Vision from our Founder – Prof. Theo Gavrielides
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. 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 community-led. I did not have a business plan or a clear idea about how I was going to fundraise or sustain an organisation. What I had was the support of other volunteers as well as the guiding light of three key principles upon which IARS was founded (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 stands for “Independent – Academic – Research Studies” meaning that irrespective of your background, training, socio-economic status, age, abilities or race, the charity will support you to carry out independent, credible and evidence based (academic) research studies to inform and influence policies, laws and practices impacting on you.
20 years later and the IARS mission is more current than ever.
IARS Founder (2021)
User & civic participation
IARS’ first value is based on our belief that strong democracies are not those that elect and maintain systems of governance that cultivate and enforce power over others, but those that truly share that power with those who need it. Society can be improved through social enterprising taking place at all levels: individual, project and organisational. However, social change cannot be done by dictating how one should participate in civic life. This is especially true for those groups that have traditionally been disenfranchised let that be our young people or the victims of our overt or explicit biases. True empowerment happens when we let go of our own power and allow its organic transition into the hands of others. Despite the risks involved, when this happens, the results can be incredible. We have seen it in the internal structures of our organisation. When we let go, the staff team, our interns and volunteers see IARS as a ‘flower pot’ with fertile soil where they can grow their ideas and projects. And it is with these flowers and with flower after flower that we believe we can make demo(δήμος)-cracy(κράτος) more meaningful and worthy of its name. User participation and bottom up approaches to society’s problems also offer something very practical which cannot be captured by ‘experts’ living in ivory towers. And that is the grounded and lived experiences of those facing the problem that we are asked to solve. Hence, our strapline “Community-led solutions for a better society”. We are particularly proud of our user led projects and indeed the user-led research methods that we have pioneered internationally as well as the infrastructure that we have developed to help individuals, projects and organisations to identify, measure and maximise their social impact.
Restorative Justice and dialogue
When we feel that we have been wronged, we tend to take the adversarial road, shut down, avenge and punish. If there is one thing that I have learned from my research and personal experiences is that contest breeds contest while the harm is never truly restored. Healing is ignored and the powerful manifest their power even more. I have championed the restorative justice values of dialogue, equality, empowerment, negotiation, forgiveness, empathy and respect throughout my academic career and I would be disingenuous if I did not to adopt them for my own organisation. I hold restorative circles for our staff meetings and I am particularly proud of our restorative justice projects.
Individual empowerment and responsibility
I see this principle as the glue for the other two. If we are to pursue a shift in power and demand a voice through participation in civic life or through dialogue in justice processes, then we must do so responsibly. This responsibility comes in many forms and in IARS’s case it is translated in the way we champion change. This has to be through evidence and the application of robust research methods. We are mindful, however, that certain truths can be discovered only through in-depth research methods and thus we have argued in favour of qualitative approaches to social problem solving. We are also responsible for our non political and independent voice and programmes. We take responsibility for the result of the work that our funders and supporters empower us to do, and we teach this responsibility to those with whom we work.
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The purpose of this policy is:
● to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults who receive IARS’ services. This
includes the children of adults who use our services;
● to provide staff and volunteers with the overarching principles that guide our approach to
safeguarding and the protection of individuals.
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