Trusting the Deed: Reflections on our Registration Process

Illustration by Josh Dean

By Marilyn Cornelius and Michelle Reddy

Women’s Fund Fiji (formerly the Fiji Women’s Fund) began as an initiative of the Australian Government under Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development, but by design, the Fund was always intended to become an independent entity under the Fiji Charitable Trust Act. It was destined to be the first national women’s fund in Fiji and the Pacific region.

Part of that design meant the development of a Trust Deed, which is a legal document that sets out the rules for establishing and operating our fund under Fijian law. In our previous blog we talked about how we developed our vision, mission and shared values. This blog takes a peek ‘behind the scenes’ of the Trust Deed development process.

Mama Cash supported us with a grant from their Solidarity Fund to embark on this process. This grant’s flexibility enabled us to use a more participatory approach and to adapt to the changing context in the development of this legal document. To assist us with the process, we worked with Marilyn Cornelius, a consultant with a human-centered approach to leadership and empowerment.


Marilyn’s
reflections

When I first met with the Fund team in June 2020, it was for an interview to see if I would be a good fit to help them with their transition to independence. I was immediately struck by how thoughtful and present the leadership was in that interview. We resonated, and the rest, as they say, is herstory.

I immediately noticed that the Fund practices an empathetic and consultative leadership style in line with its feminist values. So, it was only fitting that their Trust Deed development process included consultations with their community partners. As I conducted interviews, I witnessed just how much the interviewees – including persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQI community, and those in rural and remote communities – value the Fund and its work. Another highlight was the staunch support of women’s funds, sister funds who were keen to see the Fund sustain its operations as an independent body, and expand into the Pacific, where the quest to end violence against women and achieve gender equality remains real and urgent.

My task was to create a happy union of stakeholder consultation recommendations and legal requirements, then to infuse that union into a draft Trust Deed in collaboration with the Fund’s Transitional Steering Committee, Fund Manager, lawyers, and accounting firm.

I produced a report and a draft Trust Deed. Along the way, as we discerned the need, I also facilitated workshops to help the Fund articulate its vision, mission, and shared values as a localised entity. To their credit, Fund team members embraced these workshops and together, they have learned a lot about what it takes to be pioneers. Embracing change is difficult, but with the right tools and mindsets, they can achieve and maintain resilience.

One of the biggest findings of my work with a diverse range of interviewees was the need for change management approaches to help guide relationships, strategic priorities, resourcing needs, and operations of the Fund as it moves toward localisation.  The Fund embraced this finding, by immediately implementing a Transitional Steering Committee, and infusing change management approaches into its strategic planning and other localisation processes.

My report outlined the required skills and traits for the Governance Board, Grants Committee, and Board of Trustees. To assist with finding new members, the Fund set up search committees to recruit our Trustees, Governance Boards and Grants Committee, applying report findings in the search process.

The Fund also continues to consciously address team dynamics issues as they arise, creating a culture of collective self-care. Team dynamics include underlying, often subconscious factors such as trauma that could impact how a team behaves and performs.

Any transition requires mindfulness of what is needed, and human-centered leadership to fulfill those needs. The Fund has admirably faced its challenges head-on, documenting handover processes, intentionally appreciating those who have completed their service, and orienting new governance teams virtually under pandemic restrictions. The Fund’s leadership and governance teams bring unprecedented dedication and commitment, matching the needs of this pioneering entity.

I am so very proud to be working with a team that consistently demonstrates feminist principles, not only in its external work but also in its internal practices.

Michelle’s Reflections

I was on annual leave (at home, of course during a pandemic) when I received the news that we had finally received our registration approval. I literally shed tears of joy and relief, breaking into an impromptu and most unchoreographed dance.

What a bumpy journey it has been! Bumpy because there were highs and lows. We began the localisation process in June 2020 and it has taken exactly a year to get registered. Our registration was formally accepted on 7 July 2021. Prior to the registration process, the Fund was already working on managing change on multiple levels from human resources, governance structure to policies and procedures. The Fund was shifting – from a program managed by an Australian contractor with a governance structure that included our funders – to an entity establishing new governance structures, including the appointment of Fijian citizens to its Board. Alongside this, the Fund team was also beginning to prepare for the eventual change in personnel contracts, changes in team structure and visualising a new way of working that is entirely independent.

I’ve been asked why this registration didn’t happen sooner and faster. It most certainly could have taken a shorter period but I would have lost the opportunity of co-creation, of continuing the Fund’s well-known trait of consultation and sustaining key relationships. Most importantly, I would have lost the trust of my team and the community of people we engage with if we had moved too fast and without consultations. Trust is a key ingredient in building and sustaining team and community relationships.

As we developed the Trust Deed and lodged our application to register as a charitable trust, we also began the process of enlisting new people to join our Governance Board. This was also done in a thoughtful and consultative manner with the guidance of our Transitional Steering Committee. As the Transitional Steering Committee members were ending their terms in June/July this year, we had a facilitated handover and orientation process to guide our governance transition.  We were intentional in showing our appreciation to them, for they are legends in the herstory of the Women’s Fund (Fiji). We

A few of Our Offerings as we navigate the changes:

We have learned so much on this journey. But some of these learnings have really stood out and we would like to share them with you. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list and we look forward to sharing more in the upcoming blogs.

  • Relationships, partnerships and friendships matter: everyone you work with matters. And we mean every single person!! They come with their own set of values, triumphs, anxieties and power. Nurture those relationships, partnerships and friendships as they will be your source of inspiration, courage and resources.
  • Communicate, communicate and communicate: the way you communicate and what you communicate internally and externally is important. With any change process, invest time and energy in identifying what you need to communicate, how you will communicate it and then practice it. Yes, practice what you will say especially in a context where most of the communication is done virtually.
  • Co-shared responsibility on the achievements and challenges: you are not alone! Celebrate the milestones but also take time to examine the challenges and co-own these. By adopting a spirit of learning, you can look at the challenges from a new perspective: what did I learn about myself in this situation, what did I learn about others? Knowing what I have learned, what do I need to take this forward and what do I need to set aside?
  • Falling forward in identifying clarity on the “what, who, how, when and where” of the localisation. You know what you know and you plan for things that you don’t know. When things change and don’t go according to ‘plan’, you can respond creatively and adaptatively.
  • Use change management expertise to help you manage the transitions and expectations optimally. Change is difficult, but change also brings a lot of opportunities to do things better or to reinvent them. We are in this process now, and it is teaching us a lot about how to navigate constant change with courage and creativity.

 

About the Authors

Michelle Reddy is Fund Manager at the Women’s Fund (Fiji). She is a Pacific queer feminist and women’s rights activist who has worked in the women’s movement for 15 years. Michelle currently serves as an advisory member for the Pacific Feminist Fund, Equality Fund’s Catalyse Program and United Nations Pacific Insurance and Climate Adaptation Programme under the UN Capital Development Fund. She is also a Co-Coordinator of the Prospera Asia & Pacific Chapter of Prospera International Network of Women’s Funds. A lover of sarees, snail mail and most recently gardening, Michelle is a strong believer in collective well-being and self-care.

Marilyn Cornelius is a consultant, coach, facilitator, speaker, and author. She is the founder of the multinational company, Alchemus Prime. Her facilitation approach fosters safe spaces for inspiring habit changes through integrated methods, including behavioural sciences and design thinking. Marilyn supports leaders in Fiji, USA, India, New Zealand, Australia, and France, imparting tools for authentic leadership, self-love, trauma removal, and empowered communication. She has authored or co-authored a total of 25 popular books and 7 peer-reviewed publications. Marilyn holds a PhD in behavioral sciences and climate change from Stanford University.

 

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