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---------- Forwarded message ---------

From: ​Dan Mossip-Balkwill​ <​dan@metowe.com​>


Date: Sat, Sep 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM
Subject: An honest goodbye
To:​ …………………...

I distinctly remember the last time I saw ​…………...​ He was standing outside of 233
Carlton with a box in his hands, which contained a 12 year old scotch given to him by the staff,
among other personal affects. He was looking from side to side, somewhat content, somewhat in
a rush, waiting to be picked up by his dad. He was alone, and no one was standing beside him
wishing him goodbye. He’d just finished his last day, and had a nice send-off on the patio of the
Me to We building. Somehow the image was sad, but seemed to epitomize how we all leave this
organization. It seems like the instant you walk out those doors you’re gone, it’s over, you’re all
by yourself. Inside there are parties, goodbye’s, and free bottles of scotch, but once you leave,
you’re alone waiting for another ride. I don’t mean this to sound harsh, but there does appear to
be a sharp contrast.

I think about all of this as I sit down to write my goodbye e-mail to the staff, and think
about the mix of emotions I have about leaving. I’m sad to leave, there’s no question about it,
I’ll miss the people that started as friends, and are all now family, I’ll miss my job. In my two
years here I’ve been to Kenya, India,Kuwait, Arizona, Mexico, California, and most
impressively North Bay. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, and life long friends in this
organization, and on the trips I lead, workshops I facilitate, and academies I attend. I have been
able to gain more experience in two years, than some people can gain in 20. Yet someone once
said they’ve never worked at a place where people are so excited to leave, and that’s true for me
too. I’m excited to sleep, read, watch movies, and sleep some more. I cant’ remember the last
time I was so excited to do those things. I wonder as I write this what that’s all about. My
mixed emotions about leaving seem fitting as I’ve had such a mix of emotions while working
here. My e-mail below will reflect that.

The number one criticism I’ve heard, and had, about goodbye’s from past staff is that
they are not honest. People complain bitterly about this organization while they’re here, then
when they leave they don’t say why they are really leaving, and to make matters worse they
actually profess their unwavering “love” for the organization. I also feel the nervousness of
actually being “honest” in my experiences here. I worry about what others worry about, burning
bridges and future career opportunities. I’m nervous about the repercussions of what I’m about
to say here. But then I think that over 200 people have walked in, and then walked out, of these
doors in the last 4 years. They say they leave for school, loved ones, other job prospects, or just
because. And while those may be true, they are all symptoms, the cause is this organization.
You don’t seek out grad school, and new jobs if you’re happy where you are. I didn’t want to be
the 201 staff person to walkout without being honest. I decided it’s important for me tell people
why I’m leaving.

We talk about culture carriers in this organization. Part of the reason I want to write an
honest goodbye e-mail is to try and be a culture changer instead. Our culture needs to change,
just as society’s culture has changed with time. I was in a meeting where facilitators were
bringing up issues they had with the organization. It was explained that these issues work in a
cyclical fashion, that they always come up, especially around this time of year, and have for the
last 7 years. That’s not good enough, it means the same problems keeps happening and nothing
is being done about them. Just as our organization says that it strives to break the cycle of
poverty around the world, we need to break the cycle of inaction internally.

A former staff member told me that everyone goes through a cycle upon coming to this
organization.

-​ ​1-6 months​ – so excited to be here and love everything.

-​ ​7-12months​ – Start to see problems but have faith that they can be
fixed and you can fix them.

-​ ​13-18
months​ – Upset and bitter because no one listened to your
seemingly obvious solutions, and the problems continue even though
everyone knows they exist.

-​ ​19-24 month​ – you quit before your two year contract is up.

I write this because it rings true to my experience. I know some of the newer people here
will not understand at all what I’m writing about, and hopefully never will, and that for others I
will be writing exactly how they are feeling. To those that don’t feel it, I hate to say this, but you
may not have been hurt badly enough yet.

To be clear I write this e-mail out of a place of love, not hate for this organization. Love
for the staff, love for the impact of it’s programs, and love for the incredible potential that it has.
I’ve had some of the best experiences of my entire life here, and while everyone says that when
they leave, I think it’s important to step back and acknowledge that part. So I have no intention
of writing this to “take down” the organization, or to finally get revenge. I hope it creates a new
framework to talk about change, I hope it lets everyone know that there are tons of people who
feel the same way they do. I hope this unites people, gets them talking around the water cooler,
and helps people begin to create change in their workplace. I hope it triggers something, but I’m
not sure exactly what this is yet, and it’s not for me, but for the remaining staff to figure out.

I’ve been thinking about this e-mail since my first 4 months here. In January 08 I was
ready to quit. I’d had it. I was going to see out the school year, but I was done for sure in
September, I was literally making travel plans with friends. I was so fed up with the lack of
transparency, recognition, and total disrespect I felt I faced that I was going to leave. What kept
me was another story with ​………… ​ or ​...​, as he preferred to be called. We talked about a
co-worker who had left Kenya because of the way he felt the staff were treated over there.
…………​ had been to Kenya and didn’t agree or disagree with his stance, but he did say
something that will stick with me forever. He said, “ya, that’s great that he’s taken that stance,
but now that he’s left those people are still being treated the same way. Nothing’s changed.”

It hit me then that if I wanted to contribute to a positive change within this organization I
needed to stay to do it. That quitting out of protest would not change things, not as individual.
A mass walkout would be different, but that’s not what our co-worker had done. I took on my
role as manager, thinking I could revolutionize the way this place runs. That’s what kept me
here. While I think this organization has improved, ever so slightly over my two years, it’s got a
long way to go, and it’s made me tired to try and change it alone. That’s not to say others aren’t
trying, we just don’t know who we are, and are afraid to talk about it.

Now you can give all the reasons in the world you want about why people feel this way,
how they should have stood up and said something, or that they ought to have known what they
were getting into or if they didn’t like it, they could have juts left. But the staff who work here,
work out of ​love. ​It’s love damnit, not money, glamour, fame, or fortune, just love. They love
what they do, who they do it for, and who they do it with. They signed up to give at least two
years of their life to change the world, literally that’s what they signed up for. To reduce them to
tears, tell them to leave if they don’t like it, that they need to suck it up, or that their problems
don’t compare to children in Africa is atrocious. Telling them to leave if they don’t like it shows
that you don’t value them as a staff.

In Arizona I watched a documentary called Made in L.A. It’s about migrants who find
work sweatshops for Forever 21. As they interview one of the main characters she says that
when she complained to her boss about the long hours, the lack of respect, and the low pay
(sound familiar?) he told her if she didn’t like she could leave. I honestly can’t count the number
of times I’ve heard that said here. It sends our staff the same message it sent her: we don’t care
about you, and you are disposable. This organization sends the same message to it’s staff that a
sweatshop in L.A. does.
I remember running a session with all our facilitation staff in January on what their
dreams and nightmares were as a team. Their dreams, we’re not limited to, but included, being
treated with respect, being involved in the decision making process in their workplace, and for
there to be transparency in the decisions being made. Let me be clear on the last point that I
mean transparency, and not communication. The decision being made is eventually made clear
after some prodding, but the real reasons behind it are hardly ever stated.

I could go on ad nauseam about injustices I’ve seen or experienced here. Instead I’m
going to focus on the most offensive and basic, our health and safety. I’m talking about is when
staff are asked to do back to back trips with anywhere from 1 or a few hours in between trips,
jeopardizing both the safety of themselves and participants. Our safety cannot be a priority for
the organization when we’re asked to drive to cities 4 hours away and back in the same day, and
we are so exhausted that we are literally falling asleep at the wheel because administration won’t
pay for a hotel. Or at the office when people fall down stairs, that have never had weather-strips
put on them, or women walk down dark alleys at midnight after returning a car from a full day of
work.

How we’re treated as a staff is only half the reason for my leaving. The other half is that
this organization is no longer in line with my goals and morals. Me to We was supposed to
redefine business. Instead it became another private sector company whose number one aim is
money, where people and staff come second. I don’t want to work at an organization where
we’re constantly reminded that we are paid low wages to keep admin rates low, so donors will
give more money. I don’t want to work at an organization where fear is used as a tactic to
achieve an ends. I’m tired of being made to feel guilty about doing expense reports, or asking to
be paid a living wage, because that money would otherwise go to “educate starving students in
Africa.” I’m tired of feeling like every little thing is a struggle. I’m tired of being tired.

The culture of guilt, the disregard for worker’s rights, and the lack of respect that have
become commonplace, cannot be solved by management, they must be solved by the people who
work here. We often hear stories about how FTC/Me to We were created, the pranks on
…………​, or ​…………​ sleeping in a tent. Or we’re told outright that this is Marc’s
organization, he works harder than anyone and goes from Kenya, to Academy, to board meeting,
so we should be able to do the same too, if only we cared enough. As a result there is often a
feeling that it is his organization, or “their” organization. While this is true to a degree, it
couldn’t happen without our labour. It’s our lives, our health and safety, our sleepless nights, our
tears of frustration, not his, not theirs.

These are easy things to say in the last minutes of my time here. That I won’t come back
on Monday, worried about the consequences of this e-mail. As I write that it seems weird that
there would be “consequences” for sending out an e-mail asking for more respect and
recognition. The fact that that feeling exists in someone who’s writing on their last day
demonstrates the culture of fear in this organization. But I feel a responsibility to speak up.
There is a quote that I think applies to us as staff, “We have maintained a silence closely
resembling stupidity.” The culture of silence, bitterness, and determination that things cannot
change is our own worst enemy.

Don’t let me diminish that the hurt comes from a legitimate and very real place. When
people are hurt here it hurts more than any other job or place. We create a family atmosphere so
that when we are hurt it feels like such a total betrayal. It goes back to the love thing as well,
how could something, someplace, and someone that we love so much, hurt us? How could they
not care how we feel, and dismiss our feelings? It hurts. That needs to be addressed. I do not
want to diminish people’s reservations in standing up at this place. It’s scary to stand up, to talk
to friends about change, instead of just talking about how bad things are. Scarier yet is the
prospect of standing up in front of others, in an uncertain situation, where you could lose your
job, future careers, or be blackballed in the organization. And why not fear these things? I can
only speak from my own experience and say that I stood up less than I should have, and picked
my battles carefully. That being said I only regret the times that I didn’t stand up, as opposed to
the times that I did.

Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve been told the contrary, that conflict can be the
oxygen of growth. It’s often how the relationships change and evolve among people. It doesn’t
mean we should go picking fights, but we should acknowledge it and deal with it, not shy away.
When we’re 2 years old two things happen, we learn how to say no, and we learn how to walk
the other way. It totally messes up parents. They’re cute, smiley, bundle of joy now can make
it’s own decisions. But that’s part of growing up. Parents set new boundaries, and a new
relationship is formed. We need to say no, we need to walk the other way; we need a new
relationship with the people of power in this organization.

There is an interesting article on changing people’s behaviour titled “Change or Die” It


states that if given the choice 9 out of 10 people will technically choose death. Not they don’t
fill out a sheet, but they do continue to maintain practices that are hazardous to their health and
ultimately wind up in their death. The article explains that the key to change is creating a
positive vision for the future. Imagine a workplace where after working long hours, and pouring
your heart into a project you are thanked. Moreover, imagine a year from now when people ask
you how long you’ve been here, and want to know whether it was before or after the revolution?

My involvement in the process of creating a better workplace will not end with my
leaving. It’s something I’m committed to and would like to work with others on. But I don’t
have all the answers, there’s no magic method to this. If this e-mail speaks to you, either now, or
6 months down the road, e-mail me (​……………………​), find me on facebook, and let’s talk.
Know that there are others who feel the way you do. And if it drives you to a place that makes
you want to change this place for the better I’m with you and want to work on that with you, and
I know for a fact there are more of us, and we can change this place.

Take this e-mail for example, it was planned, organized, and researched. And it’s yours, do
with it what you will, get sad, get angry, feel guilty, be confused, delete it, forget about it. But
don’t say that in the years to come you would have done something differently had you got this
e-mail…you’ve got it now.*

Thank you,

Dan

*adapted from Thomas King’s Massey Lecture Series titled ​The Truth About Stories.

Dan Mossip-Balkwill​| ​Sr Leadership Facilitator


Me To We Leadership
T: 416 964 8942 Ext. 177
225 Carlton Street​, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 2L2
“Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent
abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict.”
-​ ​Saul Alinksy