“The Only Question Is, Am I Willing to Do the Work?” — A Conversation with Iris Nevins, Founder & Executive Director of Organeyez - Jamaicans.com
Interviews

“The Only Question Is, Am I Willing to Do the Work?” — A Conversation with Iris Nevins, Founder & Executive Director of Organeyez

After leading development initiatives with a social justice organization that Iris Nevins co-founded, she realized that specialized software could help solve the unique problems that social justice movements face. This realization led her to leave her career as a teacher and become a software engineer with the goal of contributing her growing technical knowledge and skills to grassroots movements. Iris is a driven non-traditional engineer with a passion for mission-driven software engineering that solves meaningful problems. She currently works at Mailchimp as a software engineer and is the Founder & Executive Director of Organeyez, a media and software company focused on creating tools and content that helps activists and social justice movements be more effective. Outside of work Iris spends time building out the structure of her company and the second strategic phase of its launch. She also provides support and advice to people who want to become a software engineer. 

Organeyez is a media and software company on a mission to create tools and content that helps progressive activists and social justice movements be more effective. They believe that by providing free training, resources, and technology they can drastically increase activists’ ability to bring significant change to communities and legislature. The first project Organeyez launched is a podcast about the strategies that activists use to be effective. The engineering team is building a resource directory application that will allow activists to build libraries of educational information ranging from research papers to documentaries to public policy reports. Another exciting project is their summer 2019 online workshop series on fundraising, money management, lobbying, and research methods. Organeyez has a long list of products & services they want to create and some are very ambitious. For example, their long-term vision is to create the Organeyez Institute—an online learning/training program that will teach activists everything from economics and app development to constructive engagement of conflict and organizing strategies. Organeyez wants to help activists become so skilled and well rounded that they can thrive in both their personal lives and their activism. And they want activists to have a common language and understanding. This can only be done through education. Iris began developing the business plan for Organeyez in February of 2018 and a few months later she began recruiting her core team. Organeyez formally launched in August 2018 so the company is roughly 7 months old.

1. What is your connection to Jamaica?
I was born in Miami, Florida to two Jamaican parents who migrated to the United States for college. When I was around 2 years old we moved back to Jamaica for a few years before returning to the United States. I feel deeply connected to Jamaica for many reasons. I started my education there and developed my earliest childhood friendships there. All of my grandparents were in Jamaica until I was 10, so even after moving back to the United States, I would visit Jamaica often as a small child; sometimes 3-4 times a year. I spent my summers and winters there and would often go when I had a 3 or 4-day holiday break. So as a young child, I felt that Jamaica was my real home—it was my favorite place in the entire world. My father owned a Jamaican restaurant until I was 22, so I grew up in that restaurant environment and was very connected to the food, the music, the culture, and the language. As I’ve gotten older and grandparents have either passed away or migrated to the United States I’ve visited Jamaica less and less. I feel more distant now than ever before. I know that it’s on me to make the effort to stay connected as I continue on in my adult life.

2. Are you a business person or a social entrepreneur or both? (A business person starts a business based on an existing idea or concept. A social entrepreneur seeks to achieve social change through innovative means.)
I would consider myself more of a social entrepreneur. I care more about achieving social change than creating a profitable business. But I also value wealth and financial security so I plan to invest heavily in real estate. I just bought my first house and plan to buy another property in a year or so. It’s important to me that as I pursue changing the world, I am also building a safety net to protect me and my family should anything go wrong.

3. What was your profession before you started your business Organeyez?
Before starting Organeyez I was a social studies teacher. I’ve taught a range of courses from economics to world geography. At my last job, I taught 8th grade U.S. history to amazing kids and I loved it, despite the stress.

4. Who or what motivated you to start Organeyez?
After college, I got very heavily involved in progressive activism in South Florida, with a deep focus on police brutality and mass incarceration. I felt personally connected to the issue of police brutality after being assaulted and falsely arrested by a police officer when I was a senior in college. 

After about 2 years of community organizing, I realized that the groups I was involved in were not accomplishing much of what we set out to do. There were a number of reasons, but from my perspective, it all came down to the fact that community organizing is really hard and we didn’t really have the skills to build a sustainable organization or a sustainable movement. 

When we did try to become more organized, it required a lot of manual labor like data entry, scheduling, email and text communications, phone calls, creating and facilitating processes, etc. and it was a large burden on us because we were all either full-time students or employed full-time. This is when I started to research technologies to help automate the labor-intensive work that was required to build a functional and sustainable organization. Much of what we found was useful, like Mailchimp and Twilio, but some apps did not exist that met our specific needs. I started imagining different types of apps that I could build for us, but I didn’t know how to build them. 

From there my imagination just kind of went wild because I could envision a whole new world of organizing, where activists have the same types of tools that corporations and governments have. Eventually, I decided that I would learn how to code so that I could bring my ideas to life. Once I started developing the business plan for Organeyez, I realized that tools were not enough. My activist friends and I lacked tools but we also lacked skills, so I decided that Organeyez would focus on both technology and education. 

5. Did you face any challenges in mobilizing your capital?
At Organeyez, we want to be a community funded company where people from the public who share our values fund our work by sending us money through Patreon. Patreon.com is a platform for funding creators. People who create art, educational material, software, etc. can receive funding in the form of monthly payments from supporters. But it’s not an investment where you get a share of the company. Think of it as paying people you admire or support to be able to keep doing what they do! At the moment we fund all of our costs ourselves, but we have just begun fundraising through Patreon. In just a few days we’ve been able to raise $110/month in funding. Our goal is to get to $2000 per month in funding by the end of 2019. We think this will be an interesting challenge because it’s never comfortable asking people for money, but I think many people will believe in Organeyez’s mission and choose to support us. You can sign up to become a monthly funder (ie. Patron) at patreon.com/organeyez.

There are many additional tools and services that we’d like to be able to purchase in order to take our work to the next level. And once we launch our first app there will be costs associated with hosting & maintaining that app as the number of users grows. We also want to be able to compensate ourselves and our interns. We have veered away from the non-profit volunteer model because people deserve to be paid for their labor. So Organeyez is a corporation, but we also don’t want to be limited by wages and salaries. So we created a sweat equity compensation model that pays employees based on the amount of income the company has as well as the employees weekly time commitment and length of time in the company. Once we reach our fundraising goals we’ll be able to start implementing that compensation model and we’re excited to see how it goes.  

6. Tell us about Organeyez.
Organeyez, as a company, is made up of a variety of people from software engineers, to educators, to community organizers. Then we have our college interns who are passionate about seeking a way to contribute to movements. We have a co-op set up in that our compensation model is based on sweat equity and we have designed a decision-making structure that distributes power and influence. We don’t believe it’s necessary to ask people to sacrifice their careers or money-making work so that they can contribute to important progressive movements. And we want our employees to feel that they can pursue a career in whatever their heart desires while building Organeyez and without burning out. So we have a flexible work model in that workload and timelines are determined based on availability and capacity. We don’t want anyone to work more than 10 hours a week and we don’t take on more projects than what we can realistically handle. This means we move slow, but with intention and we’ve produced a lot to be proud of so far. We aim to be highly organized and tech-savvy by having thorough processes that facilitate our work. We aim to automate as much as we possibly can. We also believe in accountability and transparency. We have peer and company reviews and we plan to share all of our financial information, including compensation, with our donors and each other. We’re trying a lot of new or unconventional things when it comes to our internal structure, processes, and decision making and we’re excited about potentially creating a new paradigm for how to build and maintain an activism focused organization. 

7. Many businesses have a moment they call their “big three breaks,” whether it be a news story, a big contract etc. Have you or your business had that “big break ” yet?
No, we haven’t, but I’m hoping that our fundraising campaign will help to get our name out there and potentially bring in some large funders. Funding will significantly increase our ability to market our services and increase our presence.

8. Currently, what is your biggest business challenge?
Raising money to purchase all of the tools we need to make our work as efficient as possible.

9. What motivates you on a day to day basis?
I feel deeply that I am building a company that can revolutionize progressive movements in the United States and around the world. I believe that Organeyez can be the glue that holds activists and movements together, keeping them organized, accountable, and sharp. Progressive activists need to become a highly functional organism that breathes and moves in formation if we really want to create a new world built on progressive values. Like Beyonce says “get in formation.” I don’t see anyone trying to do this on a large scale. So I get satisfaction from knowing that my work is going to help change the world in a big way.

10. How do you remind yourself of what’s important?
I hate all of the injustices that I see in the world. But every now and then I think about how much easier life would be if I didn’t do any of this extra stuff. If I just went to work and that’s it I’d have so much more time to engage in leisurely activities, to relax, to hang out with friends, etc. But this type of thinking is selfish and it’s just not who I am. So I think about the Organeyez mission statement and the experiences that led me to create Organeyez. I think about everything that’s happened in my life up until this point. Everything has had a purpose and has taught me so much that I now know what needs to be done. It’s not a question in my mind anymore. The only question is, am I willing to do the work? I am certain that if Organeyez or any organization with a similar mission were to be successful, it would have a huge impact. How can I give up the opportunity to create that kind of impact? I may fail in the long run, but I know that I have to try.

11. What time do you wake up and do you have a routine?
I don’t set an alarm anymore. I wake up naturally around 8 am and get to work between 9 and 10 am. After work, I go to the gym and then head home. I make dinner and then either relax or continue working. I don’t go out much or see friends often, outside of friends I have at work and the gym. Sometimes I have phone calls or meetings in the evenings after work so my schedule really varies. On Saturday and Sunday mornings I like to work on Organeyez stuff and household chores, then relax in the afternoons and evenings. I’m also the editor for a publication. I take a lot of phone calls from people who find me online and want to learn about becoming a software engineer. So really, my schedule is all over the place. But I try to keep the gym and meal prepping as consistent as possible although sometimes I fall out of that routine and have to work on getting back into it.

12. Do you have any hobbies?
I love CrossFit. Occasionally, I write for my online blog. I like to garden and love watching television. 

13. Seven days, six nights, all expense paid, my vacation destination is…
Jamaica. I will take any opportunity to go there for free.

14. My favorite guilty pleasure is…
Watching the bachelor and bachelorette.

15. My favorite Jamaican food is…
Oxtail with rice and peas. I also love red peas soup.

Learn more about Organeyez on its website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About the author

Brittany Khaleel