Important organizations; great ideas; organizers, executives, and leaders facing a puzzle; new and fledgling campaigns, formations, and activists trying to make a plan, implement a theory of change, and struggle to build, win, and create the future always need help. The project of “building capacity” took a back seat to the recession and the basic survival requirements of many institutions which made “offering a helping hand,” “building bridges,” and “creating partnerships” seem lost somewhere between a luxury and a memory of an earlier, sentimental time long gone. We could easily add to such a list “mentoring,” “professional development,” and pretty much worrying about the future period.
In this climate in 2010 the Paradox Fund came to the founding partners, both of whom had been on its board since its inception, with a frustratingly, maddening question in both its simplicity and its complexity: “Where would we find the next generation of organizers and philanthropists that would do what we had done?” “Who would replace us and what could we do to identify them and help them succeed?’ The question is off putting. It reeks of hubris wrapped in the smell of death. One blushes while seized by revulsion. We responded appropriately and resisted responding for most of the year.
We could have devised some kind of process where we recruited candidates, flew them around to meetings, agreed to coach or allowed them to shadow, ran workshops, organized seminars, and gave them lectures, given a certificate at the end of a year, and placed long bets on their future, ready to take some credit if they placed and tear up the ticket to experience if they failed. We exchanged laundry lists, wrote some memos, and found the chore boring, uninspiring, derivative, and ineffectual. We just weren’t lazy enough for such a project. We couldn’t wrap our arms around the passivity of it all. We couldn’t align our energies and imaginations around roles as erstwhile teachers of a sort who were sometimes sauntering through our own memoirs as some kind of caricatures of our past. Yet, our commitments to our visions and the work and formations that had flowed from them over decades was still strong and our commitments to serve the art and craft of our work was constant and enduring.
So we went another direction. We would seek out organizations; campaigns, ideas, and organizers that we felt were doing important work and offer something very simple: help. Or to be more exact we would offer “free advice.” We would offer a day of help at no cost on an agenda that they would set, articulating their own needs as they saw them. We might offer some introductions in the areas of organizing, research, fundraising, or technology. We might offer strategic or tactical advice. We might just be a reality check for their own ideas or people of good will poking them to go farther and faster, slower or narrower, depending on the situation. Regardless we would be their partners for a day and throughout whatever commitments we agreed to in our time together as follow-up. They might decide the experience was invaluable or worthless. There might be a deep, future relationship built with Paladin Partners or we might just be members of their fan club wishing them well in the future as they went their own way.
So the project of Paladin Partners evolved and embarked.
The criteria for selection flowed from the archaic French understanding of “a paladin” as “someone who fights for a cause.” We had been paladins, and we would were looking for other paladins waging the good fight in various ways around the globe.
We were creating Paladin Partners as equal partners, and were committed to bringing in other “partners” as part of the coalition of the willing with similar commitments to advance the projects selected when their needs once identified outstripped our ability to be help, give good advice, and build their capacity. Furthermore we saw the groups, individuals, campaigns, and projects as Paladin Partners as well, equals committed to the cause, to change, and to our collective future.
This is our crusade and we will travel as far as it takes us!