A Personal Update from Neema

Pollicy
5 min readMar 13, 2023
Illustration by Neema Iyer

A few days ago, I woke up to a flurry of messages and pictures on our Pollicy Whatsapp group. Irene had just given a talk with the UN Secretary General at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York; Navina had delivered a speech to 2000 women, including the President of Tanzania, in Kilimanjaro; Bonnita was in Lusaka brainstorming on a women’s political leadership program; Mardiya was at Stanford in an immersive camp to assess critical issues within the tech policy and law space; and Bobina had wrapped up a discussion in Kampala to address the digital gender divide. All in the same day, while I was asleep in Australia. My entire team continues to show up and impresses me with their brilliance on a daily basis.

I think about this as I sit down to pen this message. I typed the first line, deleted it. Then tried again, deleted that. I have a hundred things I want to say in this moment, but I’ll try to stick to what needs to be said now.

I’m stepping down as the founding Executive Director at Pollicy and will be transitioning out of my role in the coming months.

In the spirit of transparency and radical honesty, I wanted to share how I came to this decision and what lies ahead for the incredible team at Pollicy.

Why?

1. Intentional, human-centred design is paying off.

When I first conceptualised Pollicy, there were a few non-negotiables: remote-first, flexible working, empathy and care, data and tech. I had worked for two start-ups where I saw first-hand how difficult it is to build systems further down the road. The resistance, the frustration. I tried very hard from day 1 to set up our financial systems, our HR systems, our documentation and so on. I wasn’t always good at it and we always took in feedback from staff and tried to improve.

We’re still on that journey, but I truly believe that together, we’ve built something strong, stable and sustainable-ish. I feel confident and comfortable stepping away because I believe in the shared leadership within the organisation to carry on the work that we do.

2. I am tired.

Building an organisation solo is exhausting. Constantly proving yourself is exhausting. Living through a pandemic is exhausting. I am burnt out.

In times like this, I feel incredibly grateful that I gave it my best, built a solid team and can now pass the baton.

3. Personal Changes.

In late 2022, I moved to Australia for family reasons. I love it here. It’s absolutely stunning. I live by the ocean again.

But, the time zones are brutal.

It has become difficult to coordinate with our staff across 10 countries and 7 timezones, and even more with partners and funders who are over 15 hours behind. Despite being a remote-first organisation, mentally living on Ugandan time, while physically existing on Australian Eastern time is not tenable in the long-term.

4. It’s time for fresh blood.

Hot take, but I strongly believe that founders, CEOs, EDs, leadership should have 5-year tenures. There’s some data to back it. According to this study by Temple University, “the average CEO holds office for 7.6 years, but the optimal tenure length is 4.8 years.”

I was especially inspired by two people that I’ve looked up to since my early days at Pollicy, Alix Dunn who co-founded Engine Room and Nani Jansen Reventlow who founded Digital Freedom Fund, who created and stepped away from remarkable organisations. As Nani puts it perfectly in her leadership transition blog post, “ From the very beginning, I have been keen to avoid “founder’s syndrome”, focusing instead on building a solid organisation with great staff, steady funding streams, and sound systems in place so it could be safely handed over to the next person.”

I look forward to the new leadership at Pollicy and the direction in which they will take the organisation.

My next challenge

Every time someone announces a transition, the curiosity about “what are they doing next” eats me up. So, what am I doing next? Do I have a plan? I am ready to build something new. It is still centred on work that is very close to my heart and the themes that I love to explore, but from a different approach. At a different pace. I can’t wait to share it with you when it’s ready for the world.

The Transition Plan

Change is hard. But, it is necessary. And, as a founding ED, I really want to get it right.

I have entrusted this process to the steady hands of our board and team of directors at Pollicy who over the past years have come to keenly understand the how and whys of our work and vision. They are all phenomenal and wise experts in their own rights and will be pivotal in shepherding in this new era for the organisation.

Today, we are opening up the position for the Executive Director at Pollicy. You can see the full job description here.

The recruiting committee will interview on a rolling basis. I also remain available to have conversations with you, if you’re thinking you might be a fit for this role. Just send me a DM on Twitter or reach out to me via email at info at pollicy dot org.

I’ll then spend 6-weeks intensively onboarding the new Executive Director, ensuring a smooth transition for the new leadership. Following this onboarding, I shall transition to the Board and continue to support the team in an advisory capacity.

From my heart of hearts, THANK YOU!

The Pollicy I envisioned in March 2017 and the Pollicy of today are two very different entities. I wanted to work on service design and improve how governments use data but I quickly learned, in my youthful naivete, that it is exceedingly difficult to do so when you are a nobody with a nothing organisation. We pivoted, and pivoted again, always with an eye on improving citizen’s experiences and interactions with data and technology. At each step, with each pivot, we grew into what we are today: an award-winning feminist organisation re-imagining alternate ways of data and tech ownership through research and creative engagement.

What I also didn’t envision at the time was the deep and life-changing relationships that I would develop through the work, how immensely I would grow as a person, how much I would learn and the spectacular spaces I would enter.

Founding and running Pollicy has been a truly rewarding experience. I’m so thankful for the first people who gave me tiny projects and grants before they knew what the organisation was capable of. Those who contributed their thoughts and advice, who looked at my pitch decks and gave me some difficult feedback. Who have cheered me on. I’m truly proud of what I’ve built, of my absolutely incredible team who have been a joy to work with, of past colleagues who’re out in the world doing amazing things. Thank you to all our partners, our funders, our board and our friends.

This is not goodbye. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

My lovely team and the fellows of 2022

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