Building Systemic Justice

Building Systemic Justice reflects on what it takes to build a different kind of organisation: one that lives its values of anti-oppression, justice, and intersectionality. Read more about Systemic Justice here.

Dispatch from the Danish countryside: a shared commitment to building something new

In late March, the Systemic Justice team gathered at the Danish coast of Zealand for our third “official” team retreat since Systemic justice was founded and the first of this calendar year. From the very beginning, when the organisation was just an idea, we appreciated the importance of getting together in person to work and share ideas. The first gathering of this kind was just with three of us: in the Cotswolds we mapped out our foundational values and what it would look like to operationalise them in practice working as a team, with partners, and other areas of our work. It is the intentionality to build our work from a values perspective that has guided everything we’ve done from the outset.

The Systemic Justice team (including Sambal, the mascot), March 2023.

This values perspective – and checking in regularly as a team to see if we remain aligned with them – has been a recurring theme at our retreats. Also this time, when we, for example, explored what partnerships we were developing in which areas of our work, and how our values were showing up in the way those relationships worked in practice. Other conversations we had were about our working environment (how can we strengthen our relationships and ensure everyone is supported when we are operating as a fully remote team?), how we envisage the “human resources” function (what responsibility do we have as individuals and collectively, and what do we expect a dedicated team member to facilitate?), and how we are doing when it comes to workload. We also reflected on our previous exploration of sociocracy as a governance model, examining our current informal structure so we could identify what aspects we did or didn’t appreciate, and which aspects – such as decisions-making – required a deeper dive.

Celebrating effort, even if it does not lead to a “win”
Before all this, though, we started with a reflection on the past year, naming the things we were proud of having accomplished, both individually and as a team. Working in a setting where there are so many urgent demands on everyone’s time, it is easy to forget to celebrate our “wins”, which we agreed were just as important to acknowledge based on effort as outcome. This  becomes all the more important when focusing on bigger, systemic change, as we are, which almost by necessity will have a longer horizon for that “impact” to become visible. For us, part of staying energised and motivated along the way is appreciating and honouring the effort invested in bringing about this longer-term vision.

Embracing making mistakes and not knowing all the answers
It was wonderful to spend time together, going for long (if not as sunny as we’d have liked!) walks, sharing meals, and learning about each other’s guilty music pleasures (which was a rollercoaster of surprises, and no: we are not sharing that playlist 🙃). Looking back on the week, a few observations stand out for me:

First: we don’t have to find the answers to all the questions that come up during our conversations and reflections. Some questions we are planning time for post-retreat to further examine, and some we may never formulate a concrete answer to no matter how long we examine things. And that’s ok.

Second: a shared commitment to invest in building something different is key. It comes with all those questions I just mentioned, and it is important that there is shared curiosity and energy in examining and challenging the status quo, including what we create in the course of our own work. It also means embracing making mistakes and being forgiving to ourselves and each other in the process. We renewed our commitment to this aspect of our internal working principles in the course of our conversation.

Third: we don’t need to have it all figured out before we can get going. There is a *lot* we need to build, and, at the same time, we need to be accountable to our community partners and move with them at the speed that they are ready to proceed. We reaffirmed our mindset of codesigning and learning not only with each other, but also importantly with our partners.

The nice-to-have problem of a productive retreat is having a lot to follow up on! But we all feel re-energised and, importantly, curious about where we can take things next. Onwards!