Organization and Leadership: Wrangling Over the Missions

“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” – Socrates

Organizations go through many arduous exercises to develop their vision, mission, goals and objectives in a hope to reach to a desired destiny. However, this exercise, which is deemed necessary for developing durable organizations, may not always come free of controversies. It is inevitable that ideas collide and personalities clash at one point or another during the process even when the desired destiny sought by all involved may be the same. At times, the situation may appear so frustrating that there may be no shortage of feelings of quitting the mission altogether. Yet I believe that this exercise is more than necessary and is not so dangerous after all.

I am pondering over this matter in recent times as I came across a series of debates carried over a chain of emails among friends all originally inspired to build an organization of Nepalese Diasporas for advancing policy development, policy advocacy, and demonstration of novel approaches through pilot projects in Nepal. However, these debates sometimes appear never abating among some participants while some others seem to gradually disappear from the scene. This created a situation where pessimism seemed to rule over the optimism in contrast to the beginning of the process.

The organization was meant to encompass knowledge, advocacy, prototyping, networking, and partnership. Everyone contributed with ideas supposedly with an intention to give adequate space for all these features in the organization. However, after all things settled, a debate kept on lingering over one argument that whether or not the room provided for advocacy was as adequate as that given to knowledge. This knowledge versus advocacy debate took some toll on much needed friendships. This reminded me of a friend making a quote from Mao, who apparently said, “a friendship could be temporary but animosity is permanent.” I felt an urgency that some measure must be taken to strengthen friendships and subvert the animosities if we were to build a successful organization.

As I attempted to understand the heart of the matter, I came to believe that the problem was not that of knowledge versus advocacy; no one was there to promote one over the other. If there were differences on this matter, they had yet to surface because the mechanics of attaining the goals had yet to be worked out. Further, it is completely ordinary to have many opinions, agreements and disagreement in any debate. Contradictions are not only usual among people but also within thoughts espoused within a single individual. The main problem here was that of perception.

To best understand this problem, we may imagine us buying a few pomegranates from among hundreds in a store. Even though we know that each fruit costs $1, all are of approximately equal size, and only marginal gain is to be made at best in doing careful selection, we are hardly ever satisfied with quick or random picking of the fruits. Although the careful selection would not result in an increased utility of the fruit, we do this for one reason and that is: self-satisfaction. Therefore, it could be safely said that although the utility of an object may be the same, it is perfectly normal for the satisfaction to differ depending how we perceive. And the same problem of perception is at the heart of this issue.

Therefore, the art of going past the wrangling over the wordings is in mitigating the perception factor. We must, therefore, learn to accumulate the varieties of perceptions, condense them, and present them such that it accommodates most of the concerns. Given that we avoid acute animosities and take accommodative approach, coming to an agreement for collective good should be perfectly doable. Given that it is possible for us to make a monkey or a bear dance, it must definitely be possible to build a consensus with other individuals carrying similar visions and ideals.

Coming back to the original problem, the next difference I noticed among people was over whether or not an organization with a broader mandate could carry out the responsibilities of an informal group made for a singular purpose. This idea came from observing the fact that during and before the people’s uprising of Nepal in 2006, loosely formed small groups were able to organize town-hall meetings, publish press releases, and mobilize like minded people for the causes of republic and democracy in Nepal. When contemplating a broader and long term organization that requires sustained efforts, some among the very same us attempted to find guarantees for doing short term single issue advocacy as done before. When I pondered on this issue, I noticed that it would be difficult for a broader and regulated organization to be as agile in dealing with single and short term issues as a loose and informal group could.

The key problem is that a durable organization cannot induct people in it with a single cause in mind and kick them out once the issue is resolved. A loose group can, however, simply dissolve after the issue is over without any negative consequence. Therefore, even if the issue is exactly the same, how it would be tackled by a durable organization would have to be inherently different than by a loose single-cause group. A lasting organization has to take a methodical and well thought-out approach with a stronger and long term impact in mind. Therefore, the worry that a long term organization may not be able to behave like a single-issue group is well founded. However, not much can be done about that than using organization’s machinery to complement and institutionalize the positive aspirations sought by single issue coalitions. In this matter, whereas we stuck for long in the debate of desirability, we never thought of debating about the possibilities. Even though it is within my desire to build an all encompassing organization, I came to accept that not all things are possible. This is due to the fact that a short term coalition made for a singular objective brings together entirely different sets of people compared to an institution taking a long term journey guided by a broad vision.

The third problem I noticed was that of the perception of political purity or impurity. Some among us seem to worry that a loosely connected progressive intelligentsia is like an untamed and undrinkable body of ocean water and sought to stay along with the calm bodies of fresh water. But, when I metaphorically analyze, it appears to me as if we want to catch a big bounty of fish in clean water only, whereas the abundance of fish are found in the estuaries which run in between the fresh waters and the ocean waters. Therefore, we have no reason to be perplexed in this matter. The discovery of the positive potential of the ocean is possible only when we overcome the fear of the enormity of the ocean and uncertainty of its course. Therefore, we must explore the not-so-clean water of the ocean and discover the same utility in it as in the fresh water but only in a greater capacity!

Our primary desire is to advance a collective public debate to seek the most desirable and appropriate approaches for advancing justice, equity, welfare, and progress of common people. Unless we come to the fore and let contending ideas collide, be challenged, and be scrutinized, we will never find the truth. If we are open, we would have no shortages of acceptable approaches for advancing our broader organizational missions from amongst the general masses of people. With this realization, we will have no wrangling over the wordings of our missions but will have a unity for a common purpose. We will be able to exude positive energy to lift each other up and sail to the destiny!

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