As Frank Sinatra sang "Best is yet to come. You think you've seen the sun. But you ain't seen it shine". This is how I feel, ready to move on from my role as IARS' Director.
Indeed, the years have passed! It was 2001, when, as a young migrant, I came up with the IARS idea, as I felt that I needed to have voice for matters that involved me. Then, I very quickly realised that my voice was louder when I joined other voices ... and there were many. Almost 20 years later, and I can proudly say that apart from my son, Tommy, IARS is the proudest life achievement. And it is on this high, Sinatra note that I want to pass on the good work that we have done to a new Director, while I watch IARS with care and love. It is time to let the hand go! So, if you are up for a challenge, the deadline for applications is 26 August!
I've always believed that if you have a dream, the only barrier from achieving it is you. I left home young and found myself in all sorts of situations and available "options". Some of these options saw me as a "marginalised young person", and wanted to support me to get out of my disadvantage. I ignored them, as this is not how I saw myself. Others, pushed me hard ... they gave me "tough love" and made me achieve what they saw in me as talents and strengths. I worked with them, and when I was content, I felt that it was time that I give back the same tough love. This journey led me to setting up IARS, which stands for evidence-based change that is bottom-up and is founded upon three principles: (1) User and civic participation (2) Restorative justice and dialogue (3) Individual Empowerment and Responsibility. The journey was not always easy, and I can say I have grown and learned so much over the years.
IARS could not be in a stronger position. It is recognised as an international force for change, and has at least 20 live projects of local, national and international scope. Our finances have grown from the £500 that I donated when I set it up to almost £1m turnover, with secure funding for at least three years.
IARS is more than a charity and an institute. It is an idea and a paradigm for all those young people and individuals who have been told that they need to act and look in a certain way, or be from a specific background to achieve in life. With no business plan, money, CEO training or indeed family in the UK, all I needed was passion, ideas, hard work and a lot of friends. IARS' mission and visions are needed now more than ever. The attitudes that lead to divisions, the continuous manifestation of power and the disengagement of communities are all reasons to keep our doors open.
I have always said that I will close the IARS doors, go home and not push for more projects, when I know that we are living in a stronger and more inclusive society (hence IARS’ strapline). We are not there yet! Thus, I intend to continue supporting IARS as its Founder and fundraiser. After running the organisation for 20 years, it is now time to be directed by a new leader. This is a conscious choice that I am making for the benefit of IARS, as I truly believe it will make it even stronger and more prepared for the future. No organisation should be attached to one person.
I will mentor and support the new Director, while focusing more on my restorative justice and human rights work with my other non-profit NGO, Restorative Justice for All. I also want to be a better dad, and enjoy the few years that I have left before my son grows into a "lovely" teenager. I want to continue working with all the individuals and organisations that partnered with us, and indeed build more local, national and international allegiances to achieve our charitable aims.
IARS was set up and was run exclusively by volunteers for years. I know that this is not an exception for charities, but I can only say a huge thank you to all those who believed in my dream and supported me. I am extremely grateful to my team and the trustees who worked with me to achieve where we are today. The organisation is still very much reliant on our interns, volunteers, donors and funders, and will continue to do so. I ask that you trust and support the new Director, as much as you supported me.
My gratitude cannot be expressed in this short note. I hope that I have raised to your expectations and delivered what I promised. I am an emotional character and it is not always easy to understand or work with me. However, I do hope that I have given back what I was offered when as young Theo moved to the UK, and which led me to be where I am today. The best is yet to come!
Dr. Theo Gavrielides
IARS Founder, July 2019