Enter, Pirates

“Business plans are dead,” our pirate friends tell us, or at least, they have overstayed their welcome. As members of the Be More Pirate movement we’ve learnt that they are definitely not fit for purpose if what you seek is total transformation of your organisation and society. Even more ludicrous is that we convince ourselves that we can plan the future.

Of course to start an organisation and run it efficiently you need plans and strategies however painful and challenging these might be to write. But as seen recently, there’s an unavoidable endemic uncertainty which requires us to be flexible, agile and ready to change course at a moment’s notice. 

We are living in “liquid times,” Zygmunt Bauman writes, where the foundations we had in society on which we built our certainties no longer exist, where “social forms … cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life strategies because of their short life expectation.”

Navigating uncertainty requires skill and direction. Where before we might have relied on a radar to tell us where we are, today, we need a compass to tell us where we need to go. We can’t avoid the hurdles but we can perhaps learn how to face them. 

Beyond our current times, I sometimes imagine that there is a conspiracy to force organisations like ours into endless bureaucratic processes so that we no longer have the time or the will to resist, rebel and push for the radical change we so need. This was partly what spurred us into writing a pirate Code at CRIN, where the Rights Studio was born: to free ourselves from unnecessary paperwork and seek clarity of purpose.

More importantly, however, was the desire and recognition in our team that our strength lies in the values and principles we stand for, which are listed in the Code, and that we should use these to guide us in our work more explicitly and consistently. The point is not to sound impressive or righteous, but to use our strength to our advantage.

I am making this point because this idea of standing for something is also a growing PR tool for celebrities or marketing tactics for all sorts of consumer goods, from trainers to take-away coffees. Writing the Code itself is the easy part; practising it and holding ourselves accountable to it is where the real work comes in. 

Do we believe we’re above ethical practices because of the nature of our work and a sense of self-righteousness? How can we call for better labour standards without improving ours? How can we call for an end to sexual violence against women while asking female staff to sign non-disclosure agreements when they fall prey to our own staff? How can we call on the banking sector to be transparent and accountable if we are not? How can we claim to ‘change the world for the better’ if we’re destroying the environment with our conference-hopping? 

So this Code is a challenge we are setting ourselves. It demands of us that we hold a mirror up to ourselves and interrogate our own role and work, our behaviours and our legitimacy (or perceived legitimacy), and not just of the organisation, but ourselves as individuals too. It’s hard, but it’s also comforting and people know what they can expect from us: this is who we are, we’re not going to shift and change to suit a particular donor or political mood; we are focused, we are unafraid, we stand tall. It’s our compass and our journey. It’s a daily practice and our long term vision. 

Many people have asked us about the Code and how we did it, but the more interesting question was ‘how will you ensure you remain accountable to it?” We will be coming back to this question in future posts as we explore it in more practical ways.

Besides the obvious ways in which we report to our donors, are there not more creative ways that ensure we remain accountable to our cause?

Words, Veronica Yates and illustration Miriam Sugranyes