Deciding the right legal-form for your start-up

Eight years ago, I set up Justice Studio, a social justice consultancy. At that time, although it grew quickly, I had a dearth of knowledge around the legal-forms/structures of organisations. I think most budding entrepreneurs, excited about setting up a new venture, probably don’t want to think about legal-structures, as they don’t have a stimulating reputation. However, the legal structure is the first vital step. 

Know what you are giving birth to

Maybe I work too much, but I genuinely think legal forms can actually be pretty exciting. They are so important that recognising their role as the structural skeleton of your organisation gives them a stimulating gravitas that some might even call sexy. As most social justice activists know, structures matter. What legal-form your organisation takes reflects its identity and what it stands for.

When I just started out, I didn’t have anyone to ask except my accountant, and as helpful as she was, I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs blindly follow what their lawyer or accountant says about their legal form, based purely on tax considerations. Yet tax implications should only be secondary to the overriding purpose of the organisation. If you don’t make a decision on legal structure based on the organisation’s purpose at its birth, then it may not be structured appropriately to fulfil that purpose, and you could be welcoming problems down the line.

Do you want more freedom or protection?

The first main distinction to make is between freedom and protection. You can either do what you want with your income, but end up taking on personal risk (unlimited liability), or you can protect yourself (limit your liability), but recognise that your venture is no longer of yourself, and along with it comes great responsibility. This distinction of freedom + risk versus protection + responsibility is relevant whether your aim is to make money or do good, or both at the same time.

Let’s step back a moment. Do you want to do this on your own or do you want to venture out with others, now, or in the future? If you like your freedom and just want to work on your own, then a Sole Trader, or Sole Proprietor in the US, could be for you. If you want freedom, but want to work with people, then a Partnership or an Unincorporated Association will allow you to do that without the legal restrictions of having your own entity. You don’t need much to set up, although there are some requirements for Sole Traders or Sole Proprietors, and I would recommend you have a partnership deed or agreement setting out the roles and responsibilities of partnerships or associations.

If something does go wrong, you don’t necessarily want to have your own finances harmed as a result, so, the protection option is limiting your liability. To properly work out the best type of limited liability is necessary, it’s important to be clear on your motivation for setting up your organisation.

Do you want to make money or do good, or do both?

Regardless of what type of organisation you set up, first think of it like a baby or a plant. It’s not you. It’s something separate from you. It has a separate legal personality, and it needs protection from harm. In creating an organisation you have legal and moral responsibilities towards it to ensure that it flourishes. You are its guardian.


If you just want to set up a simple profit-making business, then you can either set up a private limited company or a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) – the half-way house between a partnership and a limited company. All businesses in the UK need to be registered at Companies House. In the US, be aware that in setting up your LLP or Limited Liability Company (LLC) every state has its own code of business laws authorising the formation of business entities, so check out your responsibilities. You’ll need ABN entitlement to set up your Proprietary Limited Company (Pty Ltd) in Australia.

Doing good

Doing good usually means that you will be aiming to set up a charity or not-for-profit entity. A Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) is the most common form of organisation in the UK and it has members rather than shareholders. The majority of charities that were established before 2013 were set up as a CLGs, and registered as a charity through the UK Charity Commission. However, now there is a simpler structure called the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), which has been designed specifically for charities, meaning you just need to register once with the Charity Commission as an incorporated form of charity and you don’t need to worry about registering with, or reporting to, Companies House. In the US, charitable status is recognised through your tax code, so to do charitable work you need to register as the catchy sounding, 501(c)(3).

Doing both

If you want to do good and make money, then there are more options to consider. Generally, organisations that have a double or triple bottom line, can operate under a few different legal forms. In the UK, it is possible to simply use a limited company structure and have an added social purpose. Alternatively, you can have a specific status such as a cooperative or, since 2005, a Community Interest Company (CIC). CICs have an asset lock to ensure that their assets and profits are used for the benefit of the community. If you want to set one up you need to get it registered with the CIC Regulator. Whilst the CIC is close, there is no specific legal structure for a social enterprise, so for validity, you can join a membership body such as Social Enterprise UK, or in the US, the Social Enterprise Alliance. The US has also set up a new certification for companies driven by profit and purpose: B-Corps.

These self-managing and purpose-driven companies, who care about social mission and profit, have been analysed as the next generation of organisation, ‘teal’, in the amazing book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. This is the type of organisation that Justice Studio aims to embody as it reminds us to think of an organisation as an organic, living thing, that should benefit society.

If I haven’t convinced you about how exciting legal structures are yet, then at least, finally, we get to the genuinely fun bit: thinking of a name! If you are in the US, working out what names are available might take a while, however, in the UK or Australia there are handy company name checkers.

Anyway, good luck, have fun, and if you need any extra help with setting up an organisation aiming to do good, then do not hesitate to get in touch with us –

“Winnie was a rock. They struck her and complained she was too hard.’’

“Winnie was a rock. They struck her and complained she was too hard.’’

”Winnie was a rock. They struck her and complained she was too hard.” – Foluke Ifejola

How did Winnie Madikizela’s title fall from ‘Mother of the Nation’ to ‘Terrorist’? As is often the case with many women under the lumbering system of patriarchy, her story seems to begin and end in the light of her husband. Yes, she was once the wife of revolutionary-turned-political-pawn Nelson Mandela, but rarely are we given a glimpse at the full breadth of her remarkable life.

In apartheid South Africa’s rural countryside of Bizana, Winnie was born in 1936 as the sixth girl in a successive line of sisters. From an early age, realising her gender was an inconvenience to her family, Winnie strived to be a female stick fighter, going against the grain in a traditionally male combat sport. After the death of her mother, she temporarily left school and worked the field at the tender age of nine.

When Madikizela became of age she left to the bustling city of Johannesburg to study social work and went on to become South Africa’s first black professional social worker at the Baragwanath Hospital. It was at this time she met the then married Nelson Mandela, sparking a relationship that would last almost 40 years.

Winnie stood by Nelson’s side as he called people to power as leader of the African National Congress (ANC). As he was dragged through the courts of the apartheid regime for his acts of defiance, the South African authorities tirelessly terrorised the newlywed couple and their baby girl. Under the pressure of investigations into her husband, Winnie was let go from her job at the hospital – a wife guilty by association.

In 1960, the Sharpeville massacre, a peaceful protest against passbooks that resulted in 50 deaths when the police force opened fire into the crowd, spurred Nelson to flee as Winnie Mandela gave birth to their second daughter. Nelson was later captured and sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the state. In the ensuing 1963 Rivonia Trials, Winnie Mandela, defiantly draped in her traditional regalia, watched as a vacuum opened in the black South African anti-apartheid movement.

Midikezela-Mandela faithfully leapt into the space her husband left as she vowed “I will fight them to the last drop of my blood.’’ She campaigned under the ANC for the freedom of her people and upheld Nelson in the mind’s eye of supporters. Publicly, she spoke to the hearts of people, while covertly she was engaged in the military wing of the ANC. Winnie became ‘Mother of the Nation,’ leading thousands of women, birthing a generation of revolutionaries. She strived to form her own identity out of the shadow of ‘Mandela’s wife’. As a consequence, the authorities set out on a mission to break her in the same fashion as her husband.

In 1969, six years after Nelson was detained, she was sentenced under the Terrorism Act and shipped away from her two daughters. She spent 491 days in solitary confinement where she was degraded, harassed and tortured. In her accounts of her time spent in a cell the width of two stretched arms, she said, “solitary confinement was designed to kill you so slowly that you were long dead before you died.’’ Ill for the majority of her time in prison her lawyers had to appeal to the Supreme Court to allow her food and the right to wash properly. One form of punishment, common for female freedom fighters, was being denied sanitary products so she would be found by visitors soaked in her own menstrual blood.

Upon her release, however, this horrifying experience did not break but rather galvanized Winnie. Reassuming her role, if the Nationalists had regarded her as a threat before, she was a live wire now. As she was gaining momentum, in 1977 she was exiled by the Apartheid regime to Brandtfort, a township in the neighbouring state. Under constant surveillance, Mama Winnie was severed from the liberation movement and unable to work in her open-air prison, being forced to live off donations.

After eight years in exile Winnie was let back into Soweto but upon arrival was surrounded by threats and attempts upon her life. As a counteractive force, Jerry Richardson created and led the controversial Mandela Football Club, a group of young boys staunch on protecting Winnie Madikizela by any means necessary.

Yet Winnie was being attacked on all sides. Scathed by national and international media; she was criticized rather than respected and had to withstand double standards in her personal as well as political life. Despite Nelson Mandela’s numerous early affairs, she was shamed by an alleged affair with Richardson, and despite the violent deaths of thousands of black people and children in the years of the civil war, she was accused of causing the murder of Stompie, a child in Jerry Richardson’s football team.

Still, Madikizela’s tenacity as a revolutionary leader and her integrity as a politician withstood as the men around her capitulated to the regime. With South Africa becoming ungovernable, the Government manipulated a worn-down Nelson Mandela, returning him compromised to his leadership. The now pacified ANC intentionally distanced themselves from Winnie’s ‘radicalism’ that they once embodied. The white Government proclaimed a peaceful handover to a non-racial democracy. However, Winnie did not believe it, and with the fervour of a mother, made a promise to her nation she was not willing to concede. Yet she was conflicted by her duty to Nelson, and she publicly stood by him, walking out holding his hand as he was released from prison in 1990. Two years later she was to be ousted as the first lady as Nelson announced their separation. He would go on to remarry, for a third time, leaving her nothing in his will.

Betrayed by her husband, she was also scapegoated by the party she had fought so hard for. The same year as the separation, she lost her position as head of the ANC Social Welfare Department amid allegations of corruption. She later became president of the ANC Women’s League but her political career was dogged by smear campaigns, and in 2003 she was convicted of fraud. However, the ANC could not dispute Winnie’s popularity amongst grassroots and the poor, spelling her return to politics in 2007 and winning a seat in the ANC National Executive Committee.

Winnie’s contribution to the struggle against apartheid and racism is incalculable and yet her besmirched image follows her more closely than her achievements. Patriarchy tries women, especially black women, for possessing the same gusto as their male counterparts. Amidst all allegations and scandals, her biggest crime was being a black woman who could not be broken. She was slut-shamed, brandished as an international terrorist, and erased from the liberation she led, and the party she had built. This is in contrast to the Nobel Peace Prizes, land, and forgiveness awarded to male puppets and perpetrators. Winnie’s strength was intimidating for its lack of hypocrisy and commitment to real equality.

It is these qualities that I respect Madikizela for. To those who know her story, including me, Winnie will continue to be a deeply inspirational feminist icon. A woman committed to truth, justice and challenging the status quo. Justice Studio salutes Winifred Madikizela and wishes her a very happy birthday – may she rest in power. 



Want to give a massive thanks to Nonkululeko Judy Dlamini (@nonkululekojudydlamini), my South African informant and dear friend who gave me great inspiration when writing this piece and increased my reverence of Mama Winnie.

#MLK50: Remembering the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Lorraine Motel Memphis MLK50

Fifty years ago the world lost an inspirational leader. Dr Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. He campaigned for civil rights, and specifically for African Americans to have the same basic rights and freedoms as their white counterparts. But his vision was wider than ending race based oppression: it was one of equality and peace.

The late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century saw an erosion of the rights of African Americans. The Confederacy comprehensively lost the American Civil War, but arguably it won the peace. The democratic, land ownership, and other rights of African Americans were stripped away through a series of laws and practices. It was impossible to defend against them lawfully because they represented a consensus of the groups in power. Peaceful resistance did not gather pace until after the Second World War, with well documented manifestations like the Montgomery Bus Boycott which was triggered by the refusal of an African American woman Rosa Parks to give up a bus seat which she had lawfully occupied to a white passenger. The boycott lasted for over a year between 1955 and 1956 and was the first mass public action against racial segregation.

Dr. King led the bus boycott. In 1957 he became the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1962 he led an unsuccessful struggle against segregation in Albany, Georgia, and the nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He was one of the leaders of the 1963 March on Washington, where he delivered his world famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In 1964 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. His tactics were always of non violence and he wasn’t only focussed on changing the law. He campaigned for decent housing, for education, for labour rights, and for the recognition of the human rights and needs of the most vulnerable people in society. He believed that an equal and peaceful society would be of benefit to everyone, and that was the way humanity could be successful.

A month ago I was in Memphis. I visited the museum and education centre built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Dr King was assassinated. I was surrounded by groups of school kids. Some were boisterous and naughty, happy to be on a school trip and not really paying attention to the exhibition and the education materials. Others were engrossed in the displays. But when the group reached the location where Dr King lost his life, all quietened down, realising the tragic significance of the place where they stood. All of them would leave knowing who Martin Luther King Jr was and why his work was so important.

Some things have changed since the 1960s. We no longer have legal segregation and there are some laws to protect people from the worst kinds of discrimination. But we have also seen as recently as in the last two years new laws which strip away the rights of some groups in society.  Populism in some countries has in part legitimised new forms of oppression and technology has been both a positive and a negative force. Racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination are alive and well in many settings.

Justice Studio only works with organisations with direct beneficiaries. They include some of the most vulnerable people in society. By supporting them, our clients are creating a more equal world, one where there can be hope for peace and equality. Dr King’s vision was global, and to achieve it thousands of organisations and millions of people must work towards the same goals. It is a vision which we are proud to share. The contribution of each of our organisations may seem small given the scale of the world’s challenges, but the total is greater than the sum. By raising a million voices together we can ensure global change.




The Good Immigrant: a timely and significant book

The long read: Justice Studio’s Shirley Ahura in conversation with Chimene Suleyman

goodimmigrant banner pic

Reading The Good Immigrant leaves you at several interesting points of departure, both in terms of the different talking points that are raised, and the many migrations
that are made within it. The book itself has an interesting creation story. It is published by Unbound, a crowdfunder publisher that goes against the grain to provide a platform for voices that ‘fall between the cracks because they don’t fit the mould’. It is incisive, captivating and above all unapologetic in documenting experiences of 21 writers, exploring what it means to be Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) in Britain today.

The Good Immigrant could not have arrived at a more opportune moment. In the current climate of Brexit Britain, Fortress Europe, Donald Trump’s “Mexican Wall” and beyond, the figure of the ‘immigrant’ has never been a more recognisable one. Much of what characterises his or her burden, as posited in the book, is this tendency to split them into two camps: ‘good’ and ‘bad’; a tendency that is seemingly exclusive to the formerly (and presently) imperialist countries of the Global North. In Britain, you are an unequivocally ‘bad’ immigrant (read: “job stealer”, “benefit scrounger”, “undeserving refugee”) until you ‘cross over’ into the consciousness of the nation by winning gold medals and baking great cakes to become a ‘good’ one, all in the name of Queen and Country.

Crossing over from ‘Other’ to the proverbial ‘one of us’ is another point of departure defining this book. Here you have 21 writers, over half of whom are first generation children of immigrants, defiantly hanging up the ‘BAME’ coat at the door and crossing the threshold into the mainstream, telling some of the most enthralling stories along the way: stories of which are, importantly, populated by black and brown faces, bodies and voices. Nikesh Shukla, the book’s editor, once spoke out against the UK publishing scene for being “so posh and white”. Having a minority status emblazoned on your back seems to further vindicate this reality. What is commonly accepted without question, is not only that the stories of black and brown people are simply untold, unheard, underrepresented, and underserved, but that these same people have so few stories that can be universalised and undertaken by a British readership.

Which, paradoxically, makes the book’s victories all the more triumphant. These same minorit(ised) voices, having been propelled into popular culture, are now navigating their very own points of departure from invisibility to hyper-visibility, with high profilers such as J.K. Rowling championing the book.

Chimene Suleyman is a writer, self-confessed dog lover and author of the third entry in The Good Immigrant. I spoke with her to find out more about the book that has got every Tom, Dreya and Harinder talking.

How did the whole process of writing an entry for The Good Immigrant come about?

Nikesh and Musa Okwonga were having a conversation in one of our group chats with Inua Ellams, and we were basically talking about this lack of diversity in publishing. Musa suggested that, you know, if you wanna read the book that doesn’t exist, write the book you wanna read basically. So that’s where that started from.

Delving further into the pitfalls of the publishing industry in Britain, Chimene notes:

I think it was really important that it started off as a real grassroots project, because it was a little bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the industry as well. You know we spend a lot of the time complaining about the fact that there’s a real lack of representation of voices of colour, and writers of colour, unless they want us to tell like a very specific story that suits their narrative of what blackness and brownness looks like. I think that’s also why we didn’t pitch it to anyone… there’s constantly this battle between your voice and a white industry, whereas it wasn’t like that at Unbound at all, it was so respectful. We were trusted to be in control of our own narrative and our own voices.

Do you think the ‘invisibility’/ hyper-visibility’ dynamic mentioned earlier is something that the writers of The Good Immigrant are navigating, or that the book itself is experiencing?

Yeah, I don’t really think we saw it being as popular as it was…and I’ve said this before but it’s very bittersweet to me that it’s done as well as it has. Of course it’s amazing, of course it’s fantastic, not just in terms of our careers, but like how many people we’ve managed to reach with that. But what’s sad about it for me was how many people we needed to reach, you know? Like, I wish we didn’t need this book, and I’m glad that we have this book but I wanna get to the point where we don’t need a book like this anymore. It’s a weird dynamic… we’re in an incredible position, and it’s not lucky, we’ve worked hard for it. It’s needed, but at the same time, I don’t think any of us expected quite this response to this, and I don’t know if any of us were prepared to be this visible.

There’s still something quite perverse about [writing for a particular audience]. You know, like white people are paying people of colour to talk about being people of colour. It’s like a spectator sport, you know? It’s like, I have other interests, I wanna talk about dogs, and UK Garage and you know, like boys or shoes or whatever. But I’m constantly like wheeled out as this brown Muslim woman who just talks about brown Muslim women shit, and that’s great, and it’s vital, and it’s important, but there is a moment where like you realise that white people are just asking you questions…about your race. And it’s a bit weird. Like, I certainly never write with a white audience in mind, I’ve never written for white people, I don’t write to educate white people…I hope that it happens along the way but they’re never my audience. Brown and black people…that’s who I’m writing for so I don’t really worry all that much that I’m offending people or upsetting people or explaining things too clearly, because I’m genuinely writing for an audience that innately understands what I’m talking about anyway.

Your chapter in the book is called ‘My Name is My Name’. In it, you discuss the power of language; in particular the violence of (re)naming that is imposed by the colonizer onto the colonized, who in turn have, in your words, “learned to pronounce every violence put upon us as though it is sacred”. By the same token however, you note, “the rotation of names are as much the rotation of souls”.

In your opinion, does the act of naming bring about more harm than it does healing?

It depends on who’s doing it. Cyprus, where we’re from, was colonized by the British, and all of the ‘big’ things got named ‘English’. So, the larger ant got known as ‘The English’ ant, and the bigger tomatoes, were ‘English’ tomatoes. Anything deemed superior suddenly had the word English in front of it, and that was in Turkish. It so insidiously just kind of leaked into their language that they didn’t even realise they were doing it until much later.

I guess that’s the thing with language in general, like we all have a responsibility to language and that responsibility changes depending on what our dynamic within this world is. There are universal words but there isn’t a universal relationship with language, I don’t think. For that reason, if you’re in a position of power and you’re naming stuff, that’s largely going to be problematic and painful and cause a lot more trauma than needed. But when you’re reclaiming, or you’re in charge of your own language, your own narrative, your own sense of understanding, then I think that’s when it becomes a healing process, that’s when it becomes a remedy.

How big a part does the legacy of imperialism have to play on the discourse around immigration?

It does… if you just look at the NHS, the 1960’s NHS, the NHS that my parents worked for… I remember I always used to go hang out in hospitals with them and it was all, you know, Irish, Caribbean, Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot… basically people from the colonies. You know, you can’t ruin people’s countries and then expect them to not go somewhere else.

That narrative around immigration actually still hasn’t shifted. People think that it’s, you know, that you just wanna come over and steal everything, you know, you wanna steal jobs, and women, and money and all the rest of it. I don’t know why people think moving is so easy. I moved to New York through more or less my own choice. I didn’t move under any acts of violence, I moved for a better life, you know, it was my own decision, and it was still, and still is 2 years in, one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever made. I don’t stop missing my parents or missing my friends, I don’t stop missing certain pubs or certain smells or certain streets… that never goes, so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for people like my parents, who didn’t want to leave. Who didn’t have a fucking choice because their country was literally torn apart because of the British. And that was something that I always struggled with, growing up in a country that, you know, ruined my motherland.

Do you believe that this kind of trauma can be passed down from generation to generation?

I know I have it. When my dad’s dad was killed, my dad was 13. His hair turned grey, like immediately, and I’ve had grey hair since I was eight. Since the age of about fifteen I’ve been almost entirely grey. That is a direct result of the stress that my dad’s incurred when his father was murdered in the war, like I’ve literally worn that on my head. There’s no escaping this in a lot of ways. Not just emotionally, but physically as well.

Is this experience of trauma a wholly negative thing?

I probably have more in common with a child of an immigrant than I do with like, my grandmother. I don’t have the same experience as her, growing up, but I do with someone else who has that same innate sense of loss and struggle and recreating home wherever you go. Learning how to carry that, and re-set up, and re-establish… I think there is a positive thing that comes from that. We create our own communities and I think we relearn how to kind of see each other.  Because we’ve spent our lives having to navigate our own pain, and our parents’ pain I guess, I think we’re a little bit more finely in tune with what goes on around us.

The current climate looks bleak. How do you think the ‘immigrant’, ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, will fare in 10 years time?

I think in 10 years time it will be the same as it was 10 years ago and the same as it was 100 years ago, we’ll just keep going, I think we always do. We create our own communities, we look after ourselves, we create shields for each other… occasionally we have neighbours who are good to us from the host nation, who will also create shields for us, and if they don’t then we do. No one else is gonna look after us, history has proven this, time and time again. Historically, the immigrant has been kicked out, battered, put in concentration camps, killed, spat at. And that hasn’t changed for centuries, and yet we still keep fucking going, you know? In 10 years time we’ll be the strength we’ve always been. And I think, we’ll always understand our reasons for moving…and that they either come from a place of safety or a place of love for our children. Wanting a better life, for the people that you love should not be something that is shamed out of anybody, and I think so long as we know that as immigrants, we’re okay.

The future of The Good Immigrant remains unbounded. With the news that the hugely successful book has been picked up by American publisher Little Brown for its very own US spin-off, The Good Immigrant seems to be destined, now more than ever, for several more points of departure.




11 things you need to ensure your feminist campaign is successful



Drawing from Justice Studio’s experience and our recently conducted study of feminist activists in the UK, here are 11 tips for your successful feminist campaign.

  1. Aim big

What makes a feminist movement is the ultimate goal to alter unequal power structures based on sex. As Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) campaigner Nimco Ali explains, ‘I’ve come from a feminist project not a harm project – it’s a structural thing – challenging the roles of women in society – it’s symbolic of how women are seen in society’. Before you begin your campaign, ensure that you understand the ways in which inequality underpins the lived experiences of the groups you want to assist, and keep your eye on that prize.

  1. Have a clear strategy and plan

Your strategy is your main concept – it is the way you are going to achieve your objective. A strategy should be simple and memorable: boil it down to two or three words. Within your strategy, develop appropriate tactics and plan ahead. Work out two things: a) how should it begin? and b) what cumulative steps can you take to be able to reach your overall goal?

Once your strategy is conceptualised, however, remain flexible. You will need to create and search for opportunities whilst being ready to quickly adapt and react to, situations that might arise unexpectedly. As Carys Afoko of Level Up says, it’s about ‘being able to jump on an opportunity really quickly’. If you have a clear strategy then it will guide you in the most effective way to respond to both positive and negative surprises. 

  1. Attack the weak spots

Rather than try to fight an institution or ideology where it is strongest, identify its weaknesses and legitimacy, and work from there. There is always a weak spot. Kat Banyard from UK Feminista identified in her book Pimp State that the biggest threat to the commercial sex industry were the establishments – such as banks, credit card companies and governments – that were keeping their profits flowing.  Making these establishments uncomfortable will stop the lifeblood of the industry. As UK Feminista and Object found with their #losetheladsmags campaign, it was the publishing house that ran the mags that led them to close because it no longer wanted the negative attention. Keep a keen eye on where the most effective spot to target is, and capitalise on any mistakes in judgement, policy and action.

  1. Carve out some time

Campaigning takes time, and places sudden, ad hoc, demands on your life. Many feminist activists work for free and fit their campaigning around their work. Be aware that you will need to carve out a significant amount of time for your campaigning in order to be successful. As Kat Banyard from UK Feminista says ‘once you start a campaign, you don’t get to choose when things happen and when you can respond’. Be realistic about what time the campaign needs and what time you can give from the beginning.

  1. Get a Network

The networks that you create are crucial for a) getting your message out and b)  providing a safety net of support. As Nimco Ali says ‘you have to be well networked’ because ‘it can also help you to become your support.’ The other campaigners that you meet will likely support your cause and be a source of encouragement. It’s that old-fashioned word solidarity. We are stronger together. Successful feminist movements and campaigns work together across generations, across ethnicities, across class and across countries. The more connected and supportive individual campaigners are, the stronger the movement will be.

  1. Store up resilience and determination

Not all, but a great majority, of feminist campaigners, suffer from trolling, harassment, abuse, and even rape/death threats from those who do not want to see the campaign succeed and society change. It is unlikely that this will get better any time soon, and indeed proves just how important and relevant feminist campaigning is today. Be aware of this, protect yourselves as much as possible, and build up some steely resilience.

As Liv Letty from gal-dem told us, the recipe for success is ‘a lot of determination’. Whether it’s being confronted with trolls and naysayers, or exhausted from working a full-time job, or tending to others in need, it will simply be your determination that spurs you on. Keep your eye on the end goal, repeat your strategy, and commit to forging ahead, knowing that it is always darkest before the dawn.

  1. Practice self-care

Make sure you are looking after yourself. Eat right, exercise, take time to rest, do things away from the cause. Campaigning is emotionally and physically draining. As Tracey Wise, founder of Safe Gigs for Women, says ‘you need a lot of stamina.’ Practising self-care will mean you have more stamina. Also, learn to say no, ‘there is nothing wrong with being selfish for a change’ says Nimco Ali. Ensuring you have an emotional support network at home, as well as within your campaigning network, will help you to stay positive, motivated and give you the energy you need to keep going even when it gets tough.

  1. Have a way to pay your rent

At present, there are more feminist activist groups on the ground than there are grantmakers willing to fund them.  However, there are a few. If you feel that you will need more money and resources for your campaign, check out this handbook and this database,  both of which provide information for funding movements across the world. Level Up used to good effect, whilst Laura Coryton used who provided in-kind support to her #EndTamponTax campaign.

The key is to be resourceful – use the tools that are readily available to you when money isn’t. As Laura Coryton reflects on starting her campaign ‘It’s really surprising how little you need. Now we have social media and these online platforms to really help us, its so much easier to galvinise all that energy and focus it into making something a success.’

  1. Channel your passion

You’re in this because you’re passionate about it. Indeed, even angry about it. Many feminist activists fight because of difficult personal situations that they have faced as a result of patriarchy. Channel this passion. Indeed, as Faeeza Vaid from the Muslim Women’s Network says, you need ‘passion, commitment’ and a ‘willingness to keep going even when the money isn’t there’. What’s more, Nimco Ali says, ‘it’s challenging to be an activist to care so much, but at the same time it’s quite rewarding. Being true to yourself and your cause means being in the fight and giving it your heart and mind. Do not shy away from the strength of your feelings or your anger, use it as fuel to push forward towards your goal.’

  1. Put the cause before the campaign

Success is when the world doesn’t need your organisation/campaign/movement anymore. When your vision or goal has been achieved, then you can take a rest, or join another campaign. But make sure that you acknowledge when it is finished or when you may need to seriously re-visit your strategy and tactics. Ensure you are learning, and remaining reflective as you go along. Don’t forget to put not only the ultimate goal, but also the integrity of the campaign before any personal needs for fame, subsistence or approval. Liv Letty of gal-dem magazine noted ‘We say no to brands all the time because were not here to be tokenistic parts of diversity.’ Once there is a change and the campaign no longer needs to exist, call it a day. Then, take a well-deserved rest or move on to the next thing. Until then, keeping fighting your corner!

  1. Just do it

Once you have your goal, strategy and tactics in place, then just jump in. It is scary, but requires a certain amount of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. As Kat Banyard says, ‘you just need to do it and learn on the job’ and Level Up’s Carys Afoko agrees: ‘it’s always better to just do things and get them out there’. Go on, do it!




Blockchain Technology and Child Protection: an Urgent Challenge

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Guest blog by Priya Dutta of Adiona Education

In August we were delighted to address a meeting of child protection experts from high-profile organisations. Our task? To explore the capabilities of blockchain technology when unharnessed from the cryptocurrencies that they were originally designed to power.

Blockchain technology is, in my opinion, the next most exciting tech innovation since the internet. As a distributed, peer-to-peer system, it works as a virtually tamper-proof ledger of transactions, updated in real time, with information propagated simultaneously to all its users. It eliminates the need for third-party intermediaries to authenticate data. It utilises the combined computing power of all its nodes, making system failure a thing of the past.

For NGOs, blockchains offer efficient and transparent accounting mechanisms. They work across national boundaries and work to increase trust in previously trust-less situations. The UN is already providing blockchain solutions to humanitarian problems such as distribution of funds from the World Food Program to those desperately in need. Identity verification can be simplified by placing cryptographically-encrypted IDs on blockchains so that displaced people, who often have no official documentation in their destination country, may gain access to basic services.  It’s powerful stuff.

However, the fact remains that there are some major philosophical questions thrown up by the technology. There is a war raging between those seeking a censorship-free and open internet with anonymous users, and those seeking to protect the most vulnerable in society – children – from exploitation and abuse. How can protection be possible when the perpetrators have access to such powerful technology to anonymise their digital life, for example by buying child abuse images with untraceable bitcoins and masking their IP address through the TOR network? Furthermore, there is a risk that illegal data and images can be written permanently into a blockchain. The challenge is vast. Those seeking to protect children online must acquaint themselves with the technology used by abusers. We need to come up with solutions before they do.

Solutions can be approached from numerous angles:

  1. Using cryptocurrencies for virtually frictionless transfer of funds across national borders. This eliminates much of the waste involved in currency exchange.
  2. Using blockchains to empower children by putting them in control of their own digital identities.
  3. Using blockchains as transparent accounting mechanisms to eliminate fraud and corruption.
  4. Utilising the multi-signatory capability of blockchains to enable multi-agency co-operation.

There needs to be much more dialogue and collaboration to come up with technological innovations. I am so glad that Justice Studio has taken the lead to start this dialogue. We need to act, and fast. If you would like any more information about the technical aspects of blockchain technology mentioned above, Justice Studio can arrange training for your staff so that they better understand the challenges we face.

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Priya Dutta

Has the ‘international development’ industry had its final curtain call?


Goodbye international development. The right of one set of countries to dictate to another set of countries is being increasingly undermined by global economic, technological and social shifts. It is high time for western powers to start taking more responsibility for their own actions in the world before they try to change others. It is less and less likely that such countries will be allowed to speak for, dictate policy to, and ‘develop’ other states and their people. Indeed, these states must be getting tired of being on the receiving end of condescending global aid development relationships.

Those working in international development are increasingly conscious of this. International Civil Society Organisations (ICSOs) are being challenged from all sides. They are having to deal with less money, more stringent controls, and a need to work with a multiplicity of different actors, especially the private sector. They are also aware that the changing world order questions the framing of their missions and the very premise of ‘international development’. In our work with them Justice Studio is helping them to adjust in order to ensure their work remains relevant and effective.

There is a lot to adjust to. The decline in United States’ and Europe’s economic influence is altering the structures established by post colonial aid and challenges the validity of the ‘development’ dynamic. The demise of western global influence can be seen in dwindling economic terms partly as a result of the 2007 financial crisis, and also the rise in the economy of new powers. Indeed the western powers, who have patronisingly referred to themselves as “first world” or “developed” and to others as “third world” or “developing” can no longer do so because ‘the GDP of developing countries is now at least equal to the developed world’.

Indeed, countries hitherto seen as “developing” or “the Global South” are rising in economic strength. The countries known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are challenging the global structural inequalities. Their combined share of world GDP is expected to match that of the original G7 countries by 2030. Other countries, such as Turkey, Poland, Indonesia and Iran are also becoming more and more powerful on the global stage. The next eleven (N11) grouping that includes Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Egypt, Pakistan, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh are set to rise in influence in their own regions but also in multilateral forums meaning that categorisations between groups of countries are increasingly irrelevant.

Countries who were previously the recipients of aid are now giving it themselves, changing the dynamics of the aid industry. Aid is provided through the Gulf States, South Korea and South Africa, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Turkey. In 2012 the BRICS collectively invested over US$6 billion in Africa, against US$3.7 billion invested by the United States. China is now the largest non traditional donor to Africa.  The BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB) as well as the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) and the Chinese led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) offer a new economic assistance. One that is demand driven, horizontal and gives more choice to recipients. As such, it’s more likely to be sought.

New technology is also changing how aid works. It is becoming more direct. Internet based campaigning organisations such as Avaaz , and are challenging the global ICSOs. New mobile phone technology and social networks are enabling people to collaborate more and incite social movements and activism. As Stephen Hopgood argues in The End Times of Human Rights, Egyptian protesters in 2011 made far more progress than decades of protest by Human Rights advocates.

New technology is also better enabling people to empower themselves. We know that technology is reaching people faster than toilets. Collectively African countries are home to twice as many mobile phones as the United States. Africa is the most advanced continent worldwide when it comes to “mobile money”. When we worked in Somaliland on their first Child Rights Act we observed young women directly challenging the arranged marriage system by using mobile phones and Facebook to get to know each other. Young women were choosing their own marriage partners.

Perhaps more importantly, countries that are growing in wealth and power will not want aid from the former Western powers anymore because they will no longer want to be told what to do. Decades of colonialism, followed by decades of aid, have left the relationships around the globe unequal and patronising.

Indeed perhaps it is time for the former Western powers to take a much more critical look at themselves. Burkhard Gnärig from the International Civil Society Centre with whom Justice Studio is currently working, argues that the original development mission cannot be achieved unless affluent countries change themselves, for example by preventing sex tourism and their waste of the world’s finite resources. Rather than certain countries trying to ‘develop’ or change other countries socially or economically they must look at how they are damaging the world and how this can change.

Justice Studio doesn’t like the term ‘international development’. We work with all the countries of the world, from the UK to Somaliland, respecting where they are. No one country has got it right yet. There is much developing that we all need to do in order to ensure a fairer global society. We must be constantly thinking about how we can make our own countries better before we judge others.