Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team

May, 2018

I began a new journey two years ago (May, 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.

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Picking up the story in July of 2009, I flew to Sydney for what would become 6 great years as ChildFund Australia’s first International Program Director; Jean would join me there in a few weeks.  In two previous blog entries of this series, I described how I was thinking about programming, and about putting together a strong set of teams in Sydney and overseas, as I approached this exciting new challenge.

In many ways, as I headed towards Sydney, I was hoping to put it all together: 25 years in international development and social justice, designing and implementing programs and partnerships, building cohesive and high-performing teams – this was my chance to start afresh with all of the lessons learned over those decades.  To really get it right.

In this article, I want to introduce the program team at ChildFund’s head office in Sydney – the “International Program Team” – share a bit about the great people I worked with, along with a description of how the team’s staffing and structure evolved.  I would approach this task very mindful of what I had learned in Plan International, especially how we refocused and restructured the agency; and keeping the lessons about building strong teams in complex situations, that I had learned at UUSC in my mind also.

But first: I climbed Mt Moriah (4049ft, 1234m) on July 22, 2017, with Kelly Royds and Raúl Caceres, friends from Australia who, coincidentally, had worked at ChildFund (but not on the IPT.)  We had hiked up Mt Pierce and Mt Eisenhower a year earlier, in August of 2016…

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Raúl and Kelly came up from Cambridge the day before, and we left Durham at about 7:45am, and stopped for sandwiches and coffee in Ossipee on the way north.  Traffic was heavy on this summer weekend, so it wasn’t until 10:45am that we reached the trailhead in Gorham, in the northern reaches of the White Mountains.

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Raúl and Kelly at the Beginning of the Climb

 

Mt Moriah is the northern-most of the six 4000-foot peaks in the Wildcat-Carter range.  I had climbed Wildcat “D” and Wildcat Mountain (on one day), and Middle and South Carter (on the next day), in September of 2016, solo; and I had summited Carter Dome on 9 July, 2017, with our friend Draco.  So Moriah was the last of these six that I would climb.

Moriah is an “easy to moderate” hike, and we had a nice day for the climb: not too hot, partly cloudy and a bit misty.   It’s 4.5 miles up, and we retraced our steps from the top.

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The trail climbs moderately from the trailhead just outside of Gorham, reaching a ledge outlook at Mt Surprise.  There, views opened to the west towards the Presidential range:

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This ledge area seemed unusual to me – not so high in altitude, but quite alpine in nature: low pines and large areas of lichens, as if we were at a much greater elevation:

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I guess the conditions here were affected by a combination of elevation and latitude: since we were at the northern end of the White Mountains, perhaps the winter weather would be a bit more severe?

It was a bit misty, with views that were not quite as dramatic as last time I was up on this range, but still very impressive.  There is a short boggy area near the top.

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Nearing the Top – Raúl, With Kelly in the Background

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We reached the spur path to the summit of Mt Moriah at 2pm.  From here it wasn’t too far to the top.

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The summit itself is a small, rocky clearing, and on this day it was quite crowded, so we ate a late lunch at an outlook a short distance from the top, with great views to the north:

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The (Crowded) Summit Of Mt Moriah

 

An outcropping was visible to the south, without anybody on it.  It looked like there would be great views from there so, after lunch I thought that I would go ahead to try to get to it.  Maybe the view there would be worth the walk.  When we reached the intersection with the Kenduskeag Trail, Kelly and Raúl decided to wait for me there; I kept going, hoping to reach that outcropping.

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Taking first the right-hand turn (along the Carter-Moriah Trail, coincident with the Appalachian Trail here) and then doubling back to explore briefly along the Kenduskeag Trail, I just couldn’t find that outcrop.  After poking around a bit, I headed back to where I had last seen Raúl and Kelly, but they had gone.  So I began the descent back to the trailhead.

Soon I passed a couple who were climbing up, and I asked them if they had seen my friends.  No!  Whoops!  Clearly we had gotten separated at the top, so I asked the couple to tell Raúl and Kelly that I had begun the descent.  A few minutes later I was able to get reception on my cellphone, and rang Raúl: sure enough, they were waiting for me back at the summit!  In retrospect, I should have thought of that – of course they would want to wait where there was a view! – but I had been too tired to climb back up there, and assumed that they were feeling similarly.

From their perspective, as I was descending, Raúl and Kelly became worried that I was lost and perhaps injured.  Finally they decided that it would be best to walk to the trailhead, and then I called Raúl and we realized what had happened.

I descended as we had ascended, a beautiful day for a hike in the White Mountains:

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Presidential Range, Now Backlit In The Afternoon

 

Nearing the trailhead, I came across part of an old car that I hadn’t seen on the way up:

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I arrived back at the trailhead at 5pm, and Kelly and Raúl finished at about 6:30pm.  Despite our inadvertent (and temporary!) separation, all turned out OK and it was a pleasant and enjoyable day.  Mt Moriah, peak number 33, was climbed – 15 more to go!

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When I arrived in Sydney, one of my first tasks was to finalize the structure of the new International Program Team (“IPT”), and complete its staffing.  Having spent lots of time and energy worrying about structure in previous roles (particularly at the International Headquarters of Plan International – see this blog), I was thinking about this in two ways:

  1. Because structure has a strong influence on behavior, I wanted to keep the IPT’s structure lean, flat and close to the field, and efficient, cost-wise;
  2. Because with the right people, structure wasn’t the most important thing, I wanted to not worry about it too much: just get the right people, make as good a structural decision as I could, and then get on with the work and let things evolve through intentional, restorative, reflective learning.

It turns out that these two aims are fairly consistent.  Yes, structure does have a strong influence on behavior, so it’s important not to get it wrong.  And, within reason, flatter structures are better: fewer levels of bureaucracy between field and senior management keeps things a bit more grounded in the reality of our NGO work.  Flatter structures help keep head-office costs down, also.  But I had also learned an important lesson along the way: hire great people, make roles very clear and connected to the organization’s mission and people’s passions, and then let things evolve, reflecting and learning-by-doing.  Don’t obsess too much about structure.

So that’s what I did.

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When I arrived in Sydney, the IPT was in flux.  Even though ChildFund Australia had been working in Papua New Guinea for fifteen years, and in Viet Nam for a decade, the main role of Sydney-based program staff at that point was to oversee projects funded through the Australia-NGO Cooperation Program (“ANCP”) of AusAID (the Australian Government’s overseas aid agency), implemented by the US member of the ChildFund Alliance, confusingly-named ChildFund International.  This meant that the IPT had little role with regards to ChildFund Australia’s own programming…

In 2009, ChildFund Australia was preparing for growth: our private income was growing strongly, and because the new Labor government was promising to strongly-increase overseas development assistance in line with international commitments, and we had just become top-tier ANCP “Partners” with AusAID, it looked like that income stream was also going to grow quite rapidly.  Part of that preparation for growth resulted in the creation of my new role as International Program Director, which would assume the management of ChildFund Australia’s three (becoming five) Country Directors.

ChildFund Australia’s organizational structure as I arrived in Sydney looked something like this:

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  • Five Department Directors worked with Nigel: Bandula Gonsalkorale (Finance and IT); Jan Jackson (HR); Lynne Joseph (Sponsor Relations); Di Mason (Fundraising and Marketing); and me;
  • Initially we had three Country Directors, handling program implementation and reporting to me: Carol Mortenson (Cambodia); Smokey Dawson (PNG); and Peter Walton (Viet Nam).  Peter also handled regional responsibilities for the Mekong, supervising ChildFund’s research into setting up operations in Laos.  I will share more about these Country Directors, and their successors and teams, in upcoming articles in this series…

And in the Sydney Program Department, five positions were in the FY2010 budget (in addition to my own):

  • Veronica Bell had just left ChildFund, taking up a position at the Human Rights Council for New South Wales.  So her International Program Manager position was vacant;
  • Richard Geeves had just joined, only a few days before my arrival, as International Program Coordinator for the Mekong programs (Cambodia and Viet Nam).  Richard had long experience in the education sector in Australia (including in indigenous areas), and was recently returned to Australia after many years working from Cambodia;
  • Rouena (“Ouen”) Getigan had joined ChildFund several years earlier, and therefore was our repository of wisdom and knowledge; the rest of us were new, but Ouen knew how things worked!  She handled relations with our ChildFund partners in Africa and Asia that were funded through the ANCP program, and did an outstanding job of building and maintaining these partnerships.  In addition, to support a large regional HIV and AIDS project in Africa, Ouen supervised a very capable Kampala-based project coordinator, Evas Atwine;
  • Terina Stibbard, like Richard, had just joined ChildFund, only a few days before my arrival, as International Program Coordinator for Papua New Guinea.  Overflowing with passion for the work, and with a tireless commitment, Terina took on what was perhaps our biggest challenge: building a strong program in PNG.  I will write much more about PNG in a future blog post in this series.  Also, among other things, Terina introduced us to the concept of “critical friend,” which perfectly captured the IPC role with our Country Offices: without direct authority, but able to advise and speak truth directly without harming relationships;
  • And Nigel had left one position undefined, for me to consider.

Interviews for the Mekong and PNG roles had begun before I was hired, but before finalizing things with Richard and Terina, Nigel and Jan had consulted me, asking if I wanted them to wait until I got to Sydney before finalizing these hires.  But Richard and Terina looked great to me, on paper, and I saw no reason to delay.

In terms of the program-team’s structure, I didn’t see any reason, at this point, for the extra structural level implied by the “International Program Manager” role.  Over time, I saw things might evolve in three general domains:

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In the Program Support domain, one group of staff in Sydney would accompany Country Directors and, most directly, the Program Managers in our program countries, helping develop projects and programs with the greatest impact on the causes of child poverty in each location.  In the Program Development area, Sydney staff would provide technical and systems support, establishing standards and helping measure results.  Finally, of course, we had a general function of Program Implementation – our Country Directors.

As we will see, in fact, the IPT structure did in fact evolve in this way.

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So here is the first iteration of the IPT structure, put in place soon after my arrival:

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Richard, Ouen, and Terina focused mainly on “Program Support” duties, working directly with our Program Managers in Cambodia, PNG, and Viet Nam, and with ChildFund partner offices in Asia and Africa to help them develop and implement, and learn from, increasingly sophisticated programming.  Two new hires, Jackie Robertson and Cory Steinhauer, joined ChildFund to support program development: Jackie was focused on developing the policies and standards that would govern our work; and Cory would focus on building a development-effectiveness framework through which we would design our programs and measure our results.

Here are some images of that first IP team:

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Terina, Richard, Cory, Jackie, Me and Ouen

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Richard, Terina, Me

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Ouen

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This structure worked very well.  In terms of how I managed the team, from the beginning I tried to put in place a range of “restorative” practices, aimed at keeping the team together, keeping us grounded and motivated:

  • Every Monday morning at 10am, we had a team checkin.  I had learned how to do this from Atema Eclai at UUSC, though I had to adapt it quite a bit: Australians weren’t enthusiastic about the “touchy-feely” aspects of checkins like Atema’s.  So we limited things to a brief general chat followed by a discussion of priorities for the week.  This seemed to work very well, settling us into the week smoothly, and was replicated by the team even when I was away;
  • Every month or two, we had a formal IPT Meeting.  These events had agendas, minutes, pending-action-items lists, etc.  They were business meetings, which I would chair, meant to be efficient fora for decision-making and accountability.  They worked very well.  For example, I had learned how to use “pending-action-items” lists from Max van der Schalk while working at Plan’s international headquarters, and the introduction of this tool was very important at ChildFund: decisions that required action went onto the list, organized in order by date, and stayed on the list until they were completed or the IPT agreed to remove them.  This provided a strong element of accountability and was a helpful irritant that kept us from neglecting decisions and becoming less accountable.  Once the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”) was completed, we introduced a short reflection from a field case study at the beginning of each IPT Meeting, to help ground us in the reality of our work; much more detail about the DEF will come in a future blog in this series;
  • My intention was to complement the formal IPT meetings with periodic reflection meetings about a topic related to our work.  These sessions wouldn’t have agendas or minutes, much less structured and more relaxed than the IPT Meetings, and would be chaired by different members of the IPT who had expressed an interest in a particular topic – micro-finance, human rights, direct giving, etc.  These sessions were always interesting and useful, and energizing, so I regret not organizing more of them.  Somehow they seemed to drop off the agenda with the fast pace of work, over time, and I don’t think that I fully realized the potential of this concept;
  • I tried to have an open door policy, available for IPT members at any time.  I made sure to close my door only when necessary, and to invite any team member to come in and sit down whenever they dropped by.  I think this was helpful in creating and sustaining a culture of caring and support, clearly communicating to everybody that helping the team was my main job.  Of course, there were times when my office door needed to be closed – for the discussion of sensitive matters, particularly on the phone with our Country Directors – but I had learned at UUSC to be quite mindful of asking permission to close my door, to enhance transparency and make sure people were comfortable.  As with the team checkins, it seemed that our mostly-Australian staff viewed this habit of mine – asking permission to close my door – as a bit silly.  But I think it was helpful;
  • Of course, I carried out an annual performance review of each member of the team, and spent lots of time preparing these documents.  I tried to be balanced, but to always include areas for improvement – loyal readers of this blog will remember my experience with Pham Thu Ba, back in Plan Viet Nam: when I finished her first performance review, which was stellar, she told me I wasn’t doing my job if I couldn’t help her improve!  This made a big impression on me, and even though western culture these days seems to only value praise, I wanted to honor Thu Ba’s example in my work in Australia.  This worked well, most of the time!;
  • In addition to the yearly performance review process, I tried to have some less-formal, one-on-one time with each IPT member every year.  I’d invite them for coffee or lunch, and have an open, unstructured chat about how things were going. I wasn’t able to make this happen as often as I wanted, but it was a very useful mechanism, helping surface concerns and opportunities that I might not have appreciated otherwise;
  • Finally, also dating from my time in Viet Nam, I adapted and used a “Team Effectiveness Assessment” for use with the IPT, and was able to use this tool to formally assess how we were progressing.   The framework I used came from a great workbook that I had discovered at Asia Books in the Bangkok Airport, back when I worked in Hanoi in the late 1990’s: “The Team-Building Workshop,” by Vivette Payne.  The approach included in the book outlined eight elements of team effectiveness, and a survey was included that could be used to measure the status of a particular team.  Starting with how I had used the survey in Hanoi, I now adapted the survey and used it four times with the IPT, tracking results and identifying areas that we could focus on to improve (in yellow):

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You can see that our overall score, a measure of team effectiveness, improved from 197.1 in March, 2011 to 230.6 in December of 2011, and then moved back down to 204.1 in January of 2014.  I think that the decrease in score reflects the arrival of several new IPT members, and the corresponding need to settle the team down into new roles and relationships.

Each time we used this tool, we identified areas for focus, which are initiated in yellow: for example, in October of 2012 we looked to focus on “Roles” and “Team Relationships” and “Skills & Learning.”  I found the tool to be practical and very useful, though not to be taken too literally; discussion of results and team reflection on next steps was more important than the numerical scoring… and the fact that I was using this tool periodically gave the team a message that I was taking our effectiveness seriously, and investing my time, and all of our time, on improving the team environment.

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In one of my blogs about UUSC, I described how I had created the “UUSC Handbook,” to enhance clarity of how things would be done in that agency.  From my perspective, as Executive Director there, the UUSC Handbook was a big success, notwithstanding its large size.  Given the tensions that existed in that agency, having an agreed, approved set of standards and procedures was helpful, and since it mainly simply codified and clarified existing practices, it didn’t create too much bureaucracy.

I replicated this approach at ChildFund Australia, creating the ChildFund “Program Handbook.”  Like its UUSC predecessor, the Program Handbook was quite complex and bulky to produce and update, which happened periodically … they were both meant to be living documents.   And it contained much content that was already existing, just needing to be codified.

But, unlike the UUSC Handbook, ChildFund’s document contained much that was new: our Theory of Change and our Development Effectiveness Framework, and a range of program policies – these were new, developed by the new IPT, and represented the ongoing maturing of ChildFund’s programming.

A copy of a version of the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook is here (Program Handbook – 3.3 DRAFT ); even though this is marked as “Draft,” I think it was the final update that we issued before I left Sydney in 2015.

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Two years later, in 2011, ChildFund Australia was growing strongly, and we had commenced operations in Laos.  The IPT structure in Sydney evolved consistently with this growth:

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Carol Mortensen continued as CD in Cambodia, but changes had been made in PNG and Viet Nam, and we had started operations in Lao PDR:

  • Andrew Ikupu, a very-experienced Papua New Guinean, had replaced Smokey Dawson as CD in PNG.  Andrew had long experience working in development in his country, and had a PhD from the University of South Australia in Adelaide;
  • Deb Leaver had taken over from Peter Walton in Viet Nam.  I had first met Deb in late 2009, when I visited ActionAid Australia, where Deb was Program Director, and she had been probably the most welcoming of my peers in Sydney.  We were lucky to hire Deb to follow Peter;
  • Chris Mastaglio, with his able colleague Keoamphone Souvannaphoum, had helped ChildFund with the initial research into why, how, and where we should work in Laos.  Once we made the decision to start working there, we were fortunate that both Chris and Keo were available to join ChildFund: Chris as CD, and Keo as Program Manager (and, later, as CD when Chris transitioned to head up a regional sport-for-development program).

We were very lucky to have Andrew, Chris, Deb and Keo join ChildFund Australia.

In Sydney, things had also evolved.  Cory Steinhauer had departed, and Richard Geeves had moved over from Program Support (where he had served as IPC for the Mekong) to work on Development Effectiveness.  He was quite good at this role: while I was the primary architect of ChildFund’s Development Effectiveness Framework, which I will describe in detail in a future blog post in this series, Richard was an able foil, working to keep things simple and practical, and he had a good touch with the field, keeping the implementation of what was a new, challenging system on track, with good humor.

John Fenech joined the Program Development team, helping our Country Offices prepare grant proposals.  Relative to our size, ChildFund Australia had a lower proportion of income from technical grants (bilateral, multi-lateral, foundation) than our peer organizations, and John’s role was to build our portfolio.  Although John was one of the younger members of the IPT, he brought a vivid countercultural sense, sometimes seeming to date more from the 1970’s than from the 2010’s.  In a good way…

Terina remained engaged with PNG, and she was doing a fantastic job working with Andrew Ikupu and his Program Manager Manish Joshi (later becoming CD there).  As a result, our programs in PNG were really taking off – growing in size, impact, and sophistication, and diversifying in income source.  And Ouen continued to work with our ChildFund International partners across Africa and Asia as they implemented an increasing number of ANCP-funded projects.

As our programs were expanding, two new IPCs had joined, working with our programs in the Mekong: Caroline Pinney took over support from Cambodia and Laos, and Maria Attard worked with our team in Viet Nam, while also coordinating research and initial engagement in Myanmar.  Caroline brought long experience in Asia, with AVI (the Australian volunteer-sending agency), and a very strong level of dedication and passion for our work.  Maria’s work had been in Cambodia (working with women and children that had suffered from domestic violence) and the Pacific (in the disability sector), before returning to Australia (continuing in the disability sector).  Maria brought a welcome sense of activism to the team, building on her advocacy work in the disability sector.  Both Caroline and Maria showed remarkable dedication to the heavy workload and complicated realities of the programs that they supported.

Finally, in this second iteration of the IPT structure, we decided that the scale of operations was large enough to merit a program officer to provide a range of support services to the team.  Initially we wanted to hire an indigenous Australian, accessing subsidy programs offered by the government.  This was Terina’s idea, and was a very good one, but we were never able to make it work due to complicated and dysfunctional bureaucracy on the government side.

So we shifted concepts, and decided instead to look towards recent graduates in international development.  Given how many people were finishing degrees in the field, and how few jobs there were, we thought it would be good to make the position time-limited – giving new graduates some real work experience, and some income, while taking some administrative load off of the rest of the IPT.  And then booting them out into the real world.

We recruited externally, and were able to hire a very smart, extremely hard-working new graduate, Mai Nguyen.  From then on, Mai handled a range of administrative and program-support duties with great efficiency and good humor.

Here are images of that iteration of the IPT:

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IPT in February, 2012.  From Left To Right: John Fenech, Ouen Getigan, Me, Maria Attard, Terina Stibbard, Mai Nguyen, Caroline Pinney, and Richard Geeves.  Missing: Jackie Robertson

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IPT in March, 2012.  From Left To Right: Ouen Getigan, Maria Attard, Terina Stibbard (seated), Caroline Pinney, Jackie Robertson, Me (seated), John Fenech, Mai Nguyen, and Richard Geeves

 

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In 2014 we introduced IPT’s third structural evolution, the last version of my time as International Program Director.  At this point, our scale had grown further, with the addition of Myanmar and, with 11 direct reports, I was having trouble providing proper individual attention to everybody.  So we introduced a new level, partly to break my “span of control”: so Ouen and Richard became “Managers”:

 

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Ouen would be handling Program Development and the support of our Development Effectiveness Framework, and Richard moved to manage Program Support while also serving as IPC for PNG (after Terina Stibbard departed.)  This allowed me to give priority attention to the five Country Directors now reporting to me, and to Ouen and Richard.

Here is an image of that final iteration of the Sydney-based team:

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IPT in November, 2014: John Fenech, Sanwar Ali, Caroline Pinney, Richard Geeves, Maria Attard, Me, Manasi Kogekar, Mai Nguyen, Sarah Hunt, and Ouen Getigan.  Missing: Jackie Robertson.

 

We had upped our technical support capacity, by recruiting Sanwar Ali from Oxfam Australia; he would head support for our increasing Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response efforts.  John Fenech had moved to serve as IPC for Cambodia, allowing Caroline Pinney to focus on Cambodia, and Mai Nguyen had moved to serve as IPC for Myanmar, allowing Maria Attard to focus on Viet Nam.  To replace John in the grant-development role, we (re)hired Sarah Hunt, who was quickly very successful in bringing in additional resources to the program; Sarah had served on the IPT before my arrival, and we were lucky to bring her back, thanks to Ouen’s strong recommendation.  Sarah made grant development look easy, which it certainly isn’t!

This team worked very well, and seemed harmonious and effective.  Ouen and Richard were good, supportive managers of their teams, and I was able to spend much more time with our Country Directors.

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In my last article in this series, I shared a framework that I developed over time, for thinking about effective teams in NGO settings:

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In that article, I said that “… our INGO teams will perform strongly if:

  • their task is clear, accountability is clear, what we are supposed to do, and why, is clear, and if how to carry out our tasks is clear;
  • we operate in a context of high trust;
  • the inspiration that we bring to our work is refreshed periodically.  And:
  • the normal wear-and-tear on our human relationships, the harm done over time, is restored intentionally.”

How did we do in ChildFund Australia’s IPT?

  • Clarity: We did fairly well here.  I was careful to engage with the IPT to make sure that their roles and jobs were clear, and the work we did to develop a programmatic Theory of Change and Development Effectiveness Framework also greatly enhanced clarity.  The preparation and frequent updating of the Program Handbook also provided clarity, though perhaps was viewed as a bit bureaucratic by some.  But, overall, I’d say things were clear;
  • Trust: this is a bit harder to judge, for me, because it was my job to create and maintain an environment of trust.  Trust comes from a combination of competence and honesty, and I feel that IPT members viewed me as quite competent and honest.  For example, I decided to share minutes of all Senior Management Team meetings with IPT members at our IPT Meetings – orally, in summary, and omitting any confidential content.  I think that sharing this information helped reinforce a sense of transparency.  But of course many factors were beyond my control, and I was imperfect in my communications skills;
  • Inspiration: I think we did fairly well here, I tried to bring a sense of the realities in the field into all our meetings, and into board and Senior-Management meetings, using (for example) case studies from our Development Effectiveness Framework to reconnect us with the deeper motivations that brought us into the NGO sector.  Again, I was imperfect in this, but I think we did pretty well;
  • Restorative Practices: earlier in this article I described my efforts to build restorative practices into the ongoing context of the IPT, and I think these worked very well.

Overall, perhaps a solid B+.

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That’s some of the story of ChildFund Australia’s International Program Team, from 2009 through 2015.  ChildFund’s work expanded enormously during that time, and the IPT  managed to support that expansion smoothly, with increasing attention to the quality and sophistication of our programming.

It did come at a financial cost: program support increased from around 4% of funds remitted to international programming in 2010, to 6.7% in 2015.  My sense is that the gains in effectiveness and impact were well worth this investment – I will explore this in more depth in an upcoming post in this series.

I enjoyed working with the IPT, and learned a lot from them.  Morale was good, consistently, and though I can’t take sole credit for that success, I think that the approach we took helped.

With gratitude and warm appreciation to:

  • Sanwar Ali
  • Maria Attard
  • John Fenech
  • Richard Geeves
  • Rouena Getigan
  • Sarah Hunt
  • Manasi Kogekar
  • Mai Nguyen
  • Caroline Pinney
  • Jackie Robertson
  • Cory Steinhauer
  • Terina Stibbard

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Stay tuned for more blog posts about ChildFund Australia: our Theory of Change and Development Effectiveness Framework, our work and great teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam, and much  more…

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Here are links to 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.

Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration

April, 2018

I began a new journey nearly two years ago (May, 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.

*

Picking up the story as I arrived in Sydney in July, 2009, to take up the newly-created position of “International Program Director” for ChildFund Australia, I was thinking a lot about how to build great programs for children and youth.  I wrote about that last time.

And I was also thinking about the other big part of my new job: building strong teams.  Next time I will introduce some of the people I worked with in those teams – in Sydney, Port Moresby, Hanoi, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, and Yangon.

This time I want to share thoughts about how to build teams, in particular in the context of international non-governmental organizations.  Through my career in the INGO sector, I was fortunate to work in, and lead, teams across the world, and learning a lot about how to build strong, high-performing teams.  Learning-by-doing, from watching others, and from my own mistakes.

I was determined to bring this learning to ChildFund Australia.  But before diving into that topic…

*

I climbed both Galehead Mountain and Mount Garfield on 19 July, 2017.  My plan that day was to walk up Gale River Trail to join the Garfield Ridge Trail, and then take the Frost Trail to reach the top of Galehead Mountain, which would be number 31 of the 48 4000-footers.  Then I would loop around Garfield Ridge to go up Mt Garfield, and return to meet up with Jean at the bottom of Garfield Trail.

Jean had driven up from Durham with me, and left me at the trailhead of the Gale River Trail.  She would spend the day with an old friend from high school, planning to pick me up at the end of the day.

I reached the top of Galehead Mountain at a little after noon.  When I had arrived at the Garfield Ridge Trail, going up, it seemed that I was making great time.  But by the time I dropped down from Galehead, and left Galehead Hut to head towards Mt Garfield, I was much less optimistic: to reach the trailhead by 5-6pm, as arranged with Jean, I thought I needed to leave Mt Garfield by 3pm, at the very latest.  I had less than three hours to get to the next peak.

So I headed down from Galehead and tried to keep up a good pace.

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I got back to the junction with Twinway and Garfield Ridge at about 1pm, and continued towards Garfield.  The walking was, at first, quite pleasant as I retraced my steps down to where I had come up Gale River:

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From there, it was pleasant walking along Garfield Ridge.  Continuing along the ridge in a westerly direction, I reached the junction with the Franconia Brook Trail (at the saddle of Garfield Ridge Trail, between Galehead and Garfield) at about 2:15pm.

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View Looking Down Franconia Brook

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Looking Back, Galehead Hut Is Just Visible In The Saddle, With South Twin Above It To The Left, And Galehead Mountain Above It To The Right

 

I was getting nervous: I had calculated that I needed to start descending from the summit of Mt Garfield by 3pm, in order to reach the trailhead, where Jean would be waiting, by 5-6pm.  But from the saddle, well below the summit, at 2:15pm, Mt Garfield towered over me, and the next section of the hike looked to be very steep.  VERY steep.

In all of these climbs, all 32 of them thus far, I don’t think I have ever been as tired as I was now.  The climb up from the saddle between Galehead Mountain and Mt Garfield felt unrelenting, up up up.  It was very hot, very humid, and I was down to one liter of water, of the 2.5 liters I had started with.  Luckily, I passed by Garfield Ridge campsite, and there is a wonderful spring there, so I drank a full liter of cool, clean mountain water – a great relief!  Fantastic!

But, even so, the climb was unrelenting.  It was very challenging, a really tough climb up 0.7 miles from the saddle to the top.

I reached the junction with the Garfield Trail at just after 3pm, and decided to drop my backpack there, and finish the climb to the summit with just a bottle of water and my walking stick:

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At least I had water.

Luckily, though the last section was very steep, I got there at about 3:15pm.  Though I was exhausted, the views from the top of Mt Garfield were stunning, with just enough clouds to produce a nice contrast as I looked around.  I could see Owl’s Head in front of me, and the peaks of Flume, Liberty, Lincoln and Lafayette to the west.

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Summit of Mt Garfield – Foundation of the Former Fire Lookout Tower

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From The Summit Of Mt Garfield: Galehead Mountain Is In The Foreground, South Twin In The Background

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Franconia Ridge, On The Right, and Owl’s Head Below, To The Left

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Looking Back Towards Galehead, and The Twins

 

Sadly, my camera seriously fogged up at the top of Mt Garfield, so the photos I took towards Franconia Ridge were spoiled.  This video panorama of the view is also fogged up, but perhaps the beauty of the day can be inferred here?

 

I couldn’t stay too long at the top, though it was beautiful, because I was worried about reaching the parking lot too late.  So I headed back down to the junction with Garfield Trail, picked up my backpack, and started down from there at 3:30pm, a half hour later than I had hoped.  Here I’m looking back up at the junction as I began the descent down Garfield Trail:

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Luckily, because I was so exhausted, the 4.8 miles down Garfield Trail were not challenging, just long long long.  By about 4pm, I hadn’t seen anybody at all, which was quite a change from the steady stream of hikers, and through-hikers, up on the ridge.  But, at a very awkward moment, a young hiker passed by me, walking quickly, just saying hello.  If she had been just a few moments earlier, it would have been quite embarrassing (probably for us both!)

 

The walking was fairly easy, gently downward, on a beautiful White-Mountains day:

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My feet were sore and I was very ready to finish the hike by the time I arrived at the end of Garfield Trail, at 5:30pm – nicely within the range I had predicted.  It had been two hours, and Jean was waiting there!  Happily, she had only been waiting a few minutes!

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5:33pm At The Trailhead!  I Look Fresher Than I Felt!

 

What a great day – two 4000-footers on a beautiful day.  But far more challenging that I had expected!

*

As I flew towards Sydney in mid-July, 2009 (Jean would join me there two months later), I was thinking a lot about two aspects of my new role.  On the one hand, my role was “International Program Director,” which meant that I was expected to lead the thinking and strategy related to ChildFund Australia’s development and humanitarian work.  In my last blog entry I outlined some of what I was thinking about when I was thinking about great INGO programming…

At the same time, I would lead several teams and be a member of others.  In Sydney, I would lead the “International Program Team” (“IPT” – I will write more about this team next time), and I would be a member of the two “Senior Management” teams that Nigel Spence, ChildFund Australia’s CEO, had recently established: first, there was the Sydney-based “Business Support Leadership Team” (“BSLT,” chaired by Nigel), which was comprised of Nigel and the five Department Directors based in Sydney.  The BSLT was focused on leading the functions that made our programs possible: fundraising, finance, IT, human resources, sponsor relations, governance support, etc.  The role of the BSLT was described in the team’s charter:

The Business Support Leadership Team is responsible and accountable for developing and implementing systems, policies, procedures, guidelines and controls that enable the organisation to meet strategic and business objectives. The Business Support Team is also responsible and accountable for securing resources and determining resource allocation. 

And then there was my relationship with ChildFund Australia’s overseas teams in Hanoi, Port Moresby, and Phnom Penh.  As Nigel and I had discussed my new role, we looked at two possibilities:

  • Nigel could continue to directly manage ChildFund’s three Country Directors (located in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam), as he had been doing.  This option would put me in a “staff” role in relation to overseas operations, “line” managing only IPT members in Sydney.  This would be similar in some ways to my role at Plan’s headquarters;
  • I could take over Nigel’s “line” management of the overseas CDs in addition to managing IPT members in Sydney.

Loyal readers of this blog will recall an earlier discussion of the tradeoffs involved here: as I moved from being Plan’s Regional Director for South America to the post of Program Director for the global organization, Max van der Schalk (Plan’s CEO at the time) and I had looked at two similar options.

In that case, we decided that I would not manage Plan’s Regional Directors, leaving him as their “line” manager; this left me in a “staff” role.  This would keep the organization’s structure a little bit flatter, but would burden Max with a broader span of control.  But that’s the way we went, and we made my new title reflect the difference: instead of following Marjorie Smit as “Program Director,” we decided my title would be “Director of Planning and Program Support.”  A rose by any other name…

So I was free to focus on strategy and structure, without being distracted by the daily dramas involved in line management – spending pressures, audit responses, personnel issues, etc.  It felt right at the time, and I certainly had more than enough power to get my job done; but later I did feel that the additional clout that line management would have given my role might have been helpful in making the transformational changes (in Plan’s goals, structure, and resource allocation) we achieved.  But I was happy with the choice we made, and we did make those changes.

I described the tradeoffs as I saw them to Nigel, and left the decision to him; I felt that I could go either way.  But I was delighted when he decided that I would become the line manager of ChildFund Australia’s three Country Directors … though, I quickly discovered that the CDs felt quite differently about what they felt was a loss of status.

So I would also lead and manage those three people, which became five as we expanded into Laos and Myanmar in the next few years.  The second “Senior Management” team that Nigel had recently formed was the “Program Operations Team,” (“POT”), which was comprised of him, me, and the three Country Directors; I would chair that team.  The role of the POT was described in its charter:

The Program Operations Team is responsible and accountable for operations: individually in their countries and head office; and collectively for the wider organization.  The Program Operations Team is focused on program strategy, managing the daily operations of the organization and furthering the achievement of ChildFund Australia’s programmatic goals.

This meant that I was going to be in three teams in my new role, leading two and joining the third as a member.  (I’d also co-chair the ChildFund Alliance Program Committee, but that’s a different story…)

*

Over the previous 25 years, I had learned a lot about working in, and leading, teams.  I had learned that people working in INGOs, generally speaking, are intrinsically motivated.  We join our agencies because we felt driven to help improve the world, with a passion for making a difference – not everybody was like that in my experience, but most were.  I saw this across all the organizations I had worked in, and all the locations where I had worked – we could almost take motivation for granted.  This was a luxury, something that many private-sector organizations work very hard to produce.

And that intrinsic motivation is a gift that could be spoiled if not handled correctly.  For example, my sense was that if a team leader managed as if motivation were a problem, and put in place mechanisms of control based (in part) on distrust, that kind of management culture would clash with the nature of our people, and would demotivate staff.  This accounted for some of the trouble that Alberto Neri got himself into in Plan

As I have discussed in an earlier blog post in this series, I had also learned that leading teams of INGO people did not mean that everything was going to be positive and nice.  Our organizations have plenty of internal complexities and might even have more-pervasive politics and ego than some for-profit environments.  There were dishonest people in our agencies.

In that earlier article I noted that:

… there is no inherent, inevitable contradiction between being clear and firm about roles, being fair but strict about adherence to procedures and performance, and the ideals of a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice.  

And, for me, the way to successfully navigate the terrain between principle and pragmatism is to learn how to manage conflict while developing a deep sense of humility and self-awareness, mindfulness and equanimity, and engaged non-attachment.

*

Looking back, it seems to me that it boils down to four key domains that I would try to focus on during those years in Australia:

  • Teams, and team members, needed to be completely clear (1) about their task, their role, and the way that they were meant to carry out their duties;
  • They needed to work in an environment of trust (2), where they felt motivated, and
  • Inspired (3) to achieve their best in an important endeavor.  And, finally,
  • The whole effort needed to be founded on maintaining and restoring (4) relationships.  The most fundamental aspect of INGO management, in this model, is building and preserving authentic relationships in a context of clear accountability.

The rest of this blog post will describe how I tried to draw from what I had learned to make things clear, build trust, inspire, and restore relationships in the teams I worked with at ChildFund Australia.  It worked much (but certainly not all) of the time…

*

One aspect of team leadership that seemed to be essential when dealing with INGO people was establishing a clear aim, clear strategy, clear logic, and a clear way of measuring progress.

So the first element I thought about was clarity.  Clarity, in practical terms, meant building a shared understanding of what our teams were going to do, why we were going to do that, how we were going to do it, and how we would track what we accomplished to be accountable for our use of time and resources, and to learn from it.

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Building Strong INGO Teams: An Emerging Venn Diagram (1)

 

Building clarity was probably my biggest focus during my first year or two in Sydney.   I was lucky that I was able to build on the solid, existing statements of vision and mission for the overall organization:

ChildFund Australia’s vision is of a global community, free from poverty, where children are protected and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

ChildFund Australia works in partnership with children and their communities to create lasting and meaningful change by supporting long-term community development and promoting children’s rights. 

 

These statements were great foundations, but they weren’t detailed enough to provide the clear, measurable foundation for our program work that I was looking for, the clarity that would be needed to foster high-performing program teams.

So we moved quickly, in the first few months of my tenure at ChildFund Australia, to develop a Theory of Change, outcome indicators, and a measurement framework.  In future blog posts in this series I will describe each of these elements of our program design in much more detail, because I think that they were state-of-the-art at the time; I mention them in passing here, because they created a clear and shared understanding of our program work.  The resulting “Theory of Change” (that I will unpack in a later blog entry in this series) was:

Theory of Change.001.jpeg

 

This Theory of Change draws in particular from two sources: the CCF Child Poverty Study, and from my own learning from the development of the UUSC Strategic Plan.

The overall program framework (which, again, I will describe in detail later) looked like this:

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ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework (DEF)

 

 

Once programmatic clarity began to emerge, in those first months, I started to assemble another key element of clarity and accountability: the ChildFund Australia “Program Handbook.”  Here I built on the “UUSC Handbook” that I had created several years earlier.  The Program Handbook ended up being a very long, complex document, but to me it seemed vital – an unambiguous reference that I could point to whenever I felt that things were starting to diverge in an unnecessary way.

These, and other, elements of clarity were put in place fairly quickly, and we spent a lot of time over the next five years using that framework as a basis for planning, learning, and accountability.

*

Along with clarity, I was thinking a lot about trust.  Knowing the character of our INGO people, and the culture of our organizations, it seemed to me that once we had a strong sense of clarity, the next essential ingredient in making a high-performance team was trust.  If people were motivated (which, as I said above, was something we could count on, at least until we harmed it!), clear about their purpose, learning from their work, and accountable for their behavior, then I had learned that they would get on with the job and fly.

But trust was essential, because without trust then the old management tools of management-by-objective, tight job descriptions, payment for performance, etc., would be necessary, and culture would surely shift in the wrong direction.  Motivation would drop because those old management tools were developed, and are suitable only (in my view) in contexts where people fit in to simpler, more-linear processes such as manufacturing or bookkeeping.

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Building Strong INGO Teams: An Emerging Venn Diagram (2)

 

That’s a major lesson I had learned from watching Alberto Neri’s work in Plan long before: what he wanted to do was right and good, but the way that he put his initiatives in place destroyed motivation and led him to failure as Plan’s CEO.

How to build trust in a team?  It’s a truism that trust takes years to develop, but only an instant to destroy.  I had learned how to build trust, and how I had damaged trust, along the way:

  • Trust has two elements:
    • You know that the person you trust knows what they are talking about.  They are competent;
    • You know that the person you trust is honest with you, has your best interests at heart, and works to maintain an authentic, human relationship with you.

If either of those two elements are not in place, then trust will be very elusive.  If both are in place, over time, trust can build.

As I thought about my new position at ChildFund Australia, it seemed to me that my own competence was probably unquestioned.  I had worked in the field for over 20 years, in similar, larger, organizations, across the world, and I had done a very similar job (in Plan) before.  I had served as Executive Director of an INGO.  I was very familiar with working in globally-federated organizations (as ChildFund Australia was), and had even been very involved in creating the program approach used by a key member of the ChildFund Alliance.  So even though I would be new to ChildFund Australia, I felt confident that my own competence would be recognized.

So, to build trust, I had to build on that sense of competence by being honest and straight with people on my teams, in a way that demonstrated that I had their best interests at heart, while trying to build and maintain an authentic relationship with them.  This didn’t mean that I would always agree with them, or that I would never discipline people, but that I would strive to be clear and honest and authentic in my management actions.

*

I had a feeling, as I flew towards Sydney, that if I could build clarity and trust, anything would be possible.  But there was one element missing: inspiration.  Given the motivation that is intrinsic in our INGO people, even if they were clear about the test and worked in a culture with high levels of trust, as time went by I felt that they would still need to be inspired to do their very best.

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Building Strong INGO Teams: An Emerging Venn Diagram (3)

 

Inspiration would be necessary because much of our work in INGOs isn’t particularly exciting.  Yes, it’s an honor to visit the field and work alongside people fighting for justice, for better futures.  Real inspiration comes from those visits.  But we also have to compete for funding, deal with reports and other paperwork, participate in performance reviews, deal with difficult people, (often) cut budgets, change plans, etc.  And we spend most of our time on those mundane tasks, which can create a sense of alienation from the source of our motivation.

That means that we need refreshing of our motivation periodically.  When I worked with ChildFund Australia I tried to make that happen in various ways.  In the Sydney office I organized occasional, open reflection meetings at which we would consider a range of topics that related to our program work, in a freewheeling way.  For example, one time we discussed the notion of direct cash transfers, something that challenged our program approach.

Another way of keeping us connected with the source of our motivation involved using the “case studies” that were produced frequently as part of our Development Effectiveness Framework – see element 3 in the diagram included above.  At our regular, formal IPT meetings, and even (when possible) at board committee meetings, I started our work with a quick reflection on one of those “case studies” to ground our work in the real, lived experience of  people who faced poverty and injustice.  I will describe the DEF, and the “case studies” in much more detail in a future blog, but for now I think that these, and other elements of my approach helped to keep up our teams’ levels of motivation and inspiration.

*

Finally, even with clarity, trust, and inspiration, over time, harm is done.  That’s because the normal, natural interaction in any team produces friction, and that friction takes a toll on the human beings within the team.  Luckily there is a range of principles and practices that are designed to restore harm.

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Building Strong INGO Teams: An Emerging Venn Diagram (4)

 

Late in my time at ChildFund Australia, as I worked through my Masters in Dispute Resolution at the University of New South Wales, I would study restorative justice in detail, which would help gel this topic for me.  But at this point my intention was to model some of the practices that I had seen Atema Eclai use at UUSC: frequent checkins with the team, and with each member; considering not just how people on the team were doing in their work lives, but as human beings; working in circles instead of around square tables; rotating the chairing of meetings around the teams.  Atema had clearly achieved very high levels of morale and loyalty, motivation and trust, which in part seemed to come from having spent lots of time building real, caring relationships with her team.

(At UUSC this seemed to veer into a sense of disunity, of aloofness and separation of Atema’s team from the rest of the organization, which was not a positive result.  But, overall, her team was very high-performing and, in part, this was due to Atema’s management approach.)

So I tried to put some of those mechanisms in place, and they worked pretty well.  Some of them ended up clashing with the very straightforward culture that is common in Australia, and which I came to appreciated.  But I tried to adapt things.

*

That’s what I was thinking about as I began to plan for my new post.  It makes sense to me, and reflects lots of learning over the years: our INGO teams will perform strongly if:

  • their task is clear, accountability is clear, what we are supposed to do, and why, is clear, and if how to carry out our tasks is clear;
  • we operate in a context of high trust;
  • the inspiration that we bring to our work is refreshed periodically.  And:
  • the normal wear-and-tear on our human relationships, the harm done over time, is restored intentionally.

Yes, we needed formality and controls.  And firm management.  I had learned that too much control, too many private-sector management tools, would harm team performance in INGOs.  But if I could create a management culture of clarity, trust, inspiration, and authentic human relationships, we might achieve a lot.

I’m sure there’s more to it, but that’s what I was thinking about as I flew towards Sydney!

*

Here are some random images of teams I’ve worked with:

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Next time I will introduce the teams I worked with during my six years in Australia:

  • The Sydney-based International Program Team;
  • The Country Directors I worked with, in Papua New Guinea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar;
  • The senior managers in Sydney, at ChildFund Australia’s head office.

Imperfectly, doing the best I could, I tried to live up to an ambition to make sure that these teams were clear, trusted, and inspired.  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:

  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.

Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program

March, 2018

I began a new journey nearly two years ago (May, 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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 30 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve moved across time, from the beginning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (1984), through to serving as Executive Director for UUSC Just Democracy (into mid-2009).

*

Last time I described a failed merger between three large international NGOs.  Across the MDG era there was a constant theme, in senior management strategy sessions and board rooms, of consolidation: surely, we thought, the sector would go through a period of mergers and acquisitions like what we were seeing in the for-profit world.  We imagined that, at the end of this process, that there would be many fewer, larger generalist INGOs, and a range of smaller, specialized agencies.  Seemed inevitable.

That consolidation hasn’t really happened, even now, but we had tried one: I had led the due diligence effort from Plan International’s perspective in mid-1997, helping formulate a strong case that Plan International, Plan USA, and Save the Children USA could achieve much more if they combined forces.  The process ended, as I described, because of glitches in the relationship between two CEOs and their boards.  And because, in one case, the agency’s board saw their own roles being diluted should the merger go forward.

A real pity, because the combination of these three agencies back in 1997 would have really created very strong programmatic and funding synergies.  And it would have jump-started a necessary and positive consolidation in our sector…

*

In this article, I want to reflect about how to build a great INGO program: to misquote Haruki Murakami: what we think about, when we think about a great program.

In early 2009, my work as Executive Director at UUSC Just Democracy was in transition, partly because of our success.  Our political work in New Hampshire had contributed (in a small way) to the success of several progressive candidates in the 2008 federal election, and our donors were starting to relax.  (Which is pretty sad because, as we all know now, the great results of 2008 would be rapid undermined by a virulent, anti-democratic, right-wing reaction from 2010 onwards.)

The consequence for UUSC Just Democracy was that I started to pick up some consulting work from my old life, in particular with old friends at ChildFund, organizing what became Bright Futures 101 in the Philippines, which I’ve blogged about earlier.

That consultancy led to a connection with ChildFund Australia, which was looking to put in place a new, international program department in Sydney.  At first it seemed like I might be able to help out on a consultancy basis, because they were having trouble finding the right International Program Director, a new position.  Maybe I could fill in for a while … so I had several Skype interviews with ChildFund’s CEO, Nigel Spence, which went well.  So well that it felt like maybe I should consider doing the job!

We agreed that after my assignment in the Philippines I would travel to Sydney for face-to-face discussions with Nigel and members of his board of directors.

As I prepared for that visit, I spent time thinking about how I would approach creating a new program approach, and a new team, for ChildFund, should I be lucky enough to be given the opportunity.

*

But first, back to the other arc of this journey: I climbed both Galehead Mountain and Mt Garfield, solo, on July 19, 2017.  Here is a view of both peaks, from an image I had taken from Mt Lafayette a couple of weeks before:

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North Twin and South Twin Mountains can be seen behind Galehead.  The idea was that Jean would drop me off, I would loop up over Galehead, across to Garfield, and then finish up a few miles from where I started.  If we planned things well, Jean would be waiting for me…

Jean and I drove up from Durham that morning, leaving home at about 7:15am.  We stopped for refreshments in Tilton, and then to buy me a sandwich (for the hike) in Lincoln.

We drove up through Franconia Notch, and then east on Rt 3.  Jean was going to drop me off at the start of the Gale River Trail, and then have a day with an old high-school friend in Littleton, and pick me up at the end of the Garfield Trail.  I planned to hike up Gale River Trail, then make my way up past Galehead Hut on Garfield Ridge Trail, to the top of Galehead Mountain.  Then I’d retrace my steps on Garfield Ridge Trail, to the top of Mt Garfield, and then drop down Garfield Trail.

First, the climb of Galehead Mountain:

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Jean left me at the Gale River trailhead at 9:45am:

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Looking Fresh – That Would Change!

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When I looked at the AMC White Mountain Guide, it seemed that the whole loop would take me over 9 hours, which seemed hard to believe.  I figured it would take me between 7 and 8 hours, so asked Jean to meet me between 5pm and 6pm.  In the meantime, she would visit with her friend from high school.

The walking was easy up the Gale River Trail, gently upward for several miles, mostly in the shade of a lovely clear blue sky.  The first couple of miles were a bit unusual, because I wasn’t “rock-hopping” here, it was mostly on roots, “root-hopping,” dodging mud.  But it was a gorgeous day:

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The trail is north-facing, so would be covered with snow and ice for many months in an average year.  Of course, I was walking in late July, so the path was clear, but evidence of crampon-walking was clear along the way:

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Evidence Of A Crampon

 

At around 11am, the trail became somewhat steeper, and rockier; by this point, I was completely drenched with sweat!:

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I reached the Garfield Ridge Trail (coincident with the Appalachian Trail here) at about 11:30am, and became very optimistic about how long the hike would take me.  I had read that this part of the hike would take 3 1/2 hours, so if I was already at the ridge, not even two hours after starting, this was going to be easy!?  Was I making much better time than I expected?

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Things definitely didn’t turn out that way!  To begin with, even though I had reached the Garfield Ridge Trail, I still had plenty of climbing to do before I even reached Galehead Hut.  As I looked ahead, the actual ridge seemed quite a bit higher than I was, and North Twin Mountain loomed over me to the east.

I took a left turn, and it took me 15 minutes to reach the actual ridge near Galehead Hut, the end of the Garfield Ridge Trail, the intersection with Frost Trail and the Twinway:

 

 

 

There were several Appalachian Trail through-hikers on the trail, mostly seeming to be heading south.  I took the Frost Trail, and arrived at Galehead Hut just before noon:

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From Galehead Hut, the Frost Trail continues a short distance to the summit of Galehead Mountain.  I dropped my pack at the Hut, and headed up.

There is a great outlook half-way up the mountain, where there are views back down to the Hut, to South Twin Mountain, and down along the Bond ridge:

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South Twin From The Frost Trail

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Galehead Hut, North Twin Upper Left

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From Left: North Twin, South Twin, Bond Ridge

 

I arrived at the forested summit of Galehead Mountain at 12:19pm.  Just a rock cairn surrounded by small pines, no view at all:

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Peak number 31, done and dusted!

I got back to Galehead Hut at just past 12:30pm, and had a quick lunch.  I started back on the Frost Trail to rejoin the Garfield Ridge Trail at just before 1pm, heading towards Mount Garfield!

*

So what does it take to build a great INGO program?  I was thinking a lot about this as I prepared for my interviews with ChildFund Australia, drawing from my career thus far.  In the rest of this blog, I want to outline the elements of my thinking.

If I was lucky enough to be able to create a new program structure in Australia, I kept coming back to experiences I’ve described earlier in this blog series.  They seemed to coalesce into five general themes:

  1. It felt important to emphasize the commitment to closeness with people living in poverty that I had learned from colleagues in Tuluá, Colombia, as they explored and adapted PRA methods in the late 1980’s.  As our sector had “professionalized” in the 1990’s, it really felt like we had gained a lot, but lost a lot, too.  (I would describe both sides of that coin in an article I would write in Australia, which I have already blogged about earlier.)  Later we would insist on incorporating this commitment into what became “Bright Futures”, in the early 2000’s;
  2. To make sure we got things right, I thought about lessons from the Total Quality Management framework that I developed when I was Regional Director for Plan International in South America in the early 1990’s.  Part of this would have to be a clear measurement system, so that we could learn and improve and be accountable;
  3. To measure it, we needed to have a clear understanding of poverty (in general), and child poverty (in particular).  I thought a lot about the framework that we had developed when I worked with CCF as a consultant in the early 2000’s, designing and testing what became “Bright Futures”;
  4. I had learned a lot about how human-rights and social-justice frameworks could help us address the deeper causes of poverty, because these concepts had underlaid UUSC’s work, and the understanding of power that drove our activist work, in the mid-2000’s.  To have real impact, these frameworks needed to be alive in our work;
  5. And, finally, it felt like I might have a priceless opportunity, setting up a new team in Sydney and, later, in Laos and Myanmar, to approach my leadership and management role using the restorative principles and NGO values I had learned along the way.  I wanted to focus my own contribution squarely on bringing out the best in our NGO people.

When I thought about putting all those pieces together, I began to get very excited at the prospect of joining ChildFund Australia, which I would do in July of 2009.  Before this journey arrives in Sydney, however, I want to reflect a bit more on the five areas outlined above…

*

As I thought about creating the new department in Sydney, being close to the people we were meant to serve – people living in poverty – seemed to be of fundamental importance.  How could we dream of helping improve their lives if we didn’t have a clear sense of their situations, at a human level?

Back in Tuluá, Colombia, in the late 1980’s, I had been fortunate to work with a group of great people who were way ahead of my own evolution in this sense:

They were a joyful group in Tuluá, and I learned a lot from them.  For example, I vividly recall our program head (Lucyla Posso) and several program staff working to carry out a PRA exercise – I had no idea what that was, but they were excited by this new methodology.  I was still caught up in my engineering approach – Gantt Charts, etc. – and didn’t pay enough attention to what Lucyla, Lijia, and Oscar Arley and others were doing.  Later I would catch on to the power of PRA methods!

Later, we would incorporate this fundamental commitment – accompaniment of people living in poverty – into what became Bright Futures.  In 2003 I summarized much of the research carried out as we designed Bright Futures in the Phase 1 Report (attached here: Phase 1 Report – Final):

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For now, I just want to highlight the fourth dot-point included in the Box: “to be appropriate and relevant, (good development practice) is based on an immersion in each local environment, and the active participation of the poor themselves.”  The use of PRA tools would be fundamental in enabling us to make this a reality, but as I thought about setting up a new department in Sydney I was determined to bring this into our work not only as a tool, but also as a key value.  Accompaniment of people living in poverty would enable us to design effective development programs and to understand their impact, and it would also help create and reinforce a culture of respect and humility.

*

From my time at Plan International’s South America Regional Office, and in particular as we developed a framework for Total Quality Management in Plan, I had learned that a great organization must be united around a clear purpose, drive the continuous improvement of everything it does, and it must have a healthy and accountable management culture.  Later I came to appreciated that this greatness can only be constructed on a strong platform of policies and procedures.  Otherwise, people would tend to spend too much time reinventing ways of carrying out mundane tasks; for some reason, we are drawn to spend time on these kinds of housekeeping issues instead of grappling with the challenges of our program work.  The graphic captures the overall idea:

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Building A Great International NGO

 

Of course, my role at ChildFund Australia, if I ended up joining, was not to run the overall organization – that was Nigel’s job.  But nevertheless the framework was in my mind as I thought about setting up a new department:

  • I would want to have our basic policies and procedures be crystal clear, mostly so that we wouldn’t have to think about them.  The idea of creating something like the “UUSC Handbook” I’ve described earlier was in my mind, somehow;
  • The management culture that we would co-create in our team would be as full of trust and empowerment, accountability, and fun, as possible.  I wanted to apply what I had learned from Atema Eclai at UUSC, what I would later learn to describe as “restorative principles,” in our teams;
  • We would establish a clear framework for assessing the effectiveness of our work, and we’d use that framework to improve our work on an agile basis.  What would become the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” came from this;
  • And we would strive to be very clear about our purpose, and how our program work linked explicitly to that purpose.  Here I would end up building the first chapter of what became the ChildFund “Program Handbook” to include a theory of change and how we would measure its achievement.

I will share much more on all these topics in the near future!

*

As I’ve outlined in an earlier blog post in this series, one of the many exciting aspects of the work that Michelle Poulton and Daniel Wordsworth were doing in CCF in the early 2000’s was the study of child poverty.  CCF had commissioned staff from Queen Elizabeth House at Oxford University to survey the literature, listen to children and youth around the world, and then reflect back their findings.

I’ve explored those findings in some detail earlier in this series.  To summarize, we had formulated a clear framework that represented the lived experience of children who were living in poverty:

  • Part of their experience could be described as deprivation.  Just as with adults, children and their caregivers experienced poverty as a lack of health, education, income, etc.

But children’s actual lived experience of poverty couldn’t be described entirely in terms of what is traditionally understood as “deprivation.”  The CCF Poverty Study documented very clearly that:

  • in addition to deprivation, children experienced exclusion, even from the earliest ages;
  • And that children living in poverty felt a strong sense of vulnerability.

(The CCF Poverty Study was published in three volumes, all available for download through these links: CHILDRENANDPOVERTY3 – COPY; CHILDRENANDPOVERTY2 – COPY; CHILDRENANDPOVERTY1 – COPY.)

These two additional elements of child poverty, exclusion and vulnerability, represented areas that, generally speaking, we were not addressing in our programming.  I wanted to see how we could build them into our work at ChildFund Australia, if I ended up joining the organization!

*

Later I had been lucky to join UUSC, where I served as Executive Director.  One of the key elements of our work there had been the creation of the “UUSC Handbook”, which was my attempt to put in place the kind of clarity of policies and procedures mentioned above.

More importantly, UUSC was an organization focused on human rights, social justice, and activism.  Our organizational theory of change, described in an earlier blog post in this series, spoke to the linkages involved for us:

Human rights and social justice have never advanced without struggle. It is increasingly clear that sustained, positive change is built through the work of organized, transparent and democratic civic actors, who courageously and steadfastly challenge and confront oppression. 

As we explored the consequences of looking at our work at UUSC in this way, I began to deepen my own understanding of the importance of power, and collective action, in advancing human rights.  I would want to incorporate this understanding, somehow, into our work in ChildFund Australia.

*

Finally, to some extent I would be setting up a new team in Sydney, if I ended up going there.  I mentioned above that great international NGOs have a healthy and accountable management culture, so my intention was to build teams in Australia (and where we worked overseas, in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam) that were grounded in the values of our sector, clear about what we were doing and why, and driven to improve the impact of our work.

Just as important, I wanted to build teams that had high trust, listened well, were inspired, trusted each other, and were curious enough to discover the innovations that would help us break through.  I had learned how this can be achieved, and how it can be undermined, in the preceding 25 years, so I felt ready for the challenge.

*

My visit to Sydney for the interview would be successful, and I would return to New Hampshire in mid-2009 to pack up for the move, rent our house, and get our cat Lois ready for the trans-Pacific trip.

It felt like a priceless opportunity.  To help build a world-class program:

  • which was as close to people living in poverty as possible;
  • with clear policies and procedures, united around a clear purpose, driven to continuously improve what we did, and with a healthy and accountable management culture;
  • underpinned by an understanding that poverty was a shifting and dynamic mixture of deprivation, exclusion, and vulnerability;
  • informed by human-rights and social-justice frameworks, and by an understanding of power and collective action;
  • and, finally, that I would lead and manage in a way that brought out the best in our NGO people.

 

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May, 2009

 

A big challenge, that I would do my best to achieve, imperfectly, over the next six years.  Stay tuned for next time, when six years at ChildFund Australia begins!

*

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:

  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.

 

Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997)

February, 2018

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 29 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve moved across time, from the beginning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (1984), through to serving as Executive Director for UUSC Just Democracy (into mid-2009).

*

In this blog post, I want to describe a short “project” that Max van der Schalk, then the CEO of Plan International, gave me as I was leaving Plan’s international headquarters for a year’s sabbatical.  We were looking at a big merger, and Max asked me to head up the merger team on Plan International’s side.

But first…

*

I climbed Carter Dome (4832ft, 1473m) on 9 July 2017, with Yingji Ma, a friend who is studying at UNH.  He goes by the name of “Draco” here.  Carter Dome is the eighth-highest of the 48 peaks

We left Durham at about 7:15am and drove up Rt 16 towards the White Mountains, stopping along the way for coffee and tea, and sandwiches to pack for lunch.  We arrived at the trailhead of the 19-Mile Brook Trail at about 9:30am:

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Draco, Peppy And Energetic – As We Departed!

 

Our plan was to hike up 19-Mile Brook Trail, and then bear left to take the Carter Dome Trail up to Carter-Moriah Trail, on the ridge.  Then we would turn south, taking the spur over to Mt Hight (4675ft, 1425m), and continue along Carter-Moriah to reach Carter Dome.  Rejoining 19-Mile Brook Trail at Carter Notch, we’d finish the day dropping down directly back to the parking area.

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(Note that Mt Hight does not qualify as an official “4000-footer.”  The AMC criteria for being included as an official “4000-footer” is that a mountain must (1) be at least 4000 feet high while also (2) rising at least 200 ft above the low point of its connecting ridge with a higher neighbor.  In this case, Mt Hight does not rise 200 feet above the ridge connecting it to Carter Dome, which is higher.)

I had climbed the southern and northern sections of this ridge over two very memorable  days in September, 2016 – climbing Wildcat D, Wildcat Mountains, and then Middle Carter and South Carter.  Once we finished the climb today, I would have only Mt Moriah left of the six 4000-footers on this long ridge that stretches along the east side of Mt Washington.

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We walked up the 19-Mile brook, gently upward for some time.  It was a very nice day, mostly sunny, perfect cool temperature.  Draco said he felt good and fresh!

 

At 10:41am, we reached the start of the Carter Dome Trail, where we went left onto a less-developed path:

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The trail then became steeper, and at 11:57am we reached the junction of Carter Dome Trail and Carter-Moriah Trail:

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Here we turned south towards Carter Dome, our objective for the day, joining the Appalachian Trail.  Soon we came to another junction where we had the option of going directly towards Carter Dome, or getting there via Mt Hight.  It was about noon, and we had time, so we decided to take the slightly-longer route, and go via Mt Hight:

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This was a good decision because, even though the ascent up to Mt Hight was very steep and rocky, the views from there were excellent.  As we would see, the summit of Carter Dome is forested, without any view at all!  We arrived at the summit of Mt Hight at 12:30pm, very windy, and a good time to have lunch.

There were really great views towards the east and the Presidential Range, and towards the west and the Atlantic Ocean:

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The Presidential Range Is Behind Me

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Mt Washington On The Left

 

After lunch at the cold and windy top of Mt Hight, we continued towards Carter Dome, at about 1pm.  We were now up at elevation, so the trail was up-and-down along the ridge:

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We arrived at the junction of the Black Angel Trail, and continued towards Carter Dome:

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We reached the summit of Carter Dome at about 1:30pm:

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The Summit of Carter Dome

 

It looks like there used to be a tower here at the summit, but we didn’t stay too long at Carter Dome, as there are no views.  So we continued along the Carter-Moriah Trail and, as we approached Carter Notch, the view down into the notch was impressive.  Here the Carter Notch Hut complex is visible below, and Wildcat Mountain rises above the Hut:

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Back in September of 2016, I had sat on Wildcat Mountain and had lunch looking north into the notch.  A guy with two new artificial knees had sat with me, and described his plan to do the “cycle” of the 48 4000-footers: every one of the 48 peaks, in each month of the year!  Too much for me…

Here is the mirror-image view, taken last year from that spot at the top of Wildcat Mountain at lunchtime: I’m looking back towards Carter Dome here, in September of 2016:

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Draco and I dropped down steeply toward the hut, hopping over and around typical White Mountains granite boulders, and arrived at the lake next to hut at 2:20pm:

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After resting for a few minutes (Draco said he was getting tired!), here at the junction of the 19-Mile Brook and Carter-Moriah trails, we took a right turn, and headed north.  It was about 2:30pm … the 19-Mile Brook Trail ascends briefly up to the Carter Notch saddle, and then drops steadily down to the trailhead.

Soon the trail rejoins the 19-Mile Brook, and we walked down alongside it, crossing occasionally:

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We had seen an inviting swimming hole on the way up, and talked about taking a quick dip when we came back through.  In the end, Draco took the chance and said it was “SUPER COLD”:

We arrived back at Rt 16 at about 4:20pm after a very nice day, beautiful views along the way, especially at Mt Hight.

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Arriving Back At The Car – Looking Slightly Less Energetic!

 

A glorious White-Mountains day, and peak number 30 had been climbed!

*

Loyal readers of this blog will recall that Jean and I had left the UK in May of 1997.  I had wrapped up four years at Plan’s International Headquarters (“IH”), and was looking forward to spending a year in Durham, New Hampshire, on a “sabbatical.”  This was a very generous policy that allowed Plan staff with tenure in the organization to take time to reflect, without pay but with a guarantee of a job at the end.

We flew from Heathrow airport to Boston that May, on the day that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, and then drove up to Durham, where Jean’s sister Joan had helped us rent a house outside of town.  The plan was to take a year and reflect about my time at IH, maybe climb a few of the White Mountains, take some courses at the University of New Hampshire (which is based in Durham)…

It was a great year.  The “reflection” part of that year led to two papers that were published in peer-reviewed journals, and which have informed several blog posts in this series:

Few operational staff in INGOs take the time to write for serious journals, so I was proud to have managed to publish these articles.

As for taking classes at UNH, that worked out well also.  I took a course in African History, Intro to Architecture (with Jean), and bicycle maintenance.  That winter, I spent a good amount of time learning to cross-country ski.  And I did two small pieces of work for Plan, researching the potential for the organization to begin work in two new countries: Madagascar and Eritrea.  This involved a few weeks of work, and a visit to each country.

During the year, I kept my eye on internal vacancies in Plan, thinking about reentry.  My ideal next job would be back in the field, starting up a new country for Plan, as Country Director.  The visit to Eritrea had been positive, and I had recommended that Plan consider establishing operations there.  After that decision had been made, I applied for the job and was appointed as Country Director.  The future looked bright for Eritrea, and for Jean and I there, but just as I was leaving the country from my research visit, tensions rose (again) with Ethiopia, which led to a long period of conflict.  Soon, what had looked to be a possible model for an open society in Africa descended into repression and dictatorship.  This included a rapid closing of space for civil society in the country, including for INGOs.  So Plan deferred the opening of a Country Office in Asmara…

In the end, as readers know, Jean and I ended up flying to Hanoi in July of 1998, where I had been appointed as Country Director.  This would be my favorite posting in Plan, which I’ve described extensively in earlier articles in this series: here and here and here and here.

*

But as left for that sabbatical year, in May of 1997, Max asked me to continue to look after a very important and rather sensitive project for a few more weeks, from New Hampshire.  Now, 20 years later, I feel that I can write about it: we were moving towards merging three organizations together: Plan International, Plan USA, and Save the Children USA.

Over the years, our sector always seems to be on the cusp of consolidation.  The logic is clear: many of our organizations do very similar work overseas, duplicating many functions.  And we compete for funds domestically.  So, at least in principle, mergers would seem to offer opportunities for massive cost savings.  To my knowledge, if we had succeeded in merging Plan, Plan USA and Save USA, it would have been one of the first mega-mergers in the sector.  The fact that the merger failed is, I think, a case study that illustrates why consolidation hasn’t really happened, despite the clear economic (and moral) case that can be made.  Instead, what we’ve seen, mostly, is consolidation between unequal parties (a larger INGO absorbing a smaller agency) rather than the kind of merger we were examining (between three large organizations.)

*

The day after Jean and I arrived in New Hampshire, still with major jet lag, I drove south to Rhode Island.  You may recall that Plan’s International Headquarters had been located in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, before we moved to the UK.  But the US fundraising office, “Plan USA,” was still there in Rhode Island, in separate premises not far from where IH had been.  It was a two hour drive for me: an hour to Boston, then another hour to Rhode Island.

The idea of merging Plan International, Plan USA, and Save USA had been on the table, quietly, for a few months.  I think that the idea emerged from what we had called “The Gang Of Four,” which was an initiative that Max van der Schalk had prompted over coffee with three other CEOS (Dean Hirsch of World Vision International, the head of Save USA, and Paul McCleary of CCF) one afternoon in Geneva at a UNICEF meeting.  Max thought that Plan, Save, World Vision, and CCF ought to be able to collaborate on something big, and the other three CEOs agreed.  Maybe as a way of building towards something even bigger.

We four program directors (the Save International program director had joined us) were asked to figure out something that made sense, and I proposed that we work together to figure out how we could do a better job with girl education, together.  My colleagues liked it, our CEOs embraced the idea, and off we went.  (It’s quite interesting that Plan is now becoming quite focused on girls, overall.  A good move into “exclusion” and away from “deprivation”, very appropriate for these times.  More on that later…)

From the “Gang of Four” initiative came, among other things, closer relations at the programmatic level, with me, Gary Shaye of Save US, Steve Commins of World Vision, and  Joy Carol of CCF getting to know each other.   It was great working with the three of them – I certainly learned a lot.  And, out of that very positive initiative came, I think, the idea of merging.

*

There were three CEOs directly involved in this possible merger: Max, of course, at Plan.  Then there was Sam Worthington, who was the CEO of Plan USA (now the CEO of the US peak body for INGOs, Interaction.)  And of course the CEO of Save USA.

The potential for efficiencies was really clear: Plan USA and Save USA competed for support in a very similar marketplace: individual donors, major donors, corporations, and the US government.  Even more interesting was that Plan USA raised most of its funding from private sources, and Save USA got the majority of its money from the US government; this meant that the potential for leveraging Plan’s private income to “match” a big increase in government grants, seemed very large if the two agencies were merged.  In fact, Save USA’s government funding was pretty much “matched out”:  they they didn’t have any more “private” income to match government funding, so they couldn’t grow.

And Save USA and Plan International both had operations in a number of countries, doing very similar work in the same places.  Duplication and inefficiencies across the three organizations seemed ripe for elimination.  All in all, there seemed to be big financial, programmatic, and moral reasons to at least consider consolidation.

But structural relations were complex: Plan USA was, in theory, mostly, a fundraising office for the Plan alliance, tightly bound to the wider group.  Plan International implemented programs for the whole Plan alliance.  Save USA was, similarly, a key member of the Save the Children Alliance, raising funds and running their own programs around the world, and also remitting funds to other Save members.  A merger would be very challenging.

But first we needed to figure out if the advantages we saw, in principle, really existed in fact.  And we needed to do this very quietly, because a merger of this kind, with Save USA leaving the Save the Children alliance, would be a bombshell!

(As an aside, as I was leaving IH for my sabbatical, I had a strange conversation with the chairman of Plan’s international board of directors, Fred McElman.  I thought he simply  wanted to thank me for having spent four years at IH, which he did, but then he went on to express his sorrow that things hadn’t worked out… but perhaps something would come from the merger.  Later I thought that he was assuming that I had been interested in the CEO job, Max’s job, and that perhaps something like it would emerge from the merger for me!  It was kind of him, but of course he was looking at things from a private-sector point of view: I was DELIGHTED to be leaving IH and, after the year on sabbatical, going back to the field.)

As I mentioned above, Max asked me to lead the due diligence from Plan International’s perspective.  Sam Worthington was, of course, based in Rhode Island, and Gary’s office was in Connecticut.  There was a fourth player involved in the process: Dave Matheson, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, was on the board of Plan USA and Plan International and he offered to provide expert assistance, in the form of a very savvy BCG analyst, with experience in our sector.  I’ve forgotten this person’s name, sadly, but we all worked together very well in the process.  New Hampshire, Boston, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – we were all in the same general area, which boded well for being able to get through the due diligence.

*

Gary and I were asked to look at the value proposition for the merger from the programmatic and government-funding sides, with that excellent BCG analyst helping us.   We met a few times in Rhode Island and Boston, and worked out the details.

We saw how overhead costs could be lowered by eliminating duplication where both agencies had field operations in the same country.  And, most importantly, Plan’s private income could be used to “match” a big increase in government funding.  In both ways, the combined entities would be able to do more than the three separate organizations could do.  Perhaps a lot more.  From our perspective, as I recall, the business case for the merger was overwhelmingly strong and we realized that, if it went ahead, we would be in the vanguard of consolidation that so many had predicted for years.

The arguments for, and against, the merger were prepared and board meetings were scheduled to consider matters.

Sam Worthington had become seriously ill while visiting Plan’s work in Africa, and was still recovering during this time.  I vividly remember a lengthy meeting of Save USA’s board which Sam and I both attended, where he had to retire to an adjoining room where a cot had been set up so he could rest a few times during the meeting.  His courage, and commitment, were admirable.

*

Of course, the merger didn’t happen.  In fact, things fell apart rather quickly after Gary and I concluded our due diligence.

Why did it all fall apart?  From what I could observe, which admittedly was only part of the story, I think there were two main reasons that such an obvious good idea didn’t go forward.

First, in two of the three agencies the CEOs weren’t in strong positions.  Max van der Schalk was transitioning out of Plan, and would leave within a few months.  This kind of merger would need strong leadership from all sides, and while Max certainly was a strong leader, he was also leaving.  What was worse was that Max’s successor, John Greensmith, had been named but had no idea that this huge merger was a distinct possibility!

It’s hard for me to understand why Plan’s board hadn’t briefed John about the discussions, but it is easy to understand why he was very opposed to the idea once he found out: there would be nothing attractive about the idea for him, which might even threaten his (very new) job!  So while Max was on-board, and saw the compelling logic, John Greensmith was uninterested and skeptical.

The situation with Save USA was even stranger.  The board meeting that Sam and I attended was surreal, to say the least, and not because Sam was so sick: despite clear evidence why it made lots of sense, the idea of the merger was basically put aside without significant discussion.

What was going on?  Like Plan’s board, Save’s board was well aware of the discussions; and, in this case, their CEO was very involved and positive, and he wasn’t on the way out of his job.  So it wasn’t like the situation in Plan, where the board was involved but a new CEO was uninterested.

My sense, from attending that one board meeting, was that the Save CEO had lots of great initiatives bubbling along, he was very creative … and his board had learned that many of them wouldn’t come to fruition.  I got the feeling that the Save USA board tended to let a thousand flowers bloom, but when this one unexpectedly looked like it was turning into something serious they were very uninterested, to say the least.  And they quashed it without hesitation.

So the first reason why the merger didn’t go ahead was that two of the three CEOs didn’t, or weren’t able to, push things ahead with their boards.  The second reason is also related to the boards that were involved: ego.

The brief discussions at that Save USA board meeting were informative: they didn’t focus on the business case, but rather on their individual roles in a combined entity.  In other words, sure, it makes sense from the perspective of doing more for children living in poverty, but what role will I, a Save board member, have in this merged organization?   Since Save USA would be a large minority part of a a combined organization, the writing was on the wall.  So: no!

From my perspective, the merger failed for those two reasons: Plan’s new CEO hadn’t been briefed on a huge development that affected his job, and Save USA’s board thought that merging the  organizations would diminish their own roles in some way.

*

Once the merger failed, I focused on the things I had wanted to do in my sabbatical: skiing, studying, writing, hiking.  In later years, of course, some mergers would happen in our sector and many more acquisitions would take place.  But I still wonder about the  impact that our merger would had in the sector – it would have been a big deal, I think,  a very positive example of putting aside vested interests and ego in favor of the mission.

*

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: before describing how Jean and I moved to Australia for six great years with ChildFund, I want to reflect a bit about how poverty, the sector, and my own thinking had changed since my time in the Peace Corps, 25 years before.

*

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:

  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.

Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy

February, 2018

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 28 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve moved across time, from the beginning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (1984), through to serving as Executive Director for UUSC (through 2008).

*

Last time I described one aspect of my work as Executive Director at the UU Service Committee (UUSC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts: managing relations with the staff union.  In that post, I described how I tackled that particular part of my role, navigating between principle and pragmatism.

As I said there, my biggest lesson learned from those years of working with the UUSC Bargaining Unit was that there is no inherent, inevitable contradiction between (on the one hand) being clear and firm about roles, being fair but strict about adherence to procedures and performance, and (on the other hand) living up to the ideals of a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice – viewing things through the prism of right relationships.  And, for me, I discovered that the way to successfully navigate the terrain between principle and pragmatism is to learn how to manage conflict while developing a deep sense of humility and self-awareness, mindfulness and equanimity, and engaged non-attachment.

*

One of our major priorities at UUSC was to build engaged activism focused on critical issues of human rights and social justice.  In fact, making this happen was probably our most central focus, given our theory of change:

  • It is possible to build a better world, a world that is free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights.  This vision can be achieved only through the work of organized, transparent, and democratic civic actors who challenge and confront oppression.1

For me, the second sentence in that statement encapsulates UUSC’s “theory of change.”  I still like it very much.

Much of this task would be carried out through our partners around the world, as we accompanied their work on economic and environmental justice, on civil liberties, and in crises.  But another major part of our work building civic activism was spelled out in another section of our Strategic Plan:

UUSC builds a more engaged and activist community focused on issues of human rights and social justice.  By becoming an accountable campaigning and movement-building organization, UUSC will achieve policy change results consistent with the goals of our program partners and constituencies.  

To achieve this goal, together with our supporters and partners, UUSC will develop an effective advocacy agenda around the organization’s priority issue areas.  We will mobilize supporters and collaborate with allies that share our interest in these issues; operate an advocacy office based in Washington, D.C.; provide the training necessary to allow local activists to exert maximum policy influence.  

We will continue to expand our volunteer network and increase the involvement of that network in advocacy activities.  To strengthen the voice of the UU community on important public policy issues in the United States, we will support six additional statewide UU advocacy networks by 2010, while maintaining support for the existing networks.  In a related effort, we will establish a UUSC-related 501(c)(4) structure. 

In addition, we will build relationships with leaders within the UU, activist, and inter-faith communities and increase opportunities for action.  Finally, as the policies and practices of global corporations have increasingly influenced the fulfillment of human rights aims, UUSC will continue its shareholder advocacy efforts, aimed at corporations whose policies and practices violate human rights norms.2 

The statement that I have emphasized, in bold, is the subject of this blog post.

Why did we decide to form a parallel 501(c)(4)?  And, what is a 501(c)(4) anyway?!

Most “nonprofit” organizations like UUSC are set up consistent with section 501(c)(3) of the US tax code: donations to these agencies are tax-deductible for the donor, which is a big advantage for fundraising.  In return, the organizations accept that they won’t work in the “political” space to any significant degree, meaning that they can’t really focus on legislative or electoral advocacy.  They must focus on “charitable” activities.

Organizations established under section 501(c)(4) of the US tax code, on the other hand,  can focus almost entirely on advocacy, as long as activities are consistent with their purpose.  They can (for example) even endorse candidates for office.  The disadvantage is, however, that donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax-deductible to their donors.

This made sense to me.  Certainly government shouldn’t get in the way of people, or organizations, expressing their opinions, influencing public policy, being active politically.  And while I could see the reason why donors to organizations carrying out “charitable” (501(c)(3))activities should benefit from a tax subsidy, there seemed to be no reason why political expression (via 501(c)(4) organizations) should be subsidized.  Don’t restrict it, but the government shouldn’t, in effect, take sides by freeing political donors from a tax obligation.  Makes sense.

Given UUSC’s objectives and methods, including legislative and electoral advocacy in our toolbox, by forming a 501(c)(4) made enormous sense.  In fact, when we looked around at other social-justice organizations in the US, the ones that were making the biggest impact had extended the tools they bring to their work by forming inter-linked 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, enabling them to legally work on charitable and “political” aspects of their programs.

So the attraction of having “linked” 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) agencies was obvious: together, they can work on all aspects of their missions, as long as they maintain appropriate separation of their finances.

In summary, quoting from the “Concept Paper” produced shortly before we started our work:

To extend its ability to achieve its mission, in 2007 UUSC helped establish Just Democracy.  The purpose of this 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization is to strengthen the voice of Unitarian Universalists and other progressive faith-based activists in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels.  Because Just Democracy has been established as a 501(c)(4) organization, it will be able to engage a broader range of advocacy activities than would be appropriate for UUSC.

Seeking to empower voters and to promote human rights and a progressive political agenda, it is anticipated that Just Democracy will:

  • Carry out legislative advocacy campaigns on priority human rights issues that will impact public policy;
  • Create and strengthen effective statewide networks of Unitarian Universalists focused on human-rights advocacy and voter engagement;
  • Facilitate interfaith coordination of advocacy and voter engagement work;
  • Train congregation-based activists in non-partisan voter engagement work and issue-based legislative advocacy techniques;
  • Facilitate appropriate coordination between statewide faith-based voter engagement work and other voter mobilization efforts;
  • Recruit faith- and values-based activists into Just Democracy to do hard-hitting issue advocacy and voter engagement in both legislative and electoral seasons.  

The interplay of a national 501(c)(3) human rights organization (UUSC) with strong ties to a liberal religious denomination, independent state-based 501(c)(3) organizations (statewide networks), and a national 501(c)(4) (Just Democracy), will allow for a broad and complementary range of activities, like those listed above.  Over time, it is foreseen that the impact of these three sets of organizations will be magnified by their productive interaction.  

*

After doing the necessary legal and operational planning, registering UUSC Just Democracy as a 501(c)(4) corporation, preparing by-laws, and forming a board of directors linked with UUSC’s board, the new organization was ready to get going.

At that point, I had been with UUSC for three years, and was happy in my role running the organization under Charlie Clements’s leadership.  I was working with Charlie and Maxine Hart (our HR Director), and a great set of Department Directors (Atema Eclai, Myrna Greenfield, Ki Kim, Maxine Neil, and Michael Zouzoua), and relations with the UUSC bargaining unit were quiet.  Programs were rolling out well.  Relations with the UUA were steadily building in a positive way.

But the opportunity to establish a new agency, especially one focused on building community activism, was too good to pass up, and so one day in early 2008 I made the pitch to Charlie: second me to UUSC Just Democracy through the upcoming federal election, and I would set it up and run it through a pilot phase.

I knew that this request represented a major disruption, a headache that Charlie didn’t need: things were going well at UUSC, and to have the agency’s Executive Director leave for an extensive secondment would be a big challenge.  But, to Charlie’s everlasting credit, he saw the potential, and my enthusiasm, and he embraced the idea.  I’m grateful that Charlie was so supportive.

So after finding an interim Executive Director, in early May of 2008 I left UUSC and became the Executive Director of UUSC Just Democracy.  While I would have my own board, and would work directly with Charlie, my focal point at UUSC would be Myrna Greenfield, UUSC’s director of advocacy and mobilization.

Myrna had recently joined UUSC, and was a fantastic communicator and organizer – I looked forward to working with her.  But she was a bit unhappy at my departure, which was understandable since I had hired her and now I was leaving.  So things were a bit unsettled.  At my farewell party, leaving UUSC, Myrna made a statement that I still remember vividly, a perfect combination of wishing me well and, since she was becoming my focal point, letting me know that now she could have her revenge for my departure!

But before describing the next exciting year …

*

I climbed Cannon Mountain on 5 July 2017, a sunny, beautiful day for a hike in the White Mountains.

The plan was to climb Mt Willey on the Fourth of July and spend the night at Dry River Campground, after what I was guessing would be a relatively easy hike.  Then I would take on one of the longer hikes in the 48 – up Owl’s Head.

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But… last time I mentioned that I had forgotten a key piece of equipment when I left home the day before – my backpack! – and had improvised for the climb up Mt Willey, carrying a stuff sack slung over my shoulder.  It wasn’t very comfortable, but it worked, and I got to the summit.

Climbing Owl’s Head without a backpack was another challenge entirely: compared to Willey, Owl’s Head is a long and complicated hike, so I needed to carry food and water, etc.  So I improvised, and decided to abandon the idea of hiking Owl’s Head, and climb Cannon Mountain instead.  Cannon was not far from my camping spot, and it would be shorter; since I was camping nearby I could get an early start.  That way I would avoid carrying very much water, and could tackle the hike with only some snacks instead of carrying a full lunch.

The night before, at the campsite, I had worked out a way to carry the stuff sack in a more stable fashion, so it would flop around a bit less.  I did get an early start, driving around from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch, on a beautiful morning.

I had looked at the map and planned two options: an up-and-back to the top of Cannon or; if things went well, a long loop hike, making the best of the unfortunate situation.  I would walk up Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Cannon Mountain Ski Area parking lot, and then I had two choices: I could turn around, or I could continue for 0.4m, and then drop down Lonesome Lake Trail to Lonesome Lake.  If I took that option, I’d then take the same trail down to the Pemi Trail at Lafayette Campground, and along the Pemigewasset River (and the highway, which was the disadvantage with this option) back to the car:

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Cannon Mountain (4100ft, 1250m) is a ski slope, with a tram up to the top; of course, but I was going to hike up!

I arrived at the tram parking lot at about 7:45am, and started up the Kinsman Ridge Trail.  It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies.

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About an hour later, walking steeply up Cannon Mountain, I got a good view of the ski-lift:

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By this time I was sweating profusely in the unremitting uphill slog up the well-travelled trail.  Many of the boulders on the path were wet, and the path itself was north-facing.  It would be a very tricky walk in the spring, as the boulders would be icy in unexpected places, perhaps quite late in the season.

There were surprisingly few people, considering that this was the day after a big public holiday.  During this early part of the hike, however, I did run into a family group with a hostile beagle.  Loyal readers will have noted that this has become a minor theme of my 4000-footer series: I still wonder why people bring untrained dogs into the woods.  The conditions are such – strange place, strangers walking past – that many dogs will be likely to be protective of their “pack.”  But everybody says that their dog is “sweet”, and most of them are; but often the “sweet” dogs are on edge in the strange environment, and behave aggressively.  Bring your dogs to the White Mountains, sure… but train them!

By 9am the pine trees around me were getting shorter, evidence that I was approaching the tree line:

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And soon I was able to see the observation platform at the summit of Cannon Mountain:

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Behind me, looking across Franconia Notch, was a spectacular view of the Franconia Ridge, which I had climbed just two weeks before.  Sadly, the sun was behind the ridge, making it difficult to capture the beauty of the scene in a photo:

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Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty Across Franconia Notch

 

I got to the top of the observation platform at 9:45am, so it had been two hours from the parking lot.  The terminus of the ski lift was clear, looking north from the summit:

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There were a few people here that had taken the tram up to the top.  I was the only hiker there, though I could hear a group, perhaps the ones with the untrained dog (?), nearing the summit.

At this point, I had a choice: I could retrace my steps back to the parking lot, which would make for a rather short day; or I could continue south to Lonesome Lake, and then drop down into the notch from there.  That second option looked attractive; the only disadvantage seemed to be that I would have a couple of miles to walk close to the highway in Franconia Notch, back to where I had left the car.

I decided to continue on to Lonesome Lake, which turned out to be the right choice!

From the observation tower at the top of Cannon Mountain, the path drops down steeply into a saddle, scrambling down large boulders, and then reaches the junction with the Hi-Cannon Trail:

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Just after 10am, along that saddle I came across a large boulder that seemed to have crushed a tree, recently.  The tree that had been destroyed appeared to still have some leaves on it, so that very large boulder must have come down the hill in the recent past.  Hard to get a sense of the impact in this photo, but it would have been a scary event, had I been nearby!

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Several groups were coming up, mostly groups of young people.  I suppose they were coming from the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut.  I reached the Lonesome Lake trail about a half-hour later, at 10:30am, and took it to the right:

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It was a pleasant and beautiful walk down to the lake, steadily dropping through a beautiful White-Mountains day, rock-hopping much of the time:

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At 10:45am, as I continued downward to Lonesome Lake, I passed an older man coming up.  He came up from Rhode Island for the hike, just to go up to the Hi-Cannon Trail (he said), and would go home that night!  That’s 3 1/2 hours each way, more or less… he must have gotten an early start!

As I neared Lonesome Lake, I passed a few groups of young people working on trail maintenance.  They had AMC uniforms on.

I arrived at Lonesome Lake at about 11am.  For some reason, I immediately got a deep sense of calm and well-being sitting by Lonesome Lake.  What a beautiful place, on a gorgeous day:

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A duck came over as I quietly sat there:

After a nice rest and some gorp, at around noon I decided to  walk down to Franconia Notch on the Lonesome Lake Trail, but it was closed for trail maintenance:

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So I took the alternate route, the Hi-Cannon Trail, down, passing a nice small stream and what looked like a minature refugee from Angkor Wat along the way!

 

 

 

 

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I rejoined the Lonesome Lake Trail, and continued on a very well-maintained path downward.

I arrived at the end of the Lonesome Lake Trail at 12:13pm.  The Trail ends at Lafayette Place Campground, which is a larger version of the Dry River Campground I had stayed at the night before with hot showers!  It had been around 4 1/2 hours walking, so far.

At the end of the campground, the Pemi Trail runs along the stream (and the Highway) up to the Cannon Mountain parking lot where I had left my car.  I had been a bit wary of this trail, as it runs right alongside the highway, but in fact it turned out to be a pleasant walk, though longer than expected.  Yes, I could hear the freeway, but the walk was nice and the 2.3 miles went quickly as I headed north towards the end of the hike.

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The Pemi Trail passes just below Franconia Notch, the site of the “Old Man Of The Mountain”, at about 12:30pm:

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For my readers who are not familiar with New Hampshire, the “Old Man In The Mountain” was a rock formation in Franconia Notch, forming the distinct profile of an old man.  It was in many ways the most-destinctive and well-known symbol of the state.  The “Old Man” collapsed in May of 2003:

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I arrived back at my car at 1:15pm, having had a great climb.  Since Cannon Mountain is a relatively easy climb, and I was walking it just after a major holiday, my expectations had been low.  Plus, I was hiking without my backpack!  But the walk was very pleasant, the views were outstanding, and Lonesome Lake gave me a strong sense of well-being.

And I made the best of a bad situation, having left my backpack at home!

*

We were starting UUSC Just Democracy from scratch.  So we needed a board of directors, a website, members, and a plan.  And we needed funding!  Luckily, Charlie had raised enough for us to get started, and so I was able to start my work with about $50k in the bank.  Enough to move ahead.

But what were we going to focus on?  In late 2007, we had prepared a “Concept Paper” describing the first months of UUSC Just Democracy.  The summary of that paper reads as follows:

“Through this project, Just Democracy, a 501c4 organization affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (“UUSC”), seeks to build a progressive faith-based infrastructure for grassroots activism.  The long-term success of a progressive political agenda in the United States will require the building of such an infrastructure, sustained beyond election cycles, rooted authentically in communities across the country, and standing on a firm values-based foundation.

Over the next 15 months Just Democracy will seek to create such a grassroots, progressive infrastructure in New Hampshire, as a first step in what will become a national effort.  This proposal outlines Just Democracy’s project objectives for an initial phase of work in New Hampshire, along with the resources necessary to achieve these aims.”

Later in the paper, our focus on New Hampshire was explained:

Just Democracy seeks to launch its program of building a faith-based and sustainable progressive infrastructure in New Hampshire.  New Hampshire has been chosen for three reasons.  

Firstly, over the next 15 months, New Hampshire will be at the center of the political process in the United States.  It retains its first-in-the-nation presidential primary and, despite a relatively small number of electoral votes, New Hampshire will remain a battleground state, since it was the only state to move from “red” in 2000, to “blue” in 2004.  Furthermore, key federal races are highly competitive, with polls showing Senator John Sununu to be vulnerable, and two freshmen members of congress needing to work hard to win re-election. This electoral excitement will greatly enhance our efforts to recruit faith-based activists into both non-partisan voter engagement work and a politically active 501c4.  In addition, there are stark differences between candidates on fundamental issues of human rights and justice. The outcome of these races will impact the prospects for future policy work.

Secondly, one of the first statewide voter-engagement and advocacy networks to be established was the UU Action Network in New Hampshire (”UUANNH”), which has been functioning strongly since 2004.  Established as a 501c3 entity, and working initially in voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, UUANNH has engaged 24 UU congregations in voter pledge drives, issue education, phone banking, and campus organizing.  UUANNH’s focus at present includes issues such as access to health care and cutting the federal defense budget and redirecting the money to human needs and energy independence.

Finally, UUSC’s national headquarters is located within an hour of southern New Hampshire, and its Executive Director is a resident of the state.  These existing resources will greatly streamline the cost of managing an effective pilot project.

Over the next 15 months in New Hampshire, Just Democracy proposes to:

  1. Hire a full-time organizer to build membership in Just Democracy, reaching out actively to the members of Unitarian Universalist (UU) and other progressive congregations such as the United Church of Christ (UCC). 
  2. Link our efforts to allied secular groups such as AFSC, NH Peace Action, the Granite State Organizing Project, etc.
  3. Participate actively in America Votes’ Table meetings. 
  4. In coordination with the Table, identify and carry out a number of election season activities to support the progressive agenda.  These activities will include:
  • Polling and messaging
  • Membership communication concerning candidates’ position on our issues
  • Voter education and identification, and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts, through volunteer canvassing and phone-banking
  • Design and carrying out of issue and express advocacy mailings to the broader public concerning the positions of candidates and elected officials.
  1. Build the power of UUANNH’s work on access to health care in the key New Hampshire cities of Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth by linking their efforts, as appropriate and legal, to local, state, and federal political processes.
  2. Build the power of UUSC’s work on peace and human rights (ending the war in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur) on New Hampshire college campuses, starting in the key city of Keene, and, as appropriate and legal, linking these efforts to local, state, and federal political processes.

*

There was a lot to do.  On the organizational side, I needed to establish the basic infrastructure of board governance and reporting, registration, logistical capabilities, membership development, and fundraising.  So I quickly learned about nonprofit mailing permits, set up a rudimentary website, and created a simple registration process for membership and began to support these “members” with information and requests.  And I worked with Charlie to make sure that our existing donors were happy and to reach out to more people who could support us.

We were able to form a fantastic board of directors, quite quickly, mostly because of the organic connection with UUSC.   As I mentioned above, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations need to be linked to have the greatest impact, but had to be scrupulously separate in terms of overall governance and (in particular) financial management.  Joining the initial UUSC Just Democracy board were:

  • Kathy Hall, who served as UUSC Just Democracy’s board chairperson.  Kathy was also serving on UUSC’s board of directors, so she was one formal link between the two organizations.  Kathy was an outstanding board chair, dynamic and supportive yet holding me accountable;
  • Tom Andrews, former Congressman from Maine, who was heading the “Win Without War” coalition in Washington.  Tom would later become UUSC’s president and CEO, following Charlie and Charlie’s successor, Bill Schulz;
  • Chuck Collins, co-founder of “United for a Fair Economy.”  Chuck was, and is, a gifted activist, with a knack for combining a social-justice message with humor and panache.  I learned a lot from Chuck, though he mostly attended board meetings by phone;
  • Kathy Partridge, who was then the Executive Director of “Interfaith Funders,” a network of secular and faith-based grantmakers working for social justice through support of congregation-based community organizing.  Kathy was always very supportive and, since she was running a similar organization, I learned a lot from her, too;
  • Jack Spence, who also served on UUSC’s board, and who later became UUSC’s board chair.  Jack had recently wrapped up a career as university chancellor in Florida;
  • Fasaha Traylor, another link to the UUSC board, came onto the UUSC Just Democracy board a bit later, adding a lot of spirit and activist bona-fides!

Perhaps my most important task was to establish relationships with key players in New Hampshire, where we were pilot testing our organization.  There were two priority groups here: I needed quickly to connect with the progressive faith community in the state, including the UU Action Network, the NH 501(c)(3) group that UUSC had been supporting; and I had to gain entry to and acceptance by the progressive 501(c)(4) community, which was coordinated by “America Votes” out of our state capital, Concord.

In both areas, I was very lucky and, quickly, very successful.

*

I was running UUSC Just Democracy from home, in Durham, and I quickly confirmed that there was a vibrant UU movement in the area.  I can’t say enough about Kendra Ford and Roberta Finkelstein, Ministers at the UU congregations in Exeter and Portsmouth, respectively.  They both welcomed our work, seeing that it was consistent with the focuses of their congregations.  And they welcomed me into their congregations, inviting me to speak at their services and (in Exeter) to work intimately with their social-justice committees.

For example, this is a photo of me speaking at the Manchester UU church in the summer of 2008.

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Roberta was a featured participant and speaker at UUSC Just Democracy’s Candidate Forum on Climate Change – more on that event below.

My connection with the UU congregation in Exeter proved to be fundamental to the success of UUSC Just Democracy.  Thanks to Kendra’s welcome, I found lots of energy there, and over time I ended up basing most of the electoral work we did from the Exeter congregation.  More on the election below…

Finally, in terms of connecting with the UU movement in New Hampshire, I want to appreciate the outstanding work of Tess George, who at that time was leading the UU Action Network in the state.  Even though the UU Action Network was a 501(c)(3), and there were many reasons why coordinating some aspects of their work with UUSC Just Democracy made sense, our arrival seemed to perturb the work that Tess had been doing.  I regretted this.  Tess and I had to work hard to clarify roles and complementarities, and though things never seemed to become 100% clear, we worked well together.

*

The most important connection we made, outside of the progressive faith community in New Hampshire, was with America Votes.   America Votes performed (and still performs) a vital role, coordinating the “Table” of progressive 501(c)(4) organizations in many states, including New Hampshire.

UUSC Just Democracy had attended several “Table” meetings even before I transitioned from UUSC, and I made a point of attending every meeting I could, often with Shelley Moskowitz, UUSC’s able and experienced “Senior Leader for Public Policy and Advocacy.”  Shelley knew her way around Washington from having worked there for a long time, and so she was a real source of advice and wisdom for me.  And I liked her a lot.

I was lucky that Shelley could attend America Votes “table” meetings with me, because her passion and experience rubbed off on me and on the organization!  We had instant credibility.

Josiette White was the head of America Votes in New Hampshire, a real dynamo with a very strong team including Melissa Bernardin and Zandra Rice Hawkins (in the linked organization, Granite State Progress).  These were spectacular professionals, working tirelessly to help make New Hampshire a better place.

One of the most important benefits that UUSC Just Democracy got from being a part of the America Votes “Table,” was that we became the lead organization for Exeter.  This meant that we had access to the consolidated voter database, and were responsible for voter mobilization for the November 2008 federal election.

That database was pretty amazing.  When it came time to contact voters about our priorities (ending the war in Iraq, and stopping climate change), and to educate them about the positions of federal candidates on these issues, the database gave us details about who to contact, and even set up the most efficient walking trajectories we should take.

In practice, this meant that I could indicate an area around Exeter, specify characteristics of voters in that area, and then the algorithm would produce a Google Map with a walk and a list of people to contact.

My job was then to mobilize the growing UUSC Just Democracy membership, and the congregations in and around Exeter, train volunteers, and then send them out with materials and talking points.

It was 2008, and we wanted to help elect Jeanne Shaheen, our governor who was running for US Senate.  And we were working to elect Barack Obama.  Both of these candidates were progressive, and they held positions on our issues that we agreed with.

But before election day approached, we held several events related to our issues.  For example, once the general election campaign began, we participated in a protest at an appearance by the Republican nominee for the presidency, John McCain, focused on our push to end the war in Iraq.  Here are some images of that protest:

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*

But the most important event we held that fall was our Climate Forum at the University of New Hampshire.

The Climate Forum was framed as an opportunity for federal candidates to speak about climate change.  After a lot of outreach, Oxfam America, CARE International, and the University of New Hampshire signed on as co-hosts.  And I was able to attract a strong panel of experts to introduce the candidate forum:

  • Scott Spradling, Emmy Award-Winning former reporter and anchor at the most influential NH television station, moderated the forum.  This was a coup for me, both because Scott was very good at this kind of thing and he was easy to work with.  But also because Scott was seen as fairly conservative in his political leanings, which helped – UUSC Just Democracy and its Executive Director, and all of the organizations that were co-sponsoring were probably perceived as somewhat left-leaning.  And holding the event at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, probably just reinforced that impression.  So having Scott moderate the forum balanced things in a good way;
  • Dr Cameron Wake, Research Associate Professor at UNH, whose research focus was climate change from a scientific perspective;
  • Nancy Hirshberg, VP of Natural Resources for Stonyfield Farm, one of New Hampshire’s biggest companies;
  • Rev. Roberta Finkelstein of the UU South Church in Portsmouth.  It was great having Roberta there – she spoke movingly and from the faith perspective, which was very important for our organization;
  • Dr Stacy VanDeveer, Associate Professor of Political Science at UNH.  Stacy spoke about climate change from the policy perspective.

Most importantly, representatives from the McCain, Obama and Shaheen campaigns attended, and spoke, and listened.  Here is the advertisement we put in the student paper the day of the event:

THE UNH FORUM ON CLIMATE CHANGE

 

Perhaps just as important, we had a full room of interested participants!  I also put flyers up around Durham, and publicized the event through our growing membership.

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Scott and Mark Before The Forum

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Scott and Roberta Before The Forum

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Scott Introducing The Forum

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Larry Brickner-Wood, UNH Chaplain, Welcoming Participants

 

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Welcoming People

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Our Panel: Cameron, Nancy, Roberta, and Stacy

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Roberta Speaking, With Cameron And Nancy

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Stacy Speaking, With Roberta

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Candidate Representative Speaking

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The Audience

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The Audience

 

The event was filmed, and the video of the forum is available on YouTube, in eleven parts (due to the length of the event).  Here’s the first part:

 

And here are links to the other ten parts:

Our Climate Forum was a big success, attracting lots of people as well as representatives from most of the federal campaigns in New Hampshire.

*

All along, I was working hard to build a membership for UUSC Just Democracy.  This was for several reasons: it seemed to me that the more people that joined us, the more powerful our message would be.  Also, members were asked to contribute a small amount: small, but every bit helped!  Finally, as I grew our database, I was able to contact more people when we needed to education or mobilize.

To do this, I needed to master the fine arts of setting up tables to appeal for support, and to do the same thing via bulk mail:

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The UUSC Just Democracy Table At A Congregation

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Sorting Nonprofit Bulk Mail Appeals By Postal Code

*

The election came in early November, and we got into action in the Exeter area, door-knocking and getting-out-the-vote on the day itself.  We ran our operation out of a building in the center of Exeter, where I trained (and accompanied) our volunteers as they moved around the area, talking to voters.

Here are some images of those events:

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That’s Laurie Brunner From UUSC, Who Came Up From Cambridge To Volunteer!

 

*

Before closing, I want to share the results of the external evaluation we commissioned in early 2009.  We had included funding for an assessment as part of our initial planning, because we viewed the initial period of UUSC Just Democracy as a pilot.  I’ll attach the resulting external evaluation here (Healey Report on UUSC JD), and copy one section of the report’s Executive Summary here:

“… let me begin by stating that overall reviews for Just Democracy’s work in 2008 were overwhelmingly favorable. There was consensus among the interviewees that Just Democracy represented an innovative approach to faith-based progressive action in 2008, added real value to the work progressive groups were doing in New Hampshire, and established itself as a potential player in that state going forward.

Furthermore, interviewees gave rave reviews to Executive Director Mark McPeak for the work he did over the course of the last year, in spite of numerous obstacles. His thoughtful and committed leadership was clearly the key to Just Democracy’s successes in 2008, and his relationships in New Hampshire are central to the organization’s ability to build on its 2008 pilot in that state.

In terms of objective measures, while the number of activists trained, members recruited, and grassroots electoral activities undertaken were all modest, they represent a significant foundation for further work. In an electoral context where the unprecedented Obama campaign made progressive 501(c)(4) volunteer recruitment difficult for even the most established organizations, the initial accomplishments of Just Democracy are worthy of real congratulation.

In the future, it is clear that there is an opportunity for Just Democracy to fill a unique, faithbased niche in New Hampshire’s progressive infrastructure, and it seems that that niche has three prongs – that of a consistent ally in legislative advocacy efforts; that of a candidate recruitment and training hub; and that of a communications operation focused on shaping media narratives through a progressive, values-oriented lens. These three prongs all represent separate challenges, but they also complement one another such that a strategic organization-building approach could utilize each of them to grow the organization’s power for the long-term.

However, despite this opportunity, there are two facts suggest that Just Democracy must undergo some organizational change regardless of whether the organization remains focused on growth in New Hampshire in the short term or attempts to expand into other states.  Those two facts are 1) the lack of secure funding going forward, and 2) the ability of a 501(c)(3) organization to take on some – perhaps much – of the work that interviewees suggest Just Democracy should do in 2009 and beyond. This reality, especially when paired with the challenges faced by the state-based UU Action Networks, makes a closer working relationship with the UUSC almost a necessity.

Over the course of this report, I will seek to highlight anecdotes from interviews and other documents that point to some of Just Democracy’s strengths and weaknesses, within the context of an analytic political framework that I hope that the Board will find helpful in making decisions. My hope is not to be overly prescriptive, but instead to suggest key challenges and opportunities so that this document can serve as a useful aid to a team of people who are working together to birth an effective, sustainable and powerful progressive voice of faith onto the American political scene.”

*

For me, the experience was very formative.  I learned a lot about political activism in the US context, and I felt like our organization contributed a little bit to advance our issues in New Hampshire.  Personally, I felt that I was doing my part in my own country, to advance social justice with my own work, not just overseas (as in my career up to UUSC), or through others (as Executive Director at UUSC).  This time, I was getting my hands dirty and mud on my boots … and it felt great!

*

Soon after the election, which (from our perspective) was very successful, we pivoted towards legislative advocacy.  I testified twice on climate-change issues at our state capital, and organized letters to the editor on both of our focus issues.

Our membership grew to over 160 by the end of March, 2009.  And we prepared a discussion paper for the expansion of UUSC Just Democracy past its initial pilot phase, which included a draft “theory of change” for our new organization:

Human rights in the United States will only be advanced to the extent that the progressive political agenda in this country gains strength. Conservative, hierarchical, and patriarchal forces of intolerance have gained momentum over the last two decades, in part because they have learned how to utilize all tools at their disposal. They have skillfully used the media, formed a range of different but inter-linked organizations with distinct legal forms, established well-funded think-tanks, and rooted themselves in the fundamentalist faith community, all in a carefully thought-out and artfully-interlinked strategy to gain political power. 

We have seen the result: increasing infringements in civil liberties, reductions in governmental efforts to build justice and equity, and an inability to expand our national framework of human rights to the changing circumstances in which we live. 

Lessons learned throughout history have taught us that “human rights and social justice have never advanced without struggle. Sustained, positive change has always been built through the work of organized activists with the courage to challenge and confront oppression.” 

Another lesson of history is that the faith community provides a sustained and values-based platform from which change can emerge. The American Civil-Rights struggle is a prime example of this phenomenon. The achievements of the right-wing evangelical movement in more recent times are another, though from our standpoint quite negative, example. 

UUSC-JD believes that it is crucial for the future of our country, and of the world, that the power of progressive faith communities be built and directed towards positive progressive change. Our organization is well-placed to integrate itself into the political dynamic, on a state-by-state basis, playing a linking and empowering role across three spheres: we see our organization operating in the intersection of a state’s liberal faith communities, the array of 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations operating there, and the work of UUSC.”

 

Our idea was to expand, carefully, from NH into Maine in the next couple of years, and add one more state in 2011.

But, sadly, funding for progressive advocacy tends to be very cyclical, and in 2008 it looked like the political landscape in the US had shifted permanently (not so!)  So our donors, who had been loyal and steadfast thus far, lost a bit of interest.  The job was done, why do we need to keep working?

We know how that’s turned out.

The consequence for UUSC Just Democracy was that I started to pick up some consulting work from my old life, in particular I worked with my old friends at ChildFund to organize what became Bright Futures 101 in the Philippines, which I’ve blogged about earlier.

That consultancy led to me being put in touch with ChildFund Australia, which was looking to stand up a new, international program department in Sydney.  That’s a story, a new chapter, stay tuned!

As I departed, I was able to turn over the leadership of UUSC Just Democracy to a gifted and experienced organizer, who had worked with us as a consultant during much of 2008, Dick Mark.  So I was able to move towards Australia knowing that UUSC Just Democracy was in good hands, though with an uncertain funding future…

*

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:

  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.

 

  1. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 9.
  2. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 14, emphasis added.

Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle And Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit

December, 2017

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 27 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire.  Last time I described some aspects of my time as Executive Director at the UU Service Committee in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  I had moved sectors – from the international development field where I had been working since joining the Peace Corps in 1984, to focus now on human rights advocacy.  I joined UUSC in early 2005.

This shift felt right.  The world had changed – at least on average, for majority populations, basic human  development had advanced substantially in the twenty years I had been overseas.  The challenge for social justice now was to address injustice, inequality, and human rights – and not just overseas!  In fact, in those Bush years, my own country seemed to be on a dangerous, wrong track.  Since the mission of UUSC was to support activism to advance and protect human rights, I made the move!

Last time, I mentioned that one of the challenges of working at UUSC was managing relations with the staff union.  I learned a lot from that experience, so I will write about that here, below.  But first:

*

I climbed Mt Willey, the 28th of New Hampshire’s 48 4000-footers, on the Fourth of July, 2017, driving up from Durham that morning.  My plan was to drive to Crawford Notch, get to the top of Willey, and stay the night at the nearby Dry River Campground.  Then I would get an early start on 5 July 2017, drive across from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch and down to Lincoln, get a sandwich to-go, and then drive east from Lincoln on the Kancamagus Highway to climb Owl’s Head.  Owl’s Head is one of the longer, and (supposedly) less scenic climbs of the 48 4000-footers, but it’s on the 4000-footer list – I thought getting an early start, by staying overnight at Dry River after climbing Willey, would make the second day of this trip a bit easier.  But things didn’t work out quite the way I had planned!

I had intended to climb Mt Willey the previous year: my very first climb in this new journey was meant to take me up Mt Tom, Mt Field, and Mt Willey, back in May of 2016. Loyal readers will recall that I was unprepared, back in May 2016, for the packed ice I found on the trail once I got up to elevation, and I only made it up Mt Tom and Mt Field.  Who knew that there would be ice that late in the spring?!  In fact, I fell going down from Mt Field, and injured my shoulder, which I would reinjure after climbing South Carter, as I have described.

So Mt Willey had been pending for over a year.

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I left Durham at 8:45am, and made good time up Rt 16, stopping only in Ossipee to grab a sandwich for lunch and a coffee to-go at “Aroma Joe’s.”  Traffic wasn’t too bad for a Fourth of July…. at least not until I arrived at Bartlett, not too far from Crawford Notch State Park: it was 11am, and Rt 302 was closed for a parade!

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Once the parade had finished, I was on my way again, and arrived at the trailhead – the parking lot for historic Willey House – at about 11:45am.  Normally it takes about 2 hours to get from Durham, but this day it took an hour longer than usual due to the parade in Bartlett.

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As I prepared to start walking, changing into my boots and assembling everything into my backpack … I realized that I had forgotten a very important piece of equipment: I didn’t have my backpack.  This was very frustrating, because even if I could improvise and manage to get to the top of Mt Willey, the long Owl’s Head climb I had planned for the next day would certainly not be feasible without carrying equipment and water, etc. Very frustrating indeed.

So I improvised for the day, using a stuff-sack to carry lunch, water, and my first-aid kit, and started the hike, grumbling about my forgetfulness. How could I forget something so important?!  I would think about what to do tomorrow when I got back down…

Still, it was a very pleasant day, mostly sunny and cool, very few insects on the path. And fewer people than I had feared there would be, this being a major holiday.  As I went, my mood lifted and I stopped kicking myself so much. I vowed to prepare a checklist that will prevent this kind of mistake in the future!

Walking up Kedron Flume Trail from Willey House was steadily uphill, crossing the railway line at about 0.4 miles. Just before that I passed an old box culvert.

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From the railway crossing it’s steeply up to Kedron Flume at 1 mile, a picturesque waterfall:

 

 

Soon Kedron Flume joins Ethan Pond Trail, which is part of the famous Appalachian trail here.  I arrived at that junction at about 12:30pm.

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I continued on Ethan Pond Trail, and began to hear the train whistling in the distance down below me.  I think it’s a tourist train these days, so it would be busy on a holiday like today.

About 15 minutes later, at 12:43pm, I arrived at the junction of Willey Range Trail and Ethan Pond Trail, and took Willey Range towards the summit of Mt Willey.  After a short, fairly-flat section, Willey Range Trail becomes rough and steep, with several flights of steep wooden staircases.

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Views across Crawford Notch started appearing as I climbed:

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Mt Webster

 

I stopped for lunch at 1:15pm, at a very beautiful spot, but well short of the summit of Mt Willey. Still going up steeply.  It was a bit surprising how few people I had seen so far, just a handful, on such a major holiday.  And it was becoming even more sunny, so my mood was lifting – it was a beautiful day!

Just before 2pm I passed an outlook, near the top of Mt Willey, with a spectacular view across Crawford Notch. Several peaks I’ve climbed on this journey were clearly visible, as were some I was yet to climb: Mt Webster, Mt Jackson, Mt Pierce, Mt Eisenhower and, in the distance, Mt Washington.  To the east, I thought I could see the Wildcat / Carter Range. I didn’t stay at the outlook for long, because a couple with a young daughter arrived and space was limited.  I took a few pictures:

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I got to the top just after the outlook, just after 2pm – a wooded summit with a cairn but no views.

 

From there I turned around and retraced my steps on this very nice, clear day, taking photos and a few videos as I went. The descent was pleasant, especially when compared with the climb up!

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An “Appalachian Trail” Blaze On The Willey Range Trail

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I arrived back at the junction with the Ethan Pond Trail at 3pm, rejoining the Appalachian Trail. Ten minutes later I reached Kedron Flume Trail, and took a left to return the 1.3 miles to the parking lot.

At 3:25pm I was back at Kedron Flume:

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and I arrived back at the railway crossing at 3:43pm, finishing up the hike at 3:53pm, at Willey House.

It was a very nice walk, marred only by my beating myself up over having forgotten my backpack.  And I could have done with a little longer spell at the outlook at the top, but it was good to give the family with the little girl the opportunity to enjoy that view.  I will have plenty of chances.

I stayed the night of 4 July 2017 at Dry River Campground: it was much posher than Dolly Copp, where I’ve stayed on two earlier overnights in Pinkham Notch as I climbed these 4000-footers:

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Not only was there a platform for my tent, but hot (!) showers and toilets and laundry facilities!  Luxury!  I decided not to attempt Owl’s Head without my backpack – it’s a very long hike, so I thought it would be better to carry more equipment, water, food, etc., in case of unforeseen eventualities.   So I decided I would go up Cannon Mountain, a shorter climb in Franconia Notch, which would be more suitable, shorter, and much more predictable.  And Cannon is still a 4000-footer.

More on my climb of Cannon Mountain to come, the next posting in this series!

*

I enjoyed my time at UUSC.  We worked hard and achieved a lot together during those years, and I learned a lot, about managing a domestic NGO, about campaigning, activism, collective action, and power, and about the social justice landscape in the United States.  I extended my range, my toolbox, from development into human rights and social justice campaigning and activism.  This would serve me well in the coming years, in future roles…

In this blog post I want to describe a little bit about one of the challenges I faced at UUSC: managing relations with the staff bargaining unit.  The difficulty resided, I think, in three areas: our idealistic approach to working with the union, at least at the beginning; my own inexperience in union relations, at least initially; and the tension between the organization’s commitment to economic justice and our (management’s) obligation to manage the agency pragmatically.  Navigating across principle and pragmatism was especially complex when it came to working with our staff union.

*

When I joined UUSC, I felt quite able to lead and manage international nonprofits: I had grown up with the sector, and developed myself professionally as our nonprofit organizations grew and professionalized.  I had served in a wide range of roles (local, country, regional, and international) across the world, working in line management at all those levels, and in staff roles as well.  So when I started as Executive Director in Cambridge, I was able to offer UUSC a useful range of capabilities: general management expertise, especially across cultures, experience developing and implementing programmatic and business systems and procedures, and an empowering leadership style.  That’s really why UUSC had hired me – I could take the organization to the next level, internally, letting Charlie Clements (UUSC’s President and CEO) focus on the external side where he was so gifted.  I was a safe pair of hands, competent in areas where Charlie and the board felt UUSC could use some attention.

And, for my part, it was exciting to play a leading role in an organisation that was pushing back against US-sponsored torture, working to advance the human right to water, responding in partnership with groups particularly harmed by humanitarian disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina) because of their ethnicity, campaigning to stop the atrocities happening in Darfur, advancing a living wage, and pushing to expand labor rights.

But although I had been managing staff for two decades, I did not have much experience working in a unionized environment.  (Yes, there had been a union for the staff in Plan Viet Nam, but that was mostly just a social club, a mockery of the concept of a union.)   This meant that, at least at first, I relied on guidance from Charlie and Maxine Hart (our HR Director), who had been managing relations with the union before I joined.  And when it came time to renegotiate UUSC’s collective-bargaining agreement with the staff union, I would also learn a lot from Phil Schneider, who provided excellent legal support during weeks of tense negotiations.  More on that below!

*

The situation was complicated.  Charlie’s predecessor had not worked out, and the staff union had played a key role in her departure.  While this may have been for the best, it was a dangerous precedent: Bargaining-Unit leadership felt that they had rescued the agency by forcing out a President and CEO.  I think that this led to union leadership sometimes acting as if they, not Charlie, the board of trustees or I, were in charge of UUSC, they were the real stewards of the spirit of the place.

In retrospect, a decision that had been made a year before, with the best intentions, was making things worse.  When Charlie had returned to UUSC as President and CEO, having worked in a program role in the 1980’s, he had established two senior teams:

  • The “Management Team,” comprising Charlie and the Department Directors, plus me once I was on-board.  Chairing of MT meetings was meant to rotate around all members, and meetings were scheduled for the first and third Wednesdays of each month;
  • The “Leadership Team,” which, in addition to the members of the management team, also included the three union shop-stewards.  Charlie chaired LT meetings, which were scheduled for the fourth Wednesday of each month.

Charlie sometimes described the Leadership Team as comprising both the “selected” and “elected” leadership of UUSC.  His intention was positive and generous: since UUSC was dedicated to labor rights, we would “walk the talk” and open things up to the union, being inclusive and transparent.

But after attending a few meetings of each team, it felt like things weren’t working out as we had hoped.  Bargaining Unit representatives on the LT almost never proposed agenda items for discussion, instead seeming to prefer to be reactive and passive.  It really felt like LT meetings were just being used by Union members to monitor UUSC’s management.  Since they viewed themselves as the real “stewards” of the place, having ousted Charlie’s predecessor, they were going to keep a careful eye on us.

To address this, I prepared “charters” for each group, trying to clarify accountabilities; here is a version of the charters from October of 2006: Team Charters – 25 October 2006.

Looking at the charters today, over ten years later, they seem quite clear: the Management Team managed the organization:

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while the Leadership Team provided a space for problem-solving, reflection, and input:

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But it wasn’t working out that way – Bargaining Unit members on the Leadership Team weren’t providing input, they were just gathering information about management.  As this dynamic continued, I began to feel that we (management) had created a monster.

And members of the Management Team were becoming conflict averse, as tensions grew over time.

*

Some examples:

  • A particular staff member in one Department was not performing.  I worked with the Director of that Department to devise a progressive-discipline process – this was something that I knew a lot about, from my time with Plan International.  Plan had very well-developed processes for staff management and development, which we had pilot tested back when I was a junior staff member in Tuluá, Colombia.  My experience was that, if we provided clear feedback and, when the time came, agreed a plan of corrective action, the under-performing staff member would probably improve.  If not, most of the time, when the time came, the staff member would recognize that he or she needed to move on and the separation would be relatively smooth and uncontested.

In this case, however, the Department Director really did not want to work through progressive discipline, was very averse to taking that kind of action, having lived through the departure of the previous CEO and seeing the power of the staff union.  The Director even suggested on several occasions that, since I had experience, I should take over management of that particular staff member and manage the disciplinary process myself!  But I felt that managing staff performance was a skill that all Directors needed to build, so I kept coaching the Director.

(UUSC had become very conflict averse.  In fact, the only example of a formal warning being given to anybody, ever, at UUSC that anybody could recall was when I had forced one to be given quite early in my tenure.  I had decided to get a feel for how things were being managed by reviewing all staff expense reports, something that I planned to drop once I felt comfortable with the levels of control being exercised.  But I soon saw a troubling example, where a staff member had used a UUSC credit card to pay for personal travel.  The employee’s Director, who had not discovered the situation, accepted the staff-member’s explanation that the whole situation was a mistake.  “So do I,” I told the Director, “that’s why we won’t dismiss them!  But we must provide written warning, and you should do it, not me.”  The warning was given, but grudgingly, because of how unprecedented this kind of action was.  Later, this employee would angrily vow that they would have me dismissed, in a very public area of our office, apologizing after I confronted them about that particular threat.  Clearly staff felt that they really ran the place!)

But things weren’t getting any better with this particular situation, with this underperforming staff member.  The Department Director was deeply resistant to taking formal action, or even putting a plan of corrective action in place.  And the employee was going from under-performing to not performing at all.  In a sense, I couldn’t blame the employee, because we (management) were not taking any action even though it was clear that things weren’t going well.  Probably we put the employee under a lot of unnecessary stress by prolonging the ambiguous situation.

I met with the external union representative (“business agent”) fairly regularly.  She was smart and pragmatic, and I think we had a good relationship.  One time she brought up the employee that we were having such trouble with, and told me, confidentially, that if we fired them the union wouldn’t take any action.

But we wanted to follow progressive-discipline procedures that I had put in place, were unwilling to be seen as being unfair by simply firing the employee (even though the Union was in agreement with that!) and so it was a muddle.  By the time I left UUSC to start up UUSC Just Democracy, the staff member was still in place, still underperforming;

  • I dismissed a “confidential” staff member for sharing sensitive and confidential salary information with the union during contract negotiations.  The staff member, whose position was not eligible to be part of the bargaining unit, admitted having given union leaders that information, despite clearly understanding that it was forbidden.  And the employee refused to provide assurances that this wouldn’t happen again.

I looked to see if there might be a position for the person in the near future that would be inside the bargaining unit, thus being able to stay as an employee, but there no suitable vacancies foreseen.  So, after giving them a second opportunity to commit to not sharing confidential information outside management, and hearing (again) a refusal, I dismissed the employee.

The organization exploded with anger and righteous indignation.  How dare I fire this person!  Believe it or not, staff began wearing black armbands and putting up protest banners.  The reaction was beyond what we had expected, what I had expected.

(I think that the cause of the extreme reaction was that the staff was completely unused to management taking that kind of strong action and, to make matters worse, I hadn’t consulted with the bargaining unit; which never occurred to me, remember, this employee was not a member of the union!)

In the end, we agreed to mediate the situation, and (of course, since I had worked closely with legal counsel all along) UUSC prevailed on the terms we had offered the staff member initially.  But, as I have described elsewhere, the very fact that we took this extra step, and sought external mediation, entirely defused the internal situation.  In other words, the internal atmosphere inside UUSC immediately and significantly improved right after the mediation!

Years later, I became fascinated with how much things improved after the mediation.  After all, management prevailed, and the employee I had dismissed was not reinstated (as had been demanded).  I would write a paper on this as part of my pursuit of a masters degree in dispute resolution at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

As I concluded in that paper, I think that the fact that management took this extra step, using a “neutral,” demonstrated the “justice” of our actions.  If we had realized that at the time, perhaps we could have pushed through into a new era of management-union relations.  Who knows?

  • Finally, contract negotiations!  Bargaining Unit contracts, at least in UUSC in those days, lasted three years, and then the two sides would renegotiate another three years.  Those who had been around for previous renegotiations often spoke about them with a deep degree of “gallows humor,” as if they were deeply traumatized.  “Just wait,” people would warn me.

This time, in 2006, it would be my turn.  My partners were Maxine Hart, our HR Director, and Phil Schneider, a veteran of many similar negotiations, both with UUSC and beyond. This was his field, and he was very good at it.

Nonetheless, it was every bit as unpleasant as I had been warned.  By then, the external “business agent” from the union had changed, and the new representative was much less straightforward then the previous one.  And our counterparts on staff, the UUSC bargaining-unit negotiating team, behaved appallingly – openly hostile, petulant, and unreasonable from the very beginning right to the end, in August 2006, when we agreed a three-year contract.

*

Why was this happening?  What was going on?  Was it just that management was simply not doing its job?

Several times in this blog series I’ve reflected on the complexities of culture inside NGOs. The idealistic nature of our missions, and the passion of our people, leads to great motivation and commitment, but also, often, to overly emotional internal dynamics.  We strongly associate our own self-images with our work, which is dangerous!

And it can be easy to be trapped by the realities of managing an organization in the real world when you’ve committed to noble ideals.

This was happening to us at UUSC, in a big way.  Our commitment to economic justice was real, and honest, but it got in the way when we had to take strong action inside the organization.  It made us too careful about taking actions that should have been uncontroversial – like giving that staff member a warning, or dismissing an employee that was leaking confidential information.

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And at an even higher level, our “mission” statement seemed to empower our staff to “confront unjust power structures” (management?!) on anything they judged to be “oppressive”:

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The creation of the Strategic Plan, as I described last time, was quite good and in general the result was solid.  But there was one statement that further complicated management’s relations with the UUSC union.  In the section on “Organizational Development Goals and Strategies,” we made a commitment that:

“UUSC will create a work environment in which all staff can develop professionally, progress in their careers, and maximize their contributions to achieving the mission of the organization.  Central to achieving this goal will be building upon the constructive and productive working relationship between the bargaining unit (UNITE HERE!, Human Rights Local 2661) and management…

… We will review our internal work processes to ensure that they are as inclusive and participatory as possible – for example, decentralizing decision-making wherever possible and prudent, carrying out continuous improvement efforts led by staff involved in work processes, etc.  A component of this review will include a periodic power analysis.”

This was good, and proper – except perhaps for that last reference to “a periodic power analysis” – not sure about that one!  But it added to the challenge of navigating between principle and pragmatism.

*

UUSC’s bargaining unit had succeeded in dismissing the previous CEO, and this led to roles becoming confused and to management being too cautious.  For good, idealistic reasons, we had established internal mechanisms by which management shared power with the union, further confusing roles and raising tension.  And we were perhaps somewhat “boxed-in” by our noble programmatic commitment to economic justice, to labor organizing and activism against “oppression.”

We had created a monster, and our desire not to appear hypocritical about economic justice was blocking action to clarify roles internally.  We were trapped between principle and pragmatism.

*

In the years since leaving UUSC, I’ve thought about what I would do differently, looking back.  Would I navigate the terrain between principle and pragmatism any differently?

For me, today, it boils down to being clearer and tougher, and deepening self-awareness and non-attachment.  Because there is no contradiction between being clear and firm about roles, being fair but strict about adherence to procedures and performance, and the ideals of a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice.  

  • In the first instance, above, I should simply instructed the Department Director to correct, or dismiss, the under-performing employee.  If, despite coaching, the Director couldn’t do this, I should have resorted to progressive discipline with the Director also!  And I certainly should have taken the opportunity given to me by the union “business agent” to dismiss that employee;
  • In the case of credit-card abuse, I was absolutely right to force the Department Director to issue a formal warning.  And when the employee threatened me I should have issued a second warning;
  • When staff started wearing black arm-bands after I dismissed the confidential employee, I was right to push forward towards mediation;
  • And when the union team behaved inappropriately, I should have suspended contract negotiations.

In future situations, these reflections would serve me well.  I would be clearer and tougher, while still acting from foundational principles of social justice internally.

That’s easy to say, but hard to do.  So perhaps the most valuable outcome of my years of working with UUSC’s Bargaining Unit is that I have taken the time to build my competencies in two key areas, include two very useful tools in my personal toolbox that, for me, are key to navigating principle and pragmatism.

  • Firstly, as I mentioned above, I’ve taken the time to pursue advanced studies of dispute resolution.  This has given me a range of capabilities to manage conflict, tools that would have enabled me to deal constructively with the tensions that rose in key moments as I worked with UUSC’s Union, and move past those challenges to deal with the issues at hand.
  • Secondly, navigating principle and pragmatism in the kinds of situations I’ve described here often brings intense emotional flooding and threats to self image.  Even using the tools of dispute resolution and conflict management, it’s not always possible to manage these kinds of situations successfully because of the physiological reality that comes from the cognitive dissonance between principle and pragmatism inside NGOs like UUSC.

But the chances of success, for me, are improved dramatically as I deepen my sense of humility and self-awareness, of mindfullness and equanimity, of engaged non-attachment.  So I recommitted myself to my practice of meditation, the best way I know to build those particular skills and characteristics.

To repeat for emphasis, my biggest lesson learned from those years of working with the UUSC Bargaining Unit was that there is no inherent, inevitable contradiction between being clear and firm about roles, being fair but strict about adherence to procedures and performance, and the ideals of a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice.  

And, for me, the way to successfully navigate the terrain between principle and pragmatism is to learn how to manage conflict while developing a deep sense of humility and self-awareness, mindfulness and equanimity, and engaged non-attachment.

*

Last time I described in some detail how we had developed UUSC’s Strategic Plan.  One of the commitments we made there was that we would “research the feasibility and usefulness of establishing a UUSC-related 501(c)4 structure.”  In 2007, we decided to set up what became “UUSC Just Democracy,” allowing UUSC to expand our focus on social justice and human rights more into the political realm.

And, in 2008, I would move to head up “UUSC Just Democracy,” and spend the next year working mostly in New Hampshire as a pilot test of how we could influence the federal election process in favor of our priorities: ending the war in Iraq, and stopping climate change.

More on that next time!

*

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:

  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.

 

 

 

Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights

November, 2017

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 26 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing 26 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve reflected on: two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; 15 great 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, how we sought to embed the shifts underlying “Bright Futures” into CCF’s culture.

*

My final consulting assignment with CCF was very different, and not directly related to “Bright Futures.”  Their Vice President for East Africa, Margery Kabuya, had been granted a six-month sabbatical, and I was asked to step into the role on an interim basis.  Margery was based in Kenya, at CCF’s Country Office in Nairobi, but I felt that since some major changes needed to be made to the Kenya operation, it would be best to have a bit of distance.  This meant that I would be based in either Kampala or Addis Ababa.  So in October 2004 I set up a small office at the Ethiopia Country Office and Jean and I moved to Addis.  From there I spent a busy and productive time supporting CCF’s operations across Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.

But I want to focus this blog on the next phase in my career, one that began when we moved back from Ethiopia – four years working in human rights campaigning in the United States and internationally.  In many ways, this move represented the culmination of what I had learned thus far, where I thought our social-justice sector needed to focus, and (most importantly) where I felt my own passion.

*

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.

As I described last time, I reached the top of Mt Lincoln at about noon that day.  From there, I continued along the Franconia Ridge Trail, north towards Mt Lafayette (5260ft, 1603m).  Here is a view of Franconia Ridge, taken the year before from South Kinsman.  The loop I did on 22 June took me up Mt Lincoln first (as I described last time), then across to Lafayette and back down:

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Franconia Ridge, From South Kinsman

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I dropped down into the saddle between Lincoln and Lafayette, reaching the intermediate peak (5020ft) at 12:21pm.  I took many photos of the awesome views all around me as I went:

 

The walk along Franconia Ridge was shorter than I had (vaguely) remembered from long ago, and I was at the top of Lafayette by 12:45pm.

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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette

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Mt Garfield

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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette – Plenty Of People!

 

It was clear and quite windy… lots of climbers there at the top.  I became very chilled as I ate lunch; although the temperature was cool and comfortable, my shirt was completely wet by the time I reached the Ridge – so I put on my wind jacket.

I began the descent once I had finished lunch, a little after 1pm.  It was a fine place to be, to eat lunch, but it was too cold and there were many too many people.  Happily, there were no insects – that would soon  change!

Dropping down from Mt Lafayette I was looking west, right at Cannon Mountain and its ski area, and the Kinsmans.  Greenleaf Hut was right below me:

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Looking Down Towards Greenleaf Hut and Cannon Mountain

 

My plan was to drop down to Greenleaf Hut on the Greenleaf Trail, and then take the Old Bridle Path back to my car.  On the way down, at about 1:41pm, I took a photo looking back up at Mt Lincoln:

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It was rock-hopping steeply down Lafayette, steadily approaching Greenleaf Hut.

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Greenleaf Hut, With Mt Cannon and the Kinsman in the Distance

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Greenleaf Hut

 

Once I arrived at Greenleaf Hut, the views across the small lake and back up towards Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette were great.

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But there were lots of flies at Greenleaf Hut, so I didn’t stay long; sadly, there were flies for much of the way down.

I now took the Old Bridle Path, heading south on the moderately-steep path and soon descending past the tree-line, and into pines:

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Views back up towards Mt Lafayette were great; a couple of gliders flew long, lazy circles around the mountain:

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A Glider Can Just Be Seen, Top Center

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By 3pm I was descending steadily, mostly rock-hopping, and the crowds that I had seen hiking up with me that morning, going up Mt Lincoln, were nowhere to be seen.  Just the occasional pair of hikers, and a few bugs.  I took it slowly, because I had completed the loop (Mt Lincoln, Mt Lafayette) much more quickly than expected.

The walking was pleasant, strolling through dappled forest:

 

 

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At about 3:45pm I arrived back at the junction of the Old Bridle Path and the Falling Waters Trail.  I had taken this bridge early that same day:

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Then it was almost 4pm, and I was back where I had begun the day:

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It had been a spectacular day, with perfect temperatures and glorious views throughout.  A very memorable transit of the Franconia Ridge Trail between Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.

*

While I was working from Addis Ababa, I came into renewed contact with Charlie Clements, the President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC).  Two years earlier, while still working on Bright Futures with CCF, Charlie and I had discussed my becoming Program Director at UUSC.  Atema Eclai had filled that role, but now UUSC was creating a new position – titled initially as “Deputy Director,” and later as “Executive Director” – to manage the organization and free Charlie up to focus externally.

Charlie and UUSC’s HR Director, Maxine Hart thought I was the right person for the new role.  So did I – as I will outline, below.  Jean and I left Ethiopia in February 2005, and I reported for duty at UUSC’s head office on Prospect Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a very cold, snowy day in early March 2005.

*

Charlie Clements was, and is, a gifted and passionate communicator, who has lived his life in service of human rights.  He began his career in the US Air Force, and graduated from the US Air Force Academy.  While serving in Viet Nam, Charlie refused to fly missions into Cambodia in support of our illegal invasion of that neutral country, and was discharged.  Switching professions, Charlie went back to school to become a medical doctor and then practiced medicine behind rebel lines in El Salvador.  That experience resulted in a book and an Academy-Award-winning documentary (1986), both titled “Witness To War.”Charlie Clements

Charlie had actually served as a program officer at UUSC in the 1980’s, and returned as President and CEO in 2003, tasked by the board of directors with refocusing the agency after a period of drift.  Because Charlie was such a valuable asset externally (in advocacy, mobilisation, and fundraising), it made sense to free him up by hiring somebody to run the organisation.  My own experience managing large international NGOs, as has been described in this series of blogs, had given me all the tools needed for that task.

And, from my perspective, the opportunity at UUSC was very exciting.  I had been working in the development sector for almost 20 years, between Peace Corps, Plan International, and CCF; and I had been lucky to work across Latin America, Africa, and Asia in a wide range of roles, in community, local, national, regional, and international contexts.  I’d worked in operational and staff functions.  And during those years, as I described in an earlier post, huge progress had been made in tackling human poverty.

But, as I said there:

Arriving back in the US after many years abroad, then, my own thoughts were focused on how poverty was shifting, the upcoming war in Iraq, the political situation in the US… exclusion, vulnerability, people’s power.  It seemed to me that the international NGOs that had helped make such great progress in reducing human deprivation, the organizations that I had been working with, like Plan International, were not fit for working on the emerging issues of unaccountable government, growing inequality, exclusion, and vulnerability.  They even seemed uninterested in these trends, perhaps because they had been built to work in stable, predominantly-rural settings – that was their niche.

In that light, UUSC’s advocacy, mobilisation, and campaigning work was very attractive to me.  It seemed to represent exactly the kind of place where the next steps towards social justice would be taken.

And from Charlie’s perspective, my long experience managing large, complex non-profit with organisations – having grown up professionally as Plan International scaled and introduced an array of business systems and controls – meant that I could help him take UUSC to the next level.  As I would soon see, UUSC did need some help in those areas!

*

I stepped into the Executive Director role, reporting to Charlie and initially managing with a team of four Directors.

  • Atema Eclai was UUSC’s Program Director.  A forceful Kenyan, who consistently deployed sectors of her brain that I didn’t seem to possess, Atema managed a large department organised around three priorities that had emerged during a process of reflection that was concluding when I arrived: economic justice, environmental justice, and civil liberties.  She routinely used management techniques that I would later learn about when I studied “Restorative Justice” at the University of New South Wales, with (for example) frequent departmental checkins.  Morale was high in her team, but that same internal protective spirit could be a challenge when it came time to collaborate with other parts of the agency;
  • Bob Snow served as Director of Institutional Advancement, having handled the same set of fundraising functions at the UU Association, the “spiritual” side of the UU movement.  As UUSC’s income was mostly from UU-associated sources, Bob’s connections and experience were very valuable;
  • Kevin Murray had recently arrived at UUSC as Director of Advocacy and Communications.  Kevin had a long history of effective advocacy work, and had recently stepped down as CEO of Grassroots International.  His department was a fairly new creation, combining two related but distinct  functions (which I would later separate – see below).  I came to appreciate Kevin’s understanding of the social-justice sector inside the US and in Central America, which were not areas of deep familiarity for me;
  • UUSC’s Finance Director (CFO) was Michael Zouzoua.  Originally from Ivory Coast, Michael had been at UUSC since 2000, making him the longest-serving director on our team.  In addition to financial matters, Michael handled facility management and managed our IT officer;
  • Nancy Moore had served as interim CEO before Charlie joined, and stayed on as “Executive Liaison to the UU Association and Congregations.”  She also worked with Charlie to handle our purchase of a new headquarters building, and our move – see below.

Maxine Hart, as noted above, was UUSC’s Human Resources Director.  A native of South Africa, Maxine had participated in the social justice struggle there, including helping organise the first free elections in that country’s history, in 1993.  Maxine was, and is, an energetic and extroverted professional, a very good match with my more introverted nature.  Although she reported to directly to Charlie, we formed a productive partnership dealing with HR matters, including recruiting and systems development, along with the complex internal dynamics that we faced, particularly as we handled relations with the staff bargaining unit.

Later, when Kevin left and with a new Strategic Plan calling for more focus on activist mobilisation, we re-organized things, splitting his “Advocacy and Communications” department into two.

Organizational structure should fit with mission, and should represent a set of functions that can be overseen and supported coherently.  For me, that normally means that departments will cohere around a discipline, something that (for example) could be studied formally.  In our case, as will be seen below when I describe our strategic-planning process and results, since activism was such a fundamental part of our theory of change, it felt like we needed to recognize mobilization as a major component of the agency.  This meant that our communications work, the other part of the “Advocacy and Communications” department, would stand on its own, which made sense given the coherent functions of a communications team, and the amount of work involved.

So to replace Kevin, I worked with two very strong and dynamic professionals:

  • Myrna Greenfield joined UUSC to form a new “Outreach and Mobilization” department;
  • Our Communications Manager, Ki Kim, who was already on staff, working for Kevin, stepped into the Communications Director role.  Along with his normal, ongoing communications activities, Ki would invest huge amounts of time in two major projects: UUSC’s rebranding, and the creation of a dynamic new website, giving UUSC greatly enhanced capabilities which would support Myrna’s new team.

Both Myrna and Ki were great assets for UUSC.  Also, midway through my time at UUSC, Bob Snow moved to another agency, and we were fortunate to steal Maxine Neil from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, another big asset for us.

IMG_2543.jpg

Me, Maxine Neil, Michael Zouzoua, and Maxine Hart

*

The dynamic inside UUSC was complex, perhaps more complex that I had seen in Plan and CCF.  Reflecting on this today, over ten years later, I think this might have been due to three major factors.  First, working in the human-rights sector seemed to be even more filled with emotion and ego.  I had experienced this in other contexts, and have written about it earlier in this blog, but the situation at UUSC took it up to a new level!  Perhaps this had some good positive aspects, but it made management quite tricky…

Second, I often found myself dealing with three different internal constituencies, each with sometimes-different priorities.  Charlie Clements is a very dynamic and passionate person, with tons of energy and ideas and, as president of UUSC, with every right and every obligation to bring his long and inspiring experience and ideas to the agency.

Meanwhile, our department directors were focused on implementing the priorities that had been set for them earlier, and sometimes seemed (understandably) uncomfortable with new initiatives, even those that were quite compelling.  As a result, I came to place a lot of importance on achieving “unity of purpose” through a rigorous and participatory strategic-planning process.  I thought that getting that process right would help a lot – see below.  Perhaps it did help.

Finally, UUSC’s staff were unionized, and relations between management and the bargaining unit were fraught.  A good description of the situation was included as a direct quote in the mid-term assessment of our 2006-2010 strategic plan:

  • “This is a very hierarchical organization, but with a discourse of being very participatory, horizontal organization.  There are intense power struggles that affect our work.  The relationship with the union is very strange and tense”

While I would not entirely agree with this depiction (I had worked in organizations that were far more hierarchical!  And I didn’t see so many “intense power struggles” … ), it does give a flavor of the situation.  (I will describe how we created that strategic plan, and summarize the mid-term assessment that included that quote, below.)

Maxine and I were key points of contact with the union, and we found this to be a big challenge, taking up a lot of time and energy.  I learned a lot from this situation, in terms of leadership and management, and also in terms of how to handle conflict.  Later on, in other roles, I would benefit from what I learned at UUSC.  So my next blog will focus entirely on the topic of managing UUSC’s staff union – what we got right, and what we didn’t.

*

After I settled in at UUSC in March of 2005, we decided to create a new Strategic Plan.  As I mentioned above, I thought that a good strategic-planning process might release some of the latent energy that was bottled-up by our internal dynamic, and create a foundation of shared purpose.  And since Atema had recently led a wide-ranging “program review,” a well-designed strategic-planning process could build on, and perhaps extend, what had been already agreed on the program side.

That “program review” had resulted in three focuses for our work (I will link to UUSC’s website here.  It’s great that two of these program areas, and the one we added in the new Strategic Plan, endure even as I write this, over ten years later, though with emphases that have significantly evolved over time):

  • Economic Justice, which in practice meant working to advance “living wage” movements across the US, and to strengthen the rights of workers in the informal economy.  This domain of our work was led by Johanna Chao Kreilick;
  • Environmental Justice, which involved partnering inside the US and internationally to advance the “human right to water.”  Led by Patricia Jones, an accomplished lawyer whose focus had been international water law;
  • Civil Liberties, which were under severe pressure by the George W. Bush administration in the post-September 11 context.  This area of our work was led by Wayne Smith.  As I joined UUSC, this team (including well-known anti-torture activist Jennifer Harbury) was focused on challenging the use of torture by the US Government.  A righteous effort, for sure!

Through my years leading and managing international nonprofits, I had learned that the most valuable outcome of a “strategic planning” process was the unity of purpose that can be created.  (Way back in Plan’s South America Regional Office, as Regional Director, I had emphasised three key areas of organisational development: unity of purpose; continuous improvement; and an enabling management culture.)

Therefore, for me, strategic planning was very different from, and complementary to, operational planning, which should take place through the normal annual budgeting process:

  • Strategic planning should be infrequent but periodic, a key skill for healthy organisations but one that, if used too often, can get in the way of making a difference in the world.  Given how fast things change, strategies can be obsolete before too long, but revisiting them too often can lead to too-frequent changes in direction.  So, for me, strategic plans should be revised every 3 to 5 years;
  • However, instead of waiting until the strategic plan is concluding, it’s healthy to carry out a mid-term assessment for learning and mid-course corrections;
  • But resource availability can be hard to predict, and can change abruptly, so operational (budget) planning needs to take place every year (and revisited quarterly) after taking stock of recent performance relative to the strategy.

*

We began with a full-day reflection of the board of trustees in February 2005.  Immediately following that board meeting, we formed a strategic plan task force, comprising three board members, Charlie Clements, four directors, and four staff members.  I led the task force.  In a parallel fashion, a set of revenue projections was prepared for task force consideration – I will describe this “scenario planning” exercise in more detail below.

Between February and May 2005, we conducted a series of all-staff reflection sessions to consider organizational goals, revenue scenarios, and UUSC’s strengths and weaknesses.  Staff members drafted narrative sections of the strategic plan, which went through several rounds of departmental review.

UUSC’s board of trustees provided feedback on draft vision and mission statements in late April 2005, and critiqued an outline of the strategic plan at the May 2005 board meeting.  Between May and September 2005, staff made further refinements to the plan, consulting quite widely, both internally and externally with many of UUSC’s key stakeholders.  Also during this period, we estimated the human and budgetary resources required to achieve our goals.

This strategic plan was then submitted to, and approved by, the UUSC board of trustees on October 1, 2005.  Here is a copy of the public version of the final plan: UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010 – Public.

*

I am proud of the process and approach we used in crafting that strategic plan, and in the resulting document.  So I want to spend some time here going through several aspects of what we did.  First, how did we organize our strategic planning process?   This graphic summarizes the structure of what we attempted:

Screen Shot 2017-11-26 at 5.49.09 PM

 

The top half of the graphic is focused on the external world, with the bottom relating to the organization, internally.  At the heart of the matter, the centre of the graphic, are the goals we would seek to achieve – these goals were the pivot point where the external joined the internal.

We moved through the planning process, roughly, as depicted, from top to bottom.  The final plan would be structured according to the six components shown in the graphic:

  1. What was the global context for UUSC’s work?  A clear understanding of today’s world situation would be vital for any organization working to build a better future.  In our case, an analysis of current global human rights context and societal trends in this section would set the stage for describing UUSC’s approach, niche, and goals;
  2. Within that global context, what was UUSC’s special contribution, our niche?  Clarity of purpose would be closely associated with organizational effectiveness, so an unambiguous definition of an organization’s role is of fundamental importance when defining a strategy for organizational growth and development.  For UUSC, this section would also outline our vision, mission, and approach, linked with the proud history and heritage of the agency;
  3. Given our niche, what did we aim to achieve externally, what were our program goals?  Here we arrived at the heart of UUSC’s strategic plan where, in light of the broader global context and the organization’s niche, we would revisit the results of the recent “program review.”  Was there anything missing?;
  4. Once our mission-related goals were affirmed, we needed to assess our capacity, identifying UUSC’s strengths and weaknesses.  This section outlined the strengths of UUSC in general, and the challenges we faced, as particularly related to the human rights and social justice goals and strategies we had identified;
  5. How could UUSC develop internally, enhancing our strengths, and addressing our  weaknesses?   In order to fortify our strengths and address the limitations described in the previous section, we identified several internally directed goals and strategies on which we would focus during the period covered by the strategic plan;
  6. Finally, what financial, human, and technological resources would be required?No strategic plan is complete, or credible, without an analysis of the resources necessary to achieve its goals.  We therefore identified the human, financial, and technological resources that UUSC would utilize to achieve the goals described above.

*

Several aspects of the resulting 2006-2010 strategic plan are worth highlighting here.

First, as a result of a deep reflection, we clarified what was special about UUSC.  There are many nonprofits in the world (arguably too many!)  To achieve unity of purpose and enhance effectiveness, to clarify an agency’s focus internally and with the public, and to enable collaboration, a compelling statement of what was unique, or at least special, about each particular organization can be very helpful and compelling.  In our case, we boiled things down to this Venn diagram which, though not included in the final strategic plan, depicts UUSC’s niche very clearly to me:

Venn - 1.001.jpeg

 

What was unique, or at least special, about UUSC was how we brought together three distinct roots: our heritage and foundation in Unitarian Universalism; our focus on activism through a long-established service-related “experiential-education” program; and our focus on human rights and social justice.  Other agencies might claim to share some aspects of this identity, one or two of these three components, but we felt that UUSC was fairly unique in combining all three in one package.

Another important result of the strategic-planning process was the identification of a fourth program area.  We embraced the three focuses that had been identified earlier (economic justice, environmental justice, and civil liberties) – they were very relevant with the global context we saw, and resonated strongly with our niche.  But we felt that another element was important, both because of our niche and because of the importance given to it by many key stakeholders: we needed to work in the humanitarian space.

Given our understanding of the global context, seeing that the frequency and intensity of disasters was increasing, the cause was compelling.  And our membership base expected us to work in these contexts.  It was clear that the work we had done to clarify our niche meant that our approach to working in the humanitarian space would be through focusing on excluded populations and incorporating service opportunities, something that the already-crowded humanitarian space seemed to have room for.

So we added a fourth program area: “rights in humanitarian crises.”  (At the time, that somewhat-awkward title was the best we could come up with.  Later, after I left UUSC, a better name was given, without a major change in focus: “rights at risk.”  That’s much better!)

*

One story I like to tell people about those days relates to this new program area, and involves UUSC’s response to Hurricane Katrina.  As most readers will vividly recall, Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana near New Orleans on 29 August, 2005, causing immense destruction.  In particular, marginalised areas of the city, where residents were predominantly African-American and Vietnamese-American, were severely flooded.

In keeping with UUSC’s mission and strategy, we quickly mounted a humanitarian response, in partnership with the UU Association.  Our joint fundraising appeal was a big success, so we were able to establish partnerships with a range of African-American and Vietnamese-American people’s organisations in the affected area.

UUSC’s Program Manager for Rights in Humanitarian Crises, Martha Thompson, made frequent visits to New Orleans and other nearby parishes that had been damaged by Katrina, supporting our local partners and monitoring projects we were supporting.  I visited with her once, in October of 2006.

At the time, I was working my way through the Taylor Branch trilogy of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge), and took the final book, “At Canaan’s Edge,” with me on the trip.  On our first night in New Orleans, after a busy day visiting partners and surveying the still-appalling damage over a year after the Hurricane, I was reading about the visit of a young Freedom Rider, Jimmy Smith, to the Kennedy White House, where he got into a shouting match with then-Attorney General Robert F Kennedy.

The next day, Martha and I continued our visit.  In the early afternoon, we were scheduled to meet with the director of a youth-services agency very near the infamous SuperDome.  We arrived at the facility, a fairly-large building with a good-sized gymnasium.

We found a way into the site which, at first, appeared to be abandoned.  But after a few minutes the agency’s director arrived and we found a few chairs and sat together on the basketball court to talk about how his work was going.

As we introduced each other I began to get a strange feeling.  The partner director was named Jim Smith – certainly a common name! – and he was a mature African-American man with plenty of grey hair.  But when Martha mentioned that Jim had been a Freedom Rider, I realised that I was sitting with the man who I had been reading about the night before!

I asked Jim if he was the same person, if he was the same person who had been thrown out of the White House… yes, indeed!

Jim showed us around the area, and described the work his agency was doing to help local people recover from Katrina.  What an honour to meet a Freedom Rider, and what an honour to be able to work with him!

*

I mentioned above that we created a set of financial scenarios as part of our strategic-planning process.  Max van der Schalk, my boss at Plan International’s headquarters, had introduced me to the discipline of “scenario planning,” something he had learned during his time with Shell Oil, where the process had been developed.

As I indicated in the final Strategic Plan, “scenario planning is a model for learning about the future in which organizational strategy is formed by drawing a small number of scenarios, stories how the future may unfold, and how this may affect an issue that confronts the organization. Scenarios help us link the uncertainties we hold about the future to the decisions we must make today.

The scenario planning method works by understanding the nature and impact of the most uncertain and important driving forces affecting the future. It is a group process which encourages knowledge exchange and development of mutual deeper understanding of central issues important to the future of the organization. The goal is to craft a number of diverging stories by extrapolating uncertain and heavily influencing driving forces. The stories, usually crafted in an entertaining and engaging manner, together with the work creating them, have the dual purpose of increasing our knowledge of the environment while also widening our perception of possible future events. The method is most widely used as a strategic management tool, but it is also used for enabling group discussion about a common future.”1

The weighted combination of the scenarios would then be taken forward as a basis (not the only basis) for further analysis and discussion.

Working with Stan Corfman, our board treasurer, Finance Director Michael Zouzoua, and Bob Snow, our Director of Institutional Advancement, I created seven possible future scenarios, giving each of them evocative names and rough probabilities:

Scenario 1:     Name of Scenario: MoveOn.org          Probability: 20%

Early in FY07, program initiatives hammered out two years earlier assume a life of their own, gaining national media attention and driving newcomers to uusc.org.  Living wage campaigns expand beyond urban battlegrounds, popping up in suburbia, where UUSC volunteers assume leadership roles.  STOP Torture campaign misses by a few votes passing historic legislation in Republican-controlled Congress.  Water crises capture headlines and raise awareness nationally – perception among public and constituency is that UUSC is informed and experienced on water.

One of the program areas and UUSC’s progress on that issue become a national cover story in the mainstream media.  Online donations skyrocket, overwhelming UUSC’s servers, and stretching internal resources.  Snowball effect occurs as donations seed other program work.  Renown grows through rest of decade, ensconcing UUSC among the world’s most active and respected human rights organizations.

Scenario 2:      Name of Scenario: You and You Exuberance       Probability: 60%

Alliances with congregations solidify as relationships are repaired and new friendships made.  Doors fling open for UUSC speakers.  Ministers who have kept their distance in the past heartily endorse UUSC.  Record numbers of UUs sign up for membership, convinced of UUSC’s commitment to human rights.  GAYT, Justice Sunday approach utter market saturation.  Merchandise cannot be kept in stock.  The three program areas thrive.  UUSC becomes the queen of the ball at GA.  Staff, volunteers are pleasantly exhausted.

Scenario 3:     Name of Scenario: Gonzalez Shutdown       Probability: 10%

Aggressive STOP Torture campaign incurs the wrath of the Bush Administration.  UUSC activity and history highly scrutinized.  Staff, especially Jennifer Harbury and Charlie Clements, villainized by conservative media.  Some staff leave, escaping the heat.  501(c)(3) license targeted, eventually revoked in FY08 legal tussle.  Very existence of organization at stake.  Financial support becomes all but impossible.  After one year, license regained, and many but not all donors return.  FY10 a make-or-break year, either resuming pre-revocation levels or just treading water.

Scenario 4:      Name of Scenario: Loss of Confidence     Probability: 10%

Financial missteps and increasingly common economic assessment of NGOs damage UUSC’s reputation.  Fundraising and administrative expenses remain above 80%.  Many long-time donors find new affiliations.  Congregations cut off relationships.  Programs fail to resonate as anticipated.  Layoffs and program cuts occur in FY08 before footing is slowly regained.  (Note:  This could also serve as world or national economic downturn scenario.)

Scenario 5:      Name of Scenario: Composite

This scenario (not shown in the graph below) is constructed by weighting each previous scenario by its assumed probability.

Scenario 6:     Name of Scenario: Composite + Disaster

Here we take the “composite” scenario, and add a periodic increase (and subsequent decrease) in revenue reflecting a pattern of recurring “crisis” response (i.e., September 11, Haiti earthquake, Tsunami, etc.)

Scenario 7:    Name of Scenario: Composite + Capital Campaign

Here we take the “composite” scenario, and add the effect of a concerted capital campaign, with a total target of $10m. Specific spending rates, and some resulting decrease in “major gift” revenue, are factored into this scenario; the effect of “disaster” activities is not included.

For each scenario we worked to estimate how revenue might evolve, and the results can be seen here:

Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 9.42.45 AM.png

 

In the end, we used Scenario 7 (“Composite + Capital Campaign” – shown in green in the figure) as our basis for further refinement.  Scenario 7 used the weighted average of the first five scenarios, and added the possible impact of a “capital campaign.”

*

I shared an early draft of the strategic plan with Alan Fowler, who I had worked with when we were both consultants with CCF, a few years earlier.  This was a great opportunity for me, as Alan was (and is!) a significant figure our sector, someone whose body of work has influenced a couple of generations of development workers, definitely including me!

His comments were insightful and helpful and challenging (thankfully!)  Though I wasn’t able to incorporate all of his suggestions, I do want to highlight one in particular: he pointed out that the document would be stronger if it included a clear “theory of change.”

This was the first time that I really took the concept of “theory of change” into account in my work, and in this case it was very helpful in clarifying why we did what we did.  Though we didn’t use that language in the strategic plan, as we wanted to stay away from jargon whenever possible, we did incorporate an implicit theory of change:

Human rights and social justice have never advanced without struggle. It is increasingly clear that sustained, positive change is built through the work of organized, transparent and democratic civic actors, who courageously and steadfastly challenge and confront oppression. 

*

So how did the plan work out for us?  Two years later, as planned, we carried out a “mid-term assessment” of the implementation of our strategic plan.  Working with an independent, external agency, we sought to reflect and learn, focused on four key questions:

  1. What progress have we made towards goals?
  2. What barriers have we encountered?
  3. What changes have taken place in the external and internal environment since strategic plan was written?
  4. What changes need to be made to the plan going forward?

I will attach a summary of the research findings here: UUSC – Summary Research Findings – March 12 – 2

In essence, the external reviewers found widespread agreement that the plan was still fit for purpose, that UUSC had made significant progress towards our goals, that our staff were highly competent and effective, and that we had become an effective organization with potential for doing even more.  UUSC was seen as having been transformed positively over the previous five years since Charlie had joined as President and CEO.

Our board’s perspective was similarly largely favorable, as were the views of key external stakeholders.  Staff views were more mixed, seeing progress but also feeling frustrated with ongoing barriers to implementation of the plan and posing many questions regarding future direction and priorities.

The review found opportunities to make our advocacy and communications work stronger, linked better with our program work, better promoting activism.  To some extent, this led to the reorganization mentioned above, with the creation of two departments (Outreach and Mobilization, and Communications) providing enhanced capabilities.  And, later, it led to the creation of a 501(c)4 agency, “UUSC Just Democracy,” which I would move to lead in 2008 – more on that later!

Importantly, our program partners expressed very strong and positive views of our partnership approach.  This reflected well on Atema and her team’s empowering approach to grantmaking.

*

Once the Strategic Plan was approved and we began implementation, I had time to work on internal systems and procedures.  At that point, UUSC’s operations were guided by our collective-bargaining agreement (for staffing matters that were covered in that contract), and by a range of informal and formal-but-outdated procedures.  So I decided to bring everything up to date.

This was a fairly massive project, and resulted in a document that was over 200 pages long!  The “UUSC Handbook” sought to clarify all aspects of internal operation, and was frequently updated as we improved our approach.  I’ll attach the last version we produced before I left UUSC here: UUSC Handbook – Version 1-12

As can be seen, the document is highly structured: each policy or procedure indicates when and by whom it was approved – sometimes by management, sometimes by the board of directors.  And each also indicates the responsible member of management, the “policyholder.”

Each time the Handbook changed, we issued electronic updates with a “Change Tracking” sheet included.  I modeled this approach after what I had seen in Plan when I joined in 1987!  In the interim, my sense was that, as we moved into the computer age, with electronic documents, most international NGOs had lost this kind of version-control system.  For this kind of document, being able to quickly identify current versions seemed critical to maintaining clarity and accountability; here is a copy of the last “Change Tracking Sheet” that I produced: UUSC Handbook – Change Tracking Sheet.

The UUSC Handbook was quite successful, both because it clarified things but also, as a result, it reduced the level of unnecessary tension internally.  Later, in a different role in ChildFund Australia, I would replicate this approach – stay tuned!

*

One other major achievement I want to highlight before ending this long post relates to an initiative of Charlie’s that I did not support at the time, but which has turned out to be a huge legacy of our years at UUSC.

When I joined, UUSC’s head office was at 130 Prospect Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the corner of Harvard Street:

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We occupied the bottom floor in this building, which UUSC had owned for years.  As UUSC expanded, we soon began to outgrow our space there, and Charlie started looking for new premises.  My own feeling at the time was that we could “make-do” where we were – yes, we were somewhat crowded, but I wanted to be cautious before making such a big change and spend so much money.  And I didn’t want the distraction of a move when we were just getting traction in our mission-related work.

But Charlie persisted and, after visiting a range of possible locations, he found a building right on Massachusetts Avenue, just several blocks from where we were.  It was a heritage bank building, housing a branch office of Citizen’s Bank, right over the Central Square MBTA stop.

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For me, the building was too big and too expensive, but I didn’t strongly oppose the move: maybe Charlie was right?  And, our office was pretty crowded.  In the end, with Nancy Moore superbly handling almost all the complicated and stressful logistics, we bought the building on Massachusetts Avenue, and moved over.

Looking back on it, Charlie was absolutely right, and I was absolutely wrong.  Today UUSC is able to sublet part of the building: renting the entire first floor to Citizen’s Bank and a legal firm, and to a range of program partners in part of the second and third floors that we occupied.  As a result, today, all of the organization’s mortgage, taxes, and other expenses related to occupancy are completely covered: they live there for free!  And the building has appreciated significantly.

The move to Massachusetts Avenue, something that I had serious doubts about, will be one of Charlie’s many significant legacies of his time at UUSC.  Future generations of UUSC staff will look back at the move with great appreciation.

IMG_2549.jpg

*

In upcoming blogs, I will continue to describe those years at UUSC, focusing first on relations with the staff bargaining unit and my move to the 501(c)4 – “UUSC Just Democracy.”  I’m also hoping that Charlie will contribute a “guest blog” here…

Meanwhile, I wanted to thank the team I worked with, and UUSC’s board of directors, for all their support and passion during my time there.  I’m very grateful to them all!:

  • On UUSC’s Board of Directors: Todd Jones, Bill Schulz, Kathy Hall, Stan Corfman, David Lysy, Tom Andrews, John Gibbons, Charlotte Jones-Carol, Susan Scrimshaw, Barclay Hudson, Diane Miller, Carolyn Purcell, Lurma Rackley, Chuck Spence, and Fasaha Traylor;
  • The team members I worked with: Atema Eclai, Bob Snow, Kevin Murray, Ki Kim, Maxine Neil, Myrna Greenfield, and Michael Zouzoua;
  • And, of course, Charlie Clements, Maxine Hart, and Seanna Berry.

*

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:

  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.

 

  1.  Adapted from http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/ methods_scenario_planning.html.)