Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey.

May, 2019

began a new journey in May of 2016, aiming to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall, and to write a description of each ascent. And, each time, I wanted to write a reflection, sequentially, on my journey since joining Peace Corps over 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

So far, I’ve written about 46 of those ascents, and traced my own journey, reaching nearly to the present day. Last time I shared a case study of cross-cultural conflict, involving two international NGOs. I tried to show how some of the tools and insights described in earlier articles (on conflict and culture) helped me understand the tricky and complex dynamics of that situation. And I described my climb of Mt Madison, my 46th 4000-footer, and one of the highest of the 48, on 12 June 2018.

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In this article, I want to start wrapping up the journey thus far, with some reflections. As I write this, it has been just over 35 years since I flew from Boston to Miami, headed towards two years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. In the previous 46 articles in this series, I’ve described climbing the same number of 4000-footers, and I’ve written about those two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, and the fifteen years that followed, with Plan International, in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, headquarters (in the US and then in the UK), and Viet Nam. I wrote about two exciting years as a consultant with CCF, helping create their (then) new program approach (“Bright Futures”), and serving as acting VP for Africa, based in Addis Ababa. Blogs about four great years with UUSC in Cambridge followed, and several more covered the six fantastic years I served with ChildFund Australia, working in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam. Most recently I’ve described more recent study and work on conflict, culture, and cross-cultural conflict.

In this article I want to reflect on a few themes that emerged for me as I prepared those 46 blogs. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

But first…

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The 2018 climbing season began for me on 12 June, when I climbed both Mt Madison and Mt Adams (5774ft, 1760m).  Scaling both of these 5000-footers, including the second highest (Adams) was very challenging.  I was exhausted and a bit battered when I finished!

I described the first part of that long and tough day, getting to the top of Mt Madison, last time. Driving up from Durham at around 7am, I had started up the Great Gulf Trail at 9:15am, and after a tricky fall near the top, which left me a bit bruised and battered, I had reached the top of Mt Madison at about 1:30pm.  Now I would continue to the south-west, descending Madison, past the Madison Springs Hut and, hopefully, up Mt Adams.  All going well, I would then return to the Hut, and drop down Madison Gulf Trail and Great Gulf Trail to the parking lot:

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The descent from Mt Madison was steep and a little bit tricky; and my right knee, which had really bothered me (the year before) when descending from Mt Monroe, began to hurt a bit.  The pounding I was giving the knee as I dropped down was taking a toll.

Descending, I crossed a steady stream of people who must have been staying at the hut, which I passed at 2pm:

Madison Springs Hut, With Mt Adams In The Background

Here I turned left, past the Hut, and joined the Star Lake Trail, which would take me to the summit of Mt Adams. Signage was a bit unclear, but I went on:

Star Lake is actually just a tiny and shallow pond, the water source for the Madison Springs Hut.  A beautiful spot, in the saddle between Madison and Adams.  Here is an image looking back at Mt Madison above Star Lake, as I began the climb up Mt Adams:

A lovely, alpine area.  The climb up Mt Adams was arduous, steep and rocky.  Here is a view back towards Mt Madison; Star Lake still visible.  Earlier that day I had ascended Madison along the ridge that can be seen to the right of the peak:

After some tricky climbing in high winds, I reached the top of Mt Adams at about 3:15pm.  It had been nearly six hours getting here, across Mt Madison, reaching the top of the second-highest of the 48 4000-footers.  I had now climbed 47 of the 48!

From The Top Of Mt Adams: Mt Washington And Mt Jefferson.  Jefferson Would Be My Last 4000-Footer!
The Summit Of Mt Adams

Look how far above Mt Madison I was!

Looking Down At Madison From The Summit Of Mt Adams

It was cold and very windy at the top of Adams, and I was feeling very knackered.  But I did stay at the top for a few minutes to savor the accomplishment.  And the views were fantastic!

But soon I began the long descent, now favoring my right knee in a major way.  It took me over an hour to drop most of the way down Mt Adams, carefully rock-hopping most of the way.  It was 4:15pm by the time I approached Star Lake again:

Here I took a right turn onto the Parapet Trail:

A Bit Sunburned?

And soon I reached the junction of Madison Gulf Trail.  Here I left Parapet, and began to descend steeply down Madison Gulf:

Here I Started My Descent; Wildcat Ridge Is In The Background

I felt quite tired, and my knee was in some pain, so I took a couple of pain relievers!

Soon I regretted not having come UP Madison Gulf instead of descending it: very steep, large boulders, so quite difficult to descend.  It seemed to go down very steeply for a very long time, which was not pleasant at all.  No choice now!

At 5pm I took a short video of a wet, mossy patch:

It was not until 5:30pm that Madison Gulf Trail flattened out significantly, so it was over an hour of steep descent.  Very slow going… torture!  Here is an image of a makeshift bridge, taken just after 5:30pm:

Muddy

Madison Gulf Trail was not well-maintained, so even when it got to be a bit less steep it was still slow-going.  Now I was into typical White-Mountains forest, with small waterfalls:

Even though it was getting a bit late in the day, since I was hiking in mid-June I had plenty of time before it would be dark, so I wasn’t too worried.  Even so, I was somewhat concerned that I had missed the turnoff for the Osgood Cutoff trail, relieved when I reached it at just after 7pm:

Here I would turn left briefly, and then continue downward to join the Great Gulf Trail.  This would take me down the West Branch of the Peabody River to reach the junction with Osgood Trail that I had taken at 10am that morning (seemingly decades earlier!)

A few moments later I passed a tree growing out of a boulder, slightly reminiscent of Angkor Wat!

Reaching that junction with Osgood Trail at 7:30pm, I continued downward through the pleasant evening light to reach the parking lot at 8:15pm.  A pleasant walk, soft path underfoot, with a few mosquitoes in the late evening:

Knackered

Arriving at the car, I was in pain and exhausted.  It had taken me 11 hours to reach the top of Madison and Adams, and return to the trail-head.  Although I enjoyed it a lot, and felt exhilarated by the day, this hike was beyond my capabilities, a bit too much.  I did recover a bit, got more energy after finishing up the steep descent down Madison Gulf Trail from Mt Adams.  And I had climbed to the top of two of the highest 5000-footers in one day, an accomplishment for sure.  Worth celebrating!

I reached Durham at 10:30pm, finishing a long and incredible day!  One more 4000-footer to go: Mt Jefferson, and the end of the journey (for now), awaits!

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Since this is my penultimate article in the “4000-Footer” series, I want to share reflections on a few of the themes that have emerged for me as I looked back. It was a great, long ride from my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer to today, almost exactly 35 years later as I write this. So this article is in some ways a bit of a look back at the 46 articles that preceded it…

It’ll be a briefer article this time, just a few thoughts.

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I’ve been lucky to work across the globe, and in many different roles. I’ve learned that there is a big difference between leadership and management. Both are important in our sector, but I think that leadership is about being authentic as a human being, and management is about having the tools needed to run a business. Different things. I was lucky to learn a lot about both over these years.

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My career has been in the social-justice arena, and I’ve been very lucky to work with great people doing good work. So, are we “do-gooders”?

It always made me a bit uncomfortable when I would hear colleagues talking about helping “poor people.” To be fair, there weren’t very many who talked that way, and I often thought about why that kind of description didn’t work for me…

I’m reminded of the week we spent in Miami, in February 1984, as Omnibus 44 got ready to ship out to Ecuador to be trained as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Peace Corps Country Director, Ned Benner, and a couple of his staff, had flown up from Quito for the training, along with a couple of current Volunteers.

One day during our staging in Miami they put on a role play, with a PCV named Rita (I think) playing the part of a Volunteer who kept using the phrase “I’m here to help…” They were making an important point, of course, about humility and entitlement. “Don’t ever say that” was the message!

And, inadvertently, I think they were making the point I’m trying to make here: that those years of working in international development, overseas, and advancing social justice, domestically and internationally, were important for me and to me. I was learning, and I was realizing myself, and I was experiencing life across dozens of countries, and I was having a lot of fun. Yes, also, I was realizing myself and my potential through service, in a great cause, but I think it’s important to note that I benefitted enormously.

So when I hear people talk about having worked to help poor people, or when people praise us for our “sacrifices,” it makes me nervous about motivations. It seems to me that if our motivation is about others, a whiff of “white-man’s burden” or “mission civilisatrice” creeps into us, which can puff up our egos. Better, I think, to recognize that we are lucky to do the work we do, that we grow as people along the way, and that as we are accompanying people living in poverty and facing oppression, we learn as much as we give.

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Across the years described in this series, our understanding of the fundamental nature of human poverty changed pretty dramatically. From even before I went to Ecuador as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and through my time with Plan International, until early in the 21st century, much of the “international development” sector was focused on “basic needs” – helping people increase income, achieve better education and health, etc.

As progress was made on the MDGs, however, it became clear that our thinking about poverty had to shift. Sure, progress was dramatic, on average, across the world, but many people were being left behind, not included in the general progress being made. For example, it should be no surprise that several of the MDG indicators that were lagging behind related to women and girls. Finally, we began to think about justice and equity, not just basic human needs, as we thought more deeply about why people – such as women and girls – were being left behind.

(Very important to note here that many, many people were thinking about social justice and human rights all through this time, and long before. The labor-rights movement, the civil-rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the abolitionists long before, of course they were fighting for justice. It’s just that the INGO world, and the bilateral and multilateral agencies, perhaps the public at large, and certainly I, myself, was still looking at poverty as the lack of things. Nothing wrong, for the time. And soon we would learn better…)

The work that I did as a consultant with CCF, and in particular with their Program Development Director Daniel Wordsworth, is a good example of how my own thinking was evolving. We put together, and tested, a new program approach for that organization, which we named “Bright Futures.” Bright Futures placed an emphasis on human dignity and stigma, not just basic needs, and we included a clear focus on building the collective action of marginalized people for children’s rights. Good stuff, and an example of the evolution that was happening.

This evolution took me, for a time, out of the “development” sector and to UUSC, an organization focused on activism, social justice, and human rights. At ChildFund Australia, I helped design a program approach that included building the power of people and children living in poverty. It led to a new formulation of international goals, the “Social Development Goals” that have more of a focus on “getting to zero,” peace and justice, and climate action.

What’s missing in the new formulation? Conflict, of course… more on that below.

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So as rapid progress was made on fulfilling “basic human needs” and the international community’s view of human poverty evolved to include more of a focus on social justice, many international NGOs struggled to adapt.

In a sense, they were victims of their own success: it was hard to let go of the tools and concepts that had been so useful. These large organizations were doing very good work and, by the turn of the century they had annual budgets of millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of employees – the stakes were very high, and institutional survival became a fundamental driver. Perhaps that drive for self-preservation, growth, dominance in the sector, distracted many of these organizations from their missions…

Today some of the INGOs that were prominent in the 1980s have adapted well to the new age, but others struggle to remain relevant. One big mistake that our sector made was our unthinking incorporation of private-sector culture into our organizations. As I argue in my “Trojan Horse” article mentioned in an earlier post in this series, “… the influx of private-sector culture into our organizations meant that:

  • We began increasingly to view the world as a linear, logical place;
  • We came to embrace the belief that bigger is always better;
  • “Accountability” to donors became so fundamental that sometimes it seemed to be our highest priority;
  • Our understanding of human nature, of human poverty, evolved towards the purely material, things that we could measure quantitatively.”

As we fell into those traps, my sense is that we began to lose some of the spirit that had motivated us from the beginnings of the sector. This was a significant mistake, one that, perhaps, undermined our confidence as a sector to some extent…

I will attach a copy of the article I published on this topic here:  mcpeak-trojan-horse. (For another take on this, see the insights of Daniel Wordsworth that I discussed in an earlier blog in this series.)

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I’ve been very lucky to work, over 35 years and across six continents, with many hundreds of highly-motivated, committed, passionate people. In some ways it wasn’t luck, because the nonprofit world, the NGO sector, attracts people who want to make a positive difference – these are overwhelmingly good, dedicated people.

(Of course, there were a few bad eggs along the way, but very few and, anyway, no matter…)

The advantages of working with such passionate, dedicated people are many, and obvious: I almost never had to work to motivate the teams I managed, commitment and dedication was nearly never lacking. What a pleasure, and an honor working with these people: once we were able to clarify the task, inspire and connect it with our mission, build a collaborative approach, and align efforts with people’s passion, we were able to move very quickly.

The only challenge – a big one – was that such committed, inspired, motivated people tend to associate themselves, their personal identity, very closely with their work. Again, the result of this association is, mostly, very positive, but when it became necessary to change things, to make sometimes-tricky management decisions, firmly, our people can take things very personally.

I wouldn’t change this characteristic of our people – it’s a huge asset, and trading our dedicated people for wage-earners would be catastrophic! But it does mean that leaders and managers in our sector have to lead and manage in a very consultative and empowering way, and we have to face great resistance when, for whatever reason, we have to make top-down, unpopular decisions.

Managing in consultative and empowering ways – that’s something that I think the for-profit sector can learn from us: see the Trojan horse article I’ve linked to above for more on this.

There are of course times when we as leaders and managers have to make unpopular decisions. The danger is that our commitment to participatory values makes us hesitate to make decisions which aren’t seen as being consistent with that ethos. I’ve described a couple of these situations in this series (for example), and it’s been a good learning for me: sometimes I had to do the right thing for the mission, for the organization, in ways that weren’t consultative or empowering. There were a few times when I should have moved in that way, and paid the price for hesitating. A good learning for me… I got a bit tougher across the years, in this respect.

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Thousands of international NGOs sprang during the years after the 1980’s crisis in the Horn of Africa, with many growing into very large organizations.

Back in the 1990’s, many of us thought there would be a shake-out in the sector: there were just too many INGOs. Most of us thought that the sector would likely split into two groups:

  • a few very large, generalist INGOs working on mass poverty, “basic needs”; and specialized. These agencies would gain economies of scale through growth, by merging with other agencies, and would occupy a market position characterized by efficiency. So we saw a consolidation coming;
  • a larger number of specialized, focused NGOs working on particular issues, with specific capabilities, presenting themselves to the market as issue “experts.” We thought that this kind of smaller, specialist organizations would emerge.

Some of that happened, but we missed two important developments. Firstly, as I pointed out above, poverty was changing, and “mass poverty,” “basic needs” poverty, was quickly disappearing, at least in the main, on average. But we also missed the emergence of “Southern” NGOs – that is, NGOs and INGOs formed in the Global South (the “developing world”.)

These two trends have had a big impact on our sector, in ways that we hadn’t foreseen when we predicted consolidation and the emergence of specialist NGOs. Yes, the larger, generalist INGOs have consolidated to some extent, and emphasize their efficiencies. But, responding to these additional trends, many of them have also tried to focus on particular issues, pivoting away from “basic needs.”

For example, I worked for 15 years for Plan International, and across those years we worked mostly on community development issues, even when we began to speak in the language of human rights. Today, Plan presents itself as an organization advancing the rights of girls – a laudable position that narrows their focus on a particular excluded population. (What this positioning means in practice is another question…)

And loyal readers of this series will recall that I worked for two years as a consultant with ChildFund US, and six years as International Program Director with ChildFund Australia. The wider ChildFund Alliance worked for years to reduce violence against children, and now presents itself as focused on child safety – another laudable position that seeks to address a particular issue of injustice.

Our earlier thinking was right, however, about the trend of specialization. In these articles I’ve mentioned my admiration for the work of Daniel Wordsworth and the American Refugee Committee – focused on the humanitarian crisis of our age.

And I’ve mentioned that I’ve recently finished six months as interim COO at the Disability Rights Fund (“DRF”), a participatory grantmaking organization that seeks to empower persons with disabilities, including internally inside the organization, and in their governance. As a participatory grantmaker, DRF illustrates another of the trends that I’m seeing – the emergence of capacity in the Global South. DRF is not operational in the Global South, it operates by supporting grassroots people’s organizations. In these ways – focusing on a particular issue of social-justice exclusion, and working to support local people’s organizations – I think DRF represents the way that our social-justice sector should be working now.

So the trend toward specialization is clear, driven by changes in poverty. And I think we’ll see more organizations begin to operate as grantmakers, like DRF, supporting NGOs in the Global South rather than being operational themselves. The big INGOs should watch out!

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Globalization and information technology helped the many advances in human development that I’ve described here. But these same trends are also contributing to the rapid increase in conflict that we are seeing across our societies and, inevitably, inside our organizations. (We can’t isolate our organizations from the societies they are part of…)

Conditions for widespread conflict are emerging in front of our eyes, all around us: economic inequality rises; the climate warms rapidly; people move in their millions escaping war and poverty; the public loses faith in government, the media, and post-War institutions; and populist political movements fan the flames of resentment and intolerance. It’s ironic that these trends are arising, given the massive improvements in human wellbeing that have taken place, but it’s our reality.

This means that conflict will be one of the most important characteristics of our age, becoming only more and more important in the future. We need urgently to address the causes of this trend, working to build fairer economic systems, more responsive democracies.

But – make no mistake – conflict in our societies will grow. So as we work on the causes of conflict, we also need to build resilience in our communities, learn to appreciate diversity, develop the ability to manage difference through dialog, and we need to equip ourselves with tools to manage conflict. To mitigate and to adapt. We’ll need to do this with urgency, because conflict creates a negative feedback loop: more conflict will exacerbate the causes of conflict.

It’s easy to see this happening in our societies, and equally easy to understand the urgency. But our organizations are not isolated from our societies and our communities, which means that we will need to manage, prevent, and resolve conflict inside our workplaces, too, as an urgent priority.

But we are not equipped for this challenge. Our educational systems don’t teach conflict resolution, and in our professional development these same skills are almost never prioritized. In my own case, late in my career I realized that a crucial key set of tools had been neglected: leaders and managers alike needed to be able to manage, resolve, and transform conflict inside our organizations. So, as I’ve described, I decided to take a deep dive into conflict, working to gain a second Masters degree, this time in Dispute Resolution at the Law School of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

So now I’m focused on helping organizations, in particular in our sector, navigate this new world of internal conflict. It’s going to be a key skill for their survival, and I think I can help.

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There are probably many other reflections to share, but … enough for now!

It’s been a great journey, sharing climbing the 4000-footers of the White Mountains of New Hampshire with you, and looking back at the last 35 years. One more blog article will complete the series: next time, I will described climbing my final 4000-footer, Mt Jefferson, and I will take the time to thank a few of the many people who I’ve learned from, and been inspired by, along those years.

So, stay tuned for one last article!

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Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict.

Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study of Culture and Conflict

April, 2019

began a new journey in May of 2016: I aimed to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall, writing a description of each ascent; and, each time, I wanted to write a reflection, sequentially, on my journey since joining Peace Corps over 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

So far, I’ve written about 45 of those ascents. Last time I continued describing a new phase, late in my career, related to conflict. I focused in particular on conflict and culture, a very important topic for our globalized time. And I described my climb of Mt Monroe, my 45th 4000-footer, and one of the highest of the 48, on 27 October 2017.  I had climbed Monroe after getting to the summit of Mt Washington earlier that day.

It was a real challenge, and very exhilarating, as I hope you have read. It was also my last climb of the 2017 season: the days were getting colder, and shorter, so I would take a break until the spring of 2018. In the meantime I spent the month of November, 2017 traveling in India with my old friend Ricardo Gòmez, retracing the steps of the historical Buddha…

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The 2018 climbing season began for me on 12 June, when I climbed both Mt Madison (5366ft, 1636m) and Mt Adams.  Scaling both of these 5000-footers, including the second highest (Adams, which I will describe next time) was very challenging.  I was exhausted and a bit battered when I finished!

A fun way to start the season…

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I climbed Mt Madison going up Osgood Trail from the Great Gulf Trail.  Leaving Durham at 7am, I drove up Rt 16, through Pinkham Notch, arriving at the parking area for the Great Gulf trail at 9:15am.  It was a cool, bright day, high hazy clouds up above: a great day for climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I had waited a bit longer than normal to start hiking this year, into June, as there had been some late snow in the spring and I was concerned about conditions at elevation; I had no desire to fall on icy “monorails” as I had done two years earlier, descending from Mt Field!

As I drove past the Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, I could see patches of snow on the east side of Mt Washington, near the summit, which was worrisome, but the rest of the Presidential Range looked clear.  Even though I was hopeful that there would be no ice on my climb that day, I carried micro-spikes with me, just in case.

As usual I stopped at the Subway sandwich shop in Ossipee, which shares space with an Aroma Joe’s coffee shop.  So when I arrived at the trailhead I was ready to go!

The Great Gulf Trail begins at the parking lot, and soon turns left to cross over the Peabody River:

No Sign Of Snow At The Trail-Head!
Footbridge Over The Peabody River

15 minutes later I reached the junction with the Great Gulf Link Trail, which runs northwards to the Dolly Copp Campground, where I have stayed a few nights in this odyssey.  I went left, continuing on the Great Gulf Trail.

It was a nice day, but I was a little bit nervous about wearing new boots on what looked like such a long and arduous hike:

These New Boots Would Never Look This New Again!

Near here I would take what I thought was a wrong turn, at an unclear junction with a ski loop.  I ended up doubling back when it appeared that I was on the wrong trail, but it turned out that the two paths merged a bit farther up, so I wasted a bit of time, maybe 15 minutes.

Just after 10am, after walking pleasantly uphill for about 45 minutes and covering 1.8 miles, I arrived at the junction of the Osgood Trail.  Here I went to the right, taking the Osgood Trail towards Mt Madison:

This was the beginning of a long loop, which would take me (if successful) over Mt Madison and Mt Adams, and then back to this point.  The Osgood Trail became quite a bit steeper here, and I began to sweat through my shirt!

At 10:30am, I reached the junctions of Osgood Trail with the Osgood Cutoff Trail, where there is a tentsite:

I continued up Osgood Trail here, which is the Appalachian Trail in this section, with another 2.5 miles to go to reach the top of Mt Madison.  The trail continued to get steeper, and I started to feel like I was a bit out of shape, my legs felt heavy!  Up to this point I had not seen any other hikers, but at about 11:15am an older man and his daughter crossed by, heading down. They were quite curious about how far it was to the Osgood Cutoff, because a group ahead of me had told them it was two hours away, which was quite an exaggeration… it had taken me 45 minutes.

After passing another couple of hikers, and the larger group (with large packs, which explained it – they were moving slowly!) that had misinformed the first man-and-daughter, the forest began to thin out, as I gained elevation, emerging now above tree-line.

At 11:52am, the trail began to be less steep, as I entered the alpine zone, and the views were stunning!  Now I could see the snow on the slopes of both Mt Washington and Mt Jefferson, and had a view of the Auto Road that goes up to the summit of Washington (and I could hear the motorcycles ascending, echoing across the Mt Washington valleys!):

Mt Washington On The Left, Mt Jefferson On The Right.  The Auto Road Up Washington Just Visible

(A few weeks later I would get to the summit of Mt Jefferson, completing all 48! Stay tuned for that…)

Fantastic views to the north and east – over to Moriah and the Wildcat and Carter ranges.

And I could see both of the summits that I was hoping to reach that day: Adams on the left, and Madison on the right.  Adams looked far away and very high!

Mt Adams on the Left, Mt Madison on the Right

I like this view looking down Osgood Trail, looking back where I had ascended, starting up the rocky summit of Madison.  The Wildcat Range is on the right, and the Carter Range is on the left, with Carter Notch in the center:

It was fun remembering hiking those two ridges last year.  And I had another good view of Mt Washington:

Mt Washington On The Right, Wildcat On The Left, The Ski Area Clearly Visible

Above the tree-line the going was harder, hopping up what seemed to be small volcanic boulders.  Tricky to navigate, especially as it got VERY windy and quite chilly.  In fact, so windy that I was blown over at 12:45pm, before reaching the summit of Mt Madison.  I was slightly injured, just a few scrapes and bruises, a twist to a knee, but it was scary, because a smack on the head up here, by myself, could be a challenge… so I slowed down a bit, and decided to have lunch here.  That was a good decision.

I ate quickly; after lunch I put on my jacket, and soon (1pm) reached a major junction of trails just below the summit of Mt Madison.  Here the Daniel Webster-Scout Trail, the Parapet Trail, and the Osgood Trail cross:

Gorham and Berlin To The North, On The Right. Probably Canada In The Far Distance…

At about 1:20pm I crossed the Howker Ridge Trail, and felt like I was getting close to the summit.  Sure enough, at 1:30pm I reached the summit of Mt Madison – number 46 of the 48 4000-footers in New Hampshire had been climbed!  Here I took a photo from the summit, looking over at Mt Adams, which I HOPED to climb next!

As I began to descend from Mt Madison, I could now see the Madison Springs Hut below me in the saddle between Madison and Adams:

Madison Springs Hut Below Mt Adams

Stay tuned for a description of my ascent of Mt Adams, and the long and painful descent back to Rt 16!

*

In my last article in this series, I looked at culture and conflict, and shared a range of ways of understanding culture, and how culture and conflict interplay. Fundamentally, my thesis was that culture underlies all conflict: obviously, if several cultures are involved, the dynamics can be very tricky, and a good understanding of the differences a play is essential. But even if only one culture is involved, that culture has its own ways of dealing with culture, which we should take into account.

This time I want to share an analysis that I prepared for an international NGO, in which I tried to understand a serious cross-cultural conflict involving two members of a global NGO Federation.

The case study shared here involves a particular set of people in a particular time and setting; but the dynamics and complexities they faced are pretty common. Therefore, because I hope to use it to illustrate more general points about culture and conflict, I will generalize my description and avoid identifying the people (who mostly have moved on) or organizations involved.

*

“An understanding of culture is central to an understanding of negotiation.”  

Dean G. Pruitt, ‘Foreword’ in Michele J. Gelfand and Jeanne M. Brett (eds), The Handbook of Negotiation and Culture (Stanford Business Books, 2004) xi, xii.

Some Background

In the late 1990’s, two members of a major international NGO federation were interested in working in Myanmar. One of these affiliate NGOs (“INGO A”) was from a developed Asian country, and the other was from a Western nation (“INGO W”). The international group (the “Federation”), to which both NGOs belonged, had a range of common policies, one of which covered how members would work together in third (developing) countries.

Despite having clear rules about this kind of situation, and despite having agreed on several occasions how things would work in Myanmar, the two affiliated NGOs found themselves in significant conflict. Years later, when studying Principled Negotiation at the University of New South Wales, I decided to use the Myanmar situation as the subject of my term paper, approaching it as a case study of cross-cultural negotiation: how should these two federated organizations have negotiated working together in Myanmar?

Policy

The policy that was relevant to the conflict between theSE two NGOs, related to their collaboration in Myanmar, included the following text:

The “Federation is committed to the principle that there will be one Affiliated Organisation registered in a territory. Whilst operations in a territory will be initiated and led by one Affiliated Organisation, all affiliates recognise the value of a collective, collaborative, transparent and strategic approach; the Lead Member will proactively consider requests from other Affiliated Organisations to work in that territory so as to maximise the effectiveness, reach, influence, capacity and efficiency of programmes and operations.”

The policy also envisioned that the President of the Federation would mediate disputes when the parties could not resolve differences.

Using a related procedure, it had been agreed formally that INGO W would be the “Lead Member” for Myanmar – this agreement was unanimous, including the assent of INGO A.

It is relevant here to point out that this particular INGO Federation was fairly “loose” in terms of how strongly the individual member organizations are bound by policies, join up their operations, etc. Other similar groupings are highly centralized, but this one allowed each member to operate fairly autonomously, gaining the benefits of being seen as very “local” in their market, yet at the same time realizing some of the advantages of working together globally. In addition, and perhaps partly as a result, this Federation was quite conflict averse, preferring to avoid conflict rather than confronting matters directly.

Soon after agreeing the “Lead Member” arrangements, in which INGO W would lead operations in Myanmar, INGO A expressed an interest in collaborating with the Western “lead” member. Public opinion in INGO A’s home country had become very focused on Myanmar, due to events there, and INGO A felt that there were big opportunities for fundraising at hand. On the other hand, it seemed that if they were not seen as working in Myanmar they would lose credibility at home. This situation rapidly became of the highest importance to INGO A’s CEO and Board of Directors, central to the long-term prosperity of the organization.

The Western member responded enthusiastically, and the two affiliated INGOs quickly reached a formal operational agreement, consistent with Federation policy, that INGO W would act as “Lead Member” for Myanmar, and would accommodate the Asian member’s interests as much as possible by providing support for marketing activities.

Importantly, INGO A seemed to view the situation as requiring them to work operationally, in Myanmar, themselves. Working through INGO W would not be good enough: they needed their own people there, on the ground, to be seen (at home) as credible. Since the Asian member wished to gain operational experience, the Western member agreed that INGO A would directly manage all aspects of programming with one (of eight) local partner.

The Problem

The operational reality in Myanmar, for the two agencies, soon became quite unsatisfactory, and relations became tense. When INGO A began sending staff to Myanmar, without informing INGO W, working directly with government and with local partners (beyond the one that they had agreed to manage), tension quickly evolved into conflict. Staff relations on the ground in Myanmar, and between the two home countries, were becoming very tense and stressful.

Through informal discussion, it appeared that the leadership of INGO A had a strong view that the “Lead Member” rule was unfair, as had been agreed before its “rise” as a nation; as a result, countries of interest to them have been “taken.”  This seemed to evoke a kind of “colonialist” dynamic, and was a new insight for INGO W, whose staff hadn’t considered this area of sensitivity. As a result, the Asian member sought to interpret the Federation policy cited above as allowing it broad autonomy to operate in Myanmar: other than not registering independently, it felt that it should be able to conduct operations as it saw fit, without any operational restriction.

The Asian member further seemed to feel that the specific operational agreements made with the Western member obstructed its ability to do more for people living in poverty in Myanmar, and (importantly) thwarted its need to build market share in its home country.  From their point of view, if agreements reached previously constrained these aims, any such agreements should be revisited and revised accordingly, for moral reasons.

INGO W, on the other hand, felt that the Asian member was in obvious and clear violation of Federation policy by operating in a separate and un-collaborative fashion in Myanmar, breaking key aspects of recent operational agreements. It further felt that the Asian member’s methods of working with the Western member in Myanmar were having detrimental effects on staff morale and operational effectiveness.

In retrospect, it seems possible that the two NGOs had rather different interpretations of the word “consider”, from the applicable Federation policy:

  • the Lead Member will proactively consider requests from other Affiliated Organisations to work in that territory …

For INGO W, as “Lead Member,” the key word here was “consider” – there was no obligation to agree that other Federation members could work in Myanmar. From the point of view of the Western member, Federation policy was applicable and the agreement between the two agencies was very clear. And INGO A was in equally clear violation! So, obviously, INGO A should desist from operating independently in Myanmar unless and until agreements were changed; this, obviously, would require open and direct bilateral negotiation and binding written agreements.

For INGO A, the phrase “proactively consider” seemed to imply a great deal of flexibility and, especially when considering how important it was that they work operationally in Myanmar, great flexibility was required, in the interests of children living in poverty in Myanmar. At any rate, what right did any “Western” country have to tell other countries what they could and could not do?

*

A two-part problem-solving meeting was convened, with the Western member’s CEO, board chair, and the author meeting with the Asian member’s CEO and several of his senior staff members. 

In the first part, when the Western member’s CEO described the operational challenges that the NGO was facing in Myanmar as a result of the Asian member’s violations of the operational agreements, the Asian member’s CEO became angry and emotional, stating that if such agreements got in the way of helping poor children then the agreements should be changed… and that, in fact, he had reprimanded staff who had been involved in the negotiations.  He insisted that the “Lead Member” rule allowed the Asian member to operate autonomously in Myanmar, as long as it did not pursue separate registration with the government.  

At one point the Asian member’s CEO strongly and emotionally expressed his view that if the Western member continued to block their working directly in Myanmar, it would be evidence that the Western NGO’s team really didn’t care about children living in poverty. When I objected in equally strong and emotional terms, the Asian staff across the table from me burst out laughing. This certainly took me, and the Western CEO and board chair, by surprise!

In the second session, the Asian member’s CEO apologised for his emotional behaviour at the earlier gathering; the discussion itself, however, was no more productive.

Several months later a second problem-solving meeting was scheduled, this time between the two CEOs without staff. I decided to prepare a term paper for my “Principled Negotiation” class at UNSW, outlining how the CEO of INGO W could have approached the meeting.

Research Findings

All conflict is cultural, and this one was no exception. So it was very important to establish a clear understanding of how cultural differences were contributing to the conflict here.

Last time I shared a range of tools and insights related to culture and conflict, including a description of Hofstede’s six dimensions of culture:

  1. Power distance: “the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”;
  2. Individualism: “the degree of interdependence a society maintains among its members”;
  3. Masculinity: “the fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine)”;
  4. Uncertainty avoidance: “the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these”;
  5. Pragmatism: “how people in the past as well as today relate to the fact that so much that happens around us cannot be explained”;
  6. Indulgence: “the extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses.”

Of course, as I repeatedly emphasized last time, we MUST keep in mind that analyses like Hofstede’s represent averages, and therefore even when they are founded upon good research we must use them as STARTING POINTS only, for analysis.

So with that in mind I used Hofstede’s framework to compare cultures of the two countries directly involved in the negotiation related to work in Myanmar. When looking at Power Distance, we see a large difference between the two cultures, a difference that had been quite apparent during the first problem-solving meeting, where the Asian member’s staff had deferred totally to their CEO and, in particular, where he dismissed all earlier agreements that had been made without him being present in the negotiations.

Country
Hofstede’s “Power Distance” Dimension
The Western MemberLow
The Asian MemberSlightly High

(In fact, in retrospect it is clear that when staff of INGO A laughed at my emotional outburst, which was much more subdued than the outburst from their CEO that had provoked me, they were not mocking me; they were, in fact, embarrassed that I would dare to speak to their CEO in such a way!)

One of the greatest cultural differences between the two members related to Individualism:

CountryHofstede’s “Individualism” Dimension
The Western MemberHighly Individualistic
The Asian MemberCollectivist

When we consider Masculinity / Femininity we find another of the greatest differences between these two cultures, with the Asian member’s culture typically displaying “feminine” qualities, seeking consensus where possible, with the Western member being highly competitive:

CountryHofstede’s “Masculinity” Dimension
The Western MemberMasculine
The Asian MemberFeminine

Large differences are also seen in Uncertainty Avoidance between the two cultures:

CountryHofstede’s “Uncertainty Avoidance” Dimension
The Western MemberIntermediate
The Asian MemberStrongly Avoid

Perhaps the most relevant cultural difference at play in the Myanmar situation related to Pragmatism, with the Western member’s culture exhibiting great respect for rules and traditions, and wanting quick results, whereas the Asian member’s society was one of the most pragmatic in the world, seeking long-term agreements and guided by virtues and practical good examples:

CountryHofstede’s “Pragmatism” Dimension
The Western MemberNormative
The Asian MemberVery Pragmatic

This difference seemed to explain much of the problem that the two agencies were experiencing: staff from INGO W felt that INGO A was violating agreements, and that abiding by such formalities was of great importance; INGO A felt that the INGO W was being rigid…

Finally, it could be seen that the Western member’s culture was quite indulgent, with a positive attitude and a tendency towards optimism, while the Asian culture was more restrained:

CountryHofstede’s “Indulgence” Dimension
The Western MemberIndulgence
The Asian MemberRestraint

Culture and Negotiations

I spent a bit of time in my term paper deepening my understanding of how culture and negotiations related, in general. The results were very interesting; for example:

Goh (1) asserts that “culture does play a significant role in a negotiation. Its role, particularly in a cross-cultural negotiation, cannot be ignored… A lack of cultural literacy really is not a case of ‘ignorance is bliss’; it is more a case of ‘ignorance is perilous’.”   Hendon (2) agrees, stating that “certainly in today’s (multi-cultural) business environment, managers must be able to negotiate successfully…”

Lee and Rogan (3) assert that “each culture defines what constitutes conflict and the appropriate behaviours for dealing with conflict.  In other words, while conflict itself may be an inevitable condition of human existence, the communication styles utilised to manage conflict could vary depending on one’s cultural heritage.”

Brett (4) indicates that several cultural values “… are relevant to norms and strategies for negotiation… includ(ing) individualism versus collectivism, egalitarianism versus hierarchy, and direct versus indirect communications.”  Hendon, Hendon, and Herbig (5) found that “collectivist societies tend to stress abstract, general agreements over concrete, specific issues.  Collectivist negotiators tend to assume that details can be worked out if the negotiators can agree on generalities.”

Herbig and Kramer (6) emphasize that “the way one succeeds in cross-cultural negotiations is by fully understanding others and using that understanding to one’s own advantage to realize what each party wants from the negotiations, and turn the negotiations into a win-win situation for both sides.”  “The proficient international negotiator understands the national negotiating style of those on the other side of the table, accepts and respects their cultural beliefs, and is conscious of his or her own mannerisms and how they may be viewed by the other side.”

Adair et al (7) “expect that, in general, negotiators from hierarchical cultures will use power strategies more than negotiators from egalitarian cultures.”  Citing Brett et al and Pruitt, it is found that “hierarchical cultures in comparison to egalitarian cultures were more likely to espouse norms for distributive tactics.  Distributive tactics (i.e. making threats or using arguments) are power strategies that are focused on individual, not joint, gains.”  On the other hand, Cai et al (8) find that the more that parties in a negotiation exhibit collectivist traits, the more that joint profit is increased.

Adair and Brett (9) conclude that “if people from Eastern cultures believe negotiation is more about relationships, the interplay between cooperative and competitive goals may represent an attempt to create a long-term relationship that is not too cooperative but has enough social distance to justify claiming value.”

Bangert and Pirzada (10) apply Hofstede’s work on culture to Fisher and Ury’s Principled Negotiation Approach.   They consider that Fisher and Ury’s approach “is the product of an Individualistic-low Power Distance-Masculine-low Uncertainty Avoidance society.  As such, its prescriptions may not lead to the desired results in a Collectivist society.”  One of their conclusions is that while cross-cultural negotiations may face significant process-related challenges, due to communications challenges manifest across cultures, results may tend to be more positive, because differences in values across cultures may lead to more opportunities for win-win outcomes. 

The Asian Member’s Business Culture

It was obvious that I needed to probe business culture in a bit more depth if I was going to understand what was happening, getting beyond the interesting but general insights about culture and negotiations. So, even though there were two NGOs negotiating, not businesses, I looked into the business culture of the Asian member’s culture. My findings were quite surprising, and very helpful!

One reference indicated that “in a Western sense, (the Asian member’s) morality is seen as irrational and unethical because it ignores the very foundation of Western thought: rational behavior based on universal rules of conduct that transcend personal feelings and personal relations”.   The society is “authoritarianistic and there exists a strict order or separation of power in relationships of superior-subordinate…everybody is expected to adhere to those who are ‘higher’ than they are in the given social structure.”  The author goes on to advise that “contracts, among a list of many things, are viewed differently.  Business culture in this country does not see anything as set in stone and they may change the terms of agreement. They believe that if the circumstances have changed, then it is only natural that the details of the contract between companies change as well.”

Another researcher depicts business negotiators from this Asian culture as “clever and forceful.  Their politeness masks a shrewd, never give up, and never lose business sense.”  Their “negotiators are aggressive, quick to express anger and frustration” and are “irritable and cannot stand a long time period negotiation.” 

A third research paper discusses values and business practices.  Although the country continues to evolve, the authors feel that its agrarian, collectivist past and the deep influence of Confucian ethics mean that “emotional and authoritarian attitudes of management are dominant rather than democratic and rational ways of behaviour.”  

Similarly, a fourth article links “an attitude of collectivism” with the country’s agricultural past, where “a good portion of the work, including planting and harvesting, was performed in groups.”  They cite studies that describe contemporary members of the society as “impatient and hot-headed,” traits that “stand in contradiction to the teachings of Confucianism, and are arguably undesirable traits for a chief business negotiator.”  “Chief among the criticisms voiced about their approach to negotiation was that negotiators can appear to be too aggressive at times… they do not learn how to debate when in school.  As a result ‘they are not rational.  They argue without evidence, facts, logic.  They do not listen to others… they rely on emotion.’

A fifth researcher describes the Asian member’s culture’s negotiation behaviour in detail.  “businesspeople are often shrewd and skilful negotiators who should never be underestimated.” “It is very important to emphasize frequently the long-term benefits and your commitment to the business relationship you are seeking to build.”  

“… they often employ distributive and contingency bargaining… Although the primary negotiation style is competitive, they nevertheless value long-term relationships and look for win-win solutions.”  “… they may get very emotional and show strong anger. Remaining constructive and professional usually helps refocus the negotiation… Foreigners may perceive a dichotomy in their negotiation style: on one hand, relationships matter a lot and must be maintained at all times, while on the other hand negotiations may become very emotional, aggressive, or outright adversarial.”

“It is important to realize that businessmen from this country have a very different view of written agreements and contracts from the one most Westerners have. In the traditional view, agreements are just snapshots in time and contracts are similar in role to historic documents: they reflect no more than the agreement that existed at the time they were written up and signed.”  “Signed contracts may not always be honored. Because of their view of the role that contracts play, people from this culture regularly continue to press for a better deal even after a contract has been signed. They may call ‘clarification meetings’ to re-discuss details. If you refuse to be flexible, allowing the relationship to deteriorate, contract terms may not be kept at all…”

Along those same lines, an article described “an important point to keep in mind concerns the nature of reaching an agreement with a firm from this culture. Westerners attach great importance to a written contract which specifies each detail of the business relationship. People from this culture, on the other hand, value a contract as a loosely-structured consensus statement that broadly defines what has been negotiated, but leaves sufficient room to permit flexibility and adjustment.”  

Meyer’s Wheel of Conflict

In an earlier blog article in this series, I describe how Meyer’s “Wheel of Conflict” could be used to understand particular situations. I think it’s helpful to use this tool to summarize background to this case study thus far:

Needs and Interests:

The interests of the two parties seemed to be as follows:

Interests of INGO A (the Asian member):

  • Raise profile and market share in country by working in Myanmar as it sees fit, without restriction;
  • Ensure that the “Lead Member” rule is interpreted so that INGO A can operate autonomously in locations of interest, including Myanmar;
  • Maintain positive relations in the Federation, and maintain the current loose arrangements;
  • Gain more direct program management experience, learning in particular from INGO W’s approach.

Interests of INGO W (the Western member):

  • Continue to lead program implementation in Myanmar;
  • Obtain increased financial support from INGO A for programs in Myanmar and elsewhere;
  • Ensure that the “Lead Member” rule is interpreted so that INGO W retains the management of operations in Myanmar;
  • Maintain positive relations in the Federation, and encourage the Federation to become more coherent and effective as a collaborative body;
  • Reduce the heavy management burden and stress involved in collaborating with INGO A in Myanmar.

The best negotiating strategy would take these varied interests into account, along with (fundamentally) the differing cultures of the two home countries.

History

History was very relevant here, in particular the recent “rise” of INGO A’s home country, and its feelings that it was being treated in a “colonialistic” manner.

Structure

The nature of the “Federation” that both organizations belonged to, in particular the ‘loose’ nature of the grouping, was very relevant.

Values

A range of differing values seemed to underlie this conflict, some of which were described in the cultural analysis carried out above.

Emotions

Lots of emotions were present in the negotiating room, some of which were used as bargaining tools; others were vivid and contributed to emotional flooding (certainly on my part!)

Communication

There were language differences, and some differences in culture impeded clear discussion until we recognized what was happening.

Power

INGO A was growing quickly, much faster than INGO W; and INGO A had a much bigger budget. This put INGO A in a stronger position in the Federation.

Culture

See above.

Data

Data didn’t seem to play a strong role in this conflict.

Personality

While the personalities of the people involved were very relevant in this conflict, my sense was that cultural differences outlined elsewhere in this article were more important

I found Meyer’s tool to be very useful as I thought about the conflict.

A Negotiation Strategy

Based on this insights described above, taking into account the interests of both parties, as I perceived them, the nature of the Federation and differences between the two cultures, in particular the significant differences in how business contracts and negotiations were viewed, I set out recommendations for how INGO W’s CEO should approach upcoming negotiations.

Firstly, preferred outcomes seemed to be quite different: the Asian member preferred to work autonomously in Myanmar, and beyond, while the Western member preferred that both sides respected a literal reading of the Federation “Lead Member” policy and that all support for work in Myanmar be channeled through INGO W.

But there were also some shared interests: both Members wanted to avoid damaging the Federation and resolve bilateral tensions, both wanted to raise their profile in their home markets by working in Myanmar and, most importantly, both wished to support progress for children there (and beyond).

Second, use of a principled-negotiation approach had not resolved the conflict in Myanmar.   Given the hierarchical nature of the Asian member’s society, it is possible that the lack of direct involvement of their CEO in designing the first agreements meant that his interests were not satisfied; at any rate, the strongly hierarchical nature of the Asian member’s culture meant that negotiations without him were not likely to be supported.  Also, as Bangert and Pirzada point out, the use of principled-negotiation approach may be less suitable to collectivist societies, and INGO A’s country was strongly collectivist; Katz finds that negotiators from the Asian member’s country “often employ distributive and contingency bargaining.”  Thus it is likely that an element of distributive bargaining would be useful in the upcoming meeting. 

Thirdly, I had found strong evidence that business culture in the Asian member’s society placed much less importance on contracts and rules than other cultures, much less that in the Western member’s culture. That finding needed to be taken into account in any next steps.

Finally, and positively, the fact that the culture in the Asian member’s country was strongly collectivist, which means that they were likely to hold a strong desire to remain an appreciated member of the Federation. 

These findings gave me some glimmers of what INGO W’s negotiating strategy should be. But first, what were the interests of the two parties?

*

So my recommended negotiation strategy started with a few assumptions:

  1. Both organizations placed a high value on the Federation, and wanted to remain a part of it in good standing. This meant that the Federation as such, even if it was rather loose, could be a key element of any negotiation strategy;
  2. The Federation to which both INGOs belonged held autonomy as a strong value. This meant that the emphasis earlier placed on the “Lead Member” policy by INGO W, as binding on both parties, was probably misplaced. That policy needed either to be ratified and upheld by the Federation, even strengthened, or INGO W would have to assume that it would not be applied and thus abandon it as a key part of their strategy;
  3. As shown in my research, INGO W’s reliance on written agreements that would be respected by both parties was also probably mistaken. This meant that INGO W would need to prepare for frequent revisiting of the situation in Myanmar and in INGO A’s home market, and be willing to engage in periodic problem-solving, and ongoing negotiations. This way of working would have to replace some of INGO W’s earlier reliance on contracts and formal agreements;
  4. Given the cultural attributes found, direct involvement of INGO A’s CEO was imperative.

*

Given the relatively loose nature of the Federation, and the obvious “loophole” in the “Lead Member” policy, it looked to me that INGO W was in a fairly weak position. INGO A was unlikely to change behavior, because their CEO was behaving consistently with some very fundamental values and cultural traits. And the Federation would be unlikely to discipline this seemingly-minor violation of policy, when even more serious policy clashes were not resulting in enforcement or willingness to engage in mediation.

Despite this, I recommended that, in light of the strongly collectivist nature of INGO A’s society, INGO W should reframe the discussion away from Myanmar and towards the Federation, emphasising the benefits to the collective group by the two members working together, and the harm to the group that an open split could cause.  

In particular, I recommended this should involve reviewing the “Lead Member” policy and formally proposing that it be strengthened and upheld. I suggested specific language changes, as illustrated below:

Existing LanguageProposed Stronger Language
the Lead Member will proactively consider requests from other Affiliated Organisations to work in that territory so as to maximise the effectiveness, reach, influence, capacity and efficiency of programmes and operations.operations in a territory will be initiated and led by one Affiliated Organization, which will proactively consider requests from other Affiliated Organisations so that work in that territory maximises the effectiveness, reach, influence, capacity and efficiency of programmes and operations.

I realized that such a significant strengthening of the policy was unlikely, and in fact it seemed much more likely that the policy would be further weakened as a result of the conflict over Myanmar. But pushing for it seemed to be only way to put INGO W in a stronger negotiating position.

After seeking to change the nature of the discussion in this fashion, two different Tracks could be considered by INGO W’s CEO, depending on results of the “Lead Member” discussion. (Note that here I am using terminology from Principled Negotiation techniques, such as – primarily – the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement” – “BATNA”)

Track 1: the policy is (at least) not weakened.  In this case, the Western NGO’s CEO should reassert the validity of the agreements made earlier.  Recognising that such agreements were not seen as binding in INGO A’s business culture, INGO W’s CEO should propose a high-level, ongoing joint problem-solving body.  He should make it easy for INGO A to say yes by outlining how this solution would bring more harmony to the relationship while enabling INGO A to satisfy its interests.  Wording could be used such as “we feel proud of our work and approach.  Can you tell me why supporting us as called for in the policy is not an option for you?”

He should make it hard to say no by emphasising the clear statement in the draft “Lead Member” policy that “operations in a territory will be initiated and led by one Affiliated Organisation”, proposing that if this option is not feasible for INGO A, then INGO W will pursue the mediation option contained in the policy, with the likely negative impact on relationships.  

If the “Lead Member” policy is not weakened, the option of continuing with the earlier operational agreements, with the addition of a joint problem-solving mechanism, will likely be seen as better than each organisation’s BATNA, and as complying with policy (thus, legitimate.)

Track 2: the policy is weakened.  The position of INGO W’s CEO in this case is not strong.  He should thus propose the creation of a formalised joint venture agreement, through which governance of operations in Myanmar is shared, and the establishment of an operational problem-solving mechanism.   This option might be meet the interests of INGO A, at least for some time, preserving much of INGO W’s role and position.  

This agreement could be seen as legitimate as it complies with the option contained in the “Lead Member” policy that the Lead Member “… proactively consider requests from other Affiliated Organisations to work in that territory so as to maximise the effectiveness, reach, influence, capacity and efficiency of programmes and operations.”

If INGO A does not accept this option, or if experience with this option over time does not resolve conflict between the two agencies, then INGO W’s CEO should implement his BATNA: cancel the operational agreements made earlier, agree that INGO A operates autonomously in Myanmar, and begin to discuss funding arrangements for INGO A in other countries managed by INGO W.  In other words, to seek to extract financial support for INGO W’s work outside of Myanmar.

Experience and analysis indicate that this is the most likely outcome.  

Given the sensitivity of INGO A to belonging to the Federation, the likelihood of agreements (Track 1 or Track 2) being sustained would be increased by formalising matters during a future meeting of the CEOs of all members of the Federation.

*

This case study seeks to illustrate how a comparative analysis of cultures can help lead to a deeper understanding of conflict. In this case, the insights gained were very useful, at least to the extent of gaining a clearly view of why the situation was so challenging.

My own experience with this situation certainly confirmed for me the centrality of culture in conflicts, and helped me see how useful certain tools (Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture, Principled Negotiation, etc.) were when dealing with seemingly intractable conflicts.

The INGO Federation involved in this case study is one of several global groupings, most of which are less “loose” than this one. Despite this difference in degree, these Federations all face a range of very interesting challenges involving commonality and difference, culture, history, differing markets, etc. Since I’ve worked for a couple of these groupings, perhaps this would be a good subject for a future blog article!

*

Next time I will begin to wrap up this series with some reflections about a recent experience as interim COO for a disability-focused organization. And I’ll describe the rest of the hike that day in June of 2018, climbing up my 47th mountain, the second-highest of the 48 peaks, Mt Adams!

*

Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;

(1) Bee Chen Goh, ‘Culture: The Silent Negotiator’ (1999) 2 (2), ADR Bulletin.

(2) Donald W. Hendon, ‘Negotiation Concession Patterns: A Multi-Country, Multi-Period Study’ (2007) 6 (2), Journal of International Business Research.

(3) Hyun O. Lee and Randall G. Rogan, ‘A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Organizational Conflict Management Behaviors (1991) 2 (3), The International Journal of Conflict Management.

(4) Jeanne M. Brett, ‘Culture and Negotiation’ (2010) 35:2, International Journal of Psychology.

(5) Donald W. Hendon, Rebecca Angeles Hendon, and Paul Herbig, ‘Negotiating Across Cultures’ (1998) 42, Security Management.

(6) Paul A. Herbig and Hugh E. Kramer, ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Cross-Cultural Negotiations’ (1992) 21, Industrial Marketing Management.

(7) Wendi Adair, Jeanne Brett, Alain Lempereur, Tetsushi Okumura, Peter Shikhirev, Catherine Tinesley, and Anne Lytle, ‘Research Report: Culture and Negotiation Strategy’ (2004), Negotiation Journal.

(8) Deborah A. Cai, Steven R. Wilson, and Laura E. Drake, ‘Culture in the Context of Intercultural Negotiation: Individualism-Collectivism and Paths to Integrative Agreements’ (2000) 26 (4), Human Communication Research.

(9) Wendi Lyn Adair and Jeanne M. Brett, ‘Culture and Negotiation Processes’ in Michele J. Gelfand and Jeanne M. Brett (eds), The Handbook of Negotiation and Culture (Stanford Business Books, 2004) 158.

(10) David C. Bangert and Kahkashan Pirzada, ‘Culture and Negotiation’ (1992) 34 (1), The International Executive.

Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict

January, 2019

I began a new journey in May of 2016: I set out to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall and writing a description of the ascent; and, each time, I wanted to write a reflection on my journey since joining Peace Corps over 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Since then, in 44 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing some amazing 4000-foot mountains. I’ve reflected on two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; my 15 years with Plan International; the deep, disruptive changes in the development sector over that time; the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures,” and most recently my time as International Program Director at ChildFund Australia.

Last time I continued to describe a new phase in my career, related to conflict. I focused in particular on conflict analysis. And I described my climb of Mt Washington, my 43rd 4000-footer, and the highest of the 48, on 27 October 2017.  Washington is the highest of the 4000-footers; in fact, it’s the highest mountain in the eastern United States, a place where some of the harshest weather on earth has been recorded.

On that October day, after climbing Mt Washington, I also got to the top of Mt Monroe (5384ft, 1641m), which I will describe here. And I will expand on one important topic I highlighted in my first conflict-related article: the role of culture in conflict.

But first…

*

I was quite out of shape that day, having spent the previous month wandering around India with my old friend Ricardo Gómez.  At this point, I wasn’t sure I was up to climbing two of the highest mountains in New Hampshire in one day, but the first part of the climb had been great: cool but not cold, bright blue skies.  Getting to the top of Mt Washington was a challenge, and it got colder and steeper as I neared the summit.

But I had succeeded! Now the question was: did I have the energy, and the daylight, to climb Mt Monroe?

Eric had driven up from Durham with me, but had decided not to do the climb that day.  Instead, he would drop me at Pinkham Notch, and then pick me up at Glen Ellis Falls parking area, saving me a mile hike on the Direttissima Trail.

*

I had a decision to make after I ate lunch at the top of Mt Washington.  The days were getting much shorter now, and as I began this hike I hadn’t been sure if I would have time to climb both Washington and Mt Monroe.  So I decided to make the call once I got to the top of Washington.  I could see Mt Monroe from the top of Mt Washington, down below me.  At least I wouldn’t have to climb much more, and it didn’t look too far off.  I was making good time, and wasn’t feeling too exhausted…

I decided to tackle Mt Monroe.

I figured that, if all went well, I would take the Crawford Path down to the Lake of the Clouds Hut.  From there I would climb Mt Monroe and double back to the Hut, and then take the Camel Trail over to the Davis Path and down to the Glen Boulder Trail.

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This looked like a challenge, especially since I was leaving Mt Washington at a little after 1pm and the sun would set by 5:40pm.  Would I have enough time?

*

Most of tourists that had been at the top of Mt Washington with me were now queuing to take the Cog Railway back down.  They were bundled up and seemed very cold in the wind; likewise, I began to shiver as I finished lunch, so I put on another layer of clothing, my cap, and a pair of gloves.

Leaving the top of Mt Washington, at first I couldn’t actually find the trail – it was so windy and cold that I wasn’t really thinking clearly because of the cold.  After wandering around the top for a while, stumbling about in confusion, looking for the Crawford Path and shivering, I returned to the Cog Railway queue, where I found a large relief map on the wall.  It seemed that the Crawford Path began near the antennae that are clustered in one area of the summit.  So I backtracked over there, but still couldn’t find any signs… but I could see rock cairns leading downward.

I started down from the summit.  The wind was so strong that I was blown over several times; I was really depending on my walking pole and began to worry that I would damage it as I was tossed around by very strong gusts of cold wind.  There was a heavy dusting of snow, that had blown into drifts in areas, and plenty of ice on the trail as I went downward, and I slipped quite a few times.

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Looking Back Up Towards Mt Washington – I Wasn’t Thinking Very Clearly. And Those Eyebrows!

The hiker in red that can be seen in the photo above had stopped to talk with me; he was working at the Mt Washington observatory and was heading back up that way.  I guess he could see that I was nervous at the weather conditions, because he took the time to assure me that those gale winds would end in about 1/4 mile and from there it would be calmer.

Ahead of me, down the slopes of Mt Washington, I could see the rock cairns marking the trail and, beyond, Mt Monroe.  Above the cairns and Mt Monroe were the White Mountains around Franconia Notch, and a blue sky beginning to cloud:

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Light snow, but there were plenty of drifts that were icy and quite slippery.  After about 0.4 miles I came to the intersection of the Westside Trail.  It was steep walking, as you can see from the angle!

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I had descended a fair way; the antennae at the top of Mt Washington were visible far above me:

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You can see that the gale winds had lessened, since my eyebrows had calmed! (And you can see that I had calmed a bit, too!)

Soon after 2pm I arrived at the junction of the Crawford Path with the Crossover and Camel Trails; the Lake of the Clouds Hut was directly below me.  I would return here after looping over the summit of Mt Monroe:

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A Beautiful View Down Towards Lake Of The Clouds Hut

What a spectacular day!

From the Lake of the Clouds (the lake, and the Hut) I could look back up at Mt Washington:

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I pressed on from the Hut towards Mt Monroe, with increasing doubts about when I would finish the hike.  Despite some steep climbing, and some icy stretches, I got to the top of Mt Monroe at about 2:30pm.  The views from there were spectacular:

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Warmer, And Happy, At The Top Of Mt Monroe
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From The Summit Of Mt Monroe, Looking Back At Mt Washington

So I had climbed 45 of the 48 peaks!

There was no time to waste celebrating, so I headed back down. The sun was starting to drop back behind Monroe as I descended:

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The icy patches that I had encountered on the way up Mt Monroe were trickier on the way down, so I had to slow down to avoid slipping: a fall on the way down would be much more dangerous than on the way up! So I took my time, but that fed into my nervousness about making it down before dark…

At 3pm I was back at the junction of the Camel Trail, which I took.

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After a short, steep climb, I reached a long, fairly-flat section of the Camel Trail, and then of the Davis Path.  On my left, to the north, the peak of Mt Washington accompanied me, always visible, as you can see in these photos, taken as I crossed the high plateau towards the descent down Glen Boulder Trail:

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Some sections along here already had some moderate snow buildup:

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Yipes.

*

The views were amazing, but I was beginning to be quite tired and my left knee was starting to give me some trouble, so I was paying less attention to my surroundings.  It was beginning to be a slog, verging on being a “torture hike”!

I reached the junction with the Glen Boulder Trail at a little after 4pm, and I was very tired.  But I remained optimistic, because I thought that it would be downhill all the way down to the road, which would be easy (unless the long, pounding descent made my knee hurt, which it did!):

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Because Eric would be waiting for me at Rt 16, I wouldn’t have to walk all the way to Pinkham Notch, so instead of having 3.2 miles to go, it was more like 2.8.  Easy, right?!

But I was still worried about the sunset that was due to come at 5:40pm.  I only had around 1 1/2 hours to get all the way down Glen Boulder Trail before sunset…

*

For a while I walked through some high-altitude scrub trees:

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But soon I began to approach the steeper descent, and could see the road below.  Wildcat Ridge (which I had climbed in 2017: getting to the top of Wildcat “D” and Wildcat Mountain, with the Carter range beyond) was across the way, now in direct sunlight from the west: the sun would be setting behind me as I descended Glen Boulder Trail:

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At just past 5pm I passed Glen Boulder, a major milestone hereabouts:

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Glen Boulder From Above
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Glen Boulder From Below

Here the trail began to descend steeply, and I began to lose my enthusiasm completely.  My left knee was really hurting, and the walking was on top of large granite boulders, which made things much worse: the rocks jarred my knee as I dropped down onto them, again and again.

*

By 6pm it was getting quite dark and, honestly, I was not enjoying the walk at all.  I followed along behind two other hikers for a while, and finally passed them just before it got completely dark.  I took one last photo before getting out my flashlight:

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6pm, And It Was Getting Very Dark!

As you can see, I was at the junction of the Direttissima Trail, which is still nearly a half mile from the Glen Ellis parking area.  The trail descended steeply nearly the entire way from the Glen Boulder, until perhaps 0.2 miles from the parking area.  I delayed getting the flashlight out of my pack for too long; the moon was peaking from behind the clouds occasionally, so I was able to manage, carefully.

But once I did get the flashlight going I was able to move more confidently, and soon the trail leveled off and I could walk without too much worry that I would trip and slide down the hill!

I don’t think that I ever, ever, have finished a hike in the dark, at least since my very first backpacking trip way back in high school! So it was an interesting experience walking into the parking area at Glen Ellis using the flashlight, and finding Eric waiting for me.  Not something I’d like to repeat too often, because even with a good light you can’t see around you very well, of course… but it went OK.

Eric saw my flashlight approaching, and he flashed his car lights.  It was 6:30pm and I was completely exhausted and my left knee was in serious pain.  But I had conquered two of the last, and two of the highest, of the over-4000-foot White Mountains! Just three more to go…

*

We stopped in North Conway for a good Mexican dinner before heading south, and I got home to Durham around 9:45pm.  It had been a very long day!

*

So, at the end of October 2017, only three 4000-footers remained: Madison, Adams, and Jefferson.  But the days were getting shorter, and temperatures were steadily dropping; Washington and Monroe had been real challenges. My knee hurt, and I wanted to rest it.

I decided to postpone finishing the 48 peaks until the next season. 2017 had been very productive: I had climbed 22 of the 48 4000-footers despite having been in India for an entire month right in the middle of the climbing season.  Added to the 23 mountains I had climbed in 2016, I was very close to finishing – just three more to go for 2018…

But I had run out of time.  And even though I had climbed 45 of the 48 peaks, I had only published 26 of the blogs.  So I figured I would spend the next few winter months catching up on the blogging!

*

As I mentioned last time, late in our years in Sydney, I took a couple of courses at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), first in Mediation and then on Principled Negotiation.  At first I looked at this coursework just as a way of acquiring skills that would be useful in my work.  Plus it had been a long time since I had done any formal study, so it felt like it was time to wake up the side of my brain that might be a bit under-utilized!

In my first blog posting about conflict, I shared five key insights that I had gained as I worked through my masters in dispute resolution at the University of New South Wales. Of the five insights I shared in that article, the fourth was that “all conflict has cultural aspects.  Conflict is culturally defined – these are good starting points, but be careful!” I fore-shadowed then that I would be preparing an article focused entirely on this topic, so read on!

When you find yourself in conflict, and suspect that there is a cross-cultural element to it:

  • Analyze the conflict using Bernie Mayer’s “Circle of Conflict” that I described in an earlier article in this series. Culture is a key element in Bernie’s framework; so, next,
  • Carefully consider the culture or cultures involved. And remember: culture is ALWAYS involved! Use insights from Hofstede as starting points;
  • Develop and use your cultural fluency to put Hofstede’s insights to work in the particular situation you face;
  • Analyze how culture is influencing the dynamic of the conflict;
  • With these insights, determine how you will approach the conflict.

The rest of this article will focus on culture and on how culture influences conflict, and vice-versa.

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First: culture. There are many frameworks for culture, which is a tricky concept, with different approaches and plenty of disagreement. And, as a consequence, there are also many different ways of looking at cross-cultural conflict. In this article, I will be sharing the important work of several authors and experts:

  • Geert Hofstede, whose culture-related research and frameworks have influenced many across several decades, while not being immune to controversy. More on Hofstede below…;
  • Kevin Avruch, whose thinking and writing on conflict and culture is some of the clearest and most complete that I have come across;
  • Michelle LeBaron and Venashri Pillay, whose excellent book “Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Cultures” was the text for my final course in the UNSW degree in Dispute Resolution, which I actually took at James Cook University in Cairns, returning for the in-person workshop soon after having relocated to the US from Australia;
  • Finally, I’ll be drawing on outstanding presentations made by Steve Fisher and Maria Rodrigues, who led that final course in Cairns.

*

What is “culture”? I want to share three definitions here, all of which make sense to me.

  • For Avruch, culture is the “learned and shared ways of behaving appropriately in social settings. It’s things that people learn by virtue of belonging to a social group. These things are encoded in cognitive structures, schemas, paralinguistic structures like metaphors, and language. Then they’re also publicly encoded in symbols and values. Culture is learned; it’s shared, more or less. The degree of sharing that is always an empirical issue is a social setting, and it’s passed down from generation to generation, which gives it some kind of traditional force. But it is also created. It is also emergent because it represents people in ways in which people face the dilemmas, such as the problematics in everyday social life, including conflicts and disputes. What it is not, is it is not encoded in the human genome. It’s socially created”;
  • For Hofstede, culture is: “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others”. This definition appeals to me because the metaphor of an operating system helps me understand how culture manifests in human reality. Of course, I can understand how this definition would not be as appealing to others: I am an American white male, trained (long ago) as an engineer, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this kind of framing for culture would work for me! (In my defense, I’m at least somewhat aware of my bias!)
  • Finally, taking from a presentation given by Maria Rodriques as part of the cross-cultural conflict course I took in Cairns, culture is the lens that we look through when we view reality. Take for example a yellow flower: it appears to be orange if we look at it through the red lens, and green if we look through blue glasses. Just so, a particular set of events, or behavior, can appear quite different to us when viewed from our, or another’s, cultural point of view.

Of course, to emphasize here something I already have outlined above, as Avruch says, “… a conception of culture is inadequate, (a) if it fails to reflect the ‘thickness,’ or complexity, of the phenomenological world it seeks to represent, that is, if it oversimplifies; or (b) if it is connected, overtly or covertly, to a political or ideological agenda…”

*

Later I will argue that all conflict is cultural in nature; to a greater or lesser degree, culture is always there. But before we discuss conflict and culture, I want to introduce the important work of Geert Hofstede, one of the most significant researchers in the field of culture, and his six “dimensions” model has been widely influential, though somewhat controversial.

Hofstede’s research originated in his work at IBM International in Holland, in the 1970’s, where he was involved in employee surveys spanning many countries. Analyzing the data, Hofstede discerned patterns that seemed to cluster in what became his “dimensions.”

So Hofstede’s concept of culture was originally based on work with IBM employees, a population that certainly doesn’t represent the rich diversity of our world; but, over time, his research grew to cover many more countries and a much broader population, and has become one of the most common and widely-used ways of studying culture. I will be using his framework in this article.

*

There are two dangers here, traps that we must avoid. Firstly, Hofstede often seems to conflate culture with country; on his website, which we will explore in more detail below, we will find amazingly rich and useful detail for comparing cultures, listed by country. The problem is that all countries contain a rich mixture of cultures, so we must avoid the trap of assuming that Hofstede’s description of a culture in a country represents the particular situation we are analyzing. The danger is that we construe a majority culture as describing an entire national population.

Secondly, even assuming that a particular country can be described as one, homogeneous culture, which it certainly can’t, there still will be a wide spectrum of cultural traits across that theoretically-homogeneous population. For example, although, in general, Australians are much more individualistic than South Koreans, there are certainly some Australians who are less individualistic than some South Koreans.

So we must avoid the trap of assuming that the culture in any country, no matter how homogeneous, is uniform across the population. This means that it is imperative that any conflict professional, or anybody seeking to better understand a cross-cultural situation, must use Hofstede’s Dimensions, and his incredibly rich data set, as a starting point only! In other words, to benefit from Hofstede’s research and insights, we must use his framework as a starting point for our analysis, not as a true representation of the particular situation we are studying. Making a stereotypical generalization based on his findings could lead to great errors.

Use this very helpful tool with caution and discernment.

*

Keeping those caveats firmly in mind, let’s unpack Hofstede’s six “dimensions” of culture, which we will be using as starting points for analysis. During his career at IBM, collecting information on the personality preferences of company employees, Hofstede noticed six poles, across each of which people tended to cluster in national / cultural commonalities:

In other words, Hofstede asserts that people in particular cultures (which he seems to conflate with countries) cluster in certain places in each of these six poles or dimensions. Some cultures (countries), on average, will typically express higher, or lower, rankings for “Power Distance,” and “Individualism versus Collectivism,” etc.

As I mentioned above, vast research underpins Hofstede’s Dimensions, from their origins in studies of IBM employees through to the much wider and deeper data now underlying the concepts today, and their relevance goes well beyond application to conflict. They are very useful in unpacking conflict behavior.

Space precludes me from fully describing Hofstede’s dimensions; for a complete explanation, consult the website noted in the figure. For now, I’m taking the liberty of adapting the following outline from Hofstede’s work:

  • Power Distance:  This dimension expresses the degree to which the less powerful members of a society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. The fundamental issue here is how a society handles inequalities among people. People in societies exhibiting a large degree of Power Distance accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. In societies with low Power Distance, people strive to equalize the distribution of power and demand justification for inequalities of power;
  • Individualism versus Collectivism:  The high side of this dimension, called individualism, can be defined as a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. Its opposite, collectivism, represents a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. A society’s position on this dimension is reflected in whether people’s self-image is defined in terms of “I” or “we”;
  • Masculinity versus Femininity: The Masculinity side of this dimension represents a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. Society at large is more competitive. Its opposite, femininity, stands for a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life. Society at large is more consensus-oriented. In the business context Masculinity versus Femininity is sometimes also related to as “tough versus tender” cultures;
  • Uncertainty Avoidance:  The Uncertainty Avoidance dimension expresses the degree to which the members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity. The fundamental issue here is how a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? Countries exhibiting strong UAI maintain rigid codes of belief and behaviourand are intolerant of unorthodox behaviourand ideas. Weak UAI societies maintain a more relaxed attitude in which practice counts more than principles;
  • Long-Term versus Short-Term Orientation: Every society has to maintain some links with its own past while dealing with the challenges of the present and the future. Societies prioritize these two existential goals differently.  Societies who score low on this dimension, for example, prefer to maintain time-honouredtraditions and norms while viewing societal change with suspicion. Those with a culture which scores high, on the other hand, take a more pragmatic approach: they encourage thrift and efforts in modern education as a way to prepare for the future.  In the business context this dimension is related to as “(short term) normative versus (long term) pragmatic” (PRA). In the academic environment the terminology Monumentalism versus Flexhumility is sometimes also used;
  • Indulgence versus Restraint:  Indulgence stands for a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun.  Restraint stands for a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Comparison of the Dimensions between a wide range of cultures can be sourced on Hofstede’s website; but be careful to recall my caveats, above, about conflating country and culture!

For example, here I’ve compared Australia and South Korea, plotting them together across Hofstede’s six dimensions:

It’s easy to see how conflict could emerge, and intensify, in an interaction between these two cultures: one party might well be focusing on gains over the long term, while the other could be placing much more value on short-term benefits; and perhaps one side of a negotiation is looking at discussions from the point of view of their organization, while the other side is thinking about how various options might be good, or bad, from their personal, individual standpoint. The discussions could very easily become tense, and then “Power Distance” could come into play, leading one side to communicate very indirectly and to be offended by the other side speaking directly.

You can create similar plots across a vast range of countries on Hofstede’s website. Try it, it’s fascinating.

I’ve found that colleagues overseas are often very familiar with Hofstede, but that Americans are much less so. Highly recommended!

*

So how does culture relate to conflict? Here I want to acknowledge the text we used in the final course in my masters degree: “Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Cultures,” by Michelle LeBaron and Venashri Pillay.

First time through, the book was a bit hard to grasp, partly because the concepts are complex but also because the authors take a very unusual approach of framing the presentation around how the, together, experienced their collaboration. Second time through, accompanied by the excellent lecturers at JCU, I found the book to be very impressive, deeply considered, and extremely useful.

Speaking of which, I want to recognize the lectures given by Steve Fisher and Maria Rodriques in that course. Steve conducted the course in-person, in Cairns, while Maria prepared lectures that were were presented via PowerPoint.

*

Three key concepts help us understand the relationships between culture and conflict: cultural fluency, culture-conflict dynamics, and cultural “carriers.” I have found that a thorough grasp of these concepts, together with a clear view of culture itself, really helps me to understand conflict in cross-cultural settings.

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To understand how culture and a particular conflict are relating, we need to be fluent with the concept of culture itself. According to one of the co-authors of the LeBaron and Pillay volume, Arai Tatsushi, cultural fluency is defined as ‘our readiness to internalize, express, and help shape the process of meaning-making’ (p. 58). Tasushi uses the following figure to illustrate cultural fluency:

Figure 4.1, p. 62 of LeBaron and Pillay

Tatsushi uses the metaphor of viewing a flower through different-colored lenses to illustrate how we gain cultural fluency:

  • We need to anticipate that others might see the flower differently from us;
  • We need to gain a better understanding of the nature of our own lenses, and those of others, and gradually reshape our perceptions to include other possibilities instinctively (embeddedness);
  • We must express how our lenses are shaping our perceptions and encourage others to do the same;
  • Finally, we have to navigate to take action and move forward in a constructive manner that builds on this enhanced and nuanced understanding of the situation. 

This is not always a sequential process – sometimes we make mistakes and need to go back and alter our ways of anticipating, etc. As with many things in life, gaining cultural fluency is, fundamentally, about being self-aware and cultivating a non-judgmental sense of curiosity.

*

The next concept to grasp is culture-conflict dynamics. It turns out that there is a dynamic and intertwined relationship between culture and conflict:

  • culture shapes conflict by attaching meaning to it, prompting our response to conflict, how we view conflict. The lens we look through shapes how we interpret events, and strongly influences how we behave in a given situation, which can be viewed quite differently by people from other cultures. Culture defines who is “us” and who is “them” – and since many conflicts are strongly influenced by tribal identities, the history of ethnic loyalties or enmities, this is a very powerful way that culture shapes and expands conflict across long periods of time and expanses of geography. At the same time, culture can provide us with opportunities to transform conflict, can be a positive “lens” to view conflict;
  • And, over time, conflict has a deep impact on culture by changing the way we view a particular situation.

That’s how culture shapes conflict. But the influence goes both ways: over time, conflict influences and shapes culture also. Here the concept of “cultural carriers” is very helpful.

“Cultural carriers” are things like institutions, songs, symbols (such as flags), stories and histories, metaphors such as proverbs, and so forth. These are “containers” – concrete objects as well as abstract ideas – that carry our culture across social contexts. Conflict shapes and reshapes these cultural carriers, which then become embedded in our world view. (For an excellent article about how differing “worldviews” can create and exacerbate conflict, see this chapter of a great book about the Waco catastrophe.)

As Tatsushi says in the text, “conflict affects culture most deeply when it transforms the kind of cultural carriers that penetrate our identity.” And, looking at Mayer’s Wheel of Conflict, we can see that when values become involved in a conflict, enormous fuel is added to the fire.

Tatsushi mentions examples of four types of conflict-related phenomena that shape cultural carriers: protracted violence (war, or domestic violence); forced movement (such as mass migration or individual change of household); cultural mergers (such as when a new country is formed from smaller nations, or when a couple marries across two cultures), and new systems of thinking (in a national revolution or even as a human being moves from adolescence to adulthood.)

So culture influences how individuals or groups interpret behavior and engage in conflict. Conflict influences the “cultural carriers” that, over time, symbolize and define our culture, shaping who we are and how we see ourselves, thus influencing future conflicts.

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All conflicts are cultural. I start with Mayer’s “Wheel of Conflict.” Then I dig deeper in terms of culture: when I face conflict working within my own culture, I start by reflecting on how my culture influences me. I review Hofstede’s analysis of US culture and use it to start to analyze my behavior and approach. Across cultures, I bring the cultural fluency I’ve gained over my career (and from Tatsushi!) to enhance my self-awareness and authentic curiosity: I ask, “what’s going on here?!”

It’s sometimes easier said than done, but adding in a dash of compassion and forgiveness always helps.

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In a future article in this series I hope to describe a real conflict involving Western and Asian parties from an international NGO (which I will not name!). Looking at Hofstede’s analysis of Australia and South Korea, above, it’s easy to see how easily conflicts could emerge between people from these two cultures: just consider the vast differences shown in “Individualism,” “Long-Term Orientation,” and “Indulgence”!

Stay tuned for that!

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Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts

Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts

January, 2019

I began a new journey in May of 2016: I set out to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall and writing a description of the ascent; and, each time, writing a reflection on my journey since joining Peace Corps over 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Since then, in 43 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing some amazing 4000-foot mountains. And I’ve reflected on two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; my 15 years with Plan International; the deep, disruptive changes in the development sector over that time; the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures,” and most recently my tenure as International Program Director at ChildFund Australia.

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Late in our years in Sydney, I took a couple of courses at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), first in Mediation and then on Principled Negotiation.  At first I looked at this coursework just as a way of acquiring skills that would be useful in my work.  Plus it had been over ten years since I had done any formal study, so it felt like it was time to wake up the side of my brain that might be a bit under-utilized!

As I described last time, after having completed those two courses, Dr Rosemary Howell (who I was lucky to study Principled Negotiation with) suggested that I consider pursuing a Masters Degree in Dispute Resolution. I’m glad that I followed her advice, because I thoroughly enjoyed doing the degree, which I finished just after we left Australia, in 2015.

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The eight classes that comprised my degree were informative and interesting, useful in my work and in life. And several of the professors I studied with were world-class, including Rosemary herself, for sure.

One of those, amongst the best, was Dr Bernie Mayer, one of the world’s foremost thinkers, researchers, practitioners, and teachers in the area of conflict. It was my good fortune that Bernie undertook a sabbatical in late 2015, and taught “Skills in Dispute Resolution” at UNSW. Rosemary suggested that, if at all possible, I enroll; I leaped at the opportunity… and I’m very glad I did!

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One focus of that course was “conflict analysis.” Bernie had developed a framework that could be used to understand any conflict, as a prelude to addressing it. In this blog entry, I want to try to summarize that approach: how can we understand specific, particular conflicts?

But first… this time I want to describe my climb of Mt Washington (6288ft, 1917m), my 43rd 4000-footer!

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I climbed both Mt Washington and Mt Monroe on a spectacular day in late October 2017 – they would be my last climbs that year.  The day was clear and cool, ideal conditions for climbing two of the highest mountains in New Hampshire.

Mt Washington is the highest of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and is in fact the highest mountain in the eastern United States.  The highest wind speed ever recorded, on earth, was measured at the top of Mt Washington, and stories of extreme weather at the summit are common. As are, tragically, fatalities, so one does not approach climbing Mt Washington lightly, in any season.

My hope was to climb both mountains that day, doing a long loop, but I was a little bit concerned about the time this would take, because the days were getting shorter in late October.  So Eric and I left Durham at about 7:15am, hoping to get an early start.

On the way up Rt 16 we stopped to have breakfast at the Miss Wakefield diner, and to pick up a Subway sandwich for me – that’s because Eric was going to skip the climb this time, as he was recovering from shoulder surgery.  He would spend most of the day working from a Starbucks in North Conway.

My plan was to hike up to the top of Mt Washington from Pinkham Notch via Tuckerman Ravine, and then loop over to Mt Monroe on the Crawford Path, and then down Davis Path to Glen Boulder Trail to the Glen Ellis parking area:

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My Ascent Of Mt Washington

Another challenge was that I was somewhat out of shape.  I had just returned from a great month in India, travelling with my old friend Ricardo Gómez to eight places that are especially significant in the life of the historical Buddha, and had gotten very little exercise during that time.  A fascinating and illuminating and exhausting month, but upon my return I wasn’t sure I was ready to climb two of New Hampshire’s tallest mountains.

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I left Pinkham Notch just before 10am, heading up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail:

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It was a beautiful day, clear and cool, perfect for hiking.  After about a 1/2 hour I passed the turnoff for Huntington Ravine, which is about 1.2m from Pinkham Notch.  To that point the trail had been pretty steadily and moderately upward, not too steep yet.   The barren summit area of Mt Washington was just beginning to appear:

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Fifteen minutes later I passed the junction with the Raymond Path, which was unmarked, and soon after that I passed the turnoff for the Lion Head Trail:

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Just after 11am I arrived at the Hermit Lake Shelters, at the eastern end of Tuckerman Ravine.  This area is spectacular, and the day was perfect:

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The Main Shelter At Hermit Lake
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Looking Up Tuckerman Ravine

I walked up into Tuckerman Ravine; soon some light snow was on the trail:

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It was only 1.8m from there to the top of Mt Washington, but it looked like it would be a grueling 1.8 miles!

At about 11:30am I reached the beginning of Tuckerman Ravine, in the bowl, and began to climb up very steeply, surrounded by many small waterfalls.  This is a dangerous area in the winter and spring, when avalanches are common:

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Steeply Upward…
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It Was Getting Colder and Windier. Much More Cold and Much More Wind Awaited!
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I arrived at the top of the Ravine at around noon.  There was a surprising amount of water at the top of the Ravine, testimony to the recent rains we’ve had I guess.

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Here is a video taken near the top of the Ravine:

I remember climbing up this trail, years ago, and nearing the top, and several young men began to throw rocks down into the ravine.  I don’t think they could see me, down below the edge; one rock came so close to my head that I could hear it fly past.  I scolded them severely!

On this day there were no rock-throwers, and it was simply amazing at the top of the ravine: I could see the large, fairly-flat area between Washington and Monroe, and the mountains off in the distance to the southwest:

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But Washington itself loomed above me now, about 0.6m away in terms of distance, but way above me in elevation!  Here the antennas at the top of Mt Washington can just be seen up above:

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That final climb up to the summit of the highest mountain in the eastern United States was brutal.  The wind started blowing, and the temperature dropped steadily; the walking was a challenge in the wind; just trying to stay on two feet while dodging around and on top of granite rocks of all sizes was hard enough, but with the wind blowing so strongly I did lose my balance a few times!

I got to the summit area at around 12:45pm, where I found a small crowd – a few hikers like me, along with a bunch of tourists who had taken the Cogg Railway up the mountain.

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Mostly Tourists, Queuing Up To Take Photos At The Summit Sign

So I had climbed 44 of the 48 4000-footers!  Now including the highest one, and though I had climbed Washington a half-dozen times over the years, it felt very good.

But it also felt very cold and windy: I had a quick lunch at the top, sheltering between rocks from the strong wind and cold.  I started shivering, so put on another layer of clothing.

Once I had finished my sandwich and carrot, I went back over to the summit marker, as most of the people who had been queuing to take pictures were now queuing to go back down on the railway.

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Arriving At The Top
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About To Start Down, Quite A Bit Colder!  And, Clearly, I Needed An Eyebrow Trim

OK: I figured I had time to climb Mt Monroe so, after hunting around in the cold, and starting to shiver mildly, I found the beginning of the Crawford Path, and started down.  I’ll describe the rest of the day – getting up Mt Monroe and arriving down at Rt 16 in the dark (!) – next time.

But first…

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So I had launched into a masters degree, studying conflict, and much of the coursework I undertook was focused on gaining the range of tools needed to address, transform, resolve conflict: “Principled Negotiation,” mediation, conflict coaching, etc.

Bernie Mayer’s class focused, in part, on what I soon realized was a missing, foundational piece for me: how can we understand a conflict? How can we gain insights about the roots of a specific, concrete conflict?

Because without gaining an understanding of a conflict, of course, it would be much harder to achieve a lasting and positive transformation, even using the tools I was learning. One of the texts we used for this course was Bernie’s book, “The Dynamics of Conflict.” Highly recommended:

This book goes well beyond understanding conflict, and is in fact a survey of the conceptual understandings and skills needed to engage with conflict productively.

In this article, I want to unpack Bernie’s “Wheel of Conflict,” which is included in “The Dynamics of Conflict.” The “Wheel” is a very helpful tool that can be used to understand specific conflicts:

The graphic illustrates, both in terms of content and form, the essential lenses through which we should look at any conflict as we seek to understand the situation more deeply. At the center are the deepest motivating forces (needs), surrounded by five domains in which conflicts develop and intensify. At the outside are general contextual factors that can contribute to the conflict.

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Let’s move through each component of Bernie’s Wheel: firstly, at the center of all conflicts are Needs – and the more fundamental the Needs involved, such as Identity or Survival, the more intense the conflict might be. Human needs are at the core of all conflicts, and people engage in conflict, situations become conflicts, either because people have needs that are fulfilled by the conflict itself, or because they have needs that they can only attain (or believe they can only attain) by engaging in conflict.

Then Mayer describes six domains that are directly determinant in understanding a conflict: the history of a conflict: how it has emerged and transformed; how parties to the conflict communicate; the emotions involved; the underlying values that are related to the situation; and the structure in which the conflict develops: the legal or organizational setting.

These domains are in the middle of the Wheel:

  • History: conflict cannot be understood independent of its history.  The history of participants in a conflict, of the system in which the conflict is occurring, and of the issues themselves has a powerful influence on the conflict. The example that I focused on in my term paper, and described and included below, was the conflict then ongoing in Ferguson, Missouri, which emerged in full, violent form after the killing of Michael Brown. In this conflict, the tragic killing of a young man can easily be seen to be formed and strongly influenced, in part, by the long history of racism and oppression, and of violence by and against police officers. Clearly, societal conflicts have their histories, as do even the most individual, personal conflicts – so understanding events that led to the present situation can be very informative;
  • Communications. We are very imperfect communicators.  Sometimes this imperfection generates conflict, whether or not there is a significant incompatibility of interests, and it almost always makes conflict harder to deal with effectively. Several conflicts that I can recall in my own life were strongly influenced by (mis-) communications: for example, our use of the term “excluded” to refer to how a contract would not apply to a particular person, in a positive sense (as a positive exception, because the particular relationship predated the contract, she would not be bound by the agreement), but who interpreted the use of that word to be a reference to racist discrimination that was vivid in her past;
  • Emotions are the energy that fuels conflict.  If we could always stay perfectly rational and focused on how best to meet our needs and accommodate those of others, and if we could calmly work to establish effective communication, then many conflicts either would never arise or would quickly de-escalate.  But of course that is not human nature.  At times emotions seem to be in control of our behavior – as I mentioned last time, our “lizard brain” takes over and deskills us. The conflict mentioned above certainly resulted in very inflamed emotions, which significantly impeded our ability to deal with the situation;
  • Values are the beliefs we have about what is important, what distinguishes right from wrong and good from evil, and what principles should govern how we lead our lives.  When a conflict is defined or experienced as a struggle about values, it becomes much more difficult to manage. In an article I hope to publish here in a few weeks, I will describe a couple of real conflicts that I experienced over the years, in my career, and the most-intense of these disputes did indeed involve deeper beliefs about my own self-image, my values and self-worth;
  • Structure: the structure or framework within which an interaction takes place or an issue develops is another source of conflict. Structural components of conflict include available resources, decision-making procedures, time constraints, legal requirements, and locations. In other words, understanding the context of a conflict can help us understand how it is emerging and how it might develop and transform, or be resolved.

Finally, Mayer shows four wider, contextual factors on the outer rim of the Wheel, which will help us understand the broadest setting for the conflict:

  • Culture affects conflict because it is embedded in individuals’ communication styles, their history, their ways of dealing with emotions, their values, and the structure within which conflict occurs. I will focus on this topic, extensively, which is fundamental in the INGO work that I’ve described in this series, and indeed in our globalized world, in my next article. And the examples from my career that I will share in the near future will all have significant cross-cultural components. So stay tuned for that;
  • Power is a very elusive concept, one that can obscure the roots of a conflict but can also help us understand the interaction.  Power is partly embedded in the structure within which the conflict is occurring but it has to be understood as a product of personal styles and interpersonal interactions. Readers of this blog series will recall that an earlier article was focused on precisely this subject. Certainly feelings of relative powerlessness can be powerful drivers of conflict, and a power analysis can lead to a deeper understanding of conflict behavior;
  • Personality is a very broad concept, perhaps best understood in terms of styles of conflict engagement and avoidance, a topic I covered in my previous article in this series;
  • Data: how data are handled and communicated can exacerbate conflict.  In today’s United States, how we handle data, often now by dismissing science and objective facts – “Fake News” – is of fundamental importance in terms of understanding the conflicts that we are immersed in…

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I’ve found the use of Bernie Mayer’s Wheel of Conflict to be very helpful as I’ve addressed conflict in the years since I studied with him. It’s a great way to understand a conflict, as a prelude to addressing it, and I’ve used it in work contexts, and in life.

Perhaps my first in-depth use of the Wheel was in the class itself. Each of the eight classes that I took to complete my Masters in Dispute Resolution required the preparation of a research essay. For Bernie’s class, we were asked to analyze a particular, present-day conflict, and he encouraged us to be ambitious as we selected our subject.

I proposed analyzing the then-current conflict in Ferguson, Missouri, between the African-American community and local police. Of course, this tragic situation was one of the sources of the “Black Lives Matter” movement; emerging at around the same time as other movements gained momentum, part of a general push-back against long-standing domination and oppression in the US since then, in particular of women (via the #MeToo movement)…

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Bernie was keen for me to attempt an analysis of this conflict, though he cautioned me that it would be a very complex situation to unpack!

I will share my essay, below, and welcome your comments. The essay’s introduction reads as follows:

Just after noon on 9 August 2014, in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Civil unrest and protests, many of which became violent, erupted the next day in Ferguson, and beyond. Violence continued for 10 days. A further wave of violent protests was prompted by the announcement, three months later, that a grand jury had decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown.

The conflict that took place in Ferguson in August 2014, and beyond, can be understood as a dynamic combination of the actions and backgrounds of two human beings, one black and one white, who encountered each other

  • in a town suffering deep “injustice … (and a) calcifying system of inequity — economic, educational, judicial — drawn largely along racial lines” (this was a reference to a 2014 article by Charles Blow in the New York Times);
  • deeply fearful, due to pervasive racial stereotypes and the ubiquity of guns in American society .

The purpose of this paper is not to explore how the conflict in Ferguson could be resolved, nor will it suggest how relations between African-American communities and the police could be improved. Rather, this paper seeks to describe and understand a particular, complex conflict in the specific context of Ferguson, Missouri, surrounding the killing of one black teenager by a white police officer. Given limitations of space, the paper will focus only on some aspects of the conflict.

Firstly, the events surrounding Michael Brown’s death are summarised, with a brief reference to other, similar events that took place in the months before and after his killing. A framework for analysing conflict is then presented, and the framework is used to deepen understanding of the situation in Ferguson. In conclusion, some final reflections and thoughts for further analysis are offered.

You can download the research essay using this link: mcpeak – laws8165 – research essay – final.  I welcome your comments!

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So that’s the “Wheel of Conflict,” as designed by Bernie Mayer, a very helpful tool for understanding conflict. Soon, in my next article, I will describe the rest of the hike, climbing Mt Monroe, and I will write about culture and cross-cultural conflict.

Stay tuned for that!

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Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights.

Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights

December, 2018

Last time I wrote about the “Golden Age” of International NGOs, and speculated about what’s next for these agencies: resurgence, gradual decline, or extinction?

This time I want to talk about conflict.  For me, conflict is one of the key themes of our world now, inside organizations, in the lives of people facing poverty and deprivation, and beyond. It’s a big topic, so there will be a few articles on this theme.

To begin, I want to share five key insights related to conflict.  These insights have helped me greatly as I’ve built my abilities to navigate, manage, and transform conflict. I’m hoping you find them useful, too…

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I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 34 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

But first…

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I had reached the summit of Mt Hale just over an hour after starting to hike, on 11 September 2017.  After a brief rest there, I continued on the “Lend-A-Hand” trail towards Zealand Mountain (4260ft, 1298m):

The hike along “Lend-A-Hand” was very pleasant, though I was a bit concerned about how far I was dropping down: inevitably, I would have to recover all of this elevation, and more, to reach Zealand!  But after some time descending, I entered a section that was rather unusual for this high elevation – open, flat, and a bit boggy.  The views were striking, especially to the south, as I passed by a smaller mountain on my right (shown as the unnamed 3700ft peak on the map, above.)  Some autumn foliage was beginning to emerge on this late summer day:

At 11:15am I reached the junction with the Twinway Trail, which I would take to the south towards Zeacliff and then west to reach Zealand Mountain.  I was actually quite near Zealand Hut at this point, but didn’t visit it until later in the day when I would return to this spot on my way down.

The walking was beautiful here; there are some pleasant waterfalls on the Whitewall Brook here near the junction, just a few moments up along Twinway:

The ascent of Zealand Mountain starts up steeply from Whitewall Brook, rock-hopping steadily upward.  I arrived at the top of Zeacliff at around noon, where the views were spectacular, as advertised.  Autumn colors were just starting to arrive in the area down below me, towards Thoreau Falls and Ethan Pond:

There were five or six people at the top of Zeacliff, taking in the view.  From there, I continued on the Appalachian Trail to the west, and the first section was high up, but with open views all around … a bit boggy here and there:

Appalachian Trail Blaze

The walk from Zeacliff to the top of Zealand Mountain isn’t too steep, mostly gently up and down through scrub pine, except for one section where there is a short ladder:

From near this ladder, I could see North and South Twin through the trees; I had climbed these the week before with our Granddaughter V:

I arrived at the spur that leads towards the top of Zealand Mountain at 1:02pm, and reached the wooded peak a few moments later:

Zealand Summit Cairn

Here I had a late lunch, by myself, until about 1:20pm.  Another hiker reached the summit just as I left, so I had a nice quiet time to eat and rest at the top.  No view, as advertised, but it still felt great to reach my 43rd 4000-footer!

When I had started this hike, taking into account the shorter days now that the summer was ending, I had calculated that I needed to leave Zealand Mountain at the latest by 3pm if I was going to arrive back at the car before dusk.  So since it was 1:20pm, I was making good time, well ahead of my worst-case scenario!  No hurry … 

So now I turned around, walking back towards Zeacliff along the ridge.  Going the other direction, I caught some nice views towards North and South Twin, and towards the presidential range:

Looking Towards Mt Washington
North and South Twin

Though without many views, this section of the Twinway is fairly open and not too steep, so it’s pleasant walking.  I arrived back at Zeacliff  just after 2pm, and the afternoon light was even better than it had been earlier: here is a photo looking towards the Willey Range, with Mt Tom (where I began this blog series in May of 2016), Mt Field and Mt Willey, and Mt Washington in the distance:

I continued from Zeacliff, down Twinway to the junction with Lend-A-Hand that I had come up, earlier… to reach Zealand Falls Hut at about 3pm.  I know I’ve been saying this a lot, but the views here were really fantastic – from the Hut itself, and from the ledges on Whitewall Brook, down towards Zealand Pond:

I left Zealand Hut at about 3:20pm, heading down towards Zealand Pond.  The initial descent is a bit steep; on this mid-September day, the trees were bursting into color:

I reached Zealand Pond at about 3:30pm, and took a few photos and a video:

At 3:49pm I took a left onto Zealand Trail, walking alongside Zealand Pond for a while:

Zealand Trail runs along an old forest railway down from the pond to Zealand Road, 2.2 miles of fairly straight and level, very well-maintained, path, passing the junction with the A-Z Trail at 4:45pm.   I reached the end of Zealand Trail, at the road, at around 4:45pm, where there were lots of car parked – a popular spot to start a longer hike, or to get to Zealand Hut.  I walked back down Zealand Road to reach my car at 5pm:

This was a fantastic day – clear, dry, cool, perfect for a long day climbing in the White Mountains.  A really, really great hike, reaching two 4000-footers (numbers 42 and 43) on one perfect day.  Unbeatable views from Zeacliff, and from the area around Zealand Hut.  I made a note to come back to stay a night or two at Zealand Hut, with Jean, a year from now.

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I was lucky to spend six years as International Program Director for ChildFund Australia, a great organization with great leadership, doing important work.  Along with a terrific job and fantastic work environment, another highlight of those years was living in Sydney: a vibrant and welcoming place, with infinite opportunities and an exciting vibe.

Late in our years in Sydney, I ended up taking a couple of courses at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), first in Mediation and then on Principled Negotiation.  At first I looked at this coursework just as a way of acquiring skills that would be useful in my work.  Plus it had been over ten years since I had done any formal study, so it felt like it was time to wake up the side of my brain that might be a bit under-utilized!

Given my full-time work, I didn’t really consider doing a degree – this was skill-building.

But during this time I was fortunate to come into the orbit of a brilliant and gifted teacher and mentor, Dr Rosemary Howell.  Along with her work with executives at the highest levels of Australian industry and society, Rosemary teaches dispute resolution at UNSW, and I was very lucky to study Principled Negotiation with her and her husband Alan Limbury.  I’ve had the good fortune of studying with some renowned teachers (including Bernie Mayer, who we will meet later in this article and in my next posting), and Rosemary is at the very top.  She inspires and enlightens, and is a brilliant artist as well.

Near the end of that class, Rosemary suggested that since at that point I had done two of the eight requirements for a Masters Degree in Dispute Resolution, why not enroll in the degree program?  Enrollment wouldn’t cost anything, and if I decided to go on to the degree, I would be able to count these first two courses.  Otherwise, if I waited very much longer, I’d have to start fresh.

I’m glad that I followed Rosemary’s advice, because I thoroughly enjoyed doing the whole degree, which I finished just after we left Australia, in 2015. And, as it turned out, if I had delayed very much longer, I would have had to retake the Mediation course…

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In upcoming articles I will to share some examples – many of which will be from my own real experience – of how we can take advantage of the opportunities that conflict gives us: to improve, and see things differently, to restore harm. And I will dedicate articles on two topics that I think deserve the space: on conflict analysis, and cross-cultural conflict.

First, in this article, I want to share five insights that I gained as I progressed in my studies of conflict.  For many, certainly for conflict professionals, these insights will seem a bit elementary; but I’ve shared them in presentations since finishing my degree, I’ve found that others sometimes find them as interesting as I do.

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First Insight:  Conflict is a normal part of life.  Nobody likes conflict.  We usually try to avoid conflict, because its dangerous.  But conflict can be positive if managed well.

Like most people, I avoid conflict. Maybe I avoid it a bit less now that I have studied it so much, and have gained some tools that help me manage it productively.  But still, conflict makes me feel anxious and nervous. 

I’ve come to believe that if we can come to see conflict as a normal part of life, and stop striving to avoid it at all costs, we can unlock the great potential for positive change that is latent in most disputes.  To understand why this is the case, read on!

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We live in a time of great conflict, at many levels, and I would argue that conflict is one of the themes of our age, our zeitgiest.  There are many causes of this.  For example, just taking the United States as an example, inequality has risen hugely in recent decades:

As can be seen, this trend can also be seen in many, probably most, countries.  I would argue that this rise in inequality is leading increased social conflict, as some feel left behind, and (quite reasonably, sadly) feel that the rules are rigged against them.

Another relevant trend is that our populations are becoming much more diverse.  While this is positive in many ways, I would argue that if we don’t take intentional steps to learn to live together, to understand and appreciate the beauties of other cultures, this trend can contribute to conflict:

In my own lifetime, the proportion of the population that can be categorized as “white” has gone from over 80% to around 60%, and continues to drop. For me, this is a very positive trend, but we are witness to the backlash that has emerged in recent years, as some in formerly-dominant groups seek to maintain their privileged status.

A third example of trends, in the United States, that are leading to increased conflict, is political polarization:  

Whether this particular reality is a consequence, or a cause, of conflict doesn’t really matter here; to me, this trend is leading to a decline in civility and, then, to increased social conflict.

Other causes of increased conflict might include climate change, which has displaced millions, as has civil conflict; globalization, which has brought disparate cultures into close contact, and caused the economic inequality we can see above, within and between countries, with some economies and some populations stagnating while others thrive; the impact of information technology and artificial intelligence, which has dislocated so many areas of the economy, leading to a rising sense of dislocation and insecurity.

All of these trends, and others, have contributed to conflict, which has become one of the major themes of our age.  We see this in society, and in our organizations.  As I worked through my Masters degree, I became more and more convinced of the importance of this topic.

There are good reasons why we tend to avoid conflict, and why it’s hard to see it as a positive, generative phenomenon – I’ll get to that below.

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For now, to begin to unpack this insight, firstly, what is conflict?  Of course, there are many definitions but, for me, this one (from Lebaron and Pillay(1); references are provided below) is pretty useful:

  • Conflict is “a difference within a person or between two or more people that affects them in a significant way.”

( I would just add that conflict can between a person or people and human institutions.)

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As we unpack conflict, this would be a good place to introduce Bernie Mayer, who I mentioned in the introduction to this article. I was very lucky to study with him at UNSW, in a course he taught focused on building skills in conflict analysis.

But in the interest of space, instead of covering that important topic here, I’ll focus an entire article on conflict analysis in an upcoming article in this series; it merits that kind of attention!

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How does this kind of “difference within a person or between two or more people” emerge?  Typically there is a sequence like this (taken from Felstiner, Abel, and Sarat, 1981(2)):

  • In the first, pre-conflict stage, an “injurious” experience has taken place, but it is “unperceived.”  In other words, something harmful has happened, but it is not yet affecting the people involved in a significant way, and we don’t typically identify the problem with another person or people.  In this stage, we can have strong feelings, of anxiety or anger, or simple dissatisfaction, but perhaps without a particular focus for these feelings, and we haven’t yet identified specific harm;
  • When a transformation to the second stage occurs, we “Name” the problem and identify that it has been “injurious.”  Now we become conscious that we’ve been harmed in some way, injured.  But the transformation of the situation into conflict is not yet complete;
  • If the situation is to evolve into actual conflict, we must identify another person or people who we feel have caused the harm we have Named.  In other words, we must “Blame” somebody.  Still, however, no conflict has arisen;
  • For the situation to actually transform into conflict, we must take action to remedy the harm we have Named, which we feel has been caused by the person or people we have Blamed.  This means that we must “Claim” a remedy. Now the situation has been transformed into a conflict.

I’ve found this framework – Naming, Blaming, and Claiming – to be very helpful as I’ve approached conflicts in my own life, and when I’ve been working to help others manage conflict.  Without Naming, Blaming, and Claiming, there really isn’t a conflict to be managed!  There might be a problem, sure, or some sort of challenge to be overcome, but not a conflict as such.

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Once a social situation has transformed into conflict, the situation can evolve as shown in this figure:

In this model, after a conflict is Named, a person is Blamed, and a Claim is made, conflict is triggered by some sort of denial of the Claim. As the conflict escalates, we reach a point of agitation. Matters accelerate, and the intensity of the conflict peaks. After the peak, conflict de-escalates and we recover our initial calm.

We can probably all remember, vividly, events that proceeded like that…

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Another insightful way of depicting conflict escalation across groups or nations comes from Friedrich Glasl’s Cold-War work:

Glasl’s 9 stages offer a different way of seeing the escalation section of the figure above. It’s easy to imagine the nightmare of Cold-War devastation in the stark, bleak language used: “total war with all means, limitless violence.” The conflicts that affect us on a daily basis – at home, at work, in our neighborhoods – aren’t so dramatic; but the process of escalation described by Glasl is useful in placing ourselves in a sequence, and understanding what might come next, even if we don’t have access to thermonuclear devices!

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One article that influenced me deeply in this regard is entitled “Conflicts as Property,” by Nils Christie (3).  Published way back in 1977, this article gave me an insight into why conflict can be seen as a positive thing.

Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

“Conflicts are seen as important elements in society. Highly industrialised societies do not have too much internal conflict, they have too little. We have to organise social systems so that conflicts are both nurtured and made visible and also see to it that professionals do not monopolise the handling of them.”

Nowadays, with so much conflict here in the United States, and indeed around the world, I’m not so sure that we have too little conflict! But I still take Christie’s point that our legal systems have “stolen” our conflicts from us, denying us the opportunity to learn to resolve matters through dialogue, negotiation, mediation. He feels that we have lost something very basic in our humanity as we’ve “outsourced” the management of conflict to “professionals.” I think I agree.

How can something as threatening as conflict be seen as positive, or generative? Another reference helped me see this clearly: Bernie Mayer suggested that I read “The Functions of Social Conflict” by Lewis Coser (4). I’ve blogged about this book earlier, focusing on how I think it helps explain why INGOs are such complicated places to work. But his main focus is on how conflict brings the need for change to light, and how it can unify groups. A very helpful perspective, and highly recommended.

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Second Insight: Blame it on the amygdala!  

As events are transformed into conflicts, how do we experience this, as human beings?  Brain science tells us that the “amygdala,” an almond-shaped organ in our limbic brain, plays a key role here.

Simplifying things significantly, our brains have three regions: Reptilian, Limbic, and Neocortex.  These regions evolved in that order as human beings developed, with the Reptilian (instinctual, lizard) brain emerging first, followed by the Limbic, and then the Neocortex:

MRI studies have recently greatly advanced our understanding of human behavior. When we are in conflict, using MRI technology we can see that the “amygdala,” an almond-shaped organ in the Reptilian region of our brains, becomes very active.

When we are in conflict, the amygdala releases hormones such as adrenaline, which influence our behavior at the deepest level, in ways that help us, and in ways that are deeply dysfunctional. In particular, since the amygdala is in the Reptilian region, when it activates it tends to disable the Limbic and Neocortex, greatly reducing our emotional and rational abilities. We “deskill.”

All of us have experienced “emotional flooding” when we in conflict.  This is a feeling of high anxiety, even panic, that leads us into the familiar “fight,” “flight,” or “freeze” syndrome.  In conflict, the Reptilian brain takes over, shutting down the Limbic and Neocortex regions of our brains; rational, thinking abilities fall to the side. Our thinking narrows, and we become deskilled.

Thousands of years ago, perhaps, this behavior of the amygdala might have been adaptive in a positive way: fighting or fleeing or freezing could have represented the best alternatives on the savanna when confronted with a dangerous animal, or in prehistory when encountering strangers from another tribe.

But in today’s globalized world, emotional flooding is no longer an adaptive trait when we come face-to-face with difference.

I’ve found it very helpful to understand how my brain is behaving when I’m immersed in conflict, and why it’s acting that way, why I’m behaving and feeling that way! In fact, when we emotionally flood, we are responding to chemicals that our brains are producing, we are designed that way. But we don’t have to be prisoners of evolution, with training and practice, we can manage our amygdalae!

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Third Insight:  We have preferences for handling conflict.  And there are tools we can learn to manage conflict productively.  Approaching conflict with authentic, paradoxical curiosity is key to peacemaking. 

Each of us has a preference for handling conflict. There are several models describing these different approaches; the model that I found the most useful is the “Thomas-Killman Conflict Mode Instrument“:

On the “Y” axis, we look at how assertive we are in addressing conflict, while on the “X” axis we plot how cooperative we are:

  • An “avoiding” style combines low assertiveness with low cooperation. I think that this is a very common preference, certainly one that I can relate to!;
  • A preference that combines high assertiveness with low cooperativeness is a “competing” style;
  • On the other hand, a person who is highly cooperative but unassertive in a conflict situation can be described as “accommodating”;
  • A highly-assertive, highly-cooperative style is “collaborating”;
  • Finally, a “compromising” approach to conflict is typified by medium levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness.

I like this model, because it seems to describe preferences that we actually observe in the world: highly-assertive, uncooperative people who push too hard to get their way, damaging relationships unnecessarily; very cooperative people who are unassertive, and who are often taken advantage of; etc.

At the same time, there are a range of tools that we use to manage conflict, ranging in terms of the control that we have from avoidance (total control) to violence (completely out of control):

Between avoidance (as I’ve noted, a very common tool) and violence there is a range of conflict-management tools, progressing from more control to less:

  • When the issue at hand isn’t really that important, and there is no strong motivation to preserve the relationship that is involved in the conflict, avoiding can be the best tool. It’s certainly a common approach, and there’s nothing wrong with using it in the right circumstances. But I think that we overuse this tool, avoiding conflict when the stakes are actually high, when relationships are actually very important to us. In these cases, we should address the conflict, our lives will be the poorer for not addressing it. But we don’t, because, even though we should address the conflict, we don’t know how! As a result, when issues are significant and an important relationship is threatened, we don’t take action, we avoid, and the conflict festers and grows;
  • The other common tool we use is informal discussion and problem-solving. Here we give up a little bit of control, because we are seeking to reach agreement with the other party, who we cannot ultimately control. This tool is much better than avoidance, and can be used with issues are important or not, where relationships must be preserved, or not. Most of us have experience with this tool, but as Christie points out, the “outsourcing” of the management of our conflicts to legal “professionals” has led to our having much less experience with these kinds of situations, of dialogue with people we are in conflict with;
  • We can view negotiation as a formalized version of the previous tool. Here, again, a little bit more control is relinquished, because the process is directed into a defined process. But the two parties to the conflict work without the participation of any other participant, so they themselves have full, though shared, control of the process. The version of this tool that I learned from Rosemary Howell, “Principled Negotiation”, is presented in the seminal book “Getting to Yes,” a very well-known management treatise;
  • We give up more control when we use mediation as our conflict-management tool. Here a “neutral” facilitator, with no mandate to determine resolution of the conflict, manages the discussion, still seeking to reach a point at which problem-solving leads to a mutually-agreed plan of action. Mediation as such is voluntary: parties must not be compelled to use this tool. However, in many situations nowadays the use of mediation is a requirement before entering into certain kinds of litigation, as a cost-saving method;
  • Arbitration involves giving up control, almost entirely. Parties to the conflict agree that, after presenting their arguments, the arbitrator will decide how the conflict will be resolved; this decision is binding on the parties. An advantage of arbitration is that it has a well-developed legal framework, so is enforceable in most cases;
  • If the parties cannot agree to use any of the foregoing tools, they often resort to litigation, where they give up control entirely. This is Christies’ “theft” in action: professionals such as lawyers and judges now take over entirely, using impersonal mechanisms (the “law”) to decide who is right, who is wrong, and what must be done. I think that we significantly overuse this tool in our modern societies. Of course, there are many advantages of litigation, theoretically, in terms of protecting less-powerful parties, etc. The adversarial legal system has made a huge and positive difference in our societies, not least because it reduces the level of violence (the final tool, below) we experience. But we know that these advantages are often not fully realized in practice, and there are disadvantages as well, in addition to the compelling case that Christie makes: our legal system is enormously expensive, slow, and subject to abuse by the powerful and wealthy;
  • Finally, violence isn’t really a tool of conflict management, it seems actually to be the entire loss of control. But it is a tool we use in conflict situations, the tool we should seek to avoid at all costs.

These tools, especially the ones on the left-hand side of the diagram above, where we retain a degree of empowerment, are very helpful.

But, the most important approach that I’ve learned actually doesn’t appear in that diagram! I’m thinking of authenic curiosity, and I gained this insight from another important text, “The Moral Imagination,” by John Paul Lederach (5):

I can’t begin to summarize the profound lessons contained in this book but, for me, the notion that to build peace we must remain authentically curious has been fundamental.

I’ve learned that, for me, there is little chance of reaching any sort of resolution if I fall into “fundamental attribution error”: the mistake of concluding that, because the other person is doing things I don’t like, they are bad people. It’s quite hard to move from that place of judgement to a restoration of harm.

How to avoid fundamental attribution error? If I can keep being curious about why the other person is behaving they way they are, instead of simply concluding that they are mistaken or bad, I’ve learned that I avoid the trap. And this lets me begin to really understand what’s going on…

I’m a big admirer of John Paul Lederach.

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Fourth Insight:  All conflict has cultural aspects.  Conflict is culturally defined – these are good starting points, but be careful! 

Having worked most of my career across cultures, I found the study of cross-cultural conflict to be very relevant, useful, and interesting; in fact, a course on that topic was my eighth, and final, subject in my degree. Many conflicts that I had experienced during my career involved different cultures, with surprising twists and turns – I will be describing a few of these in future articles in this series, so stay tuned for that!

And I will be publishing an entire blog post in this series on the topic of cross-cultural conflict.

Just to introduce the topic here, I found the famous “Ladder of Inference” to be a great starting point to understand those strange cross-cultural twists and turns:

The Ladder of Inference

Of course, our consciousness is not so linear, but there is meaning in seeing the process as a ladder. And it’s in assigning meaning to data that we observe (in this case, the behavior of people we are in conflict with) where culture comes in. When another person, from a different culture, assigns different meaning to a situation we share, we can begin to have problems communicating about the situation, which can easily lead to conflict.

How can we understand differences in culture? Here again I was lucky to study a very useful resource: Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture. Hofstede’s work is significant enough that I will be publishing a blog in this series dedicated to it in the near future.

So stay tuned for more on Hofstede…

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Fifth Insight:  We evolved in villages where we all knew each other and there were only small differences in culture.  Now, because of globalization, cross-cultural conflict is becoming more common. So managing conflict is a key skill in our globalized world.

This Fifth Insight is simple, but has nonetheless been very useful in my work. It synthesizes several of the other Insights presented here.

Culture is relevant to all conflicts, even within relatively-homogeneous settings, because culture strongly influences how we approach disputes. But things have changed: centuries ago, contact with different cultures was much rarer than it is today, in our globalized world. This means that we come across the unexpected “twists and turns” as we deal with conflicts more often, in our communities (which are much more diverse than before) and in our organizations (likewise, much more heterogeneous than earlier.)

This means that all of us, even if we don’t work in international non-profit organizations as I have done for 35 years, will benefit from learning about conflict, how to manage conflict to address differences and gain the positive, generative outcomes that are latent in many disputes.

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There you have my five key Insights on conflict. I plan to present Bernie Mayer’s “Wheel of Conflict” next time, a great tool for understanding and analyzing conflict. I’ll share the term paper I did in his class, on the conflict in Ferguson, Missouri.

After that, I hope to publish a paper on cross-cultural conflict, including a more-complete exposition of Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions.

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Here are the references I’ve used in this article.  I highly recommend each of them; they will each yield much deeper insights than I’ve been able to describe in this article:

  1. Lebaron and Pillay, “Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences”, Nicholas Brealey; 1st edition (November 2, 2006);
  2. Felstiner, Abel and Sarat, “The Emergence and Transformation of Disputes: Naming, Blaming, Claiming…,” Law & Society Review, Volume 15, Number 3-4 (1980-81);
  3. Nils Christie, “Conflicts As Property,” The British Journal of Criminology,  Volume 17, Number 1 (January 1977);
  4. Lewis Coser, “The Functions of Social Conflict“, Free Press (November 1, 1964); 
  5. Jean Paul Lederach, “The Moral Imagination: The Art And Soul Of Building Peace”, Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (August 26, 2010). 

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Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?

Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed. What Next?

December, 2018

Apologies for the long silence since my last posting… I’ve recently taken up an interim position as COO for the Disability Rights Fund, which has left me a bit less time for writing…

Anyway, by the time I finished six great years at ChildFund Australia, I had been working in international non-governmental organizations (“INGOs”) for nearly 30 years.  Some have said that those were Golden Years for the sector…

In this post, I want to reflect a bit about those so-called Golden Years, and what comes next.

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I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 34 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

But first…

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I climbed Mt Hale and Zealand Mountain on 11 September, 2017, a beautiful, clear and cool day to be out and about in the White Mountains.  This time, I want to describe the (short) hike up Mt Hale (4054ft, 1236m).

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I thought that getting to the top of both Mt Hale and Mt Zealand in the same day might be a challenge or, at least, a very long walk, so I decided to leave Durham fairly early.  So I left town at 6am, and (after stopping for coffee and a sandwich, as usual) arrived at the Hale Brook Trail trailhead at 8:30am.  The trailhead is on Zealand Road, which I would have to walk down a fair distance at the end of the hike.

For the very first time in all of these (42) hikes, I think, my car was the only one parked at the trailhead as I prepared to depart.  This made me guess I wouldn’t see too many people, at least until I got up to the Appalachian Trail (which would be after summiting Mt Hale):

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Hale Brook Trail is immediately steep upon leaving the parking area, and pretty much keeps climbing steeply the whole (short) way up.  I crossed Hale Brook about 30 minutes after starting to climb.  Very beautiful place:

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After a series of switch-backs, the trail gradually became somewhat less steep as I neared the top.  At 9:45am the trees began to thin out, and become shorter, so it got lighter as more sunlight got through.  I arrived at the summit of Mt Hale at 9:51am, an hour and 20 minutes after leaving the parking area; as was typical, this was faster than what the White Mountain Guide indicated (2 hr 15 mins.)

This was summit number 42, of 48!

Even though the day was clear, there were no views from the summit of Mt Hale.  The top is marked by a large cairn of rocks, next to the fittings from what appears to have been an old fire-tower, long gone:

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Summit of Mt Hale

 

Despite the lack of any view, the top of Mt Hale is pleasant, with a nice feeling, perhaps due to the relatively spacious cleared area around the rock cairn.  So I stopped for a quick rest before continuing along the “Lend-A-Hand” trail, initially dropping down into a beautiful fern and moss area, hiking towards Mt Zealand (which I will write about next time!):

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It had been a very pleasant, though pretty relentlessly-steep, 2.2 miles from the car.

*

I have described this series of blog posts, my “4000-footer” articles, to be the story of the rise of international non-governmental organizations in the era of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  That’s useful shorthand, because my story began in 1984 (when I joined Peace Corps), long before the MDGs came into effect (in 2000.)

During that period, international NGOs emerged into the mainstream of international development.  Our organizations grew rapidly as a result of the massive public response to the famine that struck the Horn of Africa in the mid-1980’s; I’ve used this figure in an earlier posting, showing the phenomenal growth of Plan International in those years:

(The article that I’m taking the Figure from is available here: how-should-an-international-ngo-allocate-growth.)

Plan International doubled (in terms of field expenditure) between 1987 (when I joined) and 1990!  And we then doubled, again, by 1995!

And Plan was changing in other ways, too, partly related to our growth.  For example, the number of countries where we worked, and places in those countries where we had operations, grew rapidly.  We grew in other dimensions, too: for example, moving more towards working to influence governments at national and local levels through advocacy and, too timidly, seeking to influence public opinion in countries where we raised funds.

(See my earlier posting in this series describing how we created a growth plan for Plan International.)

Finally, internally, as I have described in earlier articles in this series, Plan was professionalizing in my early years with the agency.  I think this was, in part, due to the financial growth illustrated in the figure: our board of directors began to pay much more attention to financial risk, and started to recruit senior staff with experience in the business world, including Alberto Neri.

As I’ve described in this series, I myself benefited enormously from this “professionalization”.  Joining Plan in Tuluá, our Field Office was a pilot for all of the changes that Alberto wanted to put in place.  We were implementing stronger financial and audit systems, along with stronger internal controls; much more extensive HR management and development practices; and a sophisticated Monitoring and Evaluation system.  I grew up in our sector learning about these improvements, benefiting from the attention and support that we had as a pilot office.

Other INGOs experienced very similar trends; so, in purely financial terms, these were clearly Golden Years for our sector.  In addition, and more importantly, given the later success of the MDGs (putting aside for now the very important question of causality – what caused the great progress made with the MDGs?!), this was arguably also a “Golden Age” for development…

*

Several authors have reflected on this “Golden Age.”  In this blog entry, I want to share thoughts from a few authors, including me, and reflect a bit on where we stand today.

One good example of these “Golden Age” reflections comes from Paul Ronalds, the CEO of Save the Children Australia, in this fairly recent article (2017), : RONALDS – End Of The Golden Age.

For me, Paul portrays the situation accurately – “… this unprecedented increase in resources and influence is over: the golden age for INGOs has ended.”  But his analysis of why this is the case seems a bit simplistic, which leads him to propose what seems to me to be “more of the same”; for Ronalds:

  • we need to produce more evidence of effectiveness, and to
  • share this evidence with better communications;
  • we need to invest more in capturing and communicating evidence of impact; and
  • donors need to be willing to pay for that increased cost. 

He argues for mergers to gain efficiencies of scale, and the use of new technologies to “respond to the rise of nationalism and xenophobia.”  This somehow will lead to more support for the SDGS.

In other words, I’m sensing that underneath Paul Ronalds’ thinking there is a sense that there is nothing wrong with what we are doing, we simply need to consolidate the sector and demonstrate we are doing the right things.

Paul Ronalds is a great thinker, with long and successful experience in the sector.  In fact, I was delighted that he accepted my invitation to speak at a ChildFund program gathering a few years ago, in Sydney, when he was working in the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office, in Canberra.  His thoughts then were very helpful.

But we’ve been making the case for better demonstration of effectiveness, and for consolidations in the sector, for decades.  Despite this, and despite progress, the situation that Paul Ronalds portrays, accurately, has come into being.

So I think we need to go a bit deeper if we are to deal with the situation we find ourselves in.

*

To be fair, my own views on the situation a few years ago were far from deep enough. For example, during the preparation of the ChildFund Australia Strategic Plan in 2014, I prepared a presentation about trends in our sector for our board: I pointed out four trends that we needed to grapple with.

I began by pointing out the enormous progress made over the last couple of decades, using MDG tracking data to prove the point. Then I outlined four trends that were creeping up on us.  Firstly, progress on the MDGs, along with demographic shifts, meant that 75% of the world’s poor were now living in middle-income countries:

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My second point back in 2014 was that continuing social conflict, fueled to a great extent by climate change and globalization, was leading to increased vulnerability and a concentration of poverty in fragile states:

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The third trend that I highlighted was that we were living in an era of major social transformations, involving: historically-high levels of income inequality; continuing urbanization; the collapse of the post-World-War-II institutional arrangements; and the rise of civil society (for good and ill).

And, finally, echoing what Paul Ronalds would point out later, it was clear that the previously-privileged role for INGOs was rapidly eroding, with the arrival of for-profit managing contractors, strong civil society in the Global South, and donor fatigue in the Global North.

(A version of this presentation is here: Mega-Trends for Blog.)

For me, in 2014, this meant that ChildFund Australia needed to grow our expertise in child protection and social inclusion, and protection; take the investments we had made in our Development Effectiveness Framework to demonstrate tangible results and “value for money”; and build our partnerships with other development actors upward, sideways, and downward.

A good analysis, and good recommendations, for that time in history.  Nothing very original, though: I echoed a lot of Paul Ronalds’ thinking and recommendations, which is not surprising, since there was a lot of this kind of thinking going on in 2014.

*

Looking back, I can see that, in those days, there was a significant “cottage industry” of INGO thinkers who were pretty well aligned, making quite similar recommendations.  But there were people, even back then, who were ahead of the curve.  For example, my colleague Alan Fowler took me by surprise once when he told me he thought that INGOs would focus in the future only, or mostly, on service delivery!  The implication, for me, was that he thought that social-justice advances would only come from local organizations.  That took the wind from my sails for a while…

And Enrique Mendizabal had similarly taken me by surprise in an ACFID University Linkages conference in Sydney when he shared his sense that international development, as such, was no longer relevant… see an earlier post on this site.  His brave and convincing keynote made most of uncomfortable, but we did sit up and pay attention!

*

Since then, of course, things have evolved.  Though progress has continued in many senses, and there have indeed been some mergers and consolidation in our sector, nationalism and populism have surged and support for the work of INGOs has continued to ebb.

So the third example I want to share here is from Penny Lawrence, who is a bit bleaker than Paul Ronalds or myself, perhaps aligned more with Alan Fowler and Enrique Mendizabal but not quite as radical.

Many of my readers will have paid close attention to the recent challenges faced by Oxfam (and, more to the point, people in Haiti who had been preyed upon by Oxfam’s staff there.)  Penny Lawrence left Oxfam, taking responsibility for the situation (she had served as Chief of Staff for Oxfam International), and later spent some time off to think about our sector.  For me, the resulting article is a bit more realistic about our prospects: LAWRENCE – Whither Large International NGOs?

Having interviewed many senior managers in INGOs about the profound changes we face, Lawrence ends up advocating fairly radical change, but seems to pull her punches at the end, perhaps simply trying not to forecast the end of our sector, hoping that bold action now will keep INGOs alive and relevant:

“Whilst each large INGO has to find its own way, each also needs to ensure they devote sufficient time and resources to exploring the next horizon whilst they are also under such pressure and when the current aid grant/contracting model is not yet so broken and can continue to be exploited. Is contracting really large INGOs’ niche? I am not sure it is and unless large INGOs diversify and divest quickly, the disadvantages of their size will increase their irrelevance to make them the dinosaurs of the golden age.

It will require courageous, connected leaders to make tough choices on functions and then rethink structures, financing models, and people strategies, in order to deliver an agile organisation capable of continued learning and change. They will need to inspire, listen to and engage change weary staff and volunteers to drive and support change and to overcome the considerable blockages that stop change within their organisation too.

Form must follow function, but it seems to matter less what structure you change to – what really matters is that you understand your role and do not just ‘sit there’ when all around you is changing…”

(Duncan Green from Oxfam GB analyses the Penny Lawrence paper here.)

*

A final analysis of the prospects of our sector – actually a series of blog articles – comes from my colleague Daniel Wordsworth.  Daniel is exactly the kind of courageous, connected leaders” that Penny Lawrence is thinking of.

I like Daniel’s articles very much, because while he shares a grim view of our organizations’ likely future, he points out a way forward: a return to the values and principles that, long ago, underlay our sector:

Daniel doesn’t spend any time lamenting the situation that INGOs find themselves in.  In his usual forthright style, he welcomes “today’s era of populism” as a wake-up call that should lead us away from some big mistakes:

  • We have focused on basic, physical needs, ignoring higher-level aspirations that all people have;
  • We have embraced technocratic solutions, “divorces from human aspirations,” and thrown money at problems that, sometimes, are not amenable to project solutions;
  • We have professionalized and distanced ourselves from the people we attempt to serve (who have become us, ourselves, to a great extent);
  • We have become dependent on official donors, thinking that they have the answers or, at least, we have to accept their “answers.”

I have made very similar arguments in the past: see my “Trojan Horse” article mentioned in an earlier post in this series.  In that article I argue that:

“… the influx of private-sector culture into our organizations meant that:

  • We began increasingly to view the world as a linear, logical place;
  • We came to embrace the belief that bigger is always better;
  • “Accountability” to donors became so fundamental that sometimes it seemed to be our highest priority;
  • Our understanding of human nature, of human poverty, evolved towards the purely material, things that we could measure quantitatively.”

I will attach a copy of the article I wrote on this topic here:  mcpeak-trojan-horse.

In his fifth and final post in the series, Daniel Wordsworth calls for a return to what I would argue was our sector’s starting point: grounding our work in the actual situation and experience of the people we actually seek to serve, their expressed needs and opinions.  What I would call solidarity and accompanyment, human connection and respect, embracing human compassion and turning away from the sterile professionalism and technocratic mental models that took over our sector.

Wordsworth wants us to:

  1. Replace Largeness with Closeness;
  2. Replace Control with Collaboration;
  3. Replace Models with Empathetic Design;
  4. Put the Passion Back in Our Profession;
  5. Emphasize Vision, Not Money.

Daniel’s organization, the American Refugee Committee, has taken a bold path and is  embracing these inspiring ideas as a way of addressing the dire situation that Paul Ronalds, Penny Lawrance, and I have all pointed to.  His way forward is the only viable path I have seen.  It’s a frightening path, partly because as we reject the institutional arrangements that have funded our work, our organizations are likely to shrink (at least for a while.)

But going in this direction at least will allow us to stay true to ourselves.  Our work will be more relevant to the people we serve.  The current wave of nationalism and populism does not mean that human compassion has disappeared; most people still want to connect with others, to reach out to those who face the massive challenges (displacement, inequality, racism) of our time.  Which means that it might work…

And, anyway, the old structure is dying, so let’s celebrate its success and bury it.  And be part of a new wave, building on some of our sector’s values and that fundamental yearning for human compassion, that could take us forward, together.

*

The great American writer, Wendell Berry wrote, in 1990, that “we are living in the most destructive and, hence, the most stupid period in the history of our species. The list of its undeniable abominations is long and hardly bearable.”  In these Trumpian times, it’s hard to disagree with Berry’s assessment – we would probably all agree that things have gotten worse since 1990.

But then he goes on to say that “history simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use.” I think we all feel this way a lot of the time: how can we, as individuals, influence the enormous forces around us that form this “destructive and stupid” period of history.  And in the INGO sector, the technocratic, dehumanized way that we have evolved has led many of us to lose at least some of the original spirit that brought us to this work.

Berry continues, however, and saves the day by saying that “protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

Here I think that Wendell Berry is really on to something. We realize the best qualities in our hearts and spirits when we take action to make things better, fairer, more just.

For me, there are only two choices:

  • We can try to resurrect our organizations by getting better at what we’ve been doing, professionalizing and scaling up, despite overwhelming evidence that the world around us has changed.  This will be, I believe, a blind alley;
  • Or we can take the path that people like Enrique Mendizabal, Daniel Wordsworth, and other pioneers are showing us, returning to the values of our sector, believing in people and putting aside our egos.  Our organizations may be smaller that way, at least for a time, but we will be able to make a real difference and our hearts and spirits will rise.

*

Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction.

 

South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction

September, 2018

During my six years at ChildFund Australia, the program approach that we developed early in my tenure meant that reducing vulnerability became one of our biggest priorities.  This was new territory for us, with lots of learning and testing: what did reducing child vulnerability mean for ChildFund Australia?  What kinds of vulnerability would we address?  And where?

In this article I will focus on one aspect of vulnerability that we worked on: “disaster risk reduction” (DRR).  And, in particular, I want to highlight our participation in the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, which took place in March, 2015, in Sendai, Japan.

*

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 34 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

But first…

*

Last time I described how our Granddaughter V and I had climbed North Twin Mountain on 2 September 2017.  Since it was V’s first real mountain climb, we had agreed that we would decide about continuing to South Twin when we got to the top of North Twin.

We had arrived at the outlook near the top of North Twin at about 1:30pm and had lunch, getting to the top just after 2pm.  V was enthusiastic about continuing, and she was certainly keeping up with me on the climb – no problems at all – so we decided to continue on towards the top of South Twin (4902ft, 1494m) – the 8th-highest 4000-footer, and my 41st on this round.  It would be V’s second 4000-footer that day!

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We took the North Twin Spur, leaving North Twin a bit after 2pm.  We dropped down into a saddle between North and South Twin, and walked through pleasant forest for 1.3miles:

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Here the top of South Twin is visible in the near distance, with a few people at the summit:

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We arrived at the top of South Twin at 2:45pm, and spent some time there taking pictures.  It was clear, and spectacular, not that many people.  Probably the very best views of the White Mountains I’ve ever seen – towards the northeast and the Presidentials; to the south and Mt Bond and West Bond (Bondcliff was obscured by West Bond from this viewpoint) and Waterville Valley; over towards the west and Franconia Ridge and Garfield:

 

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Summit Of South Twin – Franconia Ridge In The Background

 

 

Here we turned around, leaving South Twin at around 3:15pm, heading back towards the trail-head.  In this section, V developed a painful cramp in her knee, briefly, which she was able to shake off.  So we kept going…

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We arrived back at the top of North Twin about an hour after leaving South Twin:

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And then we began the long walk back down North Twin trail, dropping down fairly steeply at first, then more gradually as we arrived at Little River.  I filmed V crossing the river at about 6pm:

 

I had estimated that we’d be back at the trail-head, where the car was parked, by 6:30pm. It turned out to be 6:51pm by the time we got there – a long, 8-hour hike, around 11 miles total, but a spectacular day.

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South Twin was number 41 for me, and V’s second 4000-footer in one day!  She did a great job on her first 4000-footers.

Now I had only seven more to go.

*

Very early in my time at ChildFund Australia, we developed a program approach founded upon a comprehensive “theory of change.”  I’ve written about that earlier in this series.

The development of that program approach was done through a great process of reflection and collaboration.  In the end, our experience, learning, and reflection led us to understand that people are poor because:

  1. they are deprived of assets (human, capital, natural, and social);
  2. they are excluded from their societies, and are invisible (voice and agency);
  3. of power differentials in their families, communities, societies, and across nations.

And we understood that (4) children and youth are particularly vulnerable to risks in their environment, which can result in dramatic increases in poverty; they therefore require protection from physical and psycho-social threats, and sexual abuse, natural and human-caused emergencies, slow-onset disasters, civil conflict, etc.

Because we understood that these are the four causes of child poverty, we set ourselves the collective challenge of improving children’s futures by:

  • building human, capital, natural and social assets around the child, including the caregiver;
  • building the voice and agency, and
  • power of poor people and poor children, while
  • working to ensure that children and youth are protected from risks in their environments.

*

A few weeks ago I wrote about the third domain of our work, building the power of poor people and poor children.  That was a very new area of work for us.

Risk reduction was also new, though we had some experience with child protection.

We had designed outcome indicators which we would use, through our Development Effectiveness Framework, to measure the impact of all our work, and giving a sense of our priorities.  There was one outcome indicator that corresponded to risk reduction:

Indicator 11: % of communities with a disaster preparedness plan based on a survey of risks, including those related to adaptation to anticipated climate change, relevant to local conditions, known to the community, and consistent with national standards.

I liked this outcome indicator.  It would enable us to reflect the results of our DRR work in a broad sense.  It showed connectivity with efforts related to climate-change, and linked nicely with the work of others at country level.  Along with other areas of child protection, disaster risk reduction would become a priority for us.

Here’s an illustration of why this made sense: this graph shows the dramatic increase in the number of people affected by natural disasters from 1900 through to 2011.

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No organization working to create better futures for children, or even human beings, can afford to ignore the fact that vulnerability is increasing very quickly, and dramatically.

*

And it was becoming very apparent that the Australian government was quite keen on both responding to disaster response and tackling climate change.  AusAID had already set up a pre-approval mechanism for emergency-response work, through which a designated group of NGOs could respond very quickly to emergencies; ChildFund Australia wasn’t in the group.

But it all meant that, if we developed capacity, and a strong record of working in DRR and emergency response, there might be opportunities for collaboration with the Australian government, including the possibility of funding …

*

Our ChildFund Alliance partners in the US, ChildFund International, had been doing some good emergency response work back when I was doing my “Bright-Futures”-related consulting work, around 2003, but their leadership that came onboard later had (mistakenly, in my view) wound up that effort soon after.

(For me the decision to exit emergency-response work was a mistake for several reasons.  Firstly, they were already doing good work in that space, which was helping children in very difficult situations.  It was an area with great potential for fundraising, because of the urgency involved as well as the priority being put on this work by donors, particularly government bi-lateral donors.  And because raising funds in this space was less costly than other revenue sources, overheads could be used to support program development in other areas.  Finally, as general child-poverty levels dropped, and our climate changed, child poverty began to be much more related to vulnerability, as we in Australia had determined in the design of our program approach.

ChildFund International – the US Member of the ChildFund Alliance, would later get back into the emergency-response business, and we would begin to structure a formal collaboration with them, and with our Canadian partners, in the humanitarian space.  But we all lost time – for example, perhaps if ChildFund International had stayed engaged in emergency response, we in Australia might have qualified for AusAID’s pre-approval pool …)

And, likewise, there was little DRR-related work going on across the Alliance, and certainly we at ChildFund Australia had no significant track record in that area.  So if we were to build up our expertise, we needed to start by bringing it in from outside.

Happily, at around that time Nigel Spence (the ChildFund Australia CEO) and I were in a meeting in Canberra, talking about these issues.  A very senior AusAID leader told us that if we sent her an ambitious plan to help communities in southeast Asia prepare for disasters, at scale, it would be funded.  Especially if it involved a consortium.

So I went back to Sydney and got to work.  In short order I recruited two other preeminent Australian INGOs (Plan International Australia, and Save the Children Australia) and wrote up an extremely-ambitious proposal: we would reduce climate- and disaster-related risks in 1000 communities in five countries across Asia, reaching approximately 362,500 children and adults directly, and over 1.5m people indirectly.  Among the expected outcomes of the project, we would also seek to empower children and youth:

  • Children and youth will be recognised within communities as effective agents of positive change;
  • Children and youth will have increased knowledge and understanding, and thus capacity, to anticipate, plan and react appropriately to short-term risks and longer-term threats and trends.

These aims are very consistent with our presentation at the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction  that took place in Japan in March, 2015.  More on that conference below!

*

The response from AusAID was quite positive.  But:

Mistake #1: I didn’t get anything in writing!

However, given that we had gotten such a strong green light from Canberra, Nigel and I agreed that we’d go ahead and recruit a DRR expert to help us finalize the proposal and begin to prepare for the work.

*

We had a good response to our recruitment outreach and, in the end, I was lucky to recruit Sanwar Ali from Oxfam Australia to be our first “Senior Advisor for ER and DRR.”  Sanwar had long experience in emergency response across Asia and parts of Africa, and was also deeply experienced with DRR.  At the same time, I felt the Sydney International Program Team could benefit from Sanwar’s background – he would round out the team on several dimensions...

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Sanwar Ali, ChildFund Australia’s Senior Advisor for Emergency Response and Disaster Risk Reduction

 

Soon after Sanwar joined, AusAID let us know that their “green light” was actually just encouragement to include DRR work in our normal project portfolio, so there would be no ambitious funding for scaling-up across Asia!

That was very frustrating.

No matter.  Our program approach had committed us to working to help protect children from disasters, and Sanwar would be key to that program development effort.  It was just unfortunate that the funding for his position evaporated!

*

Soon Sanwar led the development of policies for Emergency Response and Disaster Risk Reduction, which we would incorporate into the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook.

The ER Policy was an expanded update to previous policy, but the DRR policy was new.  Like all our program policies, this one was rather brief.  Its introduction and policy statement were succinct:

Introduction

The frequency with which disasters are occurring is increasing dramatically, in part because of human-induced climate change. This trend represents a threat to children, youth, and caregivers, and has the potential to undermine progress made in improving wellbeing and reducing poverty.

At the same time, however, thanks to efforts of local communities, national governments, the international community, and INGOs such as ChildFund, the human impact of these
disasters has been reduced over time.

Reducing risks for children, youth, and caregivers is central to ChildFund’s program approach, because communities which are resilient to risks are best positioned to provide security and ensure continued wellbeing of vulnerable children.

This policy provides an organisational framework for action related to disaster risk reduction.

Policy Statement

ChildFund Australia will work to ensure that disaster risk reduction (DRR) plans, known as Community Action Plans – CAPs) are in place in all communities where we work. These CAPs will be developed in a participatory manner, consistent with the Hyogo Framework for Action, and according to relevant guidelines in each country.

DRR efforts will be mainstreamed in our development, humanitarian and advocacy activities whenever appropriate.

The rest of the policy document outlined “Key Actions” required by ChildFund Australia staff at various levels and locations, and outlined how work in this area was connected to our organizational Outcome Indicators.

*

Sanwar and I worked together on two ChildFund Alliance-wide projects.  I had proposed that the operational Members of the Alliance (which, initially, meant Australia, Canada, and the US, with Japan and Korea observing) work together in Emergency Response and DRR, partly because we would be able to show global reach that way.  So we planned to develop a set of common policies and procedures through which we would respond to humanitarian disasters jointly.

I want to describe the other project that Sanwar and I worked on in a bit more detail: I led the ChildFund Alliance delegation to the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction that took place in Japan in March, 2015; a delegation from ChildFund had a big presence at that conference.  And, the week before the UN Conference, I visited areas of Fukushima Prefecture in Japan that had been affected by the earthquake-tsunami-nuclear explosion that had devastated that area exactly four years before.  My visit was part of JCC2015 (Japan CSO Coalition for 2015 WCDRR) conference, which concluded the day after the field visit with an important program of sessions.

I will bring in some content from blogs I published here in 2015, just after my trip to Japan…

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The visit to Fukushima was unforgettable. The impact of the horrific events of four years ago was still very apparent, as was the strong and continuing resilience of the local people, even those who (at that point) remained in “temporary” camps.

A good summary of the events of the events of 2011, along with some lessons we should learn, is contained in the publication “Ten Lessons from Fukushima.” In brief, a massive (magnitude 9) earthquake, at 2:46pm on March 11, 2011, caused extensive damage across northern Japan, and triggered an enormous tsunami.  This tsunami struck coastal zones of northern Japan an hour after the earthquake, destroying vast areas and killing many. The Fukushima “Dai-Ichi” (number one) nuclear plant, located on the coast, was severely damaged by the tsunami. The next day at 3:36pm, core meltdown and a massive explosion destroyed reactor unit 1. Other reactors subsequently failed.

It has been estimated that the equivalent of 168 Hiroshima nuclear bomb’s worth of radiation was released when Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor unit 1 exploded.

Evacuation orders were slow to come, partly due to the loss of communications facilities, but also due to startling management and leadership errors.   Eventually, after suffering serious exposure to radiation, some 300,000 people were evacuated from areas inside a 30km radius around the reactor complex.

This map shows the 30km evacuation zone, and the radiation plume.

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We would visit areas well within the red area during our trip.

Radiation drifted with the wind, falling onto land and people and animals, leaving extremely high levels of iodine, cesium, and other radioactive elements. Radioactivity fell across inhabited, farmed, and forested areas according to the wind direction at the time, and radioactive water was released into the sea – even four years later, when I visited, something like 600 tons of radioactive water were being released into the ocean each and every day. “Safe” levels of radiation were repeatedly raised.

Investigations found that the nuclear disaster was preventable; appropriate safety mechanisms – existing at the time – were not incorporated into the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactors when they were built.

Another good document covering the disaster and its aftermath was created by the Citizens’ Commission on Nuclear Energy.

I had not realised that vast areas of Fukushima Prefecture were still closed due to extremely high radiation levels, and that the Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor complex was dangerously unstable, and events could have spun out of control again at any time. Wreckage littered a vast area, and radiation in many of the places we visited was startlingly higher than what is considered to be safe, if “safe” levels even exist.  Radiation contamination seriously impeded recovery efforts, as workers could not stay in the area for very long. (I was struck by the contrast with Hurricane Katrina where, even with the bungled response, cleanup was far more advanced four years after the storm than what we saw in Fukushima… The difference?  The radiation.)

We visited Iitate village, a place where some of the highest levels of radiation were found just after the meltdown – it’s right near the center of the darkest plume in the map above. We visited Namie town, where we met with local officials who are doing their best to deal with the situation, spending their days in highly-contaminated areas.   We visited tsunami-affected areas of Namie, where we could see vast areas of wreckage, damaged housing, vehicles crushed by the power of the waves.

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And we drove to within 4km of the Fukushima Dai-Itchi plant.  We finished the day by visiting a group of evacuees from Namie town, at that point still in “temporary” housing in Kohri town. Their courage and resilience was powerful and inspiring.

Radiation levels on our bus were high. This reading, taken during our lunch break, is 0.82 micro Sieverts per hour, which is considered “safe” for short-term visits only.

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Throughout the area, thousands of one-ton bags of soil, wood, debris, etc., were piling up. Topsoil, down 20cm, from farms was being removed; areas 20m around houses were similarly being cleaned. I was told that these bags, nearly a million of them now, would be taken to gigantic incinerators for processing.  Nineteen hugely-expensive incinerators were being built, each with a short lifetime of just two years.  Meanwhile, the residual ash was being stored, “temporarily”, at the Fukushima plant.

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Radiation “hotspots” remained, however.

The catastrophe took place four years before our visit.  The situation when we were there is described in the “Fukushima Lessons” publication noted above, and in a recent article in The Economist. There were still over 120,000 “nuclear refugees” who could not return to their communities, their homes, the areas we visited.  They probably never will, despite financial incentives being offered, because levels of contamination were still so high.

We met with a group of displaced people, from Namie town, now living in Kohri town in “temporary” housing far from their homes, to which they will never return. They lived virtually on top of each other, able to hear the softest sounds from their neighbours (such as snoring!) – quite a change from Namie, where their ancestral homes and farms were.

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We were lucky to be presented with a narrative, using a hand-made storyboard, of their experience in the days after the tragedy.  It was a powerful and moving description of their suffering; and in the telling of the story, of their resilience and spirit.

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Discussing Fukushima was sensitive in Japan. I found it interesting, the next week at the WCDRR Conference in Sendai, that the many references to the Fukushima disaster refer to it as the “Great East Japan Earthquake” or “Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami” disaster.  No reference to the horrific and ongoing events at the nuclear power plant, which were somehow not relevant, or too sensitive to mention.

Some final reflections:

  • Several times during the day in Fukushima, we heard local people use a striking visual metaphor: “nuclear power is like a house without a toilet.” Until there is a safe and permanent place for nuclear waste, we should not be using this source of power;
  • In our increasingly-unstable world, the use of a technology with such potential for devastation and tragedy – Fukushima, Chernobyl – seems foolish. The precautionary principle should be followed;
  • Let’s try to remember that the impact of these mega-disasters still persists.  Four years after the disaster, there were 120,000 people still displaced, even in Japan, such a rich country.  And cleanup and stabilization in Chernobyl, even more than 30 years later, is still far from finished.

Ultimately, I took a sense of inspiration from the stories of the people affected, of those who responded and who are responding still, and those who are living lives of advocacy to ensure that the injustices that took place in Fukushima are corrected, and not repeated.

Reflecting on what we saw, those (government, TEPCO, etc.) who were saying that the area had recovered, or was on the road to recovery, were either not seeing what we saw, or not telling the truth.

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I want to share links to two articles from The Guardian, describing the situation in 2017, two years after my visit to Fukushima: this article describes how radiation levels inside the collapsed reactor had risen to “extraordinary” levels, unexpectedly; and this article provides a lengthy update of what are described as “faltering” cleanup efforts.  They make for depressing reading.

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On a more positive note, and with the importance of DRR clearly in my mind after the visit to Fukushima, I led the ChildFund delegation to the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai.

I want to share content from a summary article I published in DevEx soon after the conference ended:

After several sleepless nights of negotiations, representatives from 187 governments agreed the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. As one of more than 6,500 participants in the Sendai conference, I can attest to the exhausted sense of relief that many of us felt when the framework was finally announced.

The framework that emerged contains seven global targets — nonbinding and with funding left unspecified — focused on reducing disaster risk and loss of lives and livelihoods from disasters.

Sendai was a monumental effort, involving government representatives, senior-most leaders of the United Nations and several of its specialized agencies, staff from hundreds of civil society organizations and private sector businesses, and the media, with venues scattered across the city. The urgent need for international action to reduce disaster risks was thrown into stark relief when Cyclone Pam — one of the most intense storms ever to occur in the Pacific — tore across Vanuatu just as the conference began.

Why does what happened in Sendai matter? Because hazards — both man-made and natural — are growing, as our climate changes and growing inequality contributes to a sense of injustice in many populations. Doing nothing to prepare for these increased risks is not a viable option for our future.

Also, Sendai matters because the conference was the first of four crucial U.N. gatherings this year. What happened in Sendai will influence the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, coming in Ethiopia in July; the post-2015 sustainable development goals that will be discussed at the global U.N. summit in September; and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.

ChildFund’s delegation, part of the “Children in a Changing Climate” coalition, had several objectives in Sendai. In particular, we worked to make the case that children and young people should be seen as agents of change in any new DRR framework.

Children and young people are normally seen as helpless, passive victims of disasters. During and after emergencies, the mainstream media, even many organizations in our own international NGO sector, portray children and young people as needing protection and rescue. Of course, children and young people do need protection. When disasters strike they need rescue and care. But what such images fail to show is that children also have the capacity — and the right — to participate, not only in preparing for disasters but in the recovery process.

Since the last U.N. agreement on DRR, in 2005, we have learned that children and young people must be actively engaged so that they understand the risks of disasters in their communities and can play a role in reducing those risks. Children’s participation in matters that concern them is their right — enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child — and strengthens their resilience and self-esteem.

And, crucially, we know that young people’s participation in DRR activities leads to better preparation within families and in communities.

My presentation at Sendai included examples of how youth brigades in the Visayas region in the Philippines helped in the Typhoon Haiyan response.

 

The example we used to make our case came from ChildFund in the Philippines.  In 2011, with support from local government and the Australian government, ChildFund worked with several youth groups to help them prepare for disasters, and to help them help their communities prepare. We engaged young people in Iloilo and Zamboanga del Norte provinces to identify hazards, to develop local DRR and disaster risk management plans, to train children and young people in disaster risk management, and to raise awareness of DRR in eight communities.

Little did we know that, just 18 months after the project concluded, this effort would really pay off.  Many of us remember vividly the images of Typhoon Haiyan barreling across the Philippines in November 2013, just north of where our project was carried out.  As local and national government in the Philippines began to respond to the typhoon, with massive support from the international community, we could see that the efforts of children and young people we had worked with were proving to be important elements in managing the impact of the storm.

Advocacy of children and young people during the project had led to the local government investing more in preparedness and mitigation, which was crucial as the storm hit. Young people trained in the project trained other groups of parents and youths, building the capacity of people who were affected by, and responded to, Haiyan. Local government units mobilized disaster risk reduction committees, including youth members, who were involved in evacuation of families living in high-risk areas. Youth volunteers helped prepare emergency supplies and facilitated sessions for children in child-centered spaces that were set up after the typhoon passed.

This experience led ChildFund to strongly support elements of the Sendai Framework that recognize the importance of the meaningful participation of children and youth in DRR activities. We are happy to see the text calling for governments to engage with children and youth and to promote their leadership, and recognizing children and young people as agents of change who should be given the space and modalities to contribute to disaster risk reduction.

But two major weaknesses can be seen in the Sendai Framework: Its targets are not binding and are not quantified; and no global commitments to funding DRR actions were made. Many observers feel that governments were keen to establish (or not establish!) precedents at Sendai that would bind them (or not bind them!) in the high-stakes conferences to come. These weaknesses are serious, and greatly undercut the urgency of our task and likely effectiveness of our response.

Still, on balance, the Sendai Framework is good for children and youth, certainly better than failure to agree would have been. Let’s hope for even stronger action in Addis Ababa, New York and Paris, with binding targets and clear financial commitments.

Then our children, and grandchildren, will look back at Sendai as a milestone in building a better, fairer and safer world.

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After the success of Sendai, Felipe Cala (then working with the ChildFund Alliance secretariat) and I took a couple of days to visit Kyoto, a marvelous place full of culture and beautiful scenery.  And we enjoyed the modern “bullet” trains, that made our countries look so backward.

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Here are links to earlier blogs in this series.  Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money.