Better Than Most is a regular feature of The Business of Giving, examining the best places to work among social good businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Denver: Tonight we visit 1616 P Street, in Washington DC and the headquarters of Namati an organization dedicated to put in a Law to people’s hand. We’ll begin with thier Chief Executive Officer, Vivek Maru who is tell us about the mission of thier organization and then you will hear from some of the other members of the team.
Vivek: We deploy community legal workers; sometimes people call them barefoot lawyers, to help people exercise basic rights. Some of the most vulnerable people in the world, we help them to take on the injustices they face.
Erin: I think that one of the things I value most about Namati and that I think is critical to our effectiveness is our deep commitment to living our values every single day, and we really hold each other to that. We’re constantly asking each other, does this really…is this in the best interest of the communities we serve? Is this helping us be the organization that we want to be? So, that plays out certainly in terms of programmatic decisions but also in the ways that we interact with each other,
Alayna: The first thing I say on Facebook is that my boss is a hugger. I think this is awesome because in a lot of organizations, your bosses are very distant from you. The fact that I have a boss that’s willing to communicate with me at a level that makes it seem like he’s my friend; which I do consider him a friend; it’s great. And it’s also great to see how he just praises everyone for their work.
Indira: I have only ever worked at mission-driven organizations, and this is by far the most mission-driven organization I have ever worked at by far. I just find day in and day out the thing that brings people to work, the thing that drives people every day is serving our clients, building our fields, bringing greater justice everywhere, every day. It is so palpable, and sometimes we can work ourselves too hard. Sometimes we have to go about things a few different ways before we get it right, and we’re not always perfect but this relentless mission focus, it’s really inspiring to me every single day how much I just see it across our colleagues and it plays out in a lot of different ways.
Martha: Being here where there is access to a gym that I can do after work, and there’s a courtyard with a fountain and beautiful greenery, a rooftop where there is Wi-Fi, and we can work. It’s really nice and has just increased my productivity and day-to-day happiness.
Mia: No matter where I am, I feel like as soon as you meet somebody from Namati for the first time, you have this connection with them, and I think the work that we’re doing really bonds us together. I just think across cultures and context, there is something… it’s like the secret sauce that Erin was talking about, just really connects everyone. Although, I feel like there are distinct subcultures at all the different offices, there’s a thread that unites us throughout.
Kim: I’ve worked for other nonprofits at the start of its phases, and I’m amazed as to how much Namati has worked through workflows and has a Google drive that’s actually organized for the most part, instead of like just a giant pile of files; that there’s continual drive to approach things in an orderly way in a way that people can figure out.
Abigail: What strikes me is that Namati doesn’t end with the staff. Our identity is very much tied up with the communities that we work with, the local partners that we’re designing projects with every day, and the greater network that we’re trying to convene around legal empowerment issues and when we have staff meetings about how we can be better, a lot of times, the issues that come up questions like how do we ensure better safety for the local partners on the ground that are tied up in our work or for the communities that we’re trying to stand for. It just strikes me sometimes that we have this phrase at Namati, our mission is always oriented at being movement generous.
Dallin: I think that gets at what others of us have said so far about Namati being a family that – headquarters may be in DC but the broader family is all over in the world, in Africa, in India, in Myanmar, and then you get into the global network, and it’s a lot more broad than that. Family, again.
Erin: We had a retreat last October. One of the nights ended with a dance party, and we were moving rapidly back and forth between reggae from Sierra Leone to the newest pop song in Mozambique, to Hindi ballads and just this wonderful flow across. This combination of amazing dancers and then people who are totally unafraid to just be as goofy as they want on the dancefloor. That’s one ritual.
Indira: We really try not to be limited by the ways that things have typically been done. I think international and geo space has had certain ways of operating over the last several decades. What I love so much about Namati from the time that I joined is just this radical, relentless questioning of, just because things have been done that way, we don’t need to do them that way. How can we make things simpler, more tangible, more comprehensible, more accountable to our clients, more accountable to our constituents and our community members, transparent.
Martha: I’ve really appreciated the focus at every level on environmental sustainability and even if it’s what type of paper towels are we going to order. Are we going to get the recycled version or not, to bigger decisions about how we operate as an organization to make sure that we’re doing it in the most environmentally conscious way possible. I think it’s great to see us living a value like that so tangibly especially since it’s a major theme of a lot of our work.
Mia: One thing that I have really enjoyed that I feel like has helped break down some silos between different teams is that we adopted Slack in the last year. It helps us just quickly communicate with each other but it’s also become a space that I think is just really, fun, informal conversation.
Abigail: One that I think is common across probably a lot of teams are rituals around food. For instance, our India team for lunch every day, everyone will bring their food and then put it in the middle of the table to become a common buffet style, and then everyone gets to share in each other’s food and eat a little bit.
Vivek: So, one of the challenges is how do you foster and weave a really deep, unified culture across those places which has been such a priority for us. I think part of this is having a common set of values that everyone knows and that we live and breathe. Some of those, empowerment itself, this idea that we don’t want to be solving problems for poor people. We want to equip people to solve them themselves. We try to take that seriously internally as well. That is one principle that cuts across. Another one is movement generosity that we know that ultimately, we are trying to build something that is much bigger than anyone organization. So, that is a cultural value that we try to live by.
Dallin: So, I know that there is as we’ve talked about this growth mindset and everything, opportunities to move to entirely different jobs just based on your talents and Namati’s needs.
Erin: We actually really emerged from a decentralzed structure and came together because we saw the ways in which our values were aligned and how we were committed to the same mission. I think that’s a really valuable starting point. As we have grown over time and gotten larger, we’ve gotten considerably larger over the past two years. We pretty much doubled in size. We’ve maintained a real commitment to how do we keep those beautiful subcultures, and how do we maintain autonomy in each of our offices while also making sure that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and I think the phrase that helps to communicate that best, we talk about one Namati.
Alayna: And the fact that we work in eight countries and everyone in this room comes from a different background, that’s diversity in itself. We all have different ideas but somehow, when we come together, we form this great organization that’s able to help so many communities and so many people that don’t look like us, they don’t live in the same area as us.
Abby: How work place culture is communicated to all occasions across the globe. This is the money question. I think it’s valuable to say that this is something that we haven’t totally cracked the code on but I think it’s valuable to say that we are constantly thinking about it and trying to figure out ways to do it. And we’re testing out – one thing about what we do is we’re very experimental. We think it’s an area that we’re humble about it. We realize that we don’t have answers to everything and so we’re still learning about how to really create a one Namati, a global community with a common global culture.
Denver: I wanna thanks all those who participate in this segment: Indira Sarma, Dallin Johnson, Erin Kitchell, Alayna Chuney, Martha Hague, Mia Schmid-Velasco, Kim Steins and Abigail Moy. If you wanna hear this again read the transcript and see pictures of the participants and the offices, come visit denver-frederick.com, where we’ll have a link to my full interview with Vivek Maru the founder and CEO of Namati.
The Business of Giving can be heard every Sunday evening between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern on AM 970 The Answer in New York and on iHeartRadio. You can follow us @bizofgive on Twitter, @bizofgive on Instagram and at http://www.facebook.com/BusinessOfGiving