Social responsibility

The Synaps vision

As we tackle societal problems, we scrutinize our practices to ensure that they conform with the principles we profess. We believe ethical, socially responsible activity demands a dynamic, self-critical review process. Our effort is guided by the following framework, which is constantly updated and therefore remains a work in progress.

1. Prioritizing human capital

Synaps aims to create meaningful employment, with a focus on young professionals hired locally. These team members commit to remaining within their own environment and engaging with its specific challenges in the long run. Synaps is keen not to accelerate any brain drain; rather, we hope for alumni to apply their skills within home-grown organizations seeking social betterment.

Synaps recognizes the value of diversity in its ranks, and guarantees gender equality at all levels: decision-making, compensation, advancement and beyond. We are also keen to take things further, by exploring how feminist principles apply to an organization like ours, in a process that fully involves our staff.

Synaps invests relentlessly in its staff, providing them with intensive mentoring, tailored vocational training, language courses, opportunities to hone their entrepreneurial skills, and mobility within the organization. We invest in educational tools, to document and reward learning processes. To tap the wisdom that surrounds us, Synaps hosts seminars in which experienced professionals share the lessons they have learned throughout their careers. We also support our staff’s personal projects to the extent possible.

We are convinced that productivity requires a balance between working hours and time-off. We hold our team to high standards of efficiency, output, and entrepreneurial initiative, while also encouraging colleagues to take up to five weeks’ holidays and use their free-time to recharge and broaden their horizons.

2. Local integration

Synaps strives to root itself in its environment and establish local value-added. All staff, with justified exceptions, are hired and based in the field. Synaps’ revenues, which are mostly spent on job creation, fieldwork costs and various taxes, are thus reinvested in the surrounding economy.

Our projects are carefully selected for their potential to address locally-defined, socially-relevant priorities. We work closely and continuously with our staff, partners, and peers to maximize the value of any given project to the context at hand, while carefully guarding against unintended harm. In this same vein, our published work targets a primarily local audience. 

Synaps is keen to support, collaborate with and generally promote local organizations within its environment. We deliberately avoid competition that may undermine our peers, mindful that Synaps should not thrive at their expense. Rather, we develop synergies and joint projects, advertise their work via our social media platforms, share relevant expertise through pro bono services. We also view our investment in our staff as strengthening the broader local “ecosystem,” as our alumni come to use the skills they have acquired within Synaps to the benefit of others.

3. Rewarding effort reasonably

In response to deepening inequalities and an exploitative jobs market, Synaps approaches compensation through ethical rules based on common sense. Although we welcome volunteer contributions extended by employed professionals, we shun unpaid internships. We only take on interns if we can help cover the expenses they incur during their internship, making the experience cost-neutral to them; this generally will depend on interns themselves raising some amount of funding, for example through scholarships.

For junior recruits, we define salaries in accordance with local practices, corrected when necessary to ensure that staff can fully sustain themselves independently. For managerial positions, we encourage, whenever possible, internal promotions or local hires, rather than expatriate positions.

Finally, we cap the difference between the highest and lowest compensations within the organization at a maximum ration of ten to one. (This restriction is included as a matter of principle, in anticipation of significant expansion and transformation; Synaps currently runs a much smaller ratio.) Leadership must be rewarded in ways commensurate with the ability to formulate a sustainable vision, overall responsibility for its successful implementation, the heaviest workload, and personal risk-taking, while avoiding the massive disparities visible in most organizations. 

4. Complete costing

While Synaps is managed as a non-profit organization, we are attentive to articulating a realistic understanding of our costs. These are significant, for a variety of reasons: We aim for high-quality, substantive output and make few concessions on that front; we believe this outcome is contingent on hiring, training, and retaining staff; we comply with all our responsibilities and obligations regarding social security, insurances, and taxation; and we invest extensively in fieldwork, editing, translation, and quality control, all of which entail additional expenses.

Our conception of “complete costing” involves several principles that are relevant to social responsibility. First is our insistence on considering the price-tag attached to our staff’s time. Any given day’s work entails considerable costs to Synaps, meaning that staff must forego activities that detract from revenue-generating commitments. That includes excessive social media activity, but also unrelated conferences, purposeless networking, superfluous meetings, unwarranted email chains, and so on. This is both a matter of economic realism for the organization and a form of respect due to our partners, who underwrite our work. The price of time, for Synaps, is an equivalent of “opportunity cost,” namely the cost of not doing what is truly productive. This leads staff to turn down many invitations they would otherwise accept out of social convention. 

Second, we examine the imperceptible, but nonetheless critical, collective costs involved in our activities. Our concerns include the devaluation of intellectual work, through unpaid internships, free publications, and underfunded contracts; undercutting local organizations through unintentional competition; promoting dubious interventions by prioritizing fundraising over social relevance; or rewarding worst practices out of expediency. We take modest but concrete steps to minimize such side-effects, for example by paying subscriptions to key media sources; carefully respecting intellectual property rights; and making public as much of our information and analysis as possible.

Third and last, we go the extra mile to address more obvious collective costs, for instance by recycling what waste can be recycled, opting out of Beirut’s so-called “generator mafia,” avoiding plastic cutlery and disposable napkins, and turning off all electrical appliances whenever possible. However trivial they may seem, we view such gestures as integral to a more ambitious social responsibility posture.

5. Transparency & best practices

Synaps makes every effort to think through, document and implement best practices in its field of activity, and aims to propose a set of standards that could help increase transparency and genuine accountability. We systematically publish methodological memos based on our own internal learning curve, in hopes that others will benefit from our lessons learned. We are translating this full body of work into Arabic, to widen the scope of readers who can make use of it.

Equally important is our style of management: Synaps lays out leadership requirements for all to see, and managers are evaluated by staff. Our goal is to encourage and reward free-thinking, debate, and internal criticism, including by testing new ways of sharing information among staff. We systematically challenge our own internal processes, and transparently discuss sensitive issues such as cash-flow crises and personal data management. 

In our relationship to the outside world, we submit unusually candid narrative and financial reports to our partners; publicly release lessons-learned from both our successes and failures; and engage other organizations in collective brainstorms on best practices. Similarly, this public statement of our internal policy represents a pledge to increase our own accountability.

Illustration credits: Worker ant carrying leaf by Wikipedia; ants by pmgimg.com / licensed by CC.