Courage and focus needed to start an organisation like Iranti, says founder Jabu Pereira
Problems and focus may change over the years, so organisations needed to be adaptable and responsive.
In honour of its 10th anniversary, LGBTQI+ organisation Iranti hosted its outgoing founding director Jabu Pereira at a “fireside discussion” about the principles of leadership and governance. This is the first in a series of events the organisation will be hosting.
“Everybody who has started an organisation has started it from the basis that there’s a problem, not necessarily a solution… the solutions will follow,” said Pereira in his opening remarks.
“When I go back to 2012… a lot of the reporting about us was told not by us — it was told by the Washington Post, it was told by some newspaper that just rendered everybody in LGBTQI dead, so the only time that we were visible was in death.”
Pereira said this is why he felt it was necessary to have an organisation that would firmly ground the visibility of LGBTQI lives in an authentic way and articulate the change that the community desires. He said the medium through which he wanted to do this was storytelling.
Pereira said it was important for those who were starting organisations to be able to articulate the issues their organisation hoped to address in the time it took “an elevator going up four floors”.
He said issues needed to be focused and specific — if the problem was too broad, it could stifle a start-up organisation. He noted that problems and focus may change over the years, so organisations needed to be adaptable and responsive to that.
“In a way, with a start-up, it’s about thinking about what is your first core focus, because Iranti right now, a decade later, is not the one of 2012 — it has adapted.”
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Pereira said starting an organisation is about “daring boldly”, because it often came about with no money or grant funding. He conceded that there were some examples of organisations that were able to get funding from foundations from the get-go, but that some of these organisations were now “grappling with founder vision and growth because they might have started with an abundance of money”.
Pereira told the audience that when he was trying to start Iranti in 2012, he had “a lot of doors closed” on him, and potential donors telling him to try journalism — or to just join the One in Nine Campaign. He said this meant Iranti remained firmly in the start-up phase for about two years.
“Within the vision of the founder, there are several things to think about; there’s you, who is the central part of the knowledge and therefore you hold the vision, and how long you can sustain that because you want to move from founder to organisational growth,” said Pereira, highlighting that how and to whom you pitch your organisation’s work are as important as networking and collaborating.
Pereira stressed that as a founder it was critical to determine early on whether you wanted the organisation to die when you leave, or to continue to thrive.
“When I started Iranti, I was identified as gender queer… I had not transitioned. The reason I’m saying this is because of having had to often engage with sexism and racism.”
Pereira said people often thought that organisations led by white men would be successful and efficient, as opposed to black-led organisations which endured greater scrutiny. He said little consideration was given to patriarchal or racist practices which often went unquestioned.
“But if you are a woman, you will definitely be asked ‘how will you prove your success?’ and ‘how will you prove that you’re gonna be better than anybody else?’ ”
Pereira said that during the founding of Iranti, they started getting emergency support money to get stipends for those working within the organisation.
“The work was going to happen because the team was driven,” said Pereira, but what would push the work further needed to come from the funders.
Pereira said a focus on organisational administration, strategy and a board that would be able to know and support you were also key to continued success.
“Once an organisation outgrows its founder, the founder must ask themself, should I stay or is it time to go and allow new leadership? This is healthy. Every founder must have an exit strategy and succession plan.” DM/MC