Sustainability of organizations hinges upon effective handover

Graphic by Chukwuyem Onyibe/The Gazelle Over its short lifetime, NYU Abu Dhabi has seen projects rise and fall — tides of interest pushed then pulled ...

Over its short lifetime, NYU Abu Dhabi has seen projects rise and fall — tides of interest pushed then pulled by periods of study abroad and stress. We’ve seen the sparks of conversation at a lunch table turn into Open Mic nights and debate teams. We’ve also seen groups struggling to maintain membership and structure once the demographics shift slightly. In the four years NYUAD has been around, we’ve seen Student Interest Groups ignite and fizzle. Most of the time, the fizzling is due to a change in leadership.
The fragility of our organizations is partly a consequence of our surroundings. We operate as a small student body in a space where rules and regulations are still settling into place, and we see a large number of students fly away for a semester or a year at a time. There is, however, a degree to which we’ve been irresponsible to our organizations.
Project handover is a skill that, as a university, we’ve very slowly developed. We tend to turn to it in a rush and only when it is strictly needed. We approach the handover process on a case-by-case basis; we seek out our replacements when study abroad arrives and try to fill them in on everything we didn’t know we need to know when we first began to run our specific organizations.
In the rush to create, we have many times forgotten to look forward. Clubs and teams have drafted rules for behavior, most of the time with a less-than-thorough eye. We create these small organizations with groups of close-knit friends or people who obviously share our passions. Doing so, though thrilling, is unadvisable, as handover of our projects is inevitable. We will not always have a consensus on what a group is and what a group is for.
The process at NYU in Washington Square, sadly, is not much more refined. While large university institutions already have a method for handoff, new seedlings die quickly and often once their founder moves on. While working in the new Research and Development Committee, one of my main mantras has become, “Who the hell am I going to give this to when I leave?"
As strong as any individual project might be, the best thing we can do for an organization is make sure that our efforts are not washed away by time. We are now approaching our last semester in Sama Tower, and the graduation of the first class of students at NYUAD. We’ve created a remarkable environment in only four years, and need to make sure we maintain it in a way that survives the transition, both from island to island and from student body to student body.
During our last period before Saadiyat, I’d like to urge everyone to look at the organizations they’ve built and the fortifications they have to face the change. We need to draft up transition documents where necessary, keep an eye out for successors to different groups, talk about what space we will need in the new campus and make sure our rules reflect our vision and mission.  We will not always have a close-knit group of friends running interest groups in mutual trust, so our transition documents must be spotless. We need to be clear on what the group is and isn’t, what the modus operandi is and whom to contact within the administration and faculty with questions and new projects.
We’ve created groups and systems for communication, expression and outreach. As a group, the best thing we can do for this institution isn’t just our immediate impact but also making sure we decisively and effectively pass on the torch.
Juan Felipe Beltran is a contributing writer. Email him at
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