Plenaries inspire us to do better
Three people made more than 3,000 of us stop to look at ourselves very differently last week. Between them, the plenary speakers at Fundraising Convention compelled us to consider our creativity, our cultural understanding and our mission for diversity. It’s what brought us to the Barbican Hall each day; that opportunity to truly reflect and be moved to create change.
Will Gompertz set the tone on day one as he compelled us to believe, “You are all artists”, inspiring us with lessons from some of history’s bravest creatives. He presented us with a collection of anecdotes from the art world: Marina Abramovic’s performance piece sitting across from visitors was scoffed at until she drew one million visitors in; Shakespeare broke 3,000 rules by creating a language now held in high regard; Theaster Gates built a backstory to his art that allowed him to sell out previously unwanted ceramics at inflated prices.
Will showed us proof that changing people’s perceptions begins with believing in yourself, that breaking rules is okay, it pays to be enterprising, and we should swap our fear of failure for an attitude of learning what does and doesn’t work.
He wanted us to see our creativity and independent thinking as an extraordinary human ability; the thing that makes us human.
“You can do anything as long as you believe you are not just fundraisers. You are artists,” Will said.
He urged us to consider how artists think and how we can use that in our work. “If you find your way of looking at the world you can unlock magic,” he said.
Activist and author, Fatima Bhutto, asked us to consider something completely different on the second day of Convention. She spoke about the importance of empathy aligned with cultural understanding and how important it is to really understand the communities we serve.
A thought provoking plenary from Fatima Bhutto in which she challenged the ways in which NGOs work within local communities. Where is the pain, and what is the culture surrounding the pain? #IOFFC @IoFtweets pic.twitter.com/WQtM76Y5xW— Paul Marvell (@paul_marvell) July 3, 2018
She told us about the tragic infant mortality rates in some of the fastest growing countries in the world – in India alone there were more than 150,000 deaths per year. Despite an awareness campaign that successfully persuaded women to give birth in the safety of hospitals, rates remained high. It turned out that mothers were throwing away the first of their breast milk that would crucially help build their babies’ immune systems because there was a cultural belief that it was impure. Once this was understood, mothers were educated at a local level and some villages that once reported high rates of infant mortality were soon reporting none.
She reminded us of the importance of understanding our history too. “But make sure you understand whose history, told by whom,” she said.
And Fatima asked us to consider two questions that would create great leadership in our work, “Where is the pain? And what is the culture surrounding it?”
When a delegate asked about her personal leadership and how the question of pain influenced that, Fatima shared with us the heartache of her father being shot and killed at the front of her home in Pakistan when she was just 14 years old. The turmoil that her family had faced, and violence she had witnessed formed her interest in asking that question and knowing that the answers are way beyond the world she and many of us live in.
“It is not worth fighting for your personal freedom if you can’t fight for the freedom of others,” Fatima said.
By day three of Convention many of us had been having conversations about diversity or attending sessions about how we become a more inclusive profession. And while we might well have been asking ourselves ‘if everyone is in the room’, it was June Sarpong who challenged us as an audience (and profession) to say what we’re doing to get the right people in the room.
A packed hall full of fundraisers applauded in agreement with June when she said that greater access to different viewpoints would deliver improved performance, image and awareness. We had already recognised that diversity was a challenge for our sector, but June made us all think about our own roles in changing that.
“Most organisations have financial targets because we know – and you as fundraisers definitely know – if you don’t set targets things seldom get done. But we don’t have diversity targets and we need to start setting them,” she said.
Thank you @junesarpong. I have learnt so much more about myself by not spending too much time with copies of myself. Your Plenary session at #IoFFC was full of wisdom. Getting your book #diversity. #sheinspiresme pic.twitter.com/QiJfjcP9ZJ— Betty Abeng (@Bejotia) July 4, 2018
Perhaps the question that hit the hardest was whether our circles of influence were as diverse as they could be.
“Out of the people you choose to interact with, do they look like you, do they sound like you, do they have your outlook on life?,” June asked.
“If they do – even if you don’t think it – chances are you have a limited outlook on life.”
Whether our circle is widely diverse or not, June’s words encouraged a self-reflection that we should all make time for – including asking us to connect with the ‘outcast’ in the office.
She said that she had learnt to always consider who wasn’t in the room, whose opinions weren’t counted, and what problems might their presence help us solve.
“In particular for your industry, it may be some of this untapped potential that helps you access funds and supporters that you never even realised were there,” she said.
These three influential Fundraising Convention speakers with such different stories have empowered us to do even better, to see ourselves and others differently, more positively, and all in the interests of improving the world we live in.
Kylie Kitchen, Content Manager at the IoF