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A message from out-going CEO Sean Lowrie

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Dear friends and colleagues

This is my last day with the Start Network.  It has been an unimaginable privilege to lead this effort over the past 9 years, and I am leaving with a sense of humility, pride and gratitude.

Among my last acts this week was to attend a summit of Chief Information Officers Summit hosted by our technology partner Box.  Why? You may ask. Well, because Box is likely to soon be one of the Silicon Valley start-ups that reach Unicorn size ($1bn) and I was very curious about how they think.  After two challenging inwardly-focused years, it was a great opportunity to look at the tech sector for some inspiration about the future.

Three things stood out to me as relevant for the future of the Start Network.  Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie shared a technology sector truism: the rate of change today is the slowest you will ever experience.  Then Wired UK Editor-in-Chief Greg Williams explained that every industry is being disrupted, and within every industry every large-scale incumbent organisation is being threatened by swarms of small-scale start-ups who can out-compete with niche business models.  He argued that every company is a technology company now.  Then Box’s VP and Global Head of Talent & Belonging, Tiffany Stevenson, talked about belonging and diversity.  In the competition for talent, Box is trying to build a culture that embraces diversity where everyone belongs: able to be themselves without needing to mute their identity.

The humanitarian sector is vitally important in a turbulent and rapidly changing world.  At the World Humanitarian Summit the international community agreed that the humanitarian sector must change.  The members of the Start Network are collaborating to change the sector. This is courageous, selfless and a model for other industries.  There is no time to waste! 

Start Network is important, urgent and special.  It deserves to scale and it deserves more support.  Start Network is also messy, fragile and human.  It is a living organism that hopefully will ever grow and evolve.  Start Network is not a machine. It needs to be nurtured and allowed to emerge naturally.  

There are wonderful people in the Start Network – talented, committed and kind.   I feel a great sense of confidence that Start Network will thrive with all the groups taking Start forward: the Executive Team, the staff, Board, all the sub-committees from finance to membership to the Start Fund, the Start Fund Donor Council, and most importantly the many national groups from Bangladesh to Pakistan to DRC and beyond who are taking the network forward. 

I can’t begin to describe how much I’ve learned at Start, and for this I shall be always grateful to the members for creating Start Network in the first place, and for giving me this opportunity.  Thank you to the chairs of the Board from whom I was so lucky to receive advice and support: Matthew Carter, Nick Guttmann, Paul Smith Lomas, Lola Gostelow, Richard Winter, Bob Ruxton and Christof Maetze.  Thank you to Save the Children for hosting and incubating Start over the years and in particular Gareth Owen for creating the space for Start to explore, make mistakes and grow.  Thank you to all our donors and partners, in particular: DFID for the initial pilot project and for the majority support over the years, Ireland for believing in us during our darkest hour and supporting us every year since, the Netherlands for the trust, and to the Ikea Foundation for the catalytic support that led to our independence this year. So many kind and generous people encouraged me behind the scenes, and offered advice and support sometimes over many years.  Finally, and most of all, thank you to the staff for putting up with me!

The Board will soon announce a new leadership team who will join the Network after the summer.  Over the transition Cat Sneath will be acting CEO.

I intend to take the next few months off to spend more time with my family, and pursue some personal interests before exploring new professional frontiers in the autumn. 

I wish you all courage and luck in your humanitarian lives.  This is not goodbye.  I shall always be there cheering in the background, will of course be delighted to help you in whatever way I can.

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  • by SeanLowrie