Kumi Naidoo - “A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste”

“A Crisis is a Terrible Thing To Waste"    

Attendees at the Dóchas Conference 2017 had the honour and privilege of hearing an inspirational speech from our keynote speaker, Kumi Naidoo. Kumi is the Launch Director of the exciting new civil society project, Africans Rising, and is the former International Executive Director of Greenpeace.

He had some insightful, powerful things to say on our theme of “Reclaiming the Story.”

Here are some key highlights from his speech:

  • Civil society is facing a perfect storm of crises – and we cannot waste this opportunity to look at ourselves and the way we do things and to make some fundamental changes to the way we work. NGOs have in some ways become resistors of change, co-opted by our donors. We must re-awaken our sense of activism and speak truth to power.

  • We must actually speak truth to power - civil society activists have begun to confuse access with influence. We are speaking but are we being heard? We spend too much time looking upward at those in power, and not enough looking towards the people we are supposed to be serving.

  • But there is a big challenge – how do we speak a truth that doesn’t create a feeling of hopelessness? How do we motivate people while remaining honest about the scale of the crises we face?

  • We need to embrace intersectionality and get out of our traditional silos. Take the time to assess how your work intersects with the work of others. We must build deeper alliances and increase collaboration in order to achieve real change.

  • “Consultation fatigue” – activists spend too much time telling each other what we already know. It makes it easy to delude yourself that like-mindedness is “the reality.” We need to break out of our echo chambers and talk to people who don’t agree with us. And we need to reconnect with the people we serve – many people in civil society can talk poverty, but could not talk to a poor person.

  • “Leader-led vs Leaderful” – our organisations need to embrace a new form of leadership, by encouraging everyone to be leaders. We need collective, collaborative forms of leadership, moving away from our traditional top-down forms of leadership. Kumi recommended the book “The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organisations” by Ori Brafman which tackles this topic in depth.

  • We have adjusted to things – awful things – that we should never have adjusted to. There is a range of inequalities – race, gender, class, sexuality, ability – in the world that we as a society should always remain maladjusted to. We must remain alert to things that are wrong and never allow ourselves to accept these are just the way things are.

  • Climate change intersects with everything. There is a ticking clock and we are at five minutes to midnight. We need to act now or it will be too late. These cannot be baby steps – we need fundamental change. Recycling is a great place to start your climate change activism, but it is a terrible place to stop.

  • These are troubling times – but the forces for good are overwhelmingly larger in number than the forces for bad. We cannot lose hope.