Written by Hera Hussain.
Being a 100% volunteer driven organisation means we are constantly juggling our lives (work, education, friends, family) with volunteering for Chayn. This means we get so caught up in the day-to-day life finding time to complete Chayn work that we forget how much we have actually done. It’s been a fabulous year for us! The highlights being preventing the honour killing of a woman in Pakistan, finding out the reach of Chayn Pakistan website has been 19,000 people, and hosting a 100-people hackathon to address sexual violence in conflict with the UK Foreign Office, Embassy of Netherlands, Embassy of Sweden, and MakeSense.
Before I get carried away in the highlights, let’s rewind a bit to see where things were at the end of 2013.
In August 2013, we launched “Chayn Pakistan”, organised a workshop called “How to Start A Global Movement with £350” at Emerge Conference (Said Business School, Oxford) and raised £737.50 at an Filanthropy event for hosting a women focused hackathon. We were proud to have won a award from World CSR Congress on being an Outstanding NGO! On the other hand, it was disappointing that we didn’t win the Dell Social Innovation Women’s Challenge, something we had worked really hard for. Though we did make it to the semi-finals.
In 2014, we thought of how we can use our limited resources and leverage them to make a difference in the lives of oppressed and abused women. By this time, the initial impetus behind launching Chayn Pakistan had been lost and the 70 volunteers we had gathered online for it had whittled down to a handful. I have realised through working on Chayn that it’s very easy to get pull people together into action for a short-term goal but it’s harder to engage volunteers to keep contributing if there is no tangible goal in sight.
We decided to focus on identifying the needs of women in abusive homes. It became apparent, quite quickly, that it was lack of (1) immediate safe accommodation, (2) finance (e.g money to escape, accommodation, travel, and food costs post-escape), (3) support and advice. We brainstormed for months on what a solution could look like with such limited resources. Could we start a shelter? Could we collect thousands of pounds and give women loans? Could we have a S.W.A.T style escape team? It boiled down to understanding what was missing and what could be done in UK and Pakistan with the lean-startup model in mind.
We started 6 projects this year such as, (1) creating a range of documents to assist women facing domestic violence, (2) creating an empowerment fund that can be used for our work on domestic violence and give out escape grants (initial funding to help women escape immediate danger), (3) initiating Hack for Chayn, where we run hacks on women empowerment, (4) Happy Thoughts – a project to decrease loneliness for people suffering from depression and anxiety, (5) ChaynVille – enabling women to start a new life by funding a Pay It Forward housing scheme and (6) supporting female entrepreneurs.
We also started working on 6 tools which includes 3 volunteer-driven mini-projects supported by o2 Think Big. These tools include a simple-to-follow guide for keeping safe and avoiding detection online, to Building A Case Without A Lawyer for women experiencing domestic violence. The latter will be perhaps one of the most crucial documents ever created in this area because access to legal help is, at best, difficult for women in an abusive home due to restrictions on mobility and reduction of legal aid. Also, often the best time to collect evidence of abuse is while you are still in the abusive home. This document will be monumental in helping women and their friends to build a case to present to the police, a lawyer, an asylum application or court. All content is and will be licensed under Creative Commons 4.0(SA).
We fundraised approximately £1300 to go towards our empowerment fund. We were able to give one £500 grant to a woman to help pay her university fees, £200 to help a woman and her two children escape an honour killing and £270 for another woman in Middle East who is planning to escape an extremely abusive home. The remaining will go towards supporting ChaynVille and the hosting of workshops in London where volunteers train women on entering the job market for the first time.
We started the tradition of having a monthly Chayn Day which is when new and old volunteers get together to work on things on the first Sunday of every month. It’s been great so far and we feel this will considerably increase our reach for new volunteers in London.
Speaking of events, how can I not mention our roaring success of 2014: hosting EndSVCHack; a 100-people hackathon to address sexual violence in conflict with the UK Foreign Office, Embassy of Netherlands, Embassy of Sweden, and MakeSense. For a small open-source project which didn’t even exist a year and a half ago to host a hackathon with government organisations at the world’s largest gathering of NGOs, survivors and diplomats is a big deal! Not only did we deliver a hackathon – we delivered a social hackathon to an audience of 100, 70% of which had never been to one before. We spent hundreds of volunteer hours to put on this hackathon in 4 weeks where something like this usually needs 6 months of planning. We’re fortunate to have great help from all our partners in making this possible and helping us implement the vision of the hack!
Our support to the team did not end at the hackathon as we have been helping them since. We are proud to announce that The Promise team has now registered as a company and are partnering with Justice Without Frontiers to work on a solution to help them. Justice Without Frontiers are a Beirut-based NGO working on projects with victims of violence, torture, abuse and sexual exploitation.
One of my proudest moments of the year was finding out two of our Pakistan volunteers were accepted into prestigious fellowships due to their contribution to Chayn. Seerat, was accepted to represent Pakistan at the girls20 Summit which is a leadership programme of the most ambitious under-21 female changemakers around the world. Similarly, Mahnoor, got accepted on to the Emerging Leaders of Pakistan fellowship which is supported by Atlantic Council in Washington DC to support and connect the future leaders of Pakistan. You’ll be able to read about their experiences on our blog soon! I would also like this opportunity to thank all those who helped us along the way, especially Ben Metz from CIVA who has been guiding us through the difficult journey of being a startup charity.
Despite all of our highlights, this year has also been challenging, both for me as the founder of Chayn and for Chayn, overall. The biggest challenge for me personally has been growing the organisation and building a culture of collaboration while retaining a discipline of practice. It has been incredibly hard. I am lucky to have a few very motivated volunteers who are very passionate about empowering women and take out time to contribute.
To give more ownership of projects and agency over decisions, I decided to create the concept of an Executive Team. The Executive Team is the nucleus of Chayn volunteers who have proven themselves to be committed, ambitious and reliable in the past few months and who want to take more responsibility. The Executive team rotates every three months, which is our current sprint interval, where people can drop off and come on board depending on their availability and performance. We are now on Cycle 2 of the Executive Team and while I won’t say the process is seamless as we are still struggling with meeting deadlines but it seems to be improving over time. I’ll provide feedback on this aspect once we’ve hit Cycle 5. Lack of focus was a major concern in the start of 2014 which is why having a sprint-based model of work has made this much easier! I’m a great believer in having outcome-focused work sessions and sprints are a great way to make sure everyone is working towards the same goal.
The other issue has been our consistent struggle with crowdfunding. We hate it and yet there seems to be no other way to raise funds for helping women escape abuse. We can apply for grants when it comes to making tools or running workshops but there is no grant or money-making method to fund our escape grants or even ChaynVille. If you’ve got any ideas for this, please let me know at [email protected]
We have also failed to partner with other women’s organisations and partly this has been because the times we have tried, it has taken a long time to arrange a meeting whereas when we do things ourselves, the turnaround time is shorter by weeks. The Executive Team has discussed that once our 6 tools have finished their production in February 2015, we will focus on outreach to other organisations and see if our work can benefit them or if we can do something together. I’m really excited about this!
All in all, I think 2014 was our best year yet. We learnt a lot and we have definitely matured as an organisation. We’ve managed to do so much with so little that it still amazes me what a tiny volunteer-run organisation with no overheads, no full time staff and a very limited budget can achieve.