system. Such activity is too often deemed a luxury that we cannot afford and that no-one will fund; so it relies heavily on goodwill and voluntary time, and often is bottom of the priority list. As a result, I spend a lot of time going on and on about the tension between INTRAC as a business and INTRAC as a charity with a mission; between INTRAC as a service provider and INTRAC as an advocate for change.
But, around all the discussions about how to adapt approaches to M&E and training in light of travel restrictions, and about how to re-orient capacity development programmes to respond to new challenges, what is shining through in these discussions with the INTRAC community is the depth of commitment to INTRAC’s mission and values.
So, I am proud because I am surrounded by people who care deeply about the purpose of their work, and about how we do it. The fact that we put people first, promote local knowledge, collaborate and facilitate, and are always promoting and pushing for civil society as a force for good.
I am proud because through INTRAC I am part of a global community that is fighting hard against inequality and exclusion. I am connected to people all over the world who every day are championing civil society. I’m am rarely anywhere near the frontline, but if I can help by posing the right question at the right time, and by promoting the individuals and organisations that I think are truly making a difference, then that is a value I add.
Every time INTRAC trains someone who goes on to apply that learning in practice, every time we influence a funder to think just a bit differently about how to support civil society, every time we share knowledge freely that someone reads and acts upon, every time we unearth evidence that demonstrates the impact projects are having (or that shows what needs to change), every time we help activists to hold those with power to account, we are making a difference.
COVID-19 is raising a lot of questions about the way we live our lives and the world we want to see ‘on the other side’. But we are only just at the start of the short-term impacts, let alone the medium- and long-term changes.
For now, INTRAC’s focus is on adapting what we are doing already so that we can continue to do it well; identifying where and how our existing knowledge and approaches can be useful to organisations that are struggling; and mobilising the creativity of all the amazing people and organisations we work with around the world.
Underpinning all of this are the values that unite us, and the principles that guide us. And that makes INTRAC more than a group of individuals who all work for the same employer. It makes us a collective that brings together staff, trustees, independent consultants, trainers and researchers, and friends; the readers, listeners and social media followers who take up the ideas that we bring to the fore; and the partners and clients who put faith in our advice and knowledge.
Right now, I’m not sure there is anywhere else I’d rather be than at INTRAC.
More on INTRAC’s COVID-19 response