Leaving Index on Censorship

I had a lovely farewell party at Index on Friday, laid back, late and very liquid, with lots of music, dance and friends around me (thanks if you were there, commiserations if not!) and now I’m in cold and windy Bexhill-on-Sea with the idiot dog and the creaky laptop, eating lots of toast, thinking about the future.

It’s a lot of thinking: To be honest I just quit because I wanted a change and a new challenge after too many years at Index on Censorship for anyone’s good, as much as I appreciate the organisation and the people who work for it. But I didn’t really make any plans before I left as I was too busy finishing off my work there.

I imagine it’s going to be a life somewhere between freelance consultant and start-up in the first year. I have a limited company, and a full set of domain names, and some potential funding leads, but I want to be careful about how that goes.

I think advocacy groups should work more like independent producers in the film sector – a solid organisational core with a creative vision and a broad mix of skills, funding partners and freelancers to deliver the goods. Not giant self-contained MGM-type studios.

You don’t need big staffs and bigger organisations to make a big media or advocacy impact any more. You can do much more now with networks, and networks of networks and emerging online tools and techniques.

Old style advocacy NGOs will ultimately find themselves too big and constrained by core funding demands to evolve. And of course while I didn’t mind doing the organisation at Index to sustain the work, I seriously minded doing the work to sustain the organisation.

So I’ve picked six subjects that I think are important to free expression rights defenders and interest me, and that I think I can add something to – three advocacy & journalism themes and three research & development areas.

I also want to see how new online tools and techniques can truly help us work better in the field, not just promise to. I’m going to see about developing some projects with friends in local partner organisations, in some countries where I’ve worked before and would like to again: Tunisia, Bahrain, Belarus, Burma, Syria, Iran maybe, Israel/Palestine, the Caucasus, Central Asia.

Or new places: Mali, anywhere in Africa, SE Asia. Maybe even exorcise a few ghosts and try Sri Lanka. Will see.

The company’s name is Vivarta. It’s the name of the online features agency I set up and ran between 1997 and 1999 before I realised that nobody at that point had any idea how to raise a living income from the net. least of all me, and IWPR took me in for the wars in Kosovo & Afghanistan before introducing me to Ursula Owen at Index.

I kept all the Vivarta internet domain names, the empty bank account and the trademark, so am ready to go. I think I can put together and fund a good portfolio of projects, but there is a recession on, and if I’m not getting anywhere in fundraising terms by February 2014, I’ll wind down to plain freelancing and pick up work as it comes.

If however it is taking shape as a proper organisation by 2014, I will put out invites for a board of directors and expand coherently.

So, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off, do a bit of work related travel, then start developing project ideas to fundraise for in the summer to carry out from the autumn. I am taking a space at the current Index office in the Free Word Centre, but they are moving out at Easter, so I will have my own space for events, meetings and a few desks as I need them.

Otherwise I’m being virtual from sleepy Bexhill as Sally & I are selling the London flat to pay off mortgages, etc., so we can do all this more confidently. Oh yes, and let the family take the long holiday in the sun (or slopes) that they have done without for the last few years…

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