Bitter Sweet by Adam Shand

We're here to build networks and chew bubblegum. And we're all out of bubblegum.

When Personal Telco was first discussing becoming a nonprofit organization, I spent a lot of time emailing friends of friends and arranging after work meetings to try and grasp what we would be getting ourselves into.

One of the pieces of advice that stuck with me was to make the bylaws unambiguously clear. The reason given was that "nonprofit organizations bring out the worst in people". My friend Graham had beaten a similar message into me years ago over the value of written contracts when friends do business, so it was a message I was primed to hear. Due to this, one of my conditions of allowing Personal Telco to become a nonprofit was that we find the money to have actual lawyers draw up all the legal documents.

This advice was truer than I could know. It wasn't just that having a legal framework for our hobby group meant that there were now board positions and bylaws to quibble over ... it changed people's motivations. Suddenly there were cliques and factions, people started investing time and energy into climbing the political ladder of our fledgling nonprofit. At the time I was baffled, I couldn't fathom why people who'd worked selflessly beside me for over a year, suddenly wanted to spend more time talking about the rules and our public image than just doing the work.

The three of us who signed our names to the legal document, Michael, Lucas and I burned out in rapid succession. Maybe we were dreamers not builders, maybe we were just too emotionally invested to separate ourselves from the project. For me, the moment came smoking a cigarette on my porch. I suddenly realized that I could have achieved more of my goals for community wireless by simply dedicating two years of my life to writing code and documentation and talking to my neighbours.

I didn't yet grasp that the formalization of the organization also meant the formalization of the dream. It meant that parts of my dream became parts of our mission. What felt like a compromise actually created a meme that spread to everyone involved. Each person that accepted the dream got to take ownership of it and tear out the pieces that were important to them.

I talked a lot about the strength of community while I was standing in front of people. I understood in essence, though not yet in practice, the extent to which true community means diversity, and diversity means dissent. I didn't understand that every person that disagreed with me and scrapped over the little things, wasn't being divisive, they were sticking up for their dream.

The oft repeated reason for incorporating into a nonprofit was to make something which could survive the departure of a few key people, to explicitly make it more than a few key people's "hobby group." I said in my parting speech that I hoped Personal Telco would do more without me than they ever had with me.

I think you're well on your way.

journal posted on 6 Mar 2004 in #reflecting & #working



I've had many of the same thoughts regarding the NPO - glad to know I'm not alone. It's easy to lose track of the view from 30,000 feet when you're standing on the ground - and vice versa. Thanks for everything, Adam.

Posted on 5 Apr 2004 by Keegan Quinn

Oy! You ain't kiddin' fella. Congrats on Weta Digital's oscar by the by.

Posted on 3 Apr 2004 by Darrin Eden
Copyheart 1994–2024 Adam Shand. Sharing is an act of love.