I have formulated this message in my mind over the last 5 months, made countless attempts at an opening paragraph, and yet words fail me as they have never done before.
Last month we launched the Rabtt Blue Book – a narrative, collection, and repository of all that we have learnt, unlearnt, and produced in the last 6 years. We have shared our journey, triumphs and tribulations, our programs and curriculum, and a little bit of ourselves in this document. You can access it here.
In front of the same audience – consisting of volunteers, students, supporters, and friends – we also announced that Rabtt, as an organization, would be going into a hibernation phase effective 15th March 2017.
The journey to this decision has been conflicted and grueling; the struggle itself is a testament to how much this work has meant to me, and to everyone involved. Rabtt has been a source of joy, pride, and hope for us – resistance in the face of an apathetic world. It has given us reasons to believe in the possibility of a more connected world in the shape of our Scholars and Fellows, and through the trust that each one of you has shown in the last 6 years. This trust necessitates accountability; asks that we share with you both our successes and our shortcomings. The Blue Book is our way of doing just that.
I would not have imagined, a year ago, writing this email today. 2016 turned out to be a year that we would cherish and bemoan in almost equal measures. The year saw Rabtt grow its operations to Karachi, increase impact through teacher training and corporate training programs, and improve self-sustainability from 9% to 30% within the span of a year. In the same year, however, we faced immense financial challenges, ended the year in debt, experienced a major flux in the executive team, and had to curtail our programs in some schools due to security threats across Punjab. The year taught us a thing or two about doubt, fear of failure, difficult decisions, and how our work affects us personally. Oscillating between surety and self-doubt, I believe, is as disturbing as it is necessary, but leaning more towards any one side has its consequences, especially for entrepreneurs.
The decision regarding the next steps at Rabtt essentially comes down to one question – why do we do what we do? Do we believe, first and foremost, in the vision for an empathic Pakistan, and world, or do we believe that our model alone can achieve this vision? Rabtt itself has evolved immensely over the years, and I would rue the day the organization stops questioning itself. We put forth and followed, with all our heart and soul, one possible road to that vision. Many other organizations, including those founded by our Fellows, are charting their own path in this journey – equally exciting, promising, and unequivocally challenging. The question becomes, how can we provide the most value in this journey?
Hibernation, hence, is not a departure from the vision, rather an invitation to re-imagine, evaluate, and question with us. The Blue Book is the start of a conversation, one that we would love to continue with you in years to come. While we won’t be conducting regular year-long programs for the time being, or have a permanent team, different team members and Fellows will be coming together from time to time for shorter programs and interventions. We remain optimistic about reinventing our own work, and fully supporting individuals and organizations that wish to carry on the message in their own programs.
The decision has been neither easy nor without implications. Abdullah, one of our former students who has been working with us as a Fellow for the last 2 years, recently told me that he regularly discusses the program with other students and they might be disappointed and have negative thoughts when they are given this update. He asked me, nonchalantly, if I had thought about this, and how would I respond? I haven’t found an answer yet.
A dear friend quoted Agate Nesaule recently, “We have to believe that even the briefest of human connections can heal. Otherwise, life is unbearable”. I don’t have many answers, but I do know that these connections have sustained us through challenges, helped us heal, and will continue to help us grow. The work continues – through other avenues, through conversations big and small, and through you. I am grateful for your time, patience, and belief.
Always to connections,