Most organizations put a premium on celebrating successes—we certainly do! But we also believe we have a great deal to learn from our failures, so we share those failures in hopes of reinforcing our lessons learned, demonstrating our frailty (rather than portraying ourselves as heroes), and cautioning our peers about potential pitfalls.
Our yearly Failure Reports are a chance to look you in the eye, be vulnerable, and admit our mistakes.
We put a lot of time into presenting a hopeful image of Iraq and the Middle East to counter endless bad news with the smiles, hopes, and cooperation we see happening because of you and our partners who help us save lives. But in sharing only these true, good-news stories, we run the risk of not telling everything or not being fully transparent about the difficulties we face every day. We tell you how we failed in order to give you a glimpse behind the scenes into the difficulties of daily life in one of the world’s most notorious war-torn countries.
Preemptive love can unmake violence and remake the world but it’s not easy!
Failure 2014: Coming off of the death threats, violence, arrests, law suits, and fallout discussed in our 2013 Failure Report, we were caught very unprepared for the rise of ISIS, the Fall of Mosul, and the resulting humanitarian crisis that has displaced millions of people across Iraq.
Talk is cheap and my failure to accelerate our long-discussed transition to become more than a heart surgery organization left us reeling and reactionary in the summer 2014, in spite of the fact that our years in Iraq and our high-profile partnerships and successes could have otherwise positioned us for faster response times and better leadership than we were ultimately able to demonstrate because we relegated ourselves to being “just a heart surgery organization.”
In June-August 2014, the international community was looking for experts and leadership in Iraq given the fact that so many organizations had pulled out in previous years. Preemptive Love had not pulled out. In fact, we had used the intervening years between the pullout of American troops and the rise of ISIS to go deeper into some of the hardest areas of Iraq—areas that ultimately came under the control of ISIS. Nonetheless, we had functionally forfeited the chance to lead the humanitarian response and, as a result, forfeited the chance to have an even more significant voice in shaping the narrative and policymaking that ensued.
Even months after ISIS had spread across Iraq and we had demonstrated great competence in creating the coalitions and programs necessary to deliver aid to some of the most vulnerable Iraqis, our website and official materials failed to reflect our intimate knowledge, thought-leadership, and hard-earned credibility from the front lines of the sectarian conflict. At the time of this writing, our official materials are still behind the curve of our actual programatic impact and expertise.
Relatedly, my conservative fiscal policy resulted in a passionate but small team in Iraq that was completely inundated and overwhelmed by the human suffering and the logistical concerns associated with becoming emergency aid responses overnight. My failure to make the hard strategic decisions about programmatic and geographic expansion in a more timely manner left us understaffed when we needed it most. Not only did this cause my team unnecessary stress and hardship, it ironically robbed us of the opportunity to win more support for the help we were uniquely equipped to provide. In this case, trying to responsibly save money almost certainly cost us opportunities that would have brought in more resources to grow as an organization and grow our responses for people in acute need.
The worst failures are those from which we fail to learn. Come back for Part 2, for the two biggest lessons learned this year.