I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:
- Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers. I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
- Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
Since then, across 25 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing 25 4000-foot mountains in New Hampshire, 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; and, most recently, the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures.”
This time I want to conclude my description of those Bright Futures years by sharing our attempt to encourage a new set of values and attitudes in CCF’s staff, through a weeklong immersion, experiential training workshop we called “Bright Futures 101.”
Peter Drucker is supposed to have said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This certainly seemed to be true as CCF moved into the pilot testing and rollout of Bright Futures – the agency was investing in new systems and new structures in a big way. But Bright Futures would only realise its promise of more effective work for children living in poverty if the culture of the organisation shifted how it viewed its work, how it viewed the people it worked for.
But first… I climbed both Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette on 22 June, 2017, on a beautiful, mostly-sunny day. My plan had been to do this loop back in September of 2016, with my brother, but my fall and the resulting injuries (broken rib, torn rotator cuff) forced a postponement.
That morning I left Durham at 6:45am, and drove up through Concord, stopping in Tilton for a coffee, and in Lincoln to buy a sandwich for lunch. So I didn’t get to the trailhead until just after 9am.
The parking lot at Lafayette Place was nearly-full, with lots of people arriving, getting ready to hike on what was a clear, cool day, perfect for hiking. It was a bit surprising for a Thursday; I was glad not to be doing this climb on the weekend!
I know that I climbed both Lincoln and Lafayette in the distant past, probably in the 1980’s, but I don’t really have any clear memory of the hike. So it was new to me, again, perhaps 30+ years later!
On this day, I had arrived at the trailhead for both the “Falling Waters” trail, and for the “Old Bridle Path.” I planned to walk up Falling Waters, across Franconia Ridge to Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette, and then down the Old Bridle Path, back to Lafayette Place.
As I started out, there were many people walking along with me, so it took some time to get sorted into a fairly-stable pack. It took me about 15 minutes to reach the beginning of the Falling Waters Trail; I would return here later in the day, coming down the Old Bridle Path. So far, it was a beautiful day for hiking! But lots of people…
I continued up the Falling Waters trail, along the stream with many small waterfalls (so, the trail is aptly named!) I took lots of photos and several videos of the waterfalls. The trail ascended steadily, moderately, along the brook.
The walk was typical White-Mountains rock-hopping, moderately and steadily upward in the shadow of Mt Lincoln. I was working pretty hard, and gradually more space opened up between groups of hikers. There were no insects during this part of the hike – indeed, there would be none until I got to Greenleaf Hut later in the afternoon.
I started to emerged from the forest into scrub pine at about 11am, and the views across to Franconia Notch became remarkable:
Then, suddenly, I was out of the trees, ascending Little Haystack, and the views were just spectacular:
I reached the top of Little Haystack at 11:25am, where I joined the Franconia Ridge Trail:
I had been ascending the western slopes of Mt Lincoln; once I got up onto Franconia Ridge, views to the east were just as amazing: I was above Owl’s Head, and could easily see Bond Mountain, West Bond, and Bondcliff (all of which I would climb on a very long day in September, later that year), and out across the Twins to Washington and the Presidential Range in the distance. Maybe I could see the Atlantic Ocean far in the distance.
There were many people at the top of Little Haystack, some of whom were probably staying at the nearby Greenleaf AMC Hut., which I would pass on my way down, later. But many also were doing the same loop that I was doing, across Lincoln and Lafayette. One amazing boy, maybe 4 years old, was zipping along ahead of his mother, who kept calling him back. He seemed full of energy, and wanted to fly ahead. I wondered how long his energy would last, but he certainly kept it up for the whole time I saw him… weaving in and out of my path, with his mother calling out to him all the way.
The walk along Franconia Ridge, to Mt Lincoln, was spectacular.
I arrived at the summit of Mt Lincoln right at noon, and rested briefly. It had taken about 2 hours and 40 minutes to the top from the Lafayette Place parking area.
It was too early for lunch, so I soon left Mt Lincoln and headed north towards Mt Lafayette. I will describe that hike, and the trek back down, next time!
Last time I described how we had piloted the Bright Futures program approach in CCF, further developing and testing the methods, systems, and structures that had been defined through our research and internal and external benchmarking. It was a very exciting process, and I was lucky to be asked to accompany the pilot offices in Ecuador, the Philippines, and Uganda as they explored the disruptive changes implied in Bright Futures. Lots of travel, and lots of learning and comradeship.
Near the end of that period, I came into contact with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), a human-rights, social-justice campaigning organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In late 2004, as I was finishing my consulting time with CCF as acting Regional Representative for East Africa, based in Addis Ababa, I was offered a position at UUSC as Executive Director (initially as “Deputy Director”) working for Charlie Clements, UUSC’s dynamic and charismatic president and CEO.
Working at UUSC would be a big and exciting shift for me, out of international development and into social justice campaigning. But the move felt like a natural extension of what we had been doing in CCF, where we had included an explicit focus on building the power of excluded people into Bright Futures. I was able to use what I had learned across 20 years in the international development sector, leading and managing large international agencies, to lead and manage operations at UUSC, while also learning about campaigning and advocacy (and working in a unionized context!)
I’ll begin to describe my years at UUSC next time. For now, I want to skip forward a few years, to my second, brief incarnation with CCF.
In early 2009, a few former colleagues at CCF, now rebranded as ChildFund International, got back in touch. At that point I had transitioned to the 501c4 branch of UUSC, which we had created in 2008, and I had some spare time after the federal election the year before. (More on that in a future post.)
Between 2004 and 2009, ChildFund had continued to roll out Bright Futures, but there had been major changes in leadership. Sadly, John Schulz, CCF’s president, had taken a leave of absence to fight cancer, and had then died. Though I had never worked directly with John, I had always appreciated his leadership and his unwavering support to Daniel Wordsworth and Michelle Poulton as they redesigned the agency’s program approach.
The internal leadership changes that took place after John’s departure led to Daniel and Michelle leaving CCF, as Anne Goddard became the agency’s new CEO in 2007. Initially, at least, it seemed that the global transition to Bright Futures continued to be a priority for ChildFund. (Later, that would change, as I will describe below…)
During that period, as Bright Futures was scaled up across the agency, many structural and systems-related challenges were addressed, and staff inside ChildFund’s program department were busy addressing these issues – updating their financial systems, transitioning long partnerships, training new staff in new positions. In particular, Mike Raikovitz, Victoria Adams, Jason Schwartzman, and Dola Mohapatra were working very hard to sort out the nuts and bolts of the change.
It is a truism, attributed to Peter Drucker, that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Alongside their important, practical work, Jason and Dola in particular were learning that lesson, and as a result they began to focus also on the cultural side of the change involved in Bright Futures: the attitudes and values of ChildFund staff. Systems and structures were vital elements of Bright Futures, but nothing would work if staff retained their old attitudes toward their work, toward the people they worked with and for. And there was a clear need, from Jason’s and Dola’s perspective, for attitude shifts; in fact, it seemed to them that the biggest obstacle to implementing Bright Futures were old values and attitudes among existing staff.
Dola worked as Deputy Regional Director for ChildFund Asia, a brilliant and highly-committed professional. I worked closely with Dola in the design and implementation of BF101, and I enjoyed every moment of it; I admired Dola’s passion and commitment to ChildFund’s work, and his dedication to improving the effectiveness of ChildFund’s programming.
Jason managed a range of program-related special projects from ChildFund’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. Jason was (and is) a gifted and insightful professional, who I had met back during my tenure as Plan’s program director, when he had worked with CCF’s CEO in a collaboration with Plan and Save and World Vision. Jason had rejoined ChildFund to help develop an approach to working with youth.
In addition to Dola and Jason, I worked closely with Evelyn Santiago, who was ChildFund Asia’s program manager. Evelyn brought key skills and experience to the design of our workshop.
As noted above, Dola and Jason had identified the need to reinforce the values and attitudes side of Bright Futures, and felt that a deep, experiential-learning event might help better align staff with the principles of the new program approach. They approached me for help and, as I had some time, we worked together to design and carry out a ten-day workshop that we called “Bright Futures 101” – in other words, the basics of Bright Futures, with a big emphasis on values and attitudes.
Working with Jason, Dola and Evelyn was a privilege – they were and are smart, experienced professionals whose commitment to social justice, and to the principles and values of Bright Futures were strong.
In this blog post, I want to describe “BF101” – our approach, the design, and how it went.
Rather than being just introduction to the tools incorporated into Bright Futures, our purpose was to promote and encourage the kinds of personal transformations required to make the new program approach a reality. So we prepared something that ChildFund had never tried before – a long, experiential workshop with a village stay.
From the beginning, we agreed that BF101 would have two overall objectives:
- to build a comprehensive understanding of the principles underlying ChildFund’s Bright Futures program approach; and
- to build a questioning, exploring, and adaptive approach to program development and implementation that was aligned with ChildFund’s value of fostering and learning from its own innovation.
So, implicitly, we wanted to shift ChildFund’s culture. By including significant participant leadership, immersion in communities, experiential education, and pre- and post-course assignments, we wanted to promote a meaningful connection between head (understanding), heart (values and principles), and hand (concrete action), thinking that this connection would spill over into their daily work when they returned home. A 1 1/2-day immersion in a local community would be a key component of the workshop.
After a lengthy, collaborative design process, we agreed on a three-part workshop design (included here – Building Program Leaders – Immersion Workshop – Final Preworkshop Version). The overall framework looked like this:
Once Dola and Evelyn approved the design, they asked ChildFund Philippines to book a venue, and invitations were sent out to 3 or 4 participants from each office in Asia. Extensive pre-reading assignments were sent to each participant, covering current trends in poverty and international development as well as the fundamental documents related to Bright Futures that I have shared in earlier posts in this series, such as the CCF Child Poverty Study, the Organisational Capacity Assessment, etc.
In the first workshop section, “Setting the Stage,” we would prepare participants for the experience. A lengthy role play, adapted from a full-day exercise I had created in Viet Nam, was designed to challenge participants in an experiential, emotional manner, helping them actually feel what it was like to be a community member participating in programs implemented by ChildFund in the old way, the pre-Bright-Futures way.
We assigned various roles – community members (dressed appropriately), staff members of a fictitious NGO called “WorldChild International” (wearing formal attire), observers, etc. I had written an extensive script (Role Play – Module 1 – Design – 4) which set up a serious of interactions designed to provoke misunderstandings, conflict, moments of emotional impact, and some fun:
As usual, the most important part of any exercise like this one was the group reflection afterwards, in this case led by Lloyd McCormack:
This led into a session, which I led, on mind-shifts and archetypes: M2 – Archetypes – 2. The purpose here was to build on the impact from the role play to get participants thinking about their own attitudes and values, and how they might need to shift.
Ending the first section of the workshop, Jason, who had flown in directly from the US and was quite jet-lagged, gave an excellent historical overview of CCF’s programmatic evolution. This presentation contained an important message of continuity: Bright Futures was the next step in a long and proud programmatic history for the agency: we were building on what had been accomplished in the past, not starting over. Jason’s presentation set the scene for our work on the changes in attitudes and values that were in store:
The next sessions outlined each of the main values and commitments articulated in Bright Futures (at least at that point in its evolution):
- Deprived, Excluded, and Vulnerable children are our primary focus. This session built on the CCF Poverty Study, which I described in an earlier post in this series. At BF101 we sought to unpack what this “primary focus” would mean in practice;
- We Build on the Stages of Child Development. After I had concluded my tenure as consultant at CCF, program development efforts had built on Bright Futures by articulating a clear theory of child development, along with interventions related to each stage. This was a very good development in ChildFund’s program approach which, however, had the potential to conflict with the bottom-up nature of Bright Futures. So this section of BF101 would deepen understanding on how to resolve this seeming contradiction in practice;
- Programs are Evidence-Based. Again, ChildFund had continued to develop aspects of its program approach, building on Bright Futures to try to professionalize the design of projects and programs. As above, this was a very good development in ChildFund’s program approach which, however, had the potential to conflict with the bottom-up nature of Bright Futures. So we would reflect on how to resolve this seeming contradiction in practice;
- We Build Authentic Partnerships. This commitment flowed directly from the work we had done on Bright Futures earlier.
Perhaps the most important and crucial element of the BF101 design was a 1 1/2-day stay in communities. We divided up the participants into smaller groups, and set out to spend a night in a community nearby the conference center:
Our concluding sessions were aimed at building on the community immersion by considering a range of personal and institutional transformations required, discussing systems implications, and then breaking into National Office groups to plan for action after the workshop.
During the workshop, Jason was blogging regularly, and asked me to prepare one, also. Here is one of Jason’s blogs: http://ccfinthefield.blogspot.com/2009/05/opposite-sides-time-to-reflect.html. And here is mine: http://ccfinthefield.blogspot.com/2009/05/seeking-balance.html.
We used a simple tool to track participant assessments along the way:
As can be seen, the overwhelming majority of participants rated the workshop as very positive and helpful. I myself felt quite happy with the workshop – I felt that we had gotten fairly deep into discussions that had the potential to transform people’s attitudes and values in a positive way. Although it was a lot to ask people to set aside their work and families for seven full days, and to spend a night in a village, it seemed to pay off.
So, BF101 was successful, and fun. Together with the systems work and structural shifts that were ongoing in the agency, it set the scene for the continued rollout of Bright Futures across ChildFund International, now including a positive, constructive way to promote values and attitudes consistent with the new program approach.
But, sadly, Bright Futures would soon be set aside by ChildFund. In what felt like an echo of Plan International’s pathology (new leadership = starting over from scratch), despite having embraced the approach initially, ChildFund’s new leadership moved deliberately away from Bright Futures. The global financial crisis had erupted and, like many international NGOs, ChildFund’s income was dropping. It was felt that investment in the transition to Bright Futures was no longer affordable, so much of the investment in research, piloting, systems development, and training (for example, followup to BF101) was dropped.
As a consultant, I could only look at this decision with sadness and regret. The dedication and resources that Michelle, Daniel, Victoria, Mike, Jon, Andrew, Jason, Dola and many others across ChildFund had invested in such a positive and disruptive shift was, to a great extent, lost.
Many years later, when I joined ChildFund Australia as International Program Director, a very senior program leader expressed similar regret to me, lamenting that Bright Futures was a clear ideology which was now lacking.
I’ve recently been reminded of another consequence of the virtual abandonment of Bright Futures: a year later, 65% of the participants in the BF101 workshop had left ChildFund. Perhaps we didn’t do enough to help participants operationalize the changes we were promoting, in the context of ChildFund’s reality of the time. But that would have been quite a contradiction of the basic message of BF101: that each person needed to take the initiative to operationalize their own transformations.
My own assumption is that the personal transformations begun during our week in the Philippines led to significant disappointment when the agency didn’t follow through, when ChildFund didn’t (or wasn’t able to) invest in creating BF102, 202, etc.
Why is it that international NGOs so often suffer this phenomenon, that when leadership changes (at country, regional, or global levels) everything changes? That new leaders seem to view the accomplishments of their predecessors as irrelevant or worse?
I think it comes, at least in part, from the way that we who work in the value-based economy associate ourselves, and our self images, with our work so strongly and emotionally. This ego-driven association can be a great motivator, but it also clouds our vision. I saw this many times in Plan, as many (if not most) new Country Directors or Regional Directors or International Executive Directors scorned their predecessors and dismissed their accomplishments as misguided at best, quickly making fundamental changes without taking the time to appreciate what could be build upon. And, when the next generation of leaders arrived, the cycle just repeated and repeated.
This, to me, is the biggest weakness of our sector. Today, alongside this ego-driven pathology, the entire international-development sector is also facing severe disruptive change, which greatly complicates matters… but that’s a story for another day!
Meanwhile, I made the big move, joining UUSC as Executive Director, shifting from international development to social justice and human rights campaigning, internationally and domestically. And into a strongly unionized environment. These were the days of Bush’s Iraq invasion, torture and neoliberal economics, and I was excited to turn my work towards the grave problems affecting my own country.
Next time I will begin to tell that part of the story… stay tuned!
Here are links to other 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:
- Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
- Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
- Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
- Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
- Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
- Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
- East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
- Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
- Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
- North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
- Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
- North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
- South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
- Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
- Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
- South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
- Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
- Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
- Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
- South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
- Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
- Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
- Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
- Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
- Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
- Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
- Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
- Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
- Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
- Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.