Planning Ahead: Strategies and Methods
Well prepared strategic planning helps an organization to grow exponentially both in achieving its vision and self-cognizance. It is an axiom that does not require logical argumentation (so there shall be none, ha!). Keeping up with this axiom, Labrys gathered its staff and volunteers, as well as experienced trainers to strategize over the organization’s future in the next three years.
The sunny but frosty weekend of 18-19 January, 2008 was chosen as the date when fifteen people would come together to brainstorm ideas and methods of their achievement. Skiing resort “Norus” to the south of Bishkek warmly welcomed participants of the two-day “Strategic Planning 2008-2010” seminar facilitated by Gulnara Kurmanova and Kristina Mahnicheva of Anti-AIDS Association. The nearly midnight blue of the sky and the sparkling shine of winter sun ignited our inspiration and willingness to work for the benefit of Labrys and the goals it aims at.
Sessions in details
With well-made breakfast to fuel the brains of Labrys staff and volunteers started the first session of the seminar. The participants were asked to discuss two work-in-progress visions and consecutive missions of Labrys elaborated by Labrys staff during the previous months of restructuring. One of the visions was narrower with greater focus on LGBT-specific issues, while the second one was of a more general human-rights fueled nature, lending the organization a broader mandate. This difference at first caused significant disagreement among the participants – to some it seemed that a narrower vision would suit Labrys’s goals better, as the broader version could cause a certain diffusion of attention and efforts on the part of Labrys staff. However, after heated discussions, a consensus (minus one) was achieved deciding in favour of the broader vision for Labrys, which reads as follows:
Kyrgyzstani society, in which all of its members have equal rights and opportunities, regardless of their sexual orientation/practices, race, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity/gender self-expression, religion and social status.
It was argued that such a vision would allow for greater maneuverability of Labrys in its organizational and mission development.
The second session of the seminar was dedicated to elaboration of a clear-cut goal for Labrys in the next three years based on the chosen vision and mission. With collective intellectual effort the following text of the goal was born:
To improve the quality of life for LGBT people and to achieve visible results in realizing their basic human rights and freedoms through empowerment and development of LGBT communities.
Once the goal was conceived and formulated thusly, it was possible to break it into four basic action points that could be addressed separately for greater effectiveness of goal achievement. They were:
1. Improving the quality of life for LGBT people
2. Achieving visible results in realizing human rights
3. Empowerment and development of LGBT communities
4. Organizational development to adequately assist goal achievement
Then, as any good strategy requires, the four action points were assigned to four working groups, which were requested to develop 3-year plans of achieving the action points. Each plan was to be checked against the SMART criteria (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-constrained). The activity proved to be very engaging, as all participants, regardless of their status within the organization, felt the pumping of adrenaline while working out concrete and practical plans for Labrys. The results pleasantly surprised everyone, lending them a feeling of accomplishment.
The second day of the seminar was dedicated to discussing the 3-year plans developed the day before. An interactive courtroom approach was adopted in discussing the plans, with a panel of judges, an advocate from each group to defend their position, as well as a prosecutor to critique the work against the SMART criteria. With this collective work, the plans for four basic action points (as mentioned above) were finalized and ready for the last stage of strategizing, which was discussed at the fourth session.
Staff and volunteers, come together!
As the groups worked together during the two days of the seminar, it became clear that the seminar had become a historical event for Labrys. For the first time in its history, it was not just Labrys staff, but also volunteers and community representatives that came together to plan for the future of Labrys as an LGBT organization. Along with discussing the vision and mission of the organization, volunteers and community reps got into the insides of planning activities and achieving results, as well as assigning funds for each. This created a sense of belongingness to the living mechanism that is Labrys and further mutual trust between staff and volunteers. Transparency is, after all, a mighty tool in ensuring that an organization is not torn by inside disagreements and mistrust.
“It is the first time when I feel like we have come together, unified, to work on our common goal.”
“It is truly a unique experience to see strategic planning sessions being conducted not just for the staff but also for volunteers and community representatives of an organization.”
“The structuring work that we did is exciting. Where I saw chaos before, I now see order and that is truly inspiring.”
These were some of the impressions spelled out at the conclusion of the “Strategic Planning 2008-2010” seminar, just thirty minutes prior to departure. The brainstorming sessions held 1,950 metres above the sea level proved to be truly effective, producing piles of flip-charts to be constantly referred to and checked with.