Why it All Started?
A letter of intention
by our founder Mia Sea, originally published in 2016.
Why it All Started?
A letter of intention by our founder Mia Sea – originally published in 2016.
Originally published in 2016, this letter of intention was an introduction to our first platform IV – standing for Independent Volunteers – and hosted on the website independentvolunteers.com. Independentvolunteers.com had been created as a collaborative online incubator for philanthropic projects, with a desire to be of support to causes and organizations, serving of library to distribute coordination strategy proposals, guides, training and communication tools to NGOs and activists.
Since then, a lot has changed. IV has become IVUnited, as we further dissected our development plan and branding strategies for the years to come. We learned how to jump through the hoops of the non-profit landscape. When we first started this initiative, we knew how to solve problems in the real world and create helpful environments that could help our communities, but we didn’t know much about the non-profit sector’s “game”. In these five years, we learned how to chase after our development ideals and build for the long-term, without letting established norms bend or diminish our standards for humane kindness, priorities and hopes. Our platform has changed. We have had to deal with plagiarism where we were looking for collaboration. Some of our strategies and development projects have even been taken over by bigger organizations – and are now being implemented without us. Last year, we also had a fire at our official headquarters, forcing us to close down for some time.
It has been difficult in more ways than expected.
Despite all these obstacles, the lands of activism, humanitarianism and philanthropy have never been better. These past years have seen such drastic change lead by the #MeToo movement and youth-driven protests worldwide, the path is more comfortable to walk for all change-makers and innovators worldwide.
As we are getting ready for our new projects this year, and redesigning our collaborative open source platform, we are reflecting on the way we got here in the first place. Why we need the independent volunteers mentality, why IVUnited needed to exist, and all that it will take to brave through the obstacles that separate us from a fairer world.
A cause for us all.
IV was launched to create philanthropic projects. IV stands for Independent Volunteers, welcoming all the people who have decided to take a stand against a source of suffering in this world, regardless of their backgrounds, origins, political views or professional alliances. IV’s mission is to bring improved realities to life. Driven by visionaries, embracing innovation, we work together to shape a piece of future. This union serves of guidance to philanthropists, social-entrepreneurs and activists of all horizons to find the roadmap, tools, approvals, support and funding they need in order to make ideas for change a reality today. The world is changing at an unprecedented speed. It’s time that our approach to global humanitarian actions did as well.
Why It All Started
A letter of intention by our founder, Mia Sea.
“Thank you for showing me that I will not spend my life working on illusions. I will instead start creating beautiful realities.”
A few years ago, I was graduating with a master’s degree in advertising and communication in Paris, and this was the last sentence of my thesis’ presentation. My studies gave me clarity on the methods of a field that influenced and insidiously groomed populations towards consumption. I had been trained in semiotics, behavioral psychology and neuroscientific observations in order to learn how to condition people. Make them feel the beautiful and powerful emotions that we are designed for in order to survive and thrive as a species, and use this genetic programming to make people love and need and need more of the products, the brands, the businesses around us.
I grew up between the avant-garde fashion industry and show business, and back then, learning how to shape fantasies seemed like a logical path for my future. As a child of a weird creative bubble, I longed for structure and ways to learn how to make sense of reality, to a point where sciences more than arts became my fantasy. Communication and advertising, oddly enough seemed like something between both, giving a controlled and quantifiable framework to the release of shared visions and information. That’s what publicity is after all, it’s all about quantifying dreamy and buzzed up fluff.
Both advertising, show business and the fashion industry were always very creepy worlds to me. When you dig into those creative industries, there is so much duality, and where there is beauty there is filth, where there is celebration there is sadness and abuse. Both fame and disgrace, extreme poverty and insane wealth, people thriving and dying stupidly, and all of this blended together in a dogmatic mess that passes crime and slow death for artistic spirit and edgy attitudes. For years, everything around me was built in order to use the young, the women, the misfits, the orphans, the dreamers, in order to feed the power of cult-like entities, be it companies or people. We were creating products and ecosystems that were making people broke, unhealthy and depressed, while the most powerful media I knew were giving a voice to people who had little valuable things to say.
When I was picturing my future, I hoped for something kinder.
When I finished my thesis presentation, it didn’t go well. I mentioned that I was going to make sure that I also know how to create beautiful realities beyond corporate illusions. My teacher threw my thesis across the room.
For some years I traveled and volunteered discretely for causes around Europe. Teaching languages, organizing humanitarian strategies, creating websites and marketing tools, making sure community organizers and organizations had what they needed in order to be heard and seen. In research institutes, refugee camps, orphanages, mental institutions, support groups, animal sanctuaries, youth activist groups.
To most people who knew me before I left Paris and the fashion industry, the philanthropic route of mine came out as a complete surprise. The reasons why I never talked about any of it were many.
In a shallow way, it had to do with representation. In a deeper way, it had to do with the fear of acute dangers I could attract. I got involved so deeply with certain causes because they were my causes. They were my pains. Behind every involvement was a personal connection, and that is always a hard thing to admit. If I had learned one thing in life it was that we create our own environments, and I felt more comfortable in a public environment that felt like my life hadn’t been terrifying at times.
Another reason behind my discretion was linked to whom I considered as my friends and community. My closest circles were composed of survivors, mostly creative survivors at that. People who shrug off their pains and laugh in the face of their own or other people’s sources of suffering. I myself have lived most of my life feeling like every new trauma had been a learning experience and yet another “crazy story”, much more than a devastating event, feeling like living a free, full and daring life was so much more important than safety, equality or mental well-being. It took me a long time to accept the fact that I was not okay with the way the world was around me, and it took me a long time to understand that if I wanted something to change I had to change my approach toward life, and respect the fact that some things are okay to step up against. I never felt comfortable stepping up though. I was annoyed by the fact that people often didn’t make the difference between the fluff of publicity stunts and real action plans and long-term solutions. Volunteering, all I ever wanted to talk about were solutions. People however don’t really respond to solutions on a daily basis. People need stories, and symbolic ideological activism still seems more compelling than acute plans and strategies. To this day, I still struggle to find the fine line between my personal comfort with discretion and my fixation on the design of amazing supportive holistic environments on one hand, and on the other the need to humor our organization’s observers, partners and sponsors with the appropriate amount of fluff for a shining façade, making sure that we rank well on Google, share on all social media, and use enough buzzing terms that make our work and beliefs into good enough hashtags.
None of this was a problem until I actually realized that I needed to create an NGO in order to develop officially all the things I had worked on in the past years and that I knew to be so much better than what was done in most places then.
In the end, the story of how the IV project came to be, happened by coincidence. I spent years volunteering for all kinds of innovative and sometimes mind-blowingly futurists projects, joined a Google Campus and dropped in on all incubators, hubs and sharing communities I could find and learn from during my travels, until I spent almost seven years moving from place to place, thinking of nothing other than how to create the most beautiful kind of future on this planet through my personal work, a company and a number of interconnected projects. When I set on to research the details of how to launch activities that could reach even the most remote rural areas of where I was living back then, Cyprus, I traveled to villages that were quite cut out from technology, trying to find ways to best collaborate with local circles.
Something happened there. Instead of finding ideas for logistics, I stumbled into a human trafficking network. I had already been confronted to all kinds of scary things but the reality of what just exists in the open in Cyprus without anyone around calling it what it is or batting an eyelid just slapped me in the face. At that point, it became so obvious that in certain places, in certain situations, there was no government, no special force, no police, no NGO that was willing or able to act immediately to save people’s lives and solve humanity’s gravest problems at their root. Only independent people, with their own means, their personal savings, and at times at the risk of their own lives were doing something to get others out. I was not a political person then, I didn’t care much about protocols and legal company formats to accept excuses as to why things are done the way they are by NGOs and governmental organizations. All I knew was that the fragility of people’s lives had been forgotten in the bureaucracy. And that young adults and independently motivated people like myself who had not yet been hardened enough by life that they could just walk away when they witness horror unfold, were risking their lives without the legal support of organizations and agencies built in order to protect people
I’m a designer, so ultimately, after doing very stupid things that could have cost my life way too many times, I started designing. I was going to design a kind of organization that puts people and life in all its forms at the center of it all.
It took me six months to fully design IV – an initiative for Independent Volunteers.
Fastforward to Christmas 2015. We were gathered with a bunch of volunteers from around the world in an old cozy historical building of Nicosia, having a celebration that could feel like family. Around dinner, I was catching up with an employee of one of the world’s biggest humanitarian organizations who informed me that there was a boy under their care who spoke French and no other language, which was a difficult situation because they didn’t have French-speaking staff there. The boy had been flown in from Congo after his parents had been killed. He was alone, scared and needed someone to at least translate for him and explain what was happening. French being my first language, I offered my assistance. I was given an email address to contact. On the following day I sent an email. The thing that I don’t tell people is that I track my emails. I can see when my emails are opened and how many times they are read. No one answered me, but my first email was opened 18 times. The second one was opened 22 times. And so on. This went on for two weeks. For two weeks there was a kid thrown into a foreign country after his parents’ brutal death, with no explanation, and there was no one to guide me in the process that could help address this clearly traumatizing situation. This was happening in Cyprus, and it is not a place where there is too much going on that you can not keep track. Cyprus is a slow and empty place where everyone knows each other. Countless employees answering my phone calls and reading my emails, and still no one had set foot in the place I was talking about, and no one knew anything about how things worked there. Every time I would call, I was given a name, an office, a number, but as it happens so often in bureaucracy, no one was taking charge of setting any action into motion. I wasn’t asked for a resume or even my name, I wasn’t told how I could do something without having to wait. I was just given email addresses and phone numbers. After two weeks, I ended up simply showing up and asked to see the boy. Simple ID security check, and voila. Of course, no one had told me that it was all I had to do. Because no one knew. Or maybe I wasn’t asking the right question and no one would make the extra effort to tell me more.
This anecdote sums up my biggest frustration around the waste of good intentions that we can witness when we are trying to do something good in our communities. Imaginary barriers.
Here’s the thing. There are volunteering services that you can enroll in, and there are legal entities through which you can support causes. But what if you are at the right place at the right time to bring a specific solution. Or if you are at the right moment in your life to take on a cause that touched you in some way and you want to collaborate with people who care too, build solutions together, not start from scratch by yourself. Then you fall outside of categories, and no one knows what to do with you. This would be fine if it wasn’t for advertising, gatekeeping and misleading self-proclamation. Organisations place themselves as the figureheads of a cause, and it seems that in order to get anything done you need their authorization to get involved (spoiler alert : you don’t). You try to comply with what you think might be the expected procedure, but you just don’t get through the system. Instead of guidance to provide real solutions, you are kindly referred to a link where you can donate money to support the organization (not the cause – the organization), yet the organization has no knowledge of the immediate need related to what you are offering to do, or not enough staff qualified to process the analysis of your collaboration offer.
In my case this has happened not once but six times. In six different countries. And the end result of this was that the administrative procedure never failed to feel like a wild-goose chase and I always ended simply going where the problem was. Talked to someone, showed my passport for registration, and did whatever I had heard needed to be done, fixed what needed fixing, built the solutions to the problems that needed addressing.
Please don’t get me wrong. By writing this my intention is not to cast blame on the humanitarian sector. I am angry, but my anger is directed at the machinery rather than at the pieces that make it work. There are countless mind-blowing and amazing organizations who’s people are pouring their soul into the work without a single person around to acknowledge their strength and successes. Nonprofit organizations are actors in tremendously complicated and regulated fields that link politics, administrations, international relations, and hard traumatizing work that deals directly with the abstract notion of suffering in all its forms. The work done in humanitarian fields is always the best that is authorized to be done. Yet we have arrived to an era of digital, open, smart and agile development, where constant reevaluation and improvement is part of the deal for any official entity in action.
My intention is to acknowledge the fact that causes are not the property of official entities, and we have to build ways in which people can be a part of the solution, in a way that nurtures communities and kindness rather than competitive drive. The non-profit sector is after all supposed to be the only space in our economies where we support our world and its people’s lives over institutions’ growth, is it not? Yet governmental organizations and NGOs are organizations with a stated activity and a field they are the leaders of, in a way that emulates classical business models so drastically, yet without having mastered the few things that those specialized business models needed to master in order to truly be of service : support, open familiarity and participative evolution.
People look up to specialized organizations as the reference in terms of what should be done to succeed and overcome a specific issue. People also don’t understand the legal limits and regulations of a specialized organization unless they are clearly explained to them. It is my personal view and the intention behind this platform, that in order for the world to be able to overcome the biggest problems we are facing, we have to learn to function efficiently, collaboratively, transparently and most importantly, learn from the most successful sources of inspiration. First of all, we learn through nature and physics as our blueprint, which is the one single most effective automated and regenerative system that is universal for us all and that is the only model that can surpass our individual, cultural and political differences. From an organizational point of view this also means looking at the tech-oriented industry and the open source approach to development that made the internet and our codified world what it is today, so that we can finally codify the logic of human nurture in a way that is not driven by profit but by altruism and genuine care.
Succeeding towards real change means developing partnerships with all kinds of very different people and institutions in order to facilitate the social and sustainable responsibility goals claimed as an aim by companies everywhere around us. It means real-time data acquisition and analysis, so that we can know what is going on where and how to address it fast. Beyond that, it means a more holistic approach to training and organizational culture, in order for the people involved to be able to have a perception of not just their work description but also understand the global view of all the aspects linked to their activity, allowing them to know how to make use of independent actions. Independent actions lead by individuals are developed toward a shared philanthropic goal and ignoring those efforts because they are not coming from a legal entity is a grave grave mistake. A complete waste of hope.
Legal entities need independent individuals for guidance. We need more creativity, ingenuity and courage from independent initiatives, and more tools and official entrance doors for independent initiatives. We need free educational tools for anyone involved in philanthropic outcomes. We need to distribute those tools freely, and be able to find those tools easily by those looking for them. We need to encourage self-taught initiatives for skill building and reduce costs in mentoring programs and outsourced services by NGOs and governmental organisations. We need to develop specialized media to push our causes toward a global outreach. We need to find points of conversion. We need to always unite, no matter if it is with independent individuals, NGOs, governmental organisations or for-profit companies. When we share a source of danger and when we share a goal, we need to seize control of our cumulative power and get things done, fast.
As you see, there is a lot that we need to get done, but we will get there, assemble the puzzle piece by piece.
With IV, we want to provide the regulated support of a global community and simplification, simplification, simplification. So that we can start getting things done faster, and so that the people who work on non-profit sectors can spend less time in tedious paperwork and internal administrative conflicts and more time providing empathy and support, guidance, brains and hands-on action to solve problems efficiently.
Because a terrifying thing happens in the most complicated areas like medicine, social work and any fields linked to dramatic events where people face life and death situations. It’s the fact that the organization becomes a bureaucratic administration and starts to lose touch with emotion. People become numbers and action becomes protocol. And everything that falls in-between endangers order dictated by forms and outdated piles of paper. Any smart initiative or change poses the risk of not being categorized for regulation, and is therefor discarded.
And when this happens, the people who are supposed to be helped lose hope. They don’t understand why the only people they are told to turn to have no answers other than a paper form or an office address. And this lack of understanding how to deal with basic human needs for exchange of information and support in difficult situations makes people feel helpless. It makes people feel lost. It makes people feel like lost causes. It can take so little to break someone for a lifetime. Fast action is so important, because no one can live with a crisis for years without losing a piece of themselves. Yet most people try to be understanding, trusting and patient and they wait. Some wait for years and waste their lives, some break the law, some die, some commit suicide. And what then? Then, no matter what you do next, you’re too late.
We tend to forget how dramatic death is when it is not our people, our loved ones, who are dying. Yet every person is someone’s person, and this makes us all connected. As humans, we are genetically built for survival. Not for protecting economies, not for protecting nations, not for protecting company politics. We are the protectors of life on earth.
When lives are at stake, empathy and smarts matter. When lives are at stake, time matters. When our planet and the whole of humanity is at steak, financial matters and companies are nothing. Life is the only thing real in this game.
So this is what IV is about. It’s about keeping people from becoming numbers and statistics. It’s about remembering that our planet, our lives and our world is the only tangible wealth we have. It’s about understanding systems, understanding the law, understanding protocol in order to know how to adapt them over time while implementing immediate solutions that will solve problems fast, and putting in place systems that will keep them from recurring.
Moreover it’s about using the best tools at our disposal. Using innovation and our modern sense of abundance to raise standards.
The story behind IV is a combat against wasted potential. And the result of repeated frustration in the face of the slow pace of administration and the taboo problem of non-profit competition.
IV was designed to overcome limitations and barriers that specialized governmental agencies and NGOs are forced to comply to in order to work safely as global forces. But what makes big international groups work for now does not put individual local potential to its best use.
We encourage people to gain independent experience, do proper research, take charge and set plans into motion. We represent legally those who need representation in order to pursue projects in their communities. We partner up with all groups and institutions involved in the outcomes of the plans we activate, in a way that can prevent the gatekeeping of our causes. Together we bring philanthropic projects to life. Together, little by little, we create our reality.
Dream big, innovate, cooperate, raise standards. The cards are in your hands.
Volunteer with IVunited
PUBLISHED BY IVunited – A Non-Profit Organization
based in Greece