How to build a feminist organisation from scratch?

FAIR SHARE is a new organisation; we formally registered only a few months ago. Our goal is to increase the number of women in the top leadership levels of civil society organisations (CSOs). Being part of a completely new initiative is an unusual opportunity to think about what kind of organisation we want to be from the very beginning. While many established (civil society) organisations are struggling with constant organisational change processes, we can create something from scratch.

How do we want to interact with others? Which values should drive our activities and programmes? How can we maximise our impact? And how can we best advance our objective of bringing more women into top leadership positions through our way of working and communicating? How can we contribute to a new organisational approach that supports more women in leadership positions while operating in a still mainly male-dominated system?

To speak about some of these questions, we brought together some members of our Leadership Forum last week for a 2-day retreat in a remote village far away from our daily busy lives and their many obligations as employees, parents or activists. The Leadership Forum is an informal group of women who we ask for guidance and advice as we develop FAIR SHARE. Even though we were a small group, we were women from different countries, with different jobs at different stages of our careers and of different ages.

In the course of the intense discussions we agreed that we aim to apply the principles of feminist leadership as we develop FAIR SHARE. There is a lot of thinking about the theory and components of feminist leadership, check for example the great resources of Gender at Work or CREAR’s toolkit of feminist leadership in action. A research backgrounder by Oxfam America explores the concept of Transformative and Feminist Leadership for Women’s Rights. For some examples of feminist leaders, I can recommend a series of videos collected at feministleadership.org.

As starting points to develop our approach to act by the principles of feminist leadership as an organisation, we identified the following priorities for the coming months:

1.    We want to be inclusive: We want to support women from all backgrounds, ethnicities, race, religion, sexual identity, sexual orientation or age to become leaders in their organisation. This is why we will be very deliberate in bringing more women into our Leadership Forum and the other spaces we will create over the coming months.

2.    We want to listen and learn: The women we work with are the experts on what they need. We currently seek advice and guidance from a range of women and organisations across the globe to ensure we do not duplicate any existing efforts and collaborate with others wherever we can. And this is why we decided to create a small test project to develop the most useful approach to mentoring within the civil society sector. Based on what we learn from a small number of mentees and mentors, we want to come up with a larger Mentoring Programme to support a large number of women in their careers in CSOs.

3.    We want to cooperate: In our FAIR SHARE Monitor we publish data provided by CSOs, but also data from those who have not cooperated with us. We did this because we believe in accountability and the power of data to measure and achieve change. Based on the data, we invite CSOs to learn about their context, challenges and potential approaches to achieve gender equality within their organisations. In achieving this aim, cooperation is essential, and we will always prioritise cooperation over confrontation. That’s why we will put together a survey asking all committed organisations how we could best support them on their journey towards a FAIR SHARE of women leaders to create a solid basis for collective activities.

4.    We want to challenge the current distribution of power: While in many CSOs the majority of staff members are women, they often do not have the same chances as men to become leaders. That’s why we will develop tools how women in CSOs can connect, share their experiences and demand change to address this imbalance.

We are only just beginning to practice these principles and will probably struggle to fully meet them during all steps of our adventure. But they are our guiding stars for the next phase, and we will come back to them regularly to check in how we are doing.

And we need you to make all of this happen:

  • Become a member of FAIR SHARE (a charitable association registered in Germany) and have your say in what we do and how we do it. We are looking for ideas how to connect members both off- and online.

  • Become a volunteer and help us bring FAIR SHARE to life. At the moment, we are driven entirely by volunteers and there is a lot to do in research, communications or basic administration. We also need some technical support for our website, database and data analysis!

  • Become a mentor in our first round of mentoring to test what works best to support upcoming women leaders in their development.

Any other ideas or suggestions? If you want to get involved, write to us at hello@fairsharewl.org. We can’t wait to meet you and talk to you

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