My first 416 days as a freelance facilitator

National Freelancers DayToday is National Freelancers Day here in the UK, and so a good day I think to reflect on my own first year and a bit as a freelancer.  I did think that twice before, but on my anniversary on October 1st I was too busy with client work, and during International Facilitation Week (October 21-27) I was too busy with International Facilitation Week.  At 7am this morning I was working with Orla Cronin to facilitate an online workshop for worldwide contributors to a collaborative writing process taking place in South Africa this week, ‘Exploring the Real Work of Social Change‘, but apart from that I am happy to be having a relatively quiet week. So here goes. I have even updated my profile photo to mark the occasion – a new look for a new year.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is quoted as saying in support for National Freelancers Day that “taking the plunge as a freelancer is an immense decision that in many ways can appear daunting but it’s also a choice that’s brave, ambitious, fulfilling and rewarding“. My own decision initially was to work freelance to earn an income and keep my options open for a while, while deciding what to do next after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK after 16 years. I thought of it more as a sabbatical at first than as a new career, and after delivering facilitation, training and consulting services to ICA:UK clients all those years it did not seem particularly brave or ambitious. The immense part had been deciding to step down from my previous role. It was indeed rewarding and fulfilling, however, and soon enough I had decided that this was how I wanted to continue to work.

In that sense the process has been a little like the way my career as a whole began and then continued. I took a ‘year out’ after my undergraduate degree to volunteer with ICA in India in 1986, and 27 years later I am still with ICA and serving as volunteer President of ICA International. Working freelance is enabling me to do that now, and whatever other paid or unpaid work I want to take on, with maximum flexibility and minimum administration and overheads.  What’s not to like?

In my first year as a freelancer I have had the opportunity to deliver facilitation and facilitation training contracts in Dublin, Geneva, Moscow, Ramallah, Zurich and online, as well as around the UK and even within walking distance from my home base in London. The groups I have worked with have ranged from local community-based organisations to UN-mandated international agencies, and from global corporations to small consultancies and social enterprise start-ups (see also who I work with and how I work). This diversity is a major attraction for me – always stimulating, mostly challenging and never dull.

Having worked for years as well with public sector clients in the UK, these have been notable for me by their absence this past year. Notwithstanding David Cameron’s enthusiasm for freelancers (and entrepreneurs) ‘as the engine of our economy and economic revival’, it has certainly been a good year not to be reliant on UK clients, and especially not on UK public sector clients. Many years of international involvement and Board service with my professional association the International Association of Facilitators has been very helpful there, as well as long-standing relationships with ICA colleagues worldwide. I have Brussels, Geneva and New York to look forward to in December & January, and a number of mostly European prospects in the pipeline for after that, so I am happy to say an over-reliance on UK work does not seem to be a problem as yet. I would welcome more gigs that I can walk to as well though!

On deciding to establish myself in business as a freelancer I also joined PCG: the Freelancers Association (the people behind National Freelancers Day), and have found this invaluable.  I have experience of non-profit management and governance, including registering and preparing SORP-compliant accounts for a UK charitable company, but it has been a relief to be able to learn quickly and easily the particularities of company and tax law etc. as they apply to me now as a freelancer – and to discover just how less onerous it is to establish and run a private company with one shareholder, one Director and one employee.  For someone whose stock in trade is participatory decision making, it’s nothing short of revolutionary for me that I get to decide everything by myself, without consultation, and within much lesser constraints than I am used to.  I am proud to say that Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd is now well and truly in business, and even has its new cloud-based Crunch accounting system up to date (quote ‘mg15641m’ if you join too, and we both get free vouchers).

Throughout this past year I have particularly enjoyed and appreciated the extra time I have been able to find for professional development, reflection, reading and writing.  I am pleased to have accumulated over 40 posts and 6,000 site views on this blog, and to have read many books (and many more than each of the previous years) and attended numerous events with IAF, at the RSA and elsewhere. I still aspire to make more connection between the professional development, reflection and reading and the writing, but happy for that to be a goal.

In the meantime, I enjoyed so much the opportunity to use my Arabic again on my recent trips to Palestine that I have joined an Arabic conversation meet-up group in London. That experience has also got me wondering more about the reality and prospects for participation and facilitative leadership in the Arab world generally, almost 20 years on from my own six years with ICA Egypt and my masters research on civil society and democtratisation, and with the revolutions of the so called ‘Arab Spring’ continuing to unfold.

Thank you for following, and please feel free to share your own reflections and comments as well.

See also about mehow I workwho I work with and recommendations & case studies, and please contact me about how we might work together.

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Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd

Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-longPlease join me in welcoming to the world Martin Gilbraith Associates Ltd, incorporated on 25 June 2013 – almost exactly nine months since I left employment and went freelance at the end of last September.

I wrote last December in Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-long of what a treat it felt for me to be embarking something of a sabbatical.  I hope I shall continue to have plenty of time for exploration, reflection and learning (and blogging) even as I am getting ever busier with clients and with my volunteer roles. Suffice it to say, however, that I am not yet missing my former management responsibilties, and I have decided to commit myself to pursuing my next big thing – and this is it.

I hope you’ll continue to share the journey with me by means of this blog, and that you’ll contact me if you have any ideas for working with me and my new company!

Welcome to my new website and blog

WelcomeThe blog is not entirely new, as you’ll see from my first welcome post last June. The pages and the sidebar are all new, however, and so is my intent to blog more regularly from here on!

The pages relate to my freelance work as a facilitator, trainer and consultant, and the blog posts relate to that and to my interests and activities more broadly.  I hope you’ll find something of interest to you.

After you have had a look around, please do visit again to see what’s new – or use the follow button in the sidebar (left) to subscribe by email. In the meantime, please use the comment boxes at the foot of each page to share any questions, feedback or suggestions, or contact me to let me know what you think and what you’d like to see here.

Gaining perspective, world-wide and history-long

Nagarkot, Kathmandu valleyWhat do you do to gain some perspective in the midst of the busyness of your everyday life and work, and what does it do for you?

It is now two months since I became a freelancer (facilitator, trainer &  consultant), after stepping down as Chief Executive of ICA:UK at the end of September. My earlier post explains that decision, announced in July – really a decision to end that, rather than a decision to start this.   In fact I have not yet decided to continue to freelance long-term, but I am enjoying it enough so far that I am certainly tempted.  After 16 years with ICA:UK, however, I am also enjoying the uncertainty and the potential of being open and available to alternatives, at least for now.  Of course it helps that I  do already have a few new and continuing client contracts to pay the bills, but initially at least I have been very happy to spend much of my extra time exploring before I commit myself to pursuing any next big thing.

I have long been used to what I think many would regard as a very reflective approach to my practice as a facilitator, and as a leader more generally. Reflection and learning are deeply embedded in ICA’s values and methodology, and I have been steeped in both for over 25 years now.  I guess that has only raised my aspirations, so it has been a treat for me to have been able start what I like to think of as something as like a sabbatical (although my partner takes care to remind me that I am not on holiday and do have bills to pay).  For a long time I have aspired to blog, but not found the time, so I thought I’d start by sharing something of what I have been doing recently to broaden my perspective, and where it has been taking me. I’d welcome any further suggestions…

A major feature of my last couple of months has been travel, so I’ve been in no danger of ‘freelance claustrophobia’ from working too much from home.  The first trip was to Minneaoplis, birthplace and registered office of the of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), for a rare face-to-face meeting of the Executive Team of the global Board. That enabled me to make a stopover on my way back in Chicago, birthplace of the Institute of Cultural Affairs and home of ICA USA.  The second trip was to Geneva, home to much of the world’s humanitarian movement and venue for the 2012 IAF Europe Conference Facilitating Across Cultures: Unleashing the Power of Diversity. The third was to Kathmandu, for the 8th ICAI Global Conference on Human Development, hosted by ICA Nepal.  I attended the ‘Growing a New Sense of Leadership’ stream of the conference, plus a rare face-to-face Board meeting of ICAI International (I shall begin a term as President from January) and a two-day deliberative Open Space event on the future of ICA globally (in Nagarkot, where I took the photo above). My reflections on the Nepal trip are featured in the latest issue of ICA:UK Network News.

At home, now in London, I have attended events of the RSA including How To Change the Future, Does Africa Need Our Outrage?, How to Govern Intelligently in the 21st Century and the FRSA London City Reboot, and others including Beyond the headlines: UK public opinion on aid and development, and a meeting of the new England & Wales chapter of the IAF.  I have been enjoying tweeting vigorously (follow me at @martingilbraith if you do not already), and having time to jump into and follow all sorts of events and chats remotely, most recently #acevoconf, #drr, #leadership2013 and #charityskillsconference.  It has also been good to have the time to attend many of the 14 online AGM sessions of IAF held in October and all of the online regional gatherings of the global ICA Network held in November, to broaden and deepen those network connections and also boost my virtual facilitation expertise in the process.

Finally, I have discontinued receiving many periodicals that too often prevented me from finding time to read books, and I have begun to keep and work my way through a wishlist of more substantial reading.  So far this has included The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe, Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future , Revolution 2.0 , The Road from Empire to Eco-Democracy, the Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century, Here on Earth: A Twin Biography of the Planet and the Human Race, Transformative Scenario Planning: Working Together to Change the Future, The Soul of a Leader: Finding Your Path to Fulfillment and Success – and (most exciting of all), the new book of ICA’s international experience launched at the Kathmandu conference Changing Lives Changing Societies: ICA’s Experience in Nepal and the World. This last one is not yet available online, but I shall try to make sure that it is soon.

Already I’m beginning to wonder how I have had time for directly delivering or developing any paid contract work. However, I have been able to continue my facilitation work with the RSA, now as an ICA:UK Associate, by facilitating a Development Planning workshop for the London Region. I have also put in quite a few days preparing for facilitation of an international cross-sector partnership workshop on Community Preparedness and Disaster Risk Reduction for IFRC in Zurich in December. I have a few other contracts coming up for the New Year, I have submitted a couple of bids for larger contracts (one UK and one global) and I have begun conversations on a couple of partnership opportunities at home and abroad. I have even applied and interviewed for a couple of jobs.

Any more substantial reflections (and book or event reviews) will have to wait now for future posts.  Suffice it to say for now, however, that my efforts to gain some perspective working a treat for me.  I have come to think of my professional expertise and interests, broadly, as leadership in human development, at the intersection of facilitation, management and governance.  I have loved my management roles in ICA:UK all of these years – I learned a lot, and I’m happy to think that I achieved some things too.   I had wondered how I would miss the management role, and I expect that I shall in time.  Fow now though, I am more than happy to focus on facilitation and governance, and to have some extra time for personal and professional development.  I am already feeling that I can make more sense of all that I have been doing with ICA:UK these last years, and how it and I have contributed in some way to fulfilling the responsibility that life in this world demands of us at this time in history.  I am feeling newly enthused and inspired by connecting and reconnecting will friends and colleagues around the world, and with ideas, old and new.

I’m also feeling pleased a little with myself for finding time to blog again at last.  Hopefully it won’t be as long until the next post. And hopefully that won’t be as long, either.  What do you think?

A new transition for ICA:UK – and for me

This article was excerpted in ICA:UK Nework News, issue 47.

Martin Gilbraith

After 16 years with ICA:UK, it is a curious feeling to have given notice to leave my role as Chief Executive at the end of September! I am excited by the prospects for both me and for ICA:UK, although I do feel some sense of loss already after so many years of close identification with ICA:UK. Nevertheless it seems to me for a number of reasons to be the right time for me to move on, both for ICA:UK and for me.

For ICA:UK, we have been clear that we need to reorient our strategy and restructure our roles in response to the radically changed operating environment that we now find ourselves in now. Since I began my role as Development Officer in 1996, ICA:UK has grown and developed almost beyond recognition. My departure will both require and facilitate further organisational change, and I think more effectively than I could lead it myself. With the addition of this year’s newly appointed Trustees and Savita as Board Chair, with the passion, expertise and capacity of our network of members, volunteers and associates, and with our strong and experienced team of core staff, I have no doubt that ICA:UK will meet that challenge. I hope that all those who care for ICA:UK and it’s mission and values will join together over the coming months and years to continue ‘to enable people to bring about change, toward a just and sustainable future for all’ in line with those values.

For me, I embarked upon this journey with ICA:UK in 1996 with the aim of working with other members to rebuild and grow a sustainable ICA organisation in Britain, at a time when we had no office or staff and close to zero annual turnover. I think that I supposed then that that might take 10-15 years. I feel that it is now high time that I allow ICA:UK the opportunity to sustain itself without me, and to reinvent itself without me for the next 10-15 years. Also I feel that it is time that I allow myself the opportunity to embark on some new challenges of my own.

I look forward to working initially at least on a freelance basis, based in London after two long years dividing my time between London and Manchester. I shall be available to work with ICA:UK as an Associate, if called upon for a particular project or to serve existing or new ICA:UK clients, and I plan to offer ICA:UK’s ToP facilitation training courses independently as a licensed Associate as well. I am pleased to have accepted a nomination for election to the Board of ICA International from next year, after completing my present two year term as Chair of IAF. Also I hope to find more time to read, to reflect and to write, and to explore whatever other new opportunities emerge.

Please get in touch with any queries or feedback about what this transition might mean for ICA:UK, and if you might like to offer your support, and please also feel free to contact me about my own future. Until 30 September I can be reached at , and I can also be reached from now at

For a message from ICA:UK Chair Savita Custead, see also


Welcome to my new blog.  Until I start posting here, you can also find me at and