Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101.

I began a new journey over a year ago: writing about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall and, each time, reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Since then, across 25 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing 25 4000-foot mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve reflected on: two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; my 15 years with Plan International; the deep, disruptive changes in the development sector over that time; and, most recently, the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures.”

This time I want to conclude my description of those Bright Futures years by sharing our attempt to encourage a new set of values and attitudes in CCF’s staff, through a weeklong immersion, experiential training workshop we called “Bright Futures 101.”

Peter Drucker is supposed to have said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  This certainly seemed to be true as CCF moved into the pilot testing and rollout of Bright Futures – the agency was investing in new systems and new structures in a big way.  But Bright Futures would only realise its promise of more effective work for children living in poverty if the culture of the organisation shifted how it viewed its work, how it viewed the people it worked for.

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But first… I climbed both Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette on 22 June, 2017, on a beautiful, mostly-sunny day.  My plan had been to do this loop back in September of 2016, with my brother, but my fall and the resulting injuries (broken rib, torn rotator cuff) forced a postponement.

That morning I left Durham at 6:45am, and drove up through Concord, stopping in Tilton for a coffee, and in Lincoln to buy a sandwich for lunch.  So I didn’t get to the trailhead until just after 9am.

The parking lot at Lafayette Place was nearly-full, with lots of people arriving, getting ready to hike on what was a clear, cool day, perfect for hiking.  It was a bit surprising for a Thursday; I was glad not to be doing this climb on the weekend!

I know that I climbed both Lincoln and Lafayette in the distant past, probably in the 1980’s, but I don’t really have any clear memory of the hike.  So it was new to me, again, perhaps 30+ years later!

On this day, I had arrived at the trailhead for both the “Falling Waters” trail, and for the “Old Bridle Path.”  I planned to walk up Falling Waters, across Franconia Ridge to Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette, and then down the Old Bridle Path, back to Lafayette Place.

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As I started out, there were many people walking along with me, so it took some time to get sorted into a fairly-stable pack.  It took me about 15 minutes to reach the beginning of the Falling Waters Trail; I would return here later in the day, coming down the Old Bridle Path.  So far, it was a beautiful day for hiking!  But lots of people…

I continued up the Falling Waters trail, along the stream with many small waterfalls (so, the trail is aptly named!)  I took lots of photos and several videos of the waterfalls.  The trail ascended steadily, moderately, along the brook.

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The walk was typical White-Mountains rock-hopping, moderately and steadily upward in the shadow of Mt Lincoln.  I was working pretty hard, and gradually more space opened up between groups of hikers.  There were no insects during this part of the hike – indeed, there would be none until I got to Greenleaf Hut later in the afternoon.

I started to emerged from the forest into scrub pine at about 11am, and the views across to Franconia Notch became remarkable:

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Then, suddenly, I was out of the trees, ascending Little Haystack, and the views were just spectacular:

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Mt Lafayette and Franconia Notch

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Mt Lincoln Just North Of Mt Haystack

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Looking North Towards Mt Lincoln

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Franconia Notch.  Cannon Mountain is Clearly Visible At The Top Of Franconia Notch

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North and South Kinsman Visible Across Franconia Notch

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Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans

 

I reached the top of Little Haystack at 11:25am, where I joined the Franconia Ridge Trail:

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I had been ascending the western slopes of Mt Lincoln; once I got up onto Franconia Ridge, views to the east were just as amazing: I was above Owl’s Head, and could easily see Bond Mountain, West Bond, and Bondcliff (all of which I would climb on a very long day in September, later that year), and out across the Twins to Washington and the Presidential Range in the distance.  Maybe I could see the Atlantic Ocean far in the distance.

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Looking East Towards Owl’s Head and the Bonds

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Looking South Towards Mt Liberty and Mt Flume

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Looking North Towards Mt Lincoln

 

There were many people at the top of Little Haystack, some of whom were probably staying at the nearby Greenleaf AMC Hut., which I would pass on my way down, later.  But many also were doing the same loop that I was doing, across Lincoln and Lafayette.  One amazing boy, maybe 4 years old, was zipping along ahead of his mother, who kept calling him back.  He seemed full of energy, and wanted to fly ahead.  I wondered how long his energy would last, but he certainly kept it up for the whole time I saw him… weaving in and out of my path, with his mother calling out to him all the way.

The walk along Franconia Ridge, to Mt Lincoln, was spectacular.

 

I arrived at the summit of Mt Lincoln right at noon, and rested briefly.  It had taken about 2 hours and 40 minutes to the top from the Lafayette Place parking area.

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It was too early for lunch, so I soon left Mt Lincoln and headed north towards Mt Lafayette.  I will describe that hike, and the trek back down, next time!

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Last time I described how we had piloted the Bright Futures program approach in CCF, further developing and testing the methods, systems, and structures that had been defined through our research and internal and external benchmarking.  It was a very exciting process, and I was lucky to be asked to accompany the pilot offices in Ecuador, the Philippines, and Uganda as they explored the disruptive changes implied in Bright Futures.  Lots of travel, and lots of learning and comradeship.

Near the end of that period, I came into contact with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), a human-rights, social-justice campaigning organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In late 2004, as I was finishing my consulting time with CCF as acting Regional Representative for East Africa, based in Addis Ababa, I was offered a position at UUSC as Executive Director (initially as “Deputy Director”) working for Charlie Clements, UUSC’s dynamic and charismatic president and CEO.

Working at UUSC would be a big and exciting shift for me, out of international development and into social justice campaigning.  But the move felt like a natural extension of what we had been doing in CCF, where we had included an explicit focus on building the power of excluded people into Bright Futures.  I was able to use what I had learned across 20 years in the international development sector, leading and managing large international agencies, to lead and manage operations at UUSC, while also learning about campaigning and advocacy (and working in a unionized context!)

I’ll begin to describe my years at UUSC next time.  For now, I want to skip forward a few years, to my second, brief incarnation with CCF.

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In early 2009, a few former colleagues at CCF, now rebranded as ChildFund International, got back in touch.  At that point I had transitioned to the 501c4 branch of UUSC, which we had created in 2008, and I had some spare time after the federal election the year before.  (More on that in a future post.)

Between 2004 and 2009, ChildFund had continued to roll out Bright Futures, but there had been major changes in leadership.  Sadly, John Schulz, CCF’s president, had taken a leave of absence to fight cancer, and had then died.  Though I had never worked directly with John, I had always appreciated his leadership and his unwavering support to Daniel Wordsworth and Michelle Poulton as they redesigned the agency’s program approach.

The internal leadership changes that took place after John’s departure led to Daniel and Michelle leaving CCF, as Anne Goddard became the agency’s new CEO in 2007.  Initially, at least, it seemed that the global transition to Bright Futures continued to be a priority for ChildFund.  (Later, that would change, as I will describe below…)

During that period, as Bright Futures was scaled up across the agency, many structural and systems-related challenges were addressed, and staff inside ChildFund’s program department were busy addressing these issues – updating their financial systems, transitioning long partnerships, training new staff in new positions.  In particular, Mike Raikovitz, Victoria Adams, Jason Schwartzman, and Dola Mohapatra were working very hard to sort out the nuts and bolts of the change.

It is a truism, attributed to Peter Drucker, that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Alongside their important, practical work, Jason and Dola in particular were learning that lesson, and as a result they began to focus also on the cultural side of the change involved in Bright Futures: the attitudes and values of ChildFund staff.  Systems and structures were vital elements of Bright Futures, but nothing would work if staff retained their old attitudes toward their work, toward the people they worked with and for.  And there was a clear need, from Jason’s and Dola’s perspective, for attitude shifts; in fact, it seemed to them that the biggest obstacle to implementing Bright Futures were old values and attitudes among existing staff.

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Dola worked as Deputy Regional Director for ChildFund Asia, a brilliant and highly-committed professional.  I worked closely with Dola in the design and implementation of BF101, and I enjoyed every moment of it; I admired Dola’s passion and commitment to ChildFund’s work, and his dedication to improving the effectiveness of ChildFund’s programming.

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Dola Mohapatra, at the BF101 workshop

 

Jason managed a range of program-related special projects from ChildFund’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.  Jason was (and is) a gifted and insightful professional, who I had met back during my tenure as Plan’s program director, when he had worked with CCF’s CEO in a collaboration with Plan and Save and World Vision.  Jason had rejoined ChildFund to help develop an approach to working with youth.

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Jason Schwartzman, on the left, during our community immersion

 

In addition to Dola and Jason, I worked closely with Evelyn Santiago, who was ChildFund Asia’s program manager.  Evelyn brought key skills and experience to the design of our workshop.

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Evelyn Santiago at the BF101 Workshop

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Jason, Me, Dola and Evelyn

 

As noted above, Dola and Jason had identified the need to reinforce the values and attitudes side of Bright Futures, and felt that a deep, experiential-learning event might help better align staff with the principles of the new program approach.  They approached me for help and, as I had some time, we worked together to design and carry out a ten-day workshop that we called “Bright Futures 101” – in other words, the basics of Bright Futures, with a big emphasis on values and attitudes.

Working with Jason, Dola and Evelyn was a privilege – they were and are smart, experienced professionals whose commitment to social justice, and to the principles and values of Bright Futures were strong.

In this blog post, I want to describe “BF101” – our approach, the design, and how it went.

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Rather than being just introduction to the tools incorporated into Bright Futures, our purpose was to promote and encourage the kinds of personal transformations required to make the new program approach a reality.  So we prepared something that ChildFund had never tried before – a long, experiential workshop with a village stay.

From the beginning, we agreed that BF101 would have two overall objectives:

  1. to build a comprehensive understanding of the principles underlying ChildFund’s Bright Futures program approach; and
  2. to build a questioning, exploring, and adaptive approach to program development and implementation that was aligned with ChildFund’s value of fostering and learning from its own innovation.

So, implicitly, we wanted to shift ChildFund’s culture.  By including significant participant leadership, immersion in communities, experiential education, and pre- and post-course assignments, we wanted to promote a meaningful connection between head (understanding), heart (values and principles), and hand (concrete action), thinking that this connection would spill over into their daily work when they returned home.  A 1 1/2-day immersion in a local community would be a key component of the workshop.

After a lengthy, collaborative design process, we agreed on a three-part workshop design (included here – Building Program Leaders – Immersion Workshop – Final Preworkshop Version).  The overall framework looked like this:

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Once Dola and Evelyn approved the design, they asked ChildFund Philippines to book a venue, and invitations were sent out to 3 or 4 participants from each office in Asia.  Extensive pre-reading assignments were sent to each participant, covering current trends in poverty and international development as well as the fundamental documents related to Bright Futures that I have shared in earlier posts in this series, such as the CCF Child Poverty Study, the Organisational Capacity Assessment, etc.

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In the first workshop section, “Setting the Stage,” we would prepare participants for the experience.  A lengthy role play, adapted from a full-day exercise I had created in Viet Nam, was designed to challenge participants in an experiential, emotional manner, helping them actually feel what it was like to be a community member participating in programs implemented by ChildFund in the old way, the pre-Bright-Futures way.

We assigned various roles – community members (dressed appropriately), staff members of a fictitious NGO called “WorldChild International” (wearing formal attire), observers, etc.  I had written an extensive script (Role Play – Module 1 – Design – 4) which set up a serious of interactions designed to provoke misunderstandings, conflict, moments of emotional impact, and some fun:

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As usual, the most important part of any exercise like this one was the group reflection afterwards, in this case led by Lloyd McCormack:

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This led into a session, which I led, on mind-shifts and archetypes: M2 – Archetypes – 2.  The purpose here was to build on the impact from the role play to get participants thinking about their own attitudes and values, and how they might need to shift.

Ending the first section of the workshop, Jason, who had flown in directly from the US and was quite jet-lagged, gave an excellent historical overview of CCF’s programmatic evolution.  This presentation contained an important message of continuity: Bright Futures was the next step in a long and proud programmatic history for the agency: we were building on what had been accomplished in the past, not starting over.  Jason’s presentation set the scene for our work on the changes in attitudes and values that were in store:

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The next sessions outlined each of the main values and commitments articulated in Bright Futures (at least at that point in its evolution):

  • Deprived, Excluded, and Vulnerable children are our primary focus.  This session built on the CCF Poverty Study, which I described in an earlier post in this series.  At BF101 we sought to unpack what this “primary focus” would mean in practice;
  • We Build on the Stages of Child Development.  After I had concluded my tenure as consultant at CCF, program development efforts had built on Bright Futures by articulating a clear theory of child development, along with interventions related to each stage.  This was a very good development in ChildFund’s program approach which, however, had the potential to conflict with the bottom-up nature of Bright Futures.   So this section of BF101 would deepen understanding on how to resolve this seeming contradiction in practice;
  • Programs are Evidence-Based.  Again, ChildFund had continued to develop aspects of its program approach, building on Bright Futures to try to professionalize the design of projects and programs.  As above, this was a very good development in ChildFund’s program approach which, however, had the potential to conflict with the bottom-up nature of Bright Futures.   So we would reflect on how to resolve this seeming contradiction in practice;
  • We Build Authentic Partnerships.  This commitment flowed directly from the work we had done on Bright Futures earlier.

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Perhaps the most important and crucial element of the BF101 design was a 1 1/2-day stay in communities.  We divided up the participants into smaller groups, and set out to spend a night in a community nearby the conference center:

 

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Our concluding sessions were aimed at building on the community immersion by considering a range of personal and institutional transformations required, discussing systems implications, and then breaking into National Office groups to plan for action after the workshop.

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During the workshop, Jason was blogging regularly, and asked me to prepare one, also.  Here is one of Jason’s blogs: http://ccfinthefield.blogspot.com/2009/05/opposite-sides-time-to-reflect.html.  And here is mine: http://ccfinthefield.blogspot.com/2009/05/seeking-balance.html.

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We used a simple tool to track participant assessments along the way:

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As can be seen, the overwhelming majority of participants rated the workshop as very positive and helpful.  I myself felt quite happy with the workshop – I felt that we had gotten fairly deep into discussions that had the potential to transform people’s attitudes and values in a positive way.  Although it was a lot to ask people to set aside their work and families for seven full days, and to spend a night in a village, it seemed to pay off.

So, BF101 was successful, and fun.  Together with the systems work and structural shifts that were ongoing in the agency, it set the scene for the continued rollout of Bright Futures across ChildFund International, now including a positive, constructive way to promote values and attitudes consistent with the new program approach.

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But, sadly, Bright Futures would soon be set aside by ChildFund.  In what felt like an echo of Plan International’s pathology (new leadership = starting over from scratch), despite having embraced the approach initially, ChildFund’s new leadership moved deliberately away from Bright Futures.  The global financial crisis had erupted and, like many international NGOs, ChildFund’s income was dropping.  It was felt that investment in the transition to Bright Futures was no longer affordable, so much of the investment in research, piloting, systems development, and training (for example, followup to BF101) was dropped.

As a consultant, I could only look at this decision with sadness and regret.  The dedication and resources that Michelle, Daniel, Victoria, Mike, Jon, Andrew, Jason, Dola and many others across ChildFund had invested in such a positive and disruptive shift was, to a great extent, lost.

Many years later, when I joined ChildFund Australia as International Program Director, a very senior program leader expressed similar regret to me, lamenting that Bright Futures was a clear ideology which was now lacking.

I’ve recently been reminded of another consequence of the virtual abandonment of Bright Futures: a year later, 65% of the participants in the BF101 workshop had left ChildFund.  Perhaps we didn’t do enough to help participants operationalize the changes we were promoting, in the context of ChildFund’s reality of the time.  But that would have been quite a contradiction of the basic message of BF101: that each person needed to take the initiative to operationalize their own transformations.

My own assumption is that the personal transformations begun during our week in the Philippines led to significant disappointment when the agency didn’t follow through, when ChildFund didn’t (or wasn’t able to) invest in creating BF102, 202, etc.

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Why is it that international NGOs so often suffer this phenomenon, that when leadership changes (at country, regional, or global levels) everything changes?  That new leaders seem to view the accomplishments of their predecessors as irrelevant or worse?

I think it comes, at least in part, from the way that we who work in the value-based economy associate ourselves, and our self images, with our work so strongly and emotionally.  This ego-driven association can be a great motivator, but it also clouds our vision.  I saw this many times in Plan, as many (if not most) new Country Directors or Regional Directors or International Executive Directors scorned their predecessors and dismissed their accomplishments as misguided at best, quickly making fundamental changes without taking the time to appreciate what could be build upon.  And, when the next generation of leaders arrived, the cycle just repeated and repeated.

This, to me, is the biggest weakness of our sector.  Today, alongside this ego-driven pathology, the entire international-development sector is also facing severe disruptive change, which greatly complicates matters… but that’s a story for another day!

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Meanwhile, I made the big move, joining UUSC as Executive Director, shifting from international development to social justice and human rights campaigning, internationally and domestically.  And into a strongly unionized environment.  These were the days of Bush’s Iraq invasion, torture and neoliberal economics, and I was excited to turn my work towards the grave problems affecting my own country.

Next time I will begin to tell that part of the story… stay tuned!

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures.

Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot-Testing Bright Futures

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on my path since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.  So, in the end, there will be 48 posts about climbing 48 mountains and about various aspects of the journey to thus far…

Leaving Plan International after 15 years, the last four of which were spent as Country Director in Viet Nam, I was fortunate to join CCF as a consultant.  My task, over what became two great years with CCF, was to help develop a new program approach for the agency.  This was exciting and opportune for me: I had been reflecting a lot about how things had changed in the development sector, and at that point I had a lot of experience across five continents, in a wide variety of roles, under my belt.

There was probably nobody in the world better suited for the task.

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Last time, I wrote extensively about what we came up with: the “Bright Futures” program approach.  We developed the approach through a very thorough process of reflection, benchmarking, and research, and even though the changes foreseen for CCF were very significant and disruptive, senior management and board embraced our recommendations enthusiastically.  We were given the green light to pilot test the approach in three countries – Ecuador, the Philippines, and Uganda – and I was asked to train staff in each location, accompany the rollout, document learning, and suggest refinements.

This meant that I would continue to work with Michelle Poulton and Daniel Wordsworth, development professionals I’ve described in earlier blogs, people I admired and who were very serious about creating a first-class program organization.

What a fantastic opportunity!

In this blog, I want to describe how the pilot testing went.  But first…

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I climbed Mt Isolation (4004ft, 1220m) on 8 June 2017, after having spent the previous night at Dolly Copp Campground.  Since getting to the top of Mt Isolation would be a long hike, I wanted to have a full day, so I drove up the previous afternoon and camped at Dolly Copp Campground in Pinkham Notch.

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As you can see, I went up to the top of Mt Isolation and retraced my steps back, which involved quite a long hike.  I’ve included a large-scale map here, just so that the context for Mt Isolation can be seen: it’s in a basin to the south and east of the Presidential range, with Mt Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Monroe to the north, and Eisenhower, Pierce, and Jackson to the west.

Sadly, I spent an uncomfortable night at Dolly Copp, mainly because I had forgotten the bottom (that is to day, lower) half of my sleeping bag!  So I tossed and turned, and didn’t get a great night’s sleep.

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But the advantage was that I was able to get an early start on what I thought might be a long climb, leaving the Rocky Branch parking lot, and starting the hike at about 7:15am, at least two hours earlier than I would have started if I had driven up from Durham that morning.

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The hike in the forest up the Rocky Branch Trail was uneventful, though there was lots of water along the way, and therefore lots of rock-hopping!  That trail isn’t very well maintained, and with recent heavy rains there were long sections that were more stream than path!

I reached the junction of Rocky Branch and Isolation Trail at about 9:15am, two hours from the start of the hike.  I crossed over and headed upstream.  Rocky Branch was full, as expected with all the rain, so crossing was a bit challenging.  There were four more crossings as I headed up, through the forest, before I reached the junction of Isolation Trail and Davis Path at about 11am.  I have to admit that I dipped my boots into the Rocky Branch more than once on the way up, and even had water flow into my boot (over the ankle) once!  So the rest of the hike was done with a wet left foot…

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Once I got onto Isolation Trail, I found it was better maintained than Rocky Branch Trail had been.  Evidence of a strong storm was obvious near the top, where I joined Davis Path: lots of downed trees had been cut, clearing the trail, but the hike was still narrow in places, crowded with downed trees and shrubs on both sides.

As I hiked up Isolation Trail, still in the forest, I began to have views of the Presidential Range.  I reached the turnoff for the spur up to the summit of Mt Isolation at about 11:30am, and reached the top a few minutes later.  So it took me about 4 3/4 hours to reach the top; I didn’t see any other hikers on the way up.

The view from the top was fantastic, probably the best so far of all the hikes in this series: it was clear and dry, and I had the whole Presidential Range in front of me.

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From the Right: Mt Washington, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson


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Mt Eisenhower

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And I had a winged visitor, looking for food.

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But I also had hordes of one other particular species of visitor: for only the second time in these 25 climbs, swarms of black flies quickly descended, making things impossible and intolerable.  Luckily, I had carried some insect repellent leftover from our years in Australia, and once I applied generous quantities onto my face and arms and head, the black flies left me alone.  Otherwise I would have had to leave the summit immediately, which would have been a real shame, because I had walked nearly 5 hours to get there, without very many views!

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Happily, I was able to have a leisurely lunch at the top.  The views were glorious, and the flies left me alone.

After I left, retracing my steps down, I did meet with a few hikers, including a mother and son who had come up from Glen Ellis Falls.  Descending Rocky Branch, of course, I had to cross the river again, five more times.  However, in this case, I crossed once in error and had to recross there to get back to the trail… so, make that seven more times!  Happily, it seemed easier to navigate the crossings on the way back, either the water had gone down (unlikely), or I was a bit more familiar with the right spots to cross.

I arrived back at the parking lot at about 4pm, having taken almost nine hours to climb Mt Isolation.  Tired, but it was a great day out!

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Change is complicated and, given the nature of our value-driven organisations, changing international organisations is particularly challenging (see my 2001 article on this topic, available here: NML – Fragmentation Article).  Even though the close association that our best people make between their work and their own personal journeys is a huge advantage for our sector (leading to very high levels of commitment and motivation), this same reality also produces a culture that is often resistant to change.  Because when we identify ourselves so closely with our work, organisational change becomes personal change, and that’s very complicated!

And the changes implied with Bright Futures were immense, and disruptive.  We were asking pilot countries:

  • to move from: programs being based on a menu of activities defined at CCF’s headquarters, and focused on basic needs;
  • towards: programs based on a broad, localized, holistic and nuanced understanding of the causes and effects of the adversities faced by children, and of the assets that poor people draw on as they confront adversity.

The implication here was that pilot countries would need to deepen their understanding of poverty, and also learn to grapple with the complexity involved in addressing the realities of the lived experience of people living in poverty.  In a sense, staff in pilot countries were going to have to work much harder – choosing from a menu was easy!

  • to move from: programs being led by local community associations of parents, whose task was primarily administrative: choosing from the “menu” of activities, and managing funds and staff;
  • towards: programs being designed to enhance the leading role (agency) of parents, youth, and children in poor communities, by ensuring that they are the primary protagonists in program implementation.

The implication was that pilot countries could build on a good foundation of parents’ groups.  But extending this to learning to work appropriately with children and youth would be a challenge, and transforming all of these groups into authentic elements of local civil society would be very complex!  The reality was that the parents’ associations were often not really managing “their” staff – often it was the other way ’round – that would have to change.  Another of the challenges here would be for existing staff, and community members in general, to learn to work with groups of children and youth in non-tokenistic ways.

  • to move from: carrying out all activities at the local community level;
  • towards: implementing projects wherever the causes of child poverty and adversity are found, whether at child, family, community, or Area levels.

This would be a big challenge for pilot countries, because it involved understanding the complex linkages and causes of poverty beyond the local level, and then understanding how to invest funds in new contexts to achieve real, scaled, enduring impact on the causes of child poverty and adversity.

One big obstacle here would be the vested interests that had been created by the flow of funds from CCF into local communities and the parents’ groups. Not an easy task, fraught with significant risk.

And, on top of all of that, Bright Futures envisioned the consolidation of the existing local-level parent’s associations into parent “federations” that would operate at “district” level, relating to local government service provision.  Transforming the roles of the existing parents’ associations from handling (what was, to them) vast quantities of money, to answering to an entirely new body at “district level” was a huge challenge.

  • to move from: working in isolation from other development stakeholders;
  • towards: integrating CCF’s work with relevant efforts of other development agencies, at local and national levels.

This would require a whole new set of sophisticated relational and representational competencies that had not been prioritized before.

For example, in a sense, CCF had been operating in a mechanical way – transfer funds from headquarters to parents’ groups, which would then simply choose from a menu of activities that would take place in the local community. Simple, and effective to some extent (at least in terms of spending money!), but no longer suitable if CCF wished to have greater, longer-lasting impact, which it certainly did.

  • to move from: annual planning based on local parents’ groups choosing a set of activities from a menu of outputs, all related to basic needs;
  • towards: planning in a much more sophisticated way, with the overall objective of building sustainable community capacity, the ability to reflect and learn, resilience, and achieving impact over, as an estimation, four 3-year planning periods.

CCF would have to create an entirely new planning system, focused on the “Area” (district) level but linked to planning at Country, Regional, and International contexts.

Fundamental to this new system would be the understanding of the lived reality of people living in poverty; this would be a very new skill for CCF staff.  And pilot countries would have to learn this new planning system immediately, as it would be the foundation of pilot operations… so we had to move very quickly to develop the system, train people, and get started with the new way of planning.  (I will describe that system, the “ASP,” below…)

  • to move from: program activities taking place far from CCF’s operational structure, with visits by staff to local communities once per year;
  • towards: programs being supported much more closely, by decentralizing parts of CCF’s operational structure.

This was a huge change, involving setting up “Area” offices, staffing these offices with entirely new positions, and then shifting roles and responsibilities out from the Country Office.

There was deep institutional resistance to this move, partly because of a semi-ideological attachment to having parents make all programmatic decisions (which I sympathized with, although the evidence was clear that the program activities that resulted were often not high-quality).

But resistance also came from a more-mundane, though powerful source: showing a “massive” increase in staffing on CCF’s financial statements would look bad to charity watchdogs like Charity Navigator and Guidestar.  Even though the total levels of staffing would go down, as staffing at the “parents’ associations” would decrease significantly, those employees had not been shown on CCF’s books, because they were technically employees of the associations.  So the appearance would be a negative one, from a simple bookkeeping, ratio-driven point of view.  But this “point of view” was of the very highest priority to CCF’s senior management, because it strongly influenced donor behavior.

  • to move from: funding program activities automatically, to parents’ groups on a monthly basis, as output “subsidies”;
  • towards: projects being funded according to the pace of implementation. 

This would be another enormous, foundational change, entailing a completely-new financial system and new flows of funding and data: now, the Country and Area offices would authorize fund transfers to the local parents’ (and child and youth) associations based on documented progress of approved projects.

All of this would be new, so CCF had to develop project documentation processes and funding mechanisms that provided sufficient clarity and oversight.

To properly test Bright Futures, we would need to provide a lot of support to the pilot countries as they grappled with these, and other, disruptions!

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In this blog post, I want to describe several aspects of the year that we piloted Bright Futures in Ecuador, the Philippines, and Uganda as they moved to implement the disruptive changes outlined above: how we helped staff and leadership in the three pilot countries understand what they were going to do; how we worked with them to get ready; and how we accompanied them as they commenced working with the Bright Futures approach.   And how we developed, tested, and implemented an entirely new set of program-planning procedures, the Area Strategic Plan methodology.

As I have just noted, Bright Futures was a profoundly different approach than what these pilot countries were used to, deeply disruptive.  So we set up what seems to me to have been, in retrospect, a careful, thorough, rigorous, and exemplary process of support and learning.  In that sense, I think it’s worth describing the process in some detail, and worth sharing a sample of the extensive documentation that was produced along the way.

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Before beginning to pilot, we carefully identified what we would be testing and how we would measure success; we set up processes to develop the new systems and capacities that would be needed in the pilot countries and at CCF’s headquarters; and we established mechanisms to support, and learn from, the pilot countries as they pioneered a very new way of working.

In the end, I worked closely with the three pilot countries for a year – helping them understand what they were going to do, working with them to get ready, and then accompanying them as they commenced working with the Bright Futures approach.  And, along the way, I supported staff in the Richmond headquarters as they grappled with the changes demanded of them, and with the impact of the changes on headquarters systems and structures.

When CCF’s senior management had agreed the pilot testing, their president (John Schulz) had decided that the organization would not make changes to key systems and structures across the agency until pilot testing was complete and full rollout of Bright Futures had been approved.  This meant that the functional departments at headquarters had to develop “work-arounds” so that pilot areas could manage financial and donor-relations aspects of their work.

This made sense to me: why spend the time and money to develop new systems when we didn’t know if, or how, Bright Futures would work?  But it meant that much of the agency, including all three pilot Country Offices, would be using parallel basic organizational processes, especially financial processes, at the same time, just adding to the complexity!

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First we brought key staff from each country together with staff from CCF’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, to develop a shared understanding of the road ahead, and to create national plans of action for piloting.  Management approved these detailed plans in late May of 2003.

I recently rediscovered several summary videos that I prepared during the creation and pilot testing of what became Bright Futures.  These videos were used to give senior management a visual sense of what was happening in the field.

Here is a short (11-minute) summary video of the preparation workshop that took place in late April of 2003:

 

It’s fun for me to see these images, now 14 years ago: the people involved, the approaches we used to start pilot testing Bright Futures.  Staff from all three pilot countries are shown, along with Daniel and Michelle, and other senior staff from Richmond.

One important result of that launch workshop was the production of a set of management indicators which would be used to assess pilot performance: the indicators would be measured in each pilot country before, and after the pilot-testing period.  The agreed indicators reflected the overall purposes of the Bright Futures program approach (see my previous blog), and can be found here: Piloting Management Indicators – From Quarterly Report #2.

Once detailed national plans of action were approved, we scheduled “Kickoff” workshops in each pilot country.  These two-day meetings were similar in each location, and included all staff in-country.  On the first day, we would review the background of the pilot, including summary presentations of CCF’s strategic plan, the Organisational Capacity Assessment, and the CCF Poverty Study.   Finally, the basic principles, concepts, and changes included in the pilot testing were presented and discussed, along with an outline of the pilot schedule.  At the end of the first day, we handed out relevant background documentation and asked participants to study it in preparation for the continuation of the meeting on the second day.

The second day of these Kickoff meetings was essentially an extended question and answer, discussion and reflection session, during which I (and staff from CCF’s headquarters, when they attended) would address concerns and areas where more detail was required.  Occasionally, since I was an external consultant, there were questions that needed discussion with functional departments at CCF’s headquarters, so I tracked these issues and methodically followed them up.

During these initial visits, I also worked with Country Office leadership to help them obtain critical external support in two important and sensitive areas:

  • Given the fundamental nature of the changes being introduced, and in particular noting that only part of the operations in each pilot country would be testing Bright Futures, human-resources issues were crucial.  Bright Futures would demand new competencies, new structures, new positions, and change management would be complex.  So in each country we sought external support from specialised agencies; I worked with CCF’s director of human resources in Richmond, Bill Leedom, to source this support locally;
  • One particular skill, on the program side, would be pivotal: new planning systems would require field staff to master the set of competencies and tools known as “PRA” – participatory rural appraisal.  (I had first come across PRA methods when in Tuluà, at Plan’s Field Office there, back in 1987, but somehow most CCF staff had not become familiar with this approach.  Some did, of course, but this gap in knowledge was an example of how CCF staff had been somewhat isolated from good development practices).  Since by 2003 PRA was completely mainstream in the development world, there were well-regarded, specialised agencies in most countries that we contacted to arrange training.

Also, in this first round of visits, I worked with local staff to finalise the selection of two pilot “Areas” in each country.  I visited these locations, helping determine the details of staffing in the Areas, reviewed and decided systems and structural issues (such as how funds would flow, how local parents’ associations would evolve as district-level “federations” were formed), etc.

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Once the two “Areas” in each pilot country began working, I started to issue quarterly reports, documenting progress and concerns, and including visit reports, guidance notes issued, etc.  (I continued to visit each country frequently, which meant that I was on the road a lot during that pilot-testing year! )  These quarterly reports contained a very complete record of the pilot-testing experience, useful for anybody wanting (at the time) to have access to every aspect of our results, and useful (now) for anybody wanting to see what the rigorous pilot-testing of an organizational change looks like.

I produced five lengthy, comprehensive quarterly reports during that year, which I am happy to share here:

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Staff from functional departments at CCF’s headquarters also visited pilot countries, which we encouraged: support from Richmond leadership would be important, and their input was valuable.  Of course, leaders at headquarters would need to be supportive of the Bright Futures model once the pilot-testing year was concluded, if CCF were to scale up the approach, so exposing them to the reality was key, especially because things went well!

We asked these visitors to produce reports, which are included in the quarterly reports available in the links included above.

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Evidence of an interesting dynamic that developed during the year can be seen reflected from a report produced by Bill Leedom, who was CCF’s HR director at the time.  Bill’s visit report for a visit he made to Ecuador is included in the Q1FY04 Quarterly Report (Q1FY04 – 2).  In his report, he describes a discussion he had with the Country Director:

“Carlos (Montúfar, the Country Director in Ecuador) and I had a discussion about the role of consultants in the organization. Although it appears at times that the consultant is running the organization it must be the other way around. CCF hires a consultant to help with a process and then they leave. They are a “hired gun.” If changes are recommended they cannot be implemented without his approval as he will have to live with the consequences of whatever was done. The consultant moves on to another job and does not have to suffer any consequences of a bad recommendation or decision but he and his staff have to. I think Carlos was glad to hear this and hopefully will “stand up” to and express his opinions to what he believes might not be good recommendations by consultants.”

When Bill uses the word “consultants,” I know that he is politely referring to me!  My recollection is that this comment reflects a strong dynamic that was emerging as we pilot tested Bright Futures: leadership in the three pilot countries had volunteered to pilot test a particular set of changes, perhaps without fully understanding the ramifications, or without fully understanding that headquarters (meaning, mostly, me!) would be accompanying the pilot process so closely.

Understandably, leaders like Carlos wanted to maintain authority over what was happening in their programs, while headquarters felt that if we were going to test something, we had to test it as designed, learn what worked and what didn’t work without making changes on the fly.  Only after testing the model as proposed would make changes or adaptations as we prepared to scale up.  Otherwise, we’d never be able to document strengths and weaknesses of what we had agreed to pilot.

But not everything went perfectly – that’s why we were pilot testing, to discover what we needed to change!  When things didn’t go well, naturally, people like Carlos wanted to fix it.  That led to tension, particularly in Ecuador – perhaps because the program in that country was (rightly) highly-esteemed.

Carlos resisted some of the guidance that I was giving, and we had some frank discussions; it helped that my Spanish was still quite fluent.  But Daniel and Michelle, program leadership in Richmond, made it clear to me, and to Carlos and his regional manager that we needed to test Bright Futures as it had been designed, so even though I was an external consultant, I felt that I was on strong ground when I insisted that pilot countries proceed as we had agreed at the launch workshop in April of 2003.

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From the beginning, we understood that an entirely-new planning, monitoring, and evaluation methodology would need to be developed for Bright Futures.  Since this would be a very large piece of work, we sought additional consulting help, and were fortunate to find Jon Kurtz, who worked with me to prepare and test the Bright Futures “Area Strategic Planning” method, the “ASP.”

We wanted to take the CCF Poverty Study very seriously, which meant that a rigorous analysis of the causes of child poverty and adversity, at various levels, had to be evident in the ASP.  And we had to make sure that program planning reflected all of the principles of Bright Futures – involving, for example, children and youth in the ASP process, incorporating other stakeholders (local NGOs operating in the Area, district government), and so forth.

Area Strategic Planning was aimed at supporting CCF’s goal of achieving broader, deeper and longer-lasting impact on child poverty.  To do this, the ASP process was guided by several key principles.  These principles can be seen in terms of the goals that ASP was designed to help programs to achieve:

  • Understanding poverty: Programs will be based on a deep understanding of, and responsive to the varied nature of child poverty across the communities where CCF works.
  • Leading role: Programs will build the capacities of parents, youth and children to lead their own development. Each group will be given the space and support required to take decisions and action to improve the wellbeing of children in their communities and Areas.
  • Linkages: Programs will be linked to and strengthen the resources that poor people call upon to improve their lives. Efforts will strive to build on the existing energies in communities and on relevant efforts of other development agencies.
  • Accountability: Programs will be recognized by sponsors and donors for their value in addressing child poverty, and at the same time will be accountable to the partner communities, especially the powerless and marginalized groups.
  • Learning: Programs will be based on best practices and continuos learning from experiences. Planning, action and review processes will be linked so that lessons from past programs are reapplied to improve future efforts.

The process for conducting Area Strategic Planning was structured to reflect these principles and aims.  It was foreseen that the proposed ASP process would evolve and be innovated upon beyond the pilot year, as Areas discovered other ways to achieve these same goals.  However, for the purposes of the pilot year the ASP process would follow the following process consisting of four stages:

  1. Community reflections on child poverty and adversity: Initial immersion and reflection in communities to gain a deep understanding of child poverty in each context, including its manifestations and causes, as well as the resources poor people rely on to address these.
  2. Area synthesis and draft program and project planning: Developing programs and projects which respond to the immediate and structural causes of child ill-being in the Area while building on the existing resources identified.
  3. Community validation, prioritization and visioning: Validating the proposed program responses in communities, prioritizing projects, and developing visions for the future for assessing program performance.
  4. Detailed project planning and ASP finalization: Designing projects together with partners and technical experts, defining capacity building goals for the Area Federation(s), and developing estimated budgets for programs and getting final input on and approval of the ASP.

We settled on a process that would look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 1.37.11 PM.png

CCF’s Area Strategic Planning Model

The ASP’s Stage Two was crucial: this was where we synthesized the understanding of child poverty and adversity, into root causes, compared those root causes with existing resources (latent or actual) in the Area, and created draft programs and projects.

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 1.55.03 PM.png

 

This step required a bit of “magic” – somehow matching the root causes of child poverty to local resources… and you can see Jon working hard to make it work in the video included below.  But it did work!

I really liked this ASP process – it reflected much of what I had learned in my career, at least on the program side.  It looked good, but we needed to test the ASP before training the pilot countries, so a small team of us (me, Jon, and Victoria Adams) went to The Gambia for a week and tried it out.  In this video you can see Jon working the “magic” – conjuring programs and projects from comparing root causes of child poverty (broadly understood) with locally-available (existing or latent) resources:

 

I like that there was a large dose of artistry required here; development shouldn’t be linear and mechanical, it should be joyful and serendipitous, and I was proud that our ASP process made space for that.

With the learnings from that test in The Gambia, we finalized a guidance document, detailing underlying principles, the ASP process, detailed procedures, and reporting guidelines and formats.  The version we used for pilot testing can be downloaded here: ASP Guidance – 16.

Later we trained staff in each pilot country on the ASP.  Here is a video that shows some of that process:

 

I often tell one fun anecdote about the ASP training sessions.  Stage One of the process (see the diagram above) required CCF staff to stay for nearly a week in a village where the agency worked, to carry out a thorough investigation of the situation using PRA methods.

In one country (which I will not name!), after the initial training we moved out to the pilot Area to prepare to spend the week in a village.  When we gathered there after arriving, to discuss next steps, senior national CCF staff informed me that the “village stay” would not be necessary: since they were not expatriates, they had a clear idea of the situation in rural areas of their country.

My response was simple: as a consultant, I had no authority to force them to engage in the village stay, or anything else for that matter, but that we wouldn’t continue the training if they were not willing to participate as had been agreed…!

That got their attention, and (after some discussion) they agreed to spend much of the week in local villages.

I was delighted when, at the end of the week, they admitted that things were very different than they had expected in these villages!  They seemed genuine in their recognition that they had learned a lot.

But I wasn’t surprised – these were smart, well-trained people, but they were highly-educated elite from the capital city, distant physically and culturally from rural areas.  So, I think, the village stay was very useful.

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Along the way, across the year of pilot testing in Ecuador, the Philippines, and Uganda, I issued a series of short guidance notes, which were circulated across CCF.  These notes aimed to explain what we were pilot testing for staff who weren’t directly involved, covering the following topics:

  1. What are we pilot testing?  Piloting Notes – 1.9.  This guidance note explains the basic principles of Bright Futures that we were getting ready to test.
  2. The operational structure of Bright Futures.  Piloting Notes – 2.4.  This guidance note explains how CCF was going to set up Federations and Area Offices.
  3. Recruiting new Bright Futures staff.  Piloting Notes – 3.6.  This guidance note explains how CCF was going to build up the Area structures with new staff.
  4. The CCF Poverty Study.  Piloting Notes – 4.9  This guidance note gives a summary of the Poverty Study, that would underlie much of the Area Strategic Planning process.
  5. Monitoring and Evaluation.  Piloting Notes – 5.2  This guidance note explains Area Strategic Planning.
  6. Area Federations.  Piloting Notes – 6.6.  This guidance note explains the ideas behind building the power of people living in poverty by federating their organizations so that they could have more influence on local government service provision.
  7. Finance Issues.  Piloting Notes – 7.3.  This guidance note explains how CCF would change funding from being a “subsidy” of money, remitted every month to parents’ associations, towards a more modern process of funding project activities according to advance.
  8. Partnering.  Piloting Notes – 8.7.  This guidance note outlines the basic concepts and processes underlying one of Bright Futures’ biggest changes: working with and through local civil society.
  9. Growing the Capacity of Area Federations.  Piloting Notes – 9.6.  This guidance note describes how the federated bodies of parents, youth, and children, could become stronger.
  10. The Bright Futures Approach.  Piloting Notes – 10.2.  This guidance note explains the  approach in detail.
  11. Child and Youth Agency.  Piloting Notes – 11.  This final guidance note explains the ideas behind “agency” – enabling children and youth to take effective action on things that they find to be important in their communities.

The “Piloting Notes” series was fairly comprehensive, but purposely brief and accessible to the wide range of CCF staff across the world – busy people, with very different language abilities.  The idea was to “over-communicate” the change, so that when the time came to roll out Bright Futures, the agency would be as ready as possible.

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There is so much more that I could share about that fantastic year.  For example, the work that Andrew Couldridge did helping us grapple with the establishment of Area “Federations” of people living in poverty.  But this blog is already quite long, so I will close it after sharing staff assessments of the pilot testing, and thanking the people who were really driving this positive change in CCF.

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CCF carried out a formal evaluation of the pilot test of Bright Futures, using an external agency from the Netherlands (coincidentally named Better Futures, I think).  Sadly, I don’t have access to their report, but I think it was quite positive.

But I do have access to the assessment we carried out internally – the summary of that assessment is here: Management Summary – 1.  We surveyed at total of 17 people in the  three pilot countries, asking them about the Bright Futures model, HR and structural aspects, the planning process (ASP), Federations, Partnership, working with children and youth, sponsor relations, and support from Richmond.

I want to share some of the findings from the first domain of assessment (the Bright Futures model) and the last domain (support from Richmond).

  • In terms of the basic Bright Futures model, staff in pilot countries felt that positive aspects were the way that it included working in partnership and linking with other development actors, how it changed funding flows, how it deepened the undersding of poverty, and how it enhanced the participation and involvement of the community in general, and children and youth in particular.
  • On the negative side, the Bright Futures model was felt to be too demanding on them, that there was not enough capacity in communities, that there was a high cost to community participants (I think this was related to their time), that the piloting was too quick, that CCF’s focus was moved away from sponsored families, that Bright Futures guidelines were not complete at the beginning of the pilot period, that CCF itself became less visible, that Area staff may be dominant, and that the role of National Office staff was unclear.
  • In terms of support from the CCF headquarters, staff in pilot countries felt that positive aspects were that visits were very positive, helping clarify, giving a sense of accompaniment and solidarity.  Also, the flow of materials (guidance notes, etc.) was seen positively.
  • On the negative side, support visits were seen as too few and too short, guidelines were provided “just in time” which caused problems, messages from CCF headquarters were contradictory, and more support was called for in later stages of the ASP.

Piloting change is tricky, and leading it from headquarters of any INGO is even trickier – I think we did very well.

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Once the pilot phase was evaluated, CCF began to prepare for scaling up – preparing a “second wave” of Bright Futures rollout.  Firstly we thought about how countries would be “certified” to “go-live” in Bright Futures – how would we know that they were “ready”?

To help, we produced a document summarizing how “certification” would be handled: Certification – 1.

Five countries were selected for the “second wave”: Angola, Honduras, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Zambia.  At this point, I was beginning to transition to another role (see below), so my involvement in the “second wave” was minimal.  But I did help facilitate a “pan-Asia” Bright Futures rollout workshop in Colombo, and met several people I would later work closely with when I joined ChildFund Australia (Ouen Getigan and Sarah Hunt, for example!)

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As I’ve described here, piloting the kind of disruptive, fundamental change that was envisioned in Bright Futures brings many challenges.  And once the lessons from pilot testing are incorporated, scaling up brings a different set of complexities: for example, CCF was able to provide very extensive (and expensive) support to the three Bright Futures pilots, but would not be able to cover the entire, global organisation with that same intensity.  So, often, quality drops off.

One gap that we noticed in the support we were providing to the pilot countries was very basic: attitudes, skills, and understanding of poverty and how to overcome it.  For example, as mentioned above, we had tried to partially address this gap by getting training for pilot-country staff in PRA methods.

Next time, in my final “Bright Futures” post, I will describe how we sought to build competencies, and momentum, for Bright Futures by creating and implementing a week-long immersion training, which we called “BF 101”.   And I’ll share how Bright Futures came to a premature end…

In 2009, four years after I completed my time as a consultant with CCF, I was asked to briefly return and create a week-long training workshop which we called “Bright Futures 101.”  We conducted this workshop in the Philippines and, next time, I will skip ahead in time and describe that fascinating, and successful experience.

And I will describe how Bright Futures ended!

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But before that, I finished my work with CCF by serving as acting Regional Representative for East Africa, based in Addis Ababa.  This assignment was to fill-in for the incumbent Regional Representative during her sabbatical.  Jean and I would move to Addis, and I worked with CCF’s offices in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda for those fascinating months.

Then … I would move into the world of activism and human-rights campaigning, joining the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee as Executive Director in 2005.  Stay tuned for descriptions of that fascinating experience.

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Before closing this final description of the two years I spent as a consultant with CCF, I want to thank Michelle and Daniel for giving me the opportunity to lead this process.  As I’ve said several times, they were doing exemplary work, intellectually honest and open.  It was a great pleasure working with them.

Carlos, in Ecuador, Nina in the Philippines, and James in Uganda, all did their best to stay true to the principles of Bright Futures, despite the headaches that came with pilot testing such disruptive change.  And they unfailingly welcomed me to their countries and work on many occasions during those two years.  Thank you!

And I also want mention and recognize a range of other Richmond-based CCF staff who worked very effectively with us to make the pilot testing of Bright Futures a success: Mike Raikovitz, Victoria Adams, Jason Schwartzman, Jon Kurtz, Andrew Couldridge, Dola Mohapatra, Tracy Dolan, and many others.  It was a great team, a great effort.

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach.

 

Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach

I climbed Mt Jackson (4052ft, 1235m) on 2 June, 2017.  This was my first climb of 2017, having taken a rest over the long, cold winter of 2016-2017.  In 2016, I had been able to start hiking in early May, but this year we had much more snow, and longer and later cold spells.  So I gave May 2017 a miss, and began to tackle the 4000-footers in early June…

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I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Leaving Plan International after 15 years, the last 4 of which were spent as Country Director in Viet Nam, I was fortunate to join CCF as a consultant.  My task, over what became two great years, was to help develop a new program approach for the agency.  This was exciting and opportune for me: I had been reflecting a lot about how things had changed in the development sector, and at that point I had a lot of experience across five continents, in a wide variety of roles, under my belt.

So I was very ready for the challenge that CCF offered me – I felt I had a lot to offer.  Little did I know that I was also stepping into a great environment, where CCF’s senior programmatic leadership, and the CEO, were beginning a very exciting journey of reflection and discovery.

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My first task had been to research current thinking, and best practices, across our sector.  Last time I described that research and the recommendations that had emerged.  To my delight, Daniel Wordsworth and Michelle Poulton embraced my findings enthusiastically, and senior management had endorsed them as well.

Our next step was to take the research that I had done, with its recommended themes of change, and create the specifics of CCF’s new program approach.  In this, Daniel took the lead, with me acting as a sounding board and advocate for the principles and themes of the prior research.  This was appropriate, as now we would be detailing concretely how the agency would implement programs, core stuff for CCF.  So I moved into more of an advisory role, for now.

In this blog post, I want to share the details of what we came up with, and how CCF ended up proceeding.

*

As I drove north from Durham, the weather forecast was problematic, with a strong chance of afternoon rain.  But I decided to take the chance.  This was #24 of my 48 climbs, and I hadn’t had any rain so far, on any of those climbs.  So I figured I was on a long run of good luck – couldn’t possibly rain this time, right?

I left Durham at around 7:45am, and arrived at the trailhead at just after 10am, parking just off of Rt 302 near Crawford Notch.

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Even though it was June, I could see some patches of snow above me in the mountains as I approached Crawford Notch, but all was clear on the road.

My plan was to walk up the Webster Cliff Trail to Mt Webster, on to Mt Jackson, and then take the Webster-Jackson Trial to loop back to Mt Webster.   I would retrace my steps from there, on Webster Cliff Trail, to the trailhead.

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As I began the hike, it was a nice day, cool and a bit cloudy.  I crossed Rt 302 and quickly reached a pedestrian bridge over the Saco River.  The Webster Cliff Trail forms part of the Appalachian Trail here:

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The first section of the Webster Cliff Trail was moderately steep.  Though the temperature was cool, I heated up as I ascended.  It was a beautiful day hiking, still sunny at this point:

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Clouds gathered as I ascended, and by 11am the sun was mostly gone.  The trail was consistently steep and became rockier as I ascended the Webster Cliff Trail, passing above the tree line.  Once I was onto the ridge, the views were great, looking north up into Crawford Notch:

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Looking Across Crawford Notch, Mt Tom

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That’s Mt Webster Up Ahead

 

Here are two views of the ridge, taken over a year later, from across the way on Mt Willey:

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Mt Webster is on the left.  I ascended steeply up the right side, then along the ridge

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The Ridge

 

I ran into some snow remnants along the path as I approached Mt Webster!  Just proves, once again, that you have to be prepared for snow  – even in June!

I was prepared this time… but the snow patches were not an issue this time!:

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The walking was good, but windy, and clouds were building from the west.  So far, I had not seen any other hikers…

I arrived at Mt Webster ( 3910ft, 1192m – not a 4000-footer) at 1:30pm.  The plan was to rejoin the trail here on my way back, via the Webster-Jackson Trail.

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To the west, I could look across Crawford Notch and see Mt Tom and Mt Field and Mt Willey.  The views north towards the Presidential Range were great, though Mt Washington was in the clouds.  There were patches of blue sky above me, but darker skies to the west.

 

Just before reaching Mt Webster, I passed a through hiker: he was hiking north, doing the entire Appalachian Trail.  Impressive, since it was only early June, that he was this far north.  Maybe in his 60’s, with a grey beard.  He asked me what my “trail handle” was, assuming (I guess) that I was also a through hiker.  I just laughed and said: “well, my name is Mark”!

“These are some heavy hills” I said.

“Hills?!” he exclaimed.

So I guess he was feeling the ascent, as I was.  But, having just restocked his pack with food, he was carrying much more weight than I was…

Just past Mt Webster, I began the Webster-Jackson loop that planned to take; first, continuing on to Mt Jackson, then down and around to return to Mt Webster:

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Here I encountered the second hiker of the day.  Dan was hiking with the guy I had met earlier, and was waiting here for him.  Dan had joined the other guy a week ago, for part of the through hike.  Dan seemed tired and ready to get off the trail, asking me what was the fastest way to the road.  Seemed like he had had enough, describing lots of rain and snow and ice over the last days.

I told him how I had run into so much ice over that way, on Mt Tom and Mt Field the year before, and how I had fallen in May on Mt Liberty.

I left Dan there, and arrived at the top of Mt Jackson at about 1:45pm, and ate lunch – a tried-and-true “Veggie Delite” sandwich from Subway.  It began to sprinkle, light rain falling.

Here the views of the Presidential Range were great, though Mt Washington was still in the clouds.  Mispah Springs Hut can just be seen, a speck of light in the middle left of the photo:

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The Mt Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, can be seen here in the distance with distinctive red roofs, looking north through Crawford Notch:

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From the top of Mt Jackson, the Webster Cliff Trail continues on towards Mt Pierce (which I had climbed with Raúl and Kelly earlier in the year) and the rest of the Presidential Range.  I turned left here, taking the Webster-Jackson Trail, hoping to loop back up to Mt Webster.  My hunch was that Dan was going to wait for his friend, and then follow me down, since that would be the quickest way to “civilization” and he was ready for a shower!

I began to drop steadily down Webster-Jackson, a typical White-Mountains hike, rock-hopping.  But I was a bit surprised, and became increasingly concerned, at the amount of elevation I was losing, as I went down, and down, and down… I knew I’d have to make up this elevation drop, every step of it!

 

I passed five people coming up – two young men running the trail, a mother and daughter (probably going up to stay at the Mispah Hut), and one guy huffing and puffing.

I arrived at the bottom of the loop at just before 3pm, exhausted and now regretting having taken this detour.  Cursing every step down, which I would have to make up, soon: because, from here, it would be a long way back up to Mt Webster, and it was beginning to rain steadily.

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At the bottom of the Webster-Jackson loop, there is a beautiful waterfall, and the temperature was much lower than it had been at the top of the ridge:

It was a VERY LONG slog back up to the top of Mt Webster, where I arrived again at 3:45pm, very tired and very wet.  It had become much colder here since I had passed through earlier in the day, now windy and steadily raining.

Here I would walk back along the ridge.  And I began to feel quite nervous about the possibility of slipping on the slick rocks – from here it would be all downhill, and a fall on the now-slippery rocks could be trouble!

I didn’t really stop at the top of Mt Webster – too cold and rainy.  Conditions had changed a lot since I’d passed this peak that morning!

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Although it was raining steadily, some blue sky did roll by once in a while:

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From here I began the descent back to Rt 302, and soon the trees began to grow in size, and cover me.  I never slipped on the wet granite stones, though I came close a couple of times.  I had to take it very slowly, taking care as I went across every one of the many rocks…  But I got soaked through – for the first time in 24 climbs!

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Soaking Wet, But Happy

 

I was back at my car at about 6:15pm; it was raining hard and 49 degrees.

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The Mt Jackson climb was great, despite the unwelcome rain and cold.  It was longer and harder than expected – nothing technical or super-steep, just long, due mostly to my decision to do the loop down from the summit and back up, and because I had to take care on the slick rocks coming down.

*

Once CCF’s management had endorsed my recommendations for their new program approach, Daniel and I began the design process.  Along the way, CCF’s President John Schulz had baptized the new approach as “Bright Futures,”  which was very smart: branding the change with an inspirational, catchy name that also captured the essence of what we were proposing would help open people to the idea.

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Daniel Wordsworth, 2003

Here I will be quoting extensively from a document that Daniel and I worked on, but which was primarily his.  He boiled down the essence of Bright Futures into three fundamental objectives.  Bright Futures would:

  1. Broaden, deepen and bring about longer-lasting impact in children’s lives;
  2. Fortify sponsorship;
  3. Strengthen accountability.

Bright Futures would be based on the belief that people must be given the space to design and shape the programs that will be carried out in their communities and countries.  The fundamental principle that guided our thinking was that there was no universal strategy that CCF could apply across the complex and different contexts in which it worked.  Therefore, the emphasis was not on a framework that outlined what should be done – e.g. health, education, etc – but rather on a set of key processes that would set the tone of the agency’s work and provide coherence to its programming around the world.

There were five key work processes, qualities of work, that would characterize CCF’s Bright Futures programming.  Each of these was firmly linked to the transformational themes that my own research had identified, but Daniel managed to put things in clear and incisive terms, displaying the brilliant insights I had come to admire:

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Grounded and Connected: Bright Futures programs would be integrated into the surrounding social environment, contributing to and drawing from the assets and opportunities that this environment provides.

To accomplish this, programs would be based in well-defined, homogeneous “Areas”, matching the level of government service provision – often the “district” level.  Program planning would be based at the community level, and program implementation would be accountable to local communities, but programs would be integrated with relevant efforts of the government and other development agencies, at local and national levels. CCF staff would be decentralized, close to communities, to ensure on-the-spot follow-up, using participatory methods and strict project management discipline to ensure effective program implementation.  By partnering with other organizations, building the capacity of local people, and seizing opportunities to replicate program methods wherever possible, impact would be expanded into other communities within the Area and beyond.

These would be big changes for CCF, on many dimensions.  Current programming was exclusively at village or community level, but it was disconnected from efforts to overcome poverty that were taking place at other levels.  Staff visited programs rarely, typically only once per year.  And notions of replication or even sustainability were rarely addressed.  Making these changes a reality would be challenging.

Achieve Long-Term Change: Bright Futures programs would be grounded in an understanding of poverty and of the causes of poverty, and designed to make a long-lasting difference in the lives of poor children.

To accomplish this, program design would begin with immersion in communities and a thorough analysis of the deeper issues of poverty confronting children and communities.  Program interventions would then take place where the causes of child poverty were found, whether at child, family, community, or area (district) levels. Programs would be designed and implemented according to a series of three-year strategic plans, and would consist of a comprehensive set of integrated “Project Activities” that had specific objectives, implementation plans and budgets.  Financial flow would follow budget and implementation.

As we began to design Bright Futures, CCF’s programming was guided by an agency-wide set of outcomes that had been articulated some years before, called “AIMES.”  These “outcomes” were really more of a set of indicators, most of which were tightly focused on basic needs such as immunization, primary-school completion, etc.  Communities seemed to view these indicators as a menu, from which they selected each year.  And, as I mentioned above, interventions were exclusively at village or community level.

With the advent of Bright Futures, the findings of the CCF Poverty Study, and of my own research, we would fundamentally change these practices.  From now on, there would be no “menu” to draw from; rather, CCF would help local organizations to grapple with the causes of child poverty, viewing that poverty in a broader way, and consulting deeply with local people and children; staff would then create an “Area Strategic Plan” (“ASP”) that outlined how programming would address these causes across the “Area.”

(Details of how the ASP would be designed will be included in my next posting, stay tuned!)

Build People: Bright Futures programs seek to build a stronger society with the ability to cooperate for the good of children and families.

To accomplish this, programs would build Federations and Associations of poor children, youth and adults that represent the interests of excluded and deprived people.  These entities would manage program implementation (mostly) through and with partners. Programs would be implemented through local bodies such as district government, NGOs, or community-based organizations, building the capacity of these groups to effectively implement solutions to issues facing poor children.  A long-term, planned approach to capacity building would be adopted, that reinforced and strengthened local competencies and organizations so that communities could continue their efforts to build bright futures for their children long after CCF had phased out of their communities.  This approach would include clearly articulated and time-bound entry and exit conditions, and specific milestones to gauge progress towards exit.

This was another big and challenging change.  CCF would continue to work with parents’ associations at community level, as it had been doing, because this was a real strength of the agency.  However, these associations tended to lack capacity, were left to fend for themselves, and did not interact with other stakeholders and “duty-bearers” around them.

All of this would change with Bright Futures.  Parents’ associations would now be “federated” to district level, and the Parent’s Federations would be the primary bodies that CCF worked with and for.  These Federations, being located at the “district” level, would interact with local government service providers (“duty bearers”), serving as interest groups on behalf of poor and excluded people.  And the Parents’ Federations would, normally, not be seen as program implementors.  Rather, they would – at least in the first instance – locate local partners that could implement the kinds of projects that were identified in the ASP.

Here we had a challenge, as we moved the existing Parents’ Associations into very different roles, where they no longer controlled funds as they had previously.  There were many vested interests involved here, and we anticipated opposition from people who had learned to extract benefits informally, especially given that in the previous model CCF’s staff had been very hands-off and remote from program implementation.  And the very idea of “federating” and influencing local duty-bearers was completely new to CCF.

Show Impact: Bright Futures programs demonstrate the impact of our work in ways that matter to us and the children and communities we work with.

To accomplish this, using CCF’s poverty framework of Deprivation, Exclusion, and Vulnerability, the National Office would clearly articulate the organization’s niche, and demonstrate its particular contribution.   The outputs of each project would be rigorously monitored to ensure effective implementation, and programs would likewise be carefully monitored to ensure relevance to enrolled children.

Before Bright Futures, CCF’s National Offices had very little influence on programming.  If a local Parents’ Association was not breaking any rules, then funding went directly from CCF’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia to the Association, without intervention from the National Office.  Only when a serious, usually finance- or audit-related, issue was identified could the National Office intervene, and then they could only halt fund transmissions and await remedial action from Richmond.

Now, the National Office and local Area team would be monitoring project implementation on a regular basis, using techniques that ensured that the voices of local children were central to the process of monitoring and evaluation.  We would have to develop tools for this.

Recognize Each Child’s Gift: Bright Futures programs recognize and value each particular child as a unique and precious individual.

To accomplish this, programs would be designed to facilitate the development of each child in holistic ways, taking into account the different phases of development through which each child passes.  The voices of children would be heard and would shape the direction of programs.  CCF would promote children and youth as leaders in their own development, and in the development of their communities and societies.  This would now be central to program implementation.

While the local Parents’ Associations would be retained, and federated to district level, two new forms of Association and Federation would be introduced: of children, and of youth.  These new Associations and Federations would be given prominent roles in program design and project implementation, as appropriate to their age.

*

These were all big, fundamentally-disruptive changes, involving seismic shifts in every aspect of CCF’s program work.  I felt that we had incorporated much of the learning and reflection that I had done, beginning in my Peace Corps days and all the way through my 15 years with Plan – this was the best way to make a real, lasting difference!

Once Daniel and Michelle were happy with the way that we were articulating Bright Futures, our next step was to get senior-management and board approval.

I was very pleased that, in the end, CCF’s leaders were very supportive of what Daniel was proposing.  But, in a note of caution given the magnitude of the changes we were proposing, we were asked to pilot test the approach before rolling it out.

This cautious approach made sense to me, and I was delighted that Daniel asked me to continue as an outside consultant, to oversee and support the pilot National Offices, documenting their experience and our learning as the Bright Futures approach was tested.

*

We then began to consider where we should pilot test.  First, we asked for volunteers across CCF’s National Offices and then, after creating a short list of viable options, we reviewed the status of each of the National Offices remaining on the list.  We quickly came to the conclusion that we would select one National Office in each of the continents where the majority of CCF’s work took place:

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    Carlos Montúfar

    In the Americas, we chose Ecuador.  The office there was well-run, stable, and was regarded as a model in many ways.  The National Director (Carlos Montúfar) was a strong leader, and he and his team were enthusiastic about being Bright Futures “pilots”;

 

 

 

 

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    James Ameda

    In Africa, we chose Uganda.  Here things were a bit different than in Ecuador: the Uganda office was considered by many in CCF as needed a bit of a shakeup.  James Ameda was a senior National Director and was supportive of the pilot, but there were some tensions in his team and performance across CCF/Uganda in some areas was weak;

 

 

 

  • For Asia, we decided to choose the Philippines office.  The office in Manila was well-
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    Nini Hamili

    run, with high morale and strong leadership in the form of Nini Hamili, a charismatic and long-tenured National Director.  Nini was a very strong leader, who sidelined as a mediator in violent Mindanao – I came to see how courageous Nini was…

 

 

 

 

*

Soon I would begin regularly to visit the three pilot offices, training them on the methods and systems that were being developed for Bright Futures, accompanying them as they learned and adapted, documenting our experience.

It was a great privilege working with Carlos, James, and Nini and their teams – they had taken on a huge challenge: not only did Bright Futures represent a set of fundamental shifts in what they were accustomed to doing, but they were asked to continue to manage their programs the old way in the areas of their country where Bright Futures wasn’t being introduced.

And it was equally impressive working with Daniel and Michelle at CCF’s Richmond headquarters, along with staff like Victoria Adams, Mike Raikovitz, and many others, and fellow consultants Jon Kurtz and Andrew Couldridge.

Next time, I will go into much more detail on the pilot testing of Bright Futures, including how we designed and implemented perhaps the most fundamental program-related system, Area Strategic Planning.

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach.

 

Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach

Note: this blog post has been updated to include a video I prepared in 2003, and recently rediscovered.  It summarizes some of the consultations carried out as part of the research described here.

After I got home from climbing South Carter, I took a nasty fall and broke a rib and tore my rotator cuff.  This put me out of action for a month, and when I ventured north again to climb Mt Tecumseh (the lowest of the 48 4000-footers, at 4003ft, 1220m), I was careful: it was late October, and there was already plenty of ice and snow in the White Mountains.

*

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Last time I described some of the pioneering research that CCF was doing, as they sought to sharpen their programming: an organizational capacity assessment, carried out by Alan Fowler; and a groundbreaking effort, by Jo Boyden and her team from Queen Elizabeth House at Oxford University, to understand how children and youth across the world were experiencing poverty.

In this post, I continue to describe my two years working with CCF as a consultant, helping that organization develop, pilot test, and begin to implement a new program approach for their global operations.  Looking back, it was a very creative and exciting time for that organization, and it was a fantastic opportunity for me: I had been reflecting about how the development sector had changed, and I had learned a lot since my Peace Corps years, working with Plan International in South America, Plan’s headquarters, and with Plan in Viet Nam.  Now I had the opportunity to work with a major INGO, and a great group of people, to modernize their approach, putting those reflections and learnings to the test.  It’s worth telling the story.

*

I drove up from Durham on the morning of 24 October 2016, arriving at the trailhead a bit before 11am.  Mt Tecumseh is in Waterville Valley and, in fact, the Waterville Valley ski area runs alongside the trail I was going up.

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It was a clear and crisp New England morning, with the autumn colors all around, and a sprinkling of snow at the trailhead – there would be much more snow and ice higher up!  I left the trailhead at about 10:52am:

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(I’m writing this article in early August of 2017, and seeing these autumn colors again is a surprise: all is lush green now…)

The trail ascends gradually, steadily, alongside the ski area, up the Tecumseh Brook.  From about half-way up, much more snow and ice began to appear, and I became nervous:

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Autumn Light, Snow and Ice

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More Ice…

 

Going up, not so much of a problem, but I was nervous about what it was going to be like descending.  I felt very unprepared, and having broken that rib and injured my left rotator cuff just a month before, I was still very wary of using that arm.  If I slipped going down, it might be painful!  Mistake?

I was nearly at the top when I reached the junction with the Sosman Trail, at about 12:18pm.  There is a short loop around the summit of Tecumseh and, once I came to the loop, it also became very cold and windy, way below freezing, and I wasn’t dressed nearly warmly enough:

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Here is the cairn at the summit; I arrived there at about 12:45pm:

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At the summit, I put on my jacket and hat and gloves, had lunch, and tried to stop shivering so much!  Two small groups of climbers passed by while I was there, but I was too cold to interact with them very much – they were also moving pretty quickly to stay warm!

The top is mostly wooded, but there were some great views to the east:

 

On the way down it was bad, but not as bad as I had feared.  If I had slipped and grabbed onto a tree or fallen on my left arm, it would have been dangerous, but the difficult part was fairly short, and I took my time, getting down OK, just slowly.

Nearing the bottom, there is a great view from the ski area, looking across Waterville Valley directly at North and Middle Tripyramids:

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Nice autumn colors.

I reached the trailhead again at about 2:45pm.  The climb had taken just under 4 hours.  Putting aside how risky the descent felt, and how cold I got at the top, it was a very beautiful day with fantastic views.  I hadn’t hiked since the accident in mid-September, so it felt good to get back on the trails.

Since it was so cold and snowy and icy, in late October, and given that I was worried about the impact of any kind of fall, I decided that Tecumseh would be my last hike of the 2016 season.  Tecumseh was number 23, so I had 25 4000-footers left to do!

*

As I described last time, I had been engaged to help CCF prepare a “program practices guide” which, in effect, meant developing, testing, and documenting a new program approach.  It was a perfect step for me: after 15 years with Plan International, the development sector was changing rapidly, I had been fortunate to serve in a wide range of roles across the world, and was thinking a lot about what it all meant for our international organizations.  I felt lucky to be able to work with a great team of people (Michelle Poulton, Daniel Wordsworth, and Mike Raikovitz at CCF, and fellow consultants like Alan Fowler, Jo Boyden, and Jon Kurtz) with the opportunity to create a wholly new program approach.

How to proceed?  Great insights were coming from the CCF Poverty Study, and Alan’s “Organizational Capacity Assessment” had identified a number of CCF’s key strengths: unlike Plan International, CCF had developed a range of interventions that engaged directly with the development of children and youth as individuals: for example, Gilberto Mendez had created an impressive “child development” scale, which could be used to assess age-dependent cognitive, emotional, and social development.  This stuff was new to me, because Plan’s work was entirely community-focused: where we worked with children and youth, it was to integrate them into planning and implementing project activities that were community-wide in nature.  Most of CCF’s work was also community development – this was the best way to secure children’s futures – but they also had developed program expertise in child development.  I found this to be very interesting and appropriate, and began to wonder why we had focused only on community-level work at Plan.

And CCF’s existing program approach, which was called “Family Helper Project,” had some really good aspects.  In particular, parent groups were established in each community, and these groups received funding directly from CCF’s head office in Richmond, Virginia.  Even though the initial motivation for this model had come from a public-relations crisis in the 1970’s, it had the potential to be quite empowering.

But there were weaknesses.  Alan Fowler had pointed out that CCF’s development model was “insufficiently holistic and lacks a cause-based analysis of child poverty, vulnerability and deprivation. Consequently, symptoms receive more attention than causes.”  He also had noted that current the organizational approach meant that CCF worked in isolation from other development efforts; in particular, affiliated communities were not “capitalising on the decentralisation thrust in government reform and service delivery, with communities as legitimate claimants with rights, not supplicants.”  CCF was notdeveloping a capability to build the capacities of local organisations and associations beyond the confines and requirements of managing CCF and community inputs.”

Daniel told a good story that illustrated this.  He had visited a CCF-supported school in Brazil, where the parents and school staff had proudly boasted of their very-high enrollment rates, thanks to CCF.  Then he visited a nearby school, which had no support from CCF, and the enrollment rates were just as good, thanks to support from local government, support which was also available for the CCF-supported school!

As I began to work with CCF on a full-time, external basis, I also started to note the use of language that I felt pointed to deeper issues.  For example, the word “project” was universally used in CCF to refer to affiliated community groups, not as the rest of the development sector used the word: groups of activities producing a coherent set of outputs.  And when I looked a bit more closely at CCF’s work, it was no surprise that project management was very weak or entirely absent.

And the organization referred to the flow of funding to local community groups as “subsidy.”  Again, when I looked at this in detail, most funding to parent groups seemed to be going to “subsidize” ongoing expenditures (school fees or uniforms or supplies, for example), rather than being directed towards a clear theory of change, producing outcomes that would sustainably improve the lives of children living in poverty.

While these might seem to be minor, semantic differences, for me they seemed to reflect deeper, entrenched weaknesses that our renovation of CCF’s program approach would need to address.  Over my two years working with CCF as a consultant, we introduced approaches that would seek to correct these weaknesses and, along the way, I tried my best to encourage shifts in thinking and, consequently, shifts in language.

*

I proposed an approach to developing CCF’s new program model which, like the OCA and the Poverty Study before it, would be rigorous and evidence-based.  We would begin by benchmarking what other, well-regarded international NGOs considered to be their own best program practices.  I would do my own research, both from my own experience and from available evidence.  And we would convene reflection workshops across a selection of CCF’s own Country Offices to discover what they were proud of, and what they wanted to change.  Then, with this array of evidence and reflection, Daniel and I would propose the key attributes of CCF’s new program approach.

Daniel and Michelle heartily endorsed this approach, and we began our research.

*

Between October, 2002 and March, 2003, we carried out field visits to Plan and BRAC in Bangladesh, and benchmarking visits with ActionAid, Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, UNDP, and World Vision in Viet Nam, and ActionAid’s head office in the UK.

At the same time, we organized six workshops designed to allow staff, partners, colleagues, and community members to reflect together on a future CCF program approach and structure.  Carried out in Angola, Brazil, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and Richmond, these workshops were designed also to stimulate enthusiasm and momentum for change.

About half of the participants in each workshop came from the local CCF office.  Usually, two or three participants in the field workshops came from CCF headquarters in Virginia.  On two occasions, staff from the CCF regional office team attended, and CCF staff from Zambia were able to participate in the Angola workshop.  Additional participants varied by location, but typically included senior staff from colleague organizations (INGOs, NGOs, UN Agencies), members of local CCF boards, CCF project staff, and community members.

I designed, facilitated, and documented all of these workshops, which were designed to be participatory, collaborative experiences, during which participants co-created a vision of CCF’s refined program approach. All six workshops were structured in two sessions, lasted two days, and employed similar methodologies:

The morning session of the first day employed a guided visioning technique (known as the “affinity exercise”) to identify program processes and issues that will be central to the future CCF program approach. A vast quantity of data was collected, and grouped, by affinity, into around 20 key processes.

In the afternoon of day one a structured methodology was used to identify a small number of program-related work processes of particular importance for the evolution of CCF’s program. Workgroups were formed to analyze each of these processes in great detail, meeting through the end of day one and the morning of day two.  Session 1 closed with plenary presentations from each workgroup, and general discussion.

Session 2, during the afternoon of day two, was focused on how we should document the new program approach: what documentation should look like, who its users would be, their requirements, etc. In several cases, one or two groups used Session 2 to focus in more detail on a program process from Session 1.

I recently rediscovered several summary videos that I prepared during the creation and pilot testing of what became Bright Futures.  These videos were prepared in 2003, to help  senior management get a sense of what was happening in the field.

So, here is a short summary video of the consultation workshops described above:

*

We gathered an immense amount of information during these months, relating to what other well-respected INGOs were proud of, along with what CCF’s teams felt were their own best practices.  And, in parallel with these consultations, I was carrying out my own reflections: what had I learned along the way?  What were leading thinkers (Robert Chambers, Amartya Sen, Mike Edwards, our colleague Alan Fowler, and others) saying?

At the end of this phase of work, in March, 2003 I produced a summary document that described all of our benchmarking, and proposed the outlines of what I thought CCF’s new program approach should be.  The report is attached here: Phase 1 Report – Final.  Much of the content in the rest of this blog posting can be found, with more detail, in that document.

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Putting it all together, I came up with an overall description of what I felt was the most updated thinking of good development practice.  Based on my nearly 20 years of experience at community, country, regional, and international levels on five continents, along with some good time to reflect and research; on an extensive benchmarking exercise with some of the best organizations in our sector; and taking into account the learning and aspirations of CCF’s own teams, as of early 2003, this was where I thought international NGOs should be aiming:

Development can be viewed as the expansion of the “capabilities that a person has, that is, the substantive freedoms he or she enjoys to lead the kind of life he or she values.”(1) Poverty would then be seen as the deprivation of these capabilities, manifesting itself in general in forms such as: “a lack of income and assets to attain basic necessities – food, shelter, clothing, and acceptable levels of health and education; a sense of voicelessness and powerlessness in the state and society; and vulnerability to adverse shocks, linked with an inability to cope with them.”(2)

Poverty is also a highly contextualized phenomenon, with intermingled, inter-linked, and multi-dimensional causes and effects. The concrete manifestations of the domains of poverty are highly specific and particular to local contexts.(3)

In this light, good development practice:

To have lasting effect, is based on a clear understanding of the causes and dimensions of poverty at all relevant levels;

To make a difference, promotes economic opportunities for poor people, facilitates empowerment of the poor, and enhances security by reducing vulnerability(4);

To be sustainable, is based on catalyzing and building on the potential existing (though perhaps latent) in a local community or area, by supporting institutions delivering services to the poor, and by building institutions through which the poor can act(5);

To be appropriate and relevant, is based on an immersion in each local environment, and the active participation of the poor(6) themselves;

To have impact on the causes of poverty, is linked up and integrated at all levels: micro, meso, and macro.(7)

  1. Amartya Sen, “Development As Freedom,” 1999.
  2. World Bank, “World Development Report 2000/2001 – Attacking Poverty.”
  3. Deb Johnson, “Insights on Poverty, “ Development in Practice, May 2002.
  4. World Bank, “World Development Report 2000/2001 – Attacking Poverty.”
  5. Mike Edwards, “NGO Performance – What Breeds Success?,” World Development, February 1999.
  6. See Vierira da Cunha and Junho Pena, “The Limits and Merits of Participation,” undated.
  7. Mike Edwards, “NGO Performance – What Breeds Success?,” World Development, February 1999.

(This outline of “good development practice” looks strong and holds up well, at least for its time.  If I were to create a similar statement now, from the perspective of 2017, however, I would include much more explicit references to building the power and collective action of people living in poverty, and to inequality and conflict.  And with the progress made across the world on the MDGs, which has correlated with improvements on average in indicators related to basic needs, I would put more emphasis on other non-material manifestations of poverty, such as those identified in CCF’s own Child Poverty Study – exclusion and vulnerability and resilience.  Finally, with the recent resurgence of populist nationalism and decline in support for globalization across the developed world, I would look to include much tighter connections with systems that reinforce and perpetuate poverty and injustice…

Later on I would put all of these concepts at the very center of my work and thinking… stay tuned!)

*

Returning to early 2003, I moved on to unpack these overarching principles into key themes that represented concrete areas for change in CCF’s program approach.  Each of these themes represented, I felt, fundamental shifts that needed to be incorporated in our redesign of how the agency conceptualized, planned, implemented, and learned from its programming.

There were six themes of change:

Theme 1: CCF programs will be based on an understanding of poverty, of how children experience poverty, and of the causes of child poverty at micro, meso, and macro levels.  

We had found that CCF’s programs were not based on a clear analysis of the manifestations and causes of child poverty in the particular local context, nor did they identify how interventions would link with other relevant efforts.  And we had documented that sustained impact came from this kind of joined-up approach.

This theme was important and represented a fundamental change from the output-oriented, “subsidy”-type approach that characterized the agency’s approach in 2003.

Theme 2: CCF will provide closer support to development processes.  

CCF was rightfully proud that local parents’ groups were in charge of program activities; this was a positive differentiator for them.  But it had led to a lack of interaction with, oversight of, or support to what was actually happening on the ground: in other words, CCF simply (and, often, naively) trusted parents’ groups to do the right thing.  This was leading to bad practice, and worse.  So I was suggesting the establishment of some sort of local CCF support staff function, close to program implementation, to provide support and oversight.  Of course, there were tradeoffs here, and local staff might well fall into the trap of marginalizing the parents’ groups, but I felt that could be mitigated.

This theme was also important and represented a fundamental change from the stand-offish approach that was currently in place.

Theme 3: The agency of parents, youths, and children will be central to CCF’s program approach.  

Here again, CCF had a strength, and I recommended that the agency continue, and reinforce, work with parents’ associations; their “agency” was a key institutional niche.  But existing parents’ groups were isolated from local civil society, and often lacked the capability to implement more robust programs.  In those cases, I was recommending that CCF train them to act as funders to relevant institutions, local NGOs for example, and to them move away from being implementors, project-management bodies.  This would enhance their stature in local civil society, reduce their isolation, and (in principle at least) improve project management.

I also recommended including youths as active protagonists in the development processes affecting them: this was not only consistent with the findings of the CCF Poverty Study, and with the principles of child rights, but was also a pragmatic choice: children, as with any other group of human beings, understand their situations from a unique and uniquely valuable perspective.

This theme was important and represented a fundamental change, building on one of the strengths of CCF’s current approach, but correcting some of the more-simplistic practices that had led to isolation, and questionable impact.  I recommended adjusting, and going much further.

Theme 4: CCF will strengthen programmatic linkages, both horizontal and vertical.  

Related to Theme 1, I was recommending that CCF link up and integrate its program at all levels: micro, meso, and macro.  This did not necessarily mean that CCF would operate at all levels; rather, building program design from extensive immersion and reflection with the poor and poor children, and focusing the National Office in-country on interactions with other development actors, CCF could link its programs and partners at various levels, seeing its grassroots interventions as illustrations of national programs and, importantly, offering learning from the grassroots to help the design of those national programs.

This theme was important and represented a fundamental change, connecting CCF with broader development efforts in each country and connecting its work with programs at other levels where this would increase sustainable impact.

Theme 5: Changes will be made to CCF’s corporate systems.

In particular, I advocated fundamental changes to CCF’s monitoring and evaluation, financial, planning and budgeting, performance appraisal, and donor-relations systems.  These changes would need to be made to support the fundamental programmatic changes implied by Themes 1 through 4.

The details of these changes are outlined in the Phase 1 Report (Phase 1 Report – Final).  Very deep reconsideration of, in particular, financial, HR and M&E-related systems, were recommended.

Theme 6:  Substantial support to frontline staff, partner institutions, and communities will be required. 

I felt that major efforts would be required to support staff, partners, and communities in the deep changes emerging from the recommendations I was making, if they were accepted.  These were major changes, which would require structural shifts (for example, putting CCF staff in support offices near project implementation), a whole new set of competencies (for example, project and partner management) and introducing wholesale changes in core systems (finance, M&E, etc.)  A comprehensive HR-development plan to support all stakeholders in the transition was required.

*

Along the way, I was helping Daniel create updates to the organization, keeping people informed about the progress we were making.  The third of these updates, summarizing the themes of change, is attached here: Update 3 final

*

These themes of change, outlined in much more detail in that Phase 1 Report, would, if approved by Daniel and the rest of CCF’s senior management, would represent very deep shifts for CCF.   But we had carried out the research and reflection processes in a professional and thorough fashion, and I was delighted that the report was received quite positively.

CCF’s senior management gave us a green light to craft a program approach that would be consistent with the recommendations I had made.  Which was very exciting, and challenging.  I was being asked to help this major INGO to build the best possible program approach – what a great opportunity.

*

I will describe that new program approach, which CCF’s President John Schultz would baptize as “Bright Futures,” in my next blog post in this series.

*

Tecumseh would be my last 4000-footer in 2016.  Winter was coming to the White Mountains, and it was time to take a break until the spring thaw.  The winter of 2016-2017 would be cold with a lot of snow, even in Durham, so it wasn’t until early June of 2017 that I was able to get up another 4000-footer.  On 2 June 2017 I would climb Mt Jackson; that would be number 24, and I would be halfway there!

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;

  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study.

Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed

People are crazy and times are strange
I’m locked in tight, I’m out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”

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In this article, I want to take stock and reflect on the first two phases of my journey: two years in Peace Corps Ecuador, and fifteen great years with Plan.  As I looked back, a lot had changed for me, times were indeed strange… and the world had been utterly transformed.

But, unlike Bob Dylan, I still cared.

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I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Last time I wrote about the design, creation, and abrupt and destructive closure of an innovative approach to funding and implementing large grant projects in Plan Viet Nam.  In October, 2002, I would step down as Country Director for Plan, resigning from Plan.  A major milestone for me: after 15 great years with Plan, I was ready for something new.  And I was pretty clear about what that would look like …

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On September 13, 2016, I climbed both Middle and South Carter Mountains.  First, I want to describe the hike up Middle Carter (4610ft, 1405m.)

It was another gorgeous day, just as clear and pleasant as the day before, when I had climbed Wildcat “D” and Wildcat Mountain.  I had stayed the night before at Dolly Copp Campground, so was able to get a much earlier start on this day as I saved the two hour drive from Durham.

Dolly Copp was (and is) under construction, necessary renovation.  I had a simple flat area, picnic table, and nearby (common) toilet in the area of the campground that was not being renovated.

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My plan was to head up on the northern branch of the Imp Trail, up to the lookout on Imp Face, take North Carter Trail up to the ridge, and then get to Middle Carter.  Then I would continue south to climb South Carter, and then retrace my steps to return via Imp’s southern branch.  This would leave me with a short road hike north to get back to my car.

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I parked on the side of Rt 16, at the northern entrance to the Imp Trail, at about 7:45am, and headed east.  It would be 3.1 miles up to the junction with the North Carter Trail:

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The hike up the northern branch of the Imp Trail was pleasant, a typical late-summer White-Mountain forest walk.

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I arrived at Imp Face at just after 9am, and (as promised) the views west and south towards the Presidential Range were fantastic:

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Not a cloud in the sky, dry and free from insects.  Heaven!

I arrived at the junction with North Carter Trail at 9:49am, and continued to climb.

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It was 10:45am when I arrived at the ridge-top, joining Carter-Moriah Trail, coincident here with the Appalachian Trail:

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From the junction, it was just over a half mile along the ridge to reach the top of Middle Carter.  Along the way, there were “five ledgy humps, with boggy depressions between” (from the White Mountain Guide.)  Some had convenient planks:

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What an amazing walk: nearing the top of Middle Carter, views to the west (the Presidentials) and east (towards the Atlantic Ocean) opened up again:

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And then the top, just before noon.  No views here, the top is forested.  But I stopped for lunch; a bit early, but I had been five hours climbing so far:

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The Summit Of Middle Carter

 

From the top, I continued south to reach South Carter, returning via the southern branch of Imp.  I’ll describe the rest of this clear, beautiful, insect-free day next time!

*

Just as I was leaving Hanoi, I got an email from out of the blue, from a person I had never met: Daniel Wordsworth was Program Development Director at CCF in Richmond, Virginia, and he wanted to know if I knew anybody who could help them reinvent their program approach.  Though I didn’t know Daniel, I had met his manager, Michelle Poulton, when I was at Plan’s headquarters, liking her and respecting her abilities and passion.  And Daniel told me that Alan Fowler, one of the “aid sector’s” real thinkers, was working with them, which was impressive.  I thought I might know the perfect person for the job …

But before describing the two great years that followed, as we developed and tested what became CCF’s new approach, “Bright Futures,” I want to reflect a bit about what had changed – for me, but mostly in the world of development, poverty, and social justice – in the 15 years between my start in this work (beginning with two years in the Peace Corps, in Ecuador, 1984-86) and my departure from Plan after 15 years (Viet Nam, 2002).

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What an amazing 18 1/2 years!  Today, as I write this, nearly 15 years have passed since I left Viet Nam… but I still feel incredibly lucky:

  • lucky to have been sent to Ecuador as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and to have been assigned to Cañar, where I was given big responsibilities, and located far from other Volunteers!;
  • lucky that Annuska Heldring arrived in Cañar while I was a Volunteer, because she helped fund my most innovative project (San Rafael), taught me a lot about how to manage a big international NGO … and later opened the door for me at Plan International;
  • lucky to have worked for Monique van’t Hek during my first posting in Plan, in Tuluá, Colombia – I learned a great deal from her about how to run an NGO, how to manage people, how to speak Colombian Spanish!  And lucky that I later worked for Leticia Escobar when I became Field Director there, a smart and very dedicated professional;
  • lucky to have worked for Andy Rubi, Plan’s first Regional Director, once I moved to Quito;
  • lucky to have joined Plan during a period of rapid expansion, which gave me many, many opportunities to learn at a rapid pace during a phase of professionalization of that, and most other, international NGOs;
  • lucky to have had the opportunity to succeed Andy Rubi as Regional Director for South America for Plan; and lucky to move to become Plan’s Program Director at International Headquarters; where I was
  • lucky to work with Max van der Schalk, Plan’s CEO of the time;
  • lucky to have had support from Max and Plan’s board to decide to tackle some fundamental changes in Plan;
  • lucky to finish my time in Plan in Viet Nam, such a special place, with such special people (Thu Ba, Duat, Minh Thu, Ary, etc.)

Over those years, I had evolved and grown, and changed, and the context of the work I was doing had changed deeply.

*

I want to share some thoughts about how the context for the work I was doing had changed.  This will provide the context, also, for what I would do after leaving Viet Nam: helping CCF (now ChildFund) create, test, and roll-out their new program approach, globally; and then becoming Executive Director for the UU Service Committee, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I will describe both of those experiences in future blog posts; my intention here is to describe how things had changed, externally, in the world.  Because those changes led to the work I did at CCF and the UU Service Committee…

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Human deprivation, at least as traditionally considered (as the “lack” of basic human needs), had dropped, and in 2002 deprivation was still dropping fast.  Things were getting better, at least in simple terms.  On average.  For the majority.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) MDG Statistics database helps illustrate how things were evolving: using those data, here are nine graphs illustrating how the world was getting better, fast – at least in terms of basic human needs) – during those years:

  • Economic Poverty was declining very quickly.  While I was working in Tuluá, nearly half of the population living in developing regions in the world were living on less than a dollar a day (adjusted to $1.25 to retain comparability).  By 2011, that proportion was down to less than 20%, an incredible improvement.  And while this change was heavily driven by changes in eastern Asia (poverty dropping from 60.7% to 6.3% in that region!), big improvements were being seen across the world:

 

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  • Child deaths, measured by the Under-Five Mortality Rate, were also dropping quickly.  Between when I moved to Quito to work at Plan’s South America Regional Office (1991) and the mid-point in my service in Viet Nam (2000), the global average U5MR dropped from 100 (per 1000), down to 83; and by 2015, it was at 50.  Down by half in just 24 years; perhaps a dry statistic, but this actually means that many millions of children were alive that would not have survived otherwise:

 

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  • Malnutrition had been a huge problem in Viet Nam, affecting well over half of children in the country.  Across the world, the prevalence of underweight children under age 5 was on track to drop by nearly half between 1990 (25%) and 2015 (14%).  Incredible progress, mirrored in Viet Nam:

 

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  • Maternal mortality in the developing world was also dropping fast, from 430 per 100,000 live births in 1990, down to 230 in 2013.  Still way too high, but progress was fast and, seemingly, accelerating:

 

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  • Enrollment in primary school was trending up, steadily, growing from 80% in 1991 to over 90% by 2015, as was the ratio of girls to boys in primary education (which was nearing 100%):

 

 

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  • Since I had begun my career (in Azogues) working on water and sanitation, I want to share two final trends.  The proportion of people (in developing regions) using improved drinking water had moved from 70% in 1990, to nearly 90% in 2015:

 

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and the proportion of people (in developing regions) using imported sanitation had risen just as quickly, from 43% to 62%:

 

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Incredible progress, something that the entire human race should be proud of.

Credit for these shifts must go, first and foremost, to those people who were living in poverty.  Their hard work and dedication was the primary force behind the astonishing changes illustrated here.  Also, in many (but not all) places, local governments were major drivers of improvement.  And certainly the rapid increases in monetary income, driven to a large extent by economic globalization, in turn were translated into other, related material gains in well-being, especially in eastern Asia.

And credit is also clearly due to the way that so many people (including the public in the Global North), governments, and institutions joined the fight to tackle poverty.  Agencies such as Plan International, CCF, Save the Children, Oxfam, etc.; bilateral agencies such as USAID, AusAID, CIDA, SIDA, DFID, etc.; and foundations such as Gates, Rockefeller, etc.  And movements like Live Aid, Live 8, etc.

(It’s notoriously hard to prove causality in social science, hard to know which stakeholder had contributed to what part of this positive change.  Later, when I was working with ChildFund Australia, we would design a way of helping communities understand how conditions were changing, and to understand which stakeholders were contributing to those changes – more on that, later!)

So, huge progress in tackling material deprivation.  But other, more negative trends were also becoming evident, trends would greatly influence the next phase of my career:

  • While economic globalization was having huge positive effects in eastern Asia (and elsewhere), distortions were building.  In particular, the benefits of globalization increasingly were being concentrated at the top of the economic ladder; the rules of economic liberalization seemed to be rigged in favor of the richest.  Inequality was growing fast:

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  • Populations were becoming much more diverse.  Demographic diversification, which can be seen in the figure below, in one particular country, was taking place alongside the progress illustrated above.  For me, this diversification was a great thing but, sadly, it seemed also to be fuelling forces of intolerance, oppression and exclusion in many places:

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  • And the world situation, as Jean and I moved from Hanoi to New Hampshire in October, 2002, seemed increasingly full of injustice.  The Bush administration was gearing up to invade Iraq, inventing a series of transparent lies (connection to the attacks of September, 2001; weapons of mass destruction; freedom and democracy) as justification.

*

So, great material progress, certainly, but also signs of growing injustice.  I began to think a lot about how to integrate these new (to me, anyway!) manifestations of poverty into the work our international NGOs were doing to address material poverty.

Unfortunately, the conditions for that kind of integration were not very promising.

*

This seemed ironic, because the NGO movement had really emerged from specific injustices, and many of them had been vehicles for social activism by their “membership.”  But by the time I left Plan, most if not all of the major INGOs had grown to be so large, so corporate, and so focused on institutional survival, that they had become very averse to challenging the ways that existing power structures perpetuated injustice.  They were, indeed, deeply embedded in those very power structures, part of them at the highest levels.

INGOs had adopted corporate, private-sector ways of working and being (see my “Trojan Horse” paper – McPeak – Trojan Horse – Submission to Deakin – Final), which enabled them to prosper in the elite world of the United Nations, the large bilaterals, and professional foundations.  These stakeholders were mostly interested in the kinds of material progress that had been made, illustrated in the first set of figures presented here.  Leaders seemed uninterested in working in the more-challenging, harder-to-measure, contested space of justice, exclusion and vulnerability; indeed, they were unable to work in that space, having lost the activist capabilities they had been born with.

To the extent that good INGOs were evolving, they were moving towards working with more-excluded populations – for example, ethnic minorities in mountainous areas of Viet Nam – and doing advocacy work to prod governments to address inequality and exclusion.  ActionAid and Oxfam seemed most interested in moving into these spaces, but the problem was that donors weren’t as interested in funding advocacy work, because it seemed less “tangible.”  And even those agencies that worked more with “excluded” groups were still working on “basic needs” for excluded people – necessary, no doubt, but perhaps not addressing the causes of exclusion.

Overall, in those years, the “aid sector” was aligned to the MDGs, and great work had been done; but the task seemed to be changing, and the ways that the “sector” had evolved was, I feared, not going to enable them to work on the new problems of justice, exclusion and vulnerability.

*

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.

It all seemed to come together for me when Daniel Wordsworth and I spoke, just before I left Hanoi.  He and Michelle wanted to move CCF’s program approach towards something much more relevant to the times we lived in, and were investing time and energy in a real voyage of reflection and innovation – what was CCF’s institutional context?  What was child poverty?  What did children think?  Therefore, how must their program approach evolve?  Exciting stuff.

Soon after arriving in New Hampshire, I flew to Richmond, Virginia, and sat down with Daniel, Michelle, and John Schultz (CCF’s then-President) to discuss how I might be a part of the change they were leading.

So, once again, I was lucky.  I was able to work with Daniel and Michelle to study the new context of poverty, consider the institutional reality that CCF faced, and design and pilot test a new program approach.  A program approach that would incorporate building the power of excluded people to influence injustice.  And, later, I was able to move to the UU Service Committee, to work on human-rights activism and political advocacy in the context of the Bush-era invasion of Iraq, denial of civil liberties, the use of torture, refusal to address climate change, etc.

Stay tuned for my next blog article, as I begin two great years as a consultant to CCF!

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam.

 

Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam

In this blog post, I want to describe an innovation that we introduced in Plan’s work in Viet Nam.  We wanted to boost our revenue from technical donors, and extend our work for children; but, across the agency, Plan had struggled for many years to achieve that goal, without notable success.  So we pilot tested a new structure inside the organisation in-country, creating a separate unit focused on grant-seeking and grant-implementation.

What became the “Large Grants Implementation Unit” (LGIU) was quite successful during its short life, partly because it was well-led and well-managed by Ary Laufer; partly because of the great team he worked with; and partly because the LGIU was carefully designed to address the deeper causes of Plan’s longstanding inability to attract significant levels of technical grants.

But the story of the LGIU is also a story of the organisational tensions and political behaviour that Plan suffered from during those days.  It was, and is, a great organisation, but with some significant weaknesses.  In this case, those weaknesses led to the abrupt and counter-productive closure of what had been shown to be a successful pilot test, soon after I completed my service as Country Director for Plan in Viet Nam.  No coincidence in that timing, as I will describe!

*

I’ve been writing a series of blog posts about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

From the top of Wildcat “D”, which is the southernmost 4000-footer of the Carter Range, it’s two short miles to the summit of Wildcat Mountain (4422ft, 1348m).  The trail heading northeast from Wildcat “D” drops fairly steeply at first, and then climbs back up to Wildcat “C” Peak.  Wildcat “C” (4298ft, 1310m) is over 4000-feet high, but does not qualify as a “4000-footer” because it’s too close to other, higher summits.   Then back down to “B” Peak (same story) before arriving at Wildcat Mountain.

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Along the way, I had fine views of Mount Washington to the west, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east.  A sharp, clear, spectacular day:

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Mount Washington From Wildcat “C”

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Looking East, the Atlantic Ocean (Right Side Background)

 

I arrived at the top of Wildcat Mountain at about 1:30pm, a gorgeous view down into Carter Notch, where there is an AMC Hut by that name.  In 1997 (I think!), I hiked this trail with Max van der Schalk, who had been Plan’s CEO during my time at headquarters, and we stayed  one night in that hut.  The blue roof of the hut can be seen just below the pond, at the bottom of this photo:

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That’s South Carter Mountain behind me;  I would get to the top of that 4000-footer the next day.

 

I had lunch at the top, and was joined by another climber.  We struck up a conversation, and he told me that he was climbing the 4000-footers with two knee replacements!  I asked him how it was going, and he said that the knees weren’t perfect, but better than they had been before the surgeries!  Even more amazing was hearing that he was on the way to completing a “cycle” of the 4000-footers.

What is a ‘cycle’?” I asked.

Every one of the 48 peaks, in every month” he replied.

Wow, so he was doing each of the 48 mountains in every month… over who knows how many years.  That’s 576 climbs!

Pretty incredible, but I’m not tempted – one climb of each of the 48 peaks is enough for me!

From the top of Wildcat Mountains, I could see north to the Carter Range, where I would hike the next day.  After lunch, packed up again and retraced my steps along the four “Wildcat” peaks, and arrived back down at the parking area at around 4:30pm.

 

That night I stayed at Dolly Copp Campground, planning to climb a couple of the Carter Mountains the next day.

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Stay tuned for descriptions of those climbs!

*

Plan Struggles To Increase Grants

During my time working with Plan, the organisation continually struggled to diversify its funding.  Around 90% of our income in those days came from child sponsorship contributions, which provided a steady source of flexible, unrestricted income.  (I’ve written elsewhere about the sterile criticisms of child sponsorship.)

It seemed to many of us that this situation was a great blessing, as we didn’t have to spend lots of time preparing funding proposals and technical reports.  But, at the same time, it was clearly an opportunity: it seemed logical to try to leverage some of our unrestricted income as “match” funds for technical (bi-lateral, multi-lateral, foundation) grants.  Our private income would be a competitive advantage here, and technical grants might be useful in funding activities to work on child poverty that was unsuitable for child-sponsorship funding.

But to ensure that the agency remained non-governmental in nature, Plan’s fundraising offices had a formal limit on government income of 30%.  That was an obstacle in theory only: in fact, we struggled even to approach 10%.  Year after year, we did our best to increase our grant-related income, by setting targets, establishing new systems and procedures, reaching out to possible donors, but, overall, nothing seemed to work, as can be seen in the following figure, copied from my first draft LGIU proposal – see below.

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Our grants income was flat, and our underspending of overall revenue was surging.  We were stuck in a bad place.

A Regional Meeting in Plan Asia

When I arrived in Viet Nam, in July of 1998, the Regional Office was planning to convene a region-wide workshop in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to discuss ways to increase our non-sponsorship income.  Regional staff encouraged us to bring some creative ideas… so I put my thinking hat on.

I reflected on what might be blocking Plan from increasing grant income.  Having thought a lot about this issue, worked hard on it when I was at Plan’s International Headquarters as Program Director, I thought I had an idea of what it would take to succeed.

In the end, after several days of discussion, two proposals emerged from the Chiang Mai workshop.  The first idea was simple: include non-sponsorship revenue targets in each Country Office Strategic Plan.  The benefits of this proposal were that it was simple, and measurable.  For me, the problem was that simply setting targets did nothing to address the underlying obstacles that had blocked the organisation from increasing grant income in the past.  We had tried setting targets.  And, without identifying and addressing the root causes of the problem, I felt that the proposal had little likelihood of succeeding.

The second proposal that was approved at Chiang Mai was one I had formulated.  My argument was that Plan was failing to increase non-sponsorship income not because of a lack of commitment or targets, or good intentions.  Rather, it was because Plan’s culture, structure, systems, and incentives all flowed from a reality in which child sponsorship was the explicit foundation of the organisation.  Perhaps that very reality – which was core to our success – was the obstacle.

I was reminded of my time at Tecogen, my last formal engineering job, where I worked to build a prototype coal-water slurry home-heating system.  What Tecogen produced, mainly, was co-generation equipment: machines that produced both electricity and hot water or steam.

Tecogen’s office, in those days, had two main wings: on one side, co-generation equipment was built for the private sector, and on the other side, virtually-identical machines were built, but for government customers.  The same machines, but the customers were so different, with such varying requirements and specifications, that an entirely-separate organisational setup was established to serve them.  And Tecogen wasn’t unique.  I had worked at Boeing Aerospace in Kent, Washington, in summer jobs when I was in college.  Boeing had two divisions making airplanes – one for commercial customers, and another for the military.

I wondered if Plan was facing a similar situation, where similar “products” (meaning, child-focused development) with different funding (from sponsors, or from technical donors) would require different organisational setups to succeed.  An approach that worked with child sponsorship revenue sources might not be fitting for technical donors.

When I made this argument in Chiang Mai, there was some skepticism.  How would it work?  Would there be two organisations in each country, with different Country Strategic Plans?  Two sets of staff, with different terms and conditions?

But the regional team recognised that the idea had merit, and felt that it might be worth piloting, at least in one Country Office.  So it was agreed that I would develop a concept paper for a “Large Grants Implementation Unit” to be pilot tested, if approved, in Viet Nam.

“Large Grants Implementation Unit” – Conceptual Drafts

After the Chiang Mai meetings, I prepared a series of drafts describing why the LGIU was worth testing, and how it would work.  Here is the summary of the earliest draft I still have on-file, dated 30 October, 1998:

The percentage of PLAN’s worldwide income derived from grants has not increased, in spite of a decade of good intentions, hard work, several generations of new systems and procedures, and strong organizational commitments. This is because PLAN has not recognized that grant-funded projects require different behaviors, a different organizational culture. Without recognizing the essential differences between grants and sponsorship projects, and the different cultures required for project implementation, PLAN’s desire to increase grant-related income will not be achieved.

To take a specific case, PLAN/Vietnam currently implements a substantial grant portfolio, but the potential exists to significantly expand grant funding. Both the need for programmatic expansion, and the interest from grantors, are strong. But, as in many PLAN programs, staff struggle to address grant requirements alongside sponsorship management, and grant-implementation quality suffers.

It is proposed that a parallel grants-delivery structure for large grants be established in Vietnam. A parallel grant implementation unit would allow PLAN to increase grants income from large institutional and governmental donors while ensuring that PLAN/Vietnam’s outstanding sponsorship performance remains the top priority. A parallel structure would recognize that PLAN deals with two different funding customers, while delivering similar products, and would thus address the real causes of poor grant-related performance.

Should the proposal be approved, the experience of PLAN/Vietnam with this parallel implementation structure would be studied and documented for institutional-learning purposes.

LGIU staff would be tied to grants, working under terms and conditions suitable for fixed-term employment.  Just as most staff at most other international NGOs, which commonly gained most of their revenue from technical donors.  The full first-draft proposal is available here: Grants Implementation Unit Draft Three.

Later in that first draft, I make a point about culture which attracted widespread criticism, and strong opposition, at Plan’s International Headquarters:

It is the thesis of this paper that the cause of the stagnation of PLAN’s corporate grants-income percentage is simple: the organizational behavior (culture) of major institutional and governmental donors is inconsistent with the behavior (culture) needed for superior sponsorship implementation.

PLAN has attempted to merge these two incompatible cultures, to manage and implement grants with the same behaviors learned through 61 years of successful sponsorship programming, and the result has been confusion and the poor performance shown in Figure 1 (copied here, above). In this light, the failure of our attempts to create better systems and procedures to increase grants income percentages is easy to understand, because the cause of the problem is unrelated to systems and procedures. And the unenthusiastic attitude of staff towards grants can be seen as a rational, logical response to incompatible cultures.

But PLAN’s sponsorship culture is our organizational foundation, and a strong and vibrant sponsorship culture is essential. Therefore, any increase in the percentage of income from grants sources will require the creation of a parallel, “grants-delivery culture.” This is the only way to safeguard our sponsorship foundation while increasing grants income.

Later in the paper I outlined, in more detail, the examples summarized here, above (Tecogen and Boeing), and indicate why implementing this separate grants unit would not only enable Plan in Viet Nam to grow our funding stream, but also how it would protect the quality of our sponsorship-funded programming.

Senior management at Plan’s headquarters reacted strongly, even emotionally, against the notion of a parallel culture, seeing this idea as undermining the unity of the agency.  It was said that implementation of my proposal would destroy Plan!

My response was three-fold:

  1. We would operate the LGIU under the same Country Strategic Plan, and the same leadership.  The organization, in Viet Nam, would remain unified;
  2. It was just a pilot, and we’d evaluate the performance of the LGIU, and the impact of the experiment on the broader organization, in due course;
  3. There were no other serious proposals that addressed the underlying causes of Plan’s failure to grow its grant income.

So why not try it?  After all, I was no longer Plan’s Program Director, just a simple Country Director with authority in one country only.  Once the pilot was evaluated, it would be for others to decide what happened next.

It’s worth noting that my supervisor, Plan’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia, was consistently understanding and supportive.  Donal Keane, who had participated in the “skunk works” process through which Plan restructured its field organization, was a wise and experienced professional, humble yet clear and decisive.  He was one of a long line of supervisors I had in Plan that I learned so much from.  He saw the potential in what became the LGIU.

In the end, to gain (grudging) acceptance at Plan’s headquarters, I removed all references to culture, to other organizations, to Plan’s historical experience – this was distracting Plan’s senior management from the actual proposal, making them think I had delusions of (continued) grandeur.  I simply focused on what would happen, operationally, in Viet Nam.  In other words, the proposal was “dumbed-down” to gain approval; which did not bode well for the future (as will be seen below!)

The final draft proposal, and the Regional Director’s approval to implement the pilot, are attached here – Grants Implementation Unit Draft Six 2RD Approval for LGIU.

*

Once the pilot was approved, we developed a job description for a “LGIU Manager.”  My thinking was that we would locate the LGIUM in the central region of Viet Nam, either in Hue or Danang, and combine it with a “Decentralized Operations Support” office, providing financial, administrative, and communications support to the operational Program Units in that part of the country.  (The DOS concept was included in the restructuring of Plan’s operations that we had implemented when I served as Program Director at headquarters.)

After recruiting from across Plan, and interviewing several outstanding candidates, we appointed Ary Laufer, who had been working with Plan in Mali, as LGIU Manager.  Ary “got” the idea, and had the skills and experience needed for the challenge.  He and his family moved first to Hanoi, while we finalized the design of the LGIU and the DOS, and then they moved to Hue to set things up.

Ary managed the DOS and the LGIU with great energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism. We were lucky to have him take the position, because he kept things simple while also being very tolerant of the ambiguity involved in the LGIU pilot test.  Ary had to fill in many blank spaces in the design, learning by doing along the way!

I have asked Ary to write a description of the experience, and include his thoughts here, lightly edited:

Foresight, hindsight and the LGIU becoming the new norm.

William Blake said that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but foresight is better. The opportunity to look back at Plan Viet Nam’s Large Grants Implementation Unit some 15 years later is a great opportunity. But in hindsight, the real foresight was (the) drive to establish this unit, on top of the organisation’s operational structure. This is an unspoken real credit in Plan’s history.

Plan International’s shift to the new country structure, along with its new 5 domains provided a great opportunity for uniform development and expansion benefiting many new communities. This foresight was long standing – but at the time it was being quickly realised that increasing opportunity to access large international funding and programs outside the standard Plan norm would be difficult. Thus the opportunity and potential for Plan evolution was realised and … my young family and I Ieft the established country operations in West Africa, to Viet Nam, to embrace new beginnings.

The timing in the development world, and more so in Viet Nam was perfect. Access to INGO’s to larger amounts of bilateral and multilateral funding had just commenced. A number of new Plan countries across Scandinavia had been established, which had brought new ways of thinking to development, partnerships, funding and working methodologies. These progressive ways were more in line with the future of aid thinking, than the older ways Plan had wanted to retain and continue.

The LGIU in Viet Nam sought to develop new relationships with donors, and in doing so it went about building new partnerships that allowed for the an expansion in programs. Not restricted in child sponsorship revenue ratios, nor in traditional program ideology, it allowed Plan Viet Nam to think beyond the norm to new goals that could be achieved. Both of which Plan ironically changed later.

The LGIU also attracted very bright and dedicated Vietnamese team members, many of whom went on to be leaders in the field, and some who still work for Plan today.  People and partnerships became the core of the work, much in line the Central Vietnamese culture that was being infused into the LGIU. While much of the donor relationships work occurred in the global capital cities, its heart was in Central Viet Nam leveraging partnerships for the common wealth of the community in an astute and humble manner

This foresight allowed Plan Viet Nam to focus on different types of ‘child focused development’. Two illustrative examples are:

  1. Plan’s LGIU was to be the first INGO to access and fully work with incarcerated adolescents in the juvenile justice system outside Ha Noi. Traditional forms of funding, and program management was not possible in a highly restricted environment. It required months of negotiation, trust building and partnerships with the Department of Justice authorities to achieve what we all recognised as being at the core of work for the most marginalised youth. Something the normal child sponsorship program could not fund. Our partners at Plan Norway and NORAD (Norway Government) also recognised this unique & restricted partnership opportunity, and became the required silent partner in this program. Quite revolutionary 15 years ago, more so for an organisation focused on child sponsorship – this would be the norm of a specialised INGO today.
  2. Plan’s LGIU saw the shift of INGO’s not just to wider partnerships, but to also to the implementation of what was traditionally bilateral aid programs. Working with the Quang Binh People’s Committee, it developed a fully integrated economic and social development District program. This was the first non-socialist INGO program in the District, the home of many famous Vietnamese Generals and Patriots. Plan partnered with MAG, who under the unique leadership of Nick Proudman also saw the ability to do something extra-ordinary, and more than what had been achieved jointly in Quang Tri. The design process was participatory across a number of sectors, with heavy community partnership engagement and two five year plans were development. Funding modules were broken up aimed at the bilateral funding sources. Still core to Plan’s mission, it took program design to the next bilateral level. Plan still works in Quang Binh to date.

Plan Viet Nam’s LGIU raised $4 Million in funding in its second and it seemed its final year. This was quite an achievement in hindsight. The foresight was not only the shift to more bilateral programs, or more marginalised programs or even the ability to access larger grant funding – all of which Plan would evolve to a decade later. The foresight was investing in leveraging in local and international partnerships, quite the norm 15 years later. The foresight was investing in an asset-based approach in staff and management members, allowing them to achieve more rather than follow the Plan cookie cutter approach. The foresight was a LGIU team that were always mobile, with a phone and laptop working across differing locations, not office bound; this is also seen as the norm some 15 years later. The foresight was also Mark and a few key stakeholders believing that the LGIU was possible – which 15 years later is the norm.

The establishment of such a Unit was received with mixed feelings across the Plan world. Indeed a popular and well known Plan Country Director in West Africa at that time informed me that the idea while ahead of its time, would never survive due to the ‘old Plan guard’ undermining it. Politically it would be discredited, in addition to the old Plan funding countries refusing to reduce the focus on child sponsorship revenue. And he ended up correct by the end of 2002… 

The lesson here is that hindsight is easy, foresight is difficult, and old ways in organisations are hard to change. But having foresight can change the way we work, and the communities we work with, making a difference to every child.

Many thanks to Ary for his recollections!

*

So, as planned, at the end of three years an external, independent evaluation of the LGIU pilot test was commissioned.  It’s notable that Donal Keane had left his post as Regional Director for Southeast Asia, and I had also left Plan.  And Ary had also returned to Australia.  Basically all of the people involved in the conceptualisation of the LGIU, and the leadership of the unit during its pilot phase, were gone.  This left senior management outside of Viet Nam, who had opposed the pilot from the beginning, and the local staff who had prepared grant proposals and implemented projects which had been funded

But before I left, the evaluator visited the country, where interviews with staff and donors were carried out.  Similar interviews took place at Plan’s headquarters.

I received a draft evaluation report just before leaving Viet Nam, and leaving Plan.  The summary of the draft report, dated September 2003, contained the following conclusions:

During the course of the evaluation there was no indication to suggest that the LGIU concept was fundamentally flawed, or that it would not have eventually succeeded in its aims, once operational problems had been resolved, and had the LGIUM not resigned early … a major concern at the onset of the LGIU was that it would develop a separate program culture in Plan which would be elitist and measured by the funds it brought rather than program impact or integration. At the time of the evaluation the LGIU appeared to be a separate, rather isolated, part of Plan in Viet Nam trying to get the attention of the centre, much more than it appeared to be the beginning of a separate culture within Plan… there is no evidence to indicate that the LGIU was not going to be a success, once its portfolio had been streamlined and operational and communication problems had been resolved.

In part because of the vacancy existing at the top of the LGIU, the evaluator recommended replacing Ary with a “second PSM.”  This proposal essentially retained the LGIU as it was – a grants-seeking and -implementing unit within Plan Viet Nam – but renaming it.

I had no trouble fully agreeing with this analysis, conclusions, and the recommendation to continue – but adjust – the LGIU.  It was based on data, reflected the reality, and was logical and wise.

When the final evaluation report emerged, however, just one short month later, I was shocked to find that the recommendation had changed fundamentally:

The evaluation concludes that the LGIU concept was implemented in earnest, and to the best of their abilities, by the LGIU staff and the former CD, but was not able to overcome the contradictions inherent in its design in its first two and a half years of existence… Given the very stringent conditions that would have to be continuously maintained by key busy senior people in Plan in Viet Nam to make the LGIU function as intended; that for most of its existence the LGIU was largely embodied in the LGIUM who then resigned; and the evidence from the experiences of other Plan countries that it is possible to have a dedicated in-country grants capacity without needing a separate organizational unit, by recruiting a second PSM with expertise and specific responsibility for grants, we recommend stopping the LGIU pilot…

An astonishing change, in only a month.  Of course, the September document was a draft, and things can change when a draft is finalized.  But in conversation with the author of the evaluation, it was made clear to me that the fundamental change in recommendation emerged from a desire to please senior management.  Not based on the objective findings of an independent evaluation, but instead on the subjective preferences of Plan’s leadership.

From the beginning, senior management at Plan’s headquarters had only grudgingly gone along with the pilot.  Now that the originator of the concept (me), the Regional Director (Donal), and the LGIU manager were all gone, closure of the LGIU, despite its success, could be accomplished without fuss.  Plan’s fundamental weakness – when people changed, things started anew, initiatives weren’t followed through, and everything done by earlier generations was bad – had come into play once again.

But good ideas can’t be suppressed for ever.  As Ary puts it in his note for this blog: by 2017, the operational governance underpinning the LGIU – of partnerships, funding leverage, and non-child sponsorship programs are very much the mainstream, even at Plan.

But the cost – to people involved in the LGIU, to the children who could have had support provided via increased grants revenue – was high.

*

As I foreshadowed above, by late 2002 I was ready for another challenge.  I’d made this decision before the LGIU evaluation was complete.  I had been with Plan since just after leaving the Peace Corps, in 1987, and it had been a fantastic 15 years.  So I resigned from Plan, and Jean and I returned to Durham, New Hampshire, where we had made a home during our sabbatical year, before moving to Viet Nam.

I am still very grateful to Plan: ever since I first came into contact with the organization while I was still a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, I had learned and grown.  Plan gave me so many priceless opportunities, which would serve me well in the following phases of my career.

*

Just as I was leaving Hanoi, I got an email from out of the blue, from a person I had never met.  Daniel Wordsworth was Program Development Director at CCF in Richmond, Virginia, and he wanted to know if I knew anybody who could help them reinvent their program approach.  I thought I knew of the perfect person…

But before describing the three great years that followed, as we developed and tested what became CCF’s new approach, “Bright Futures,” I want to reflect a bit about what had changed – for me, and in the world of development, poverty, and social justice – in the 15 years between my start in this work (Ecuador, 1987) and my departure from Plan (Viet Nam, 2002).

So, stay tuned!

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam.

Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam

I’ve been writing in this series of blogs about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 33 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Last time, I described the amazing team that I was privileged to work with in my role as Plan’s Country Director for Viet Nam, between July of 1998 and October of 2002.  This time I want to describe the development context in Viet Nam in those years and beyond, and how Plan responded at the time.  During my time in Hanoi, I documented many of my field visits using a DV camera, and I will include some images from two field visits I made during that time, also.

*

I climbed four of the 48 4000-footers over two days in mid-September, 2016.  All four of those peaks can be seen on the map below: I got to the top of Wildcat “D” (which is the subject of this blog post) and Wildcat Mountain on 12 September; and I climbed South Carter and Middle Carter the next day.  (There are four “Wildcat” mountains: Wildcat Mountain, Wildcat “B,” Wildcat “C,” and Wildcat “D.”  Only two of these count as official 4000-footers!)

I camped at nearby Dolly Copp campground overnight on 12 September, before ascending Middle and South Carter on the 13th.

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I drove up from Durham on the morning of 12 September, and began that day’s climb from the Glenn Ellis Falls parking area at about 10:30am.  From the parking area, just south of Pinkham Notch, I crossed under Rt 16, and joined the Wildcat Ridge Trail, which is also the Appalachian Trail here.

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After crossing under Rt 16, I started to climb, and soon ran into two “end-to-end” hikers of the Appalachian Trail.  They weren’t “through hikers”; as I learned from them, some “end-to-end” hikers start at the south end of the AT in Georgia and walk north for a time, and then take a break, starting again from Mt Katahdin in Maine, going south.  “Through hikers,” on the other hand, walk from Georgia to Maine (or vice-versa) without stopping.

It was a spectacular day, cool and dry, no bugs; the summer of 2016 seemed to be quite bug-free, which was unusual and great.  That day I was lucky also to have some of the best views of Mt Washington (6288ft, 1917m), and much of the Presidential Range, that I’ve ever seen.  Here are a few images of those views – Mount Adams, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, from the Wildcat Ridge Trail:

 

 

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The walk up Wildcat Ridge Trail was quite steep in sections, but nothing out of the ordinary for the White Mountains.  There is a steep climb up rock steps and up a rock chimney before reaching some spectacular views towards the south, and of the Presidential Range.

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I reached the top of the Wildcat Ski Area ski-lift at about 12:15pm:

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The Top Of The Wildcat Ski-Lift, With Mt Washington In The Background

 

Here is the observation tower at the top of Wildcat “D” (4050ft, 1234m),  which I reached just a few minutes after reaching the ski-lift:

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The Summit Of Wildcat “D”

 

So the climb up Wildcat “D” was just under two hours.  From the top of Wildcat “D,” I would continue on to Wildcat Mountain (4422ft, 1348m), with amazing views to the west (Mt Washington and the Presidential Range) and, then, to the east (all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.)  Stay tuned for more about that next time.

All in all, September 12, 2016 was one of the best days walking I’ve ever had in the White Mountains, over more than 40 years since I first visited in the late 1970’s.  Definitely a day to remember…

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During the years I worked in Viet Nam, I noticed that expatriates working for international NGOs seemed to fall into two groups: those who loved working there, and those who really disliked it, often with a visceral passion.  Those who hated working in Viet Nam seemed to feel that the restrictions put on our organisations, and on us, were unreasonable.  I’d hear them say things like: “if the government would just let us do our job…

Yes, the process for registering as a foreign organisation was burdensome, and foreigners working in Viet Nam were required to maintain legal status in the country, resulting in periodic visa applications.  Getting permission for people from other countries (even for those of us who were foreign staff living and working in Viet Nam) to visit field locations could be challenging and time-consuming.  And, yes, it was very difficult for foreign agencies to work through local NGOs, as many of us were accustomed to elsewhere.

But, despite all of these challenges, our work in Viet Nam took place in an environment with very positive and progressive socio-economic policies, just what was needed to facilitate human development.  The private sector (including agriculture) had been released from many of the restrictive policies that had been in place until the late 1980’s, and government priorities for women, children, and ethnic minorities were excellent, even given the widespread lack of capacity and instances of corruption.  Viet Nam was poor in 1998, when I arrived, but the policy context was pro-poor, pro-women, pro-ethnic-minority, and pro-children.

To illustrate this, I want to go back to the framework that we developed earlier, when I was at Plan’s International Headquarters.  Readers of this blog will recall that, during my tenure as Plan’s Program Director, I had set myself three major goals: build a programmatic framework for our development work; finish the restructuring of the organisation; and rationalise the growth of the agency consistent with strategic priorities.

The tool that I developed to rationalise our growth was based on board-defined priorities, which resulted from an extensive process of consultation and reflection.  The resulting framework indicated that Plan should grow where the need existed, and where the potential for  impact could be verified.  I had created a method to quantify these two criteria, to rank countries in terms of need, and potential for impact.

Measuring “need” was relatively easy: I decided to use the country’s under-five mortality rate (U5MR).  But, as I noted in an earlier blog posting:

The creation of a simple indicator for potential for impact was more challenging, but the concept of a national performance gap, pioneered by UNICEF, turned out to be helpful.

The idea starts with the fact that a strong correlation exists between national wealth, as measured by gross national product (GNP) per capita, and various measures of social welfare.  In general, the richer a country is, the better off its citizens are: average U5MR are lower, educational levels are higher, and maternal mortality rates are lower, for example.  Because of this strong correlation, given a nation’s wealth, various indicators of social welfare can be predicted with a fair degree of certainty.

However, some countries achieve more than can be expected given their levels of national income, and others achieve less.  These countries perform better than others.  War, corruption, the political system of the country, budgetary priorities, and many other factors can affect this performance.  In short, the performance of a country in deploying its national wealth, no matter how meagre, to achieve expected levels of social welfare must depend on a wide variety of factors – I felt that these were just the sorts of factors that could determine the potential for impact of Plan’s programs.

How was Viet Nam rated in Plan’s growth plan in June, 1995?  Based on need, and potential for impact (as measured using the “performance gap” concept outlined above), Viet Nam was classified as a “super-grow” country, the highest priority for growth, together with Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.  Plan’s analytical tool confirmed that something appeared to be going very right in Viet Nam – the country was achieving much more than would be expected at its level of economic wealth.

Another way of measuring the suitability of a country’s policies and political context for human development is to consider the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index (HDI), in particular how nation’s HDI compares with how other countries with similar wealth are doing.

On this basis, using data from the UNDP Human Development Report from 2000, Viet Nam ranks 24 places higher in terms of human development than it does when looking only at GDP per capita.  In other words, considering its GDP per capita, Viet Nam’s HDI would have been expected to be 24 places lower than it actually was.  This is a big achievement, indicating that the country likely had policies, budgetary allocations, and health and education systems that were relatively effective and efficient.  Again, this was clear evidence that things were going in the right direction in Viet Nam…

So while there were undeniable restrictions placed on us, on Vietnamese civil society, and on political participation and freedom of expression, we were working in a place where many things were going in the right direction, at least in terms of human development.  Remember that the American War had ended only just over 20 years before I arrived, and the legacy of that destructive conflict was still present.

For me, it was a very positive place to work, and I could see the different we were making in the lives of children and families living in poverty, partly because of the great team Plan had in Viet Nam in those days, partly because of the support we received from sponsors and other donors, but also partly because of the way that Viet Nam was structured and governed.

I also think that the root cause of some of the complaints by foreign NGO workers living in Viet Nam was, perhaps unconsciously, somewhat colonialist.  This is a negative thing to write, so let me explain: in many countries, at least in those days, international NGOs could operate pretty much as they pleased.  Many expatriates became accustomed to this situation, and appreciated the latitude to implement projects as they felt would be most effective.  At best, they brought “best practices” to their work; but, often, many brought large egos, a reluctance to cooperate and coordinate with others, and some sense of the “white-man’s burden.”

Viet Nam was different, because the government was not about to let INGOs run amok.  Over 1000 years of occupation by the Chinese, and long wars with the French and Americans, the Vietnamese people had achieved independence and the ability to manage their society the way that they, themselves, determined.  Their government was not about to let international NGOs, and their foreign staff like me, run amok and do whatever they wanted.

Those expatriates who accepted this, and saw it as an advantage, a good thing, loved working in Viet Nam.  I certainly felt that way!

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Looking back from 2017, Viet Nam has now reached “medium-development” status.  A great achievement of the Vietnamese people.  Here are three graphs, using data from UNDP, that illustrate how things have evolved.  Looking first at economic poverty, the proportion of Viet Nam’s population living on less than $1 per day (at purchasing-power parity) dropped from around 50% when I arrived in Hanoi in 1998 to 40% by the time I left, in 2002, and to well under 20% in 2008.  An enormous reduction in economic poverty, at a pace that seems faster than all developing regions, and even faster than Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.  Remarkable.

Population Below $1 (PPP)

In terms of child poverty, which was Plan’s focus, the next figure shows how Viet Nam’s performance has been ahead of the achievements of the world on average, since the early 1990’s, with the average under-five mortality rate dropping from around 50 per 1000 live births in 1990, to just over 20 per 1000 live births in 2010.  Another remarkable achievement.

U5MR

Finally, looking at one particular indicator of community development, the proportion of Viet Nam’s population using an improved source of drinking water rose from around 65% in 1994 to 95% in 2010, moving from well below the world average to significantly above.

Improved Drinking Water

Of course, I can’t claim that Plan caused all, or even a significant proportion, of this progress!  Rapid socio-economic development of this kind is due to a wide range of factors, most especially good policy and hard work.  Plan was contributing in our own way, in places where the government couldn’t always reach without support.  Something was going right in Viet Nam, at least in terms of economic and human development, and the results are clear to see.

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One particular challenge for Plan, and for all of the INGOs working there at the time (and since) was reconciling the nature of Vietnamese governance with our Western values of participation and democracy.  While government policies related to social justice (treatment of gender issues, ethnic minorities, etc.) were well-designed and consistent with the focus of most INGOs, and were in fact the best I’ve ever seen in any country, our focus on involving and empowering people was more challenging to implement, because our approaches were not consistent with the way that Viet Nam had structured itself.

One approach we took was to try to base our work involving and empowering people at village level on the words of Viet Nam’s leaders, and its laws.  I had this “propaganda poster” designed to use words of Ho Chi Minh in this effort:

IMG_5540

Dan Biet, Dan Ban, Dan Lam, Dan Kiem Tra = The People Know, The People Meet, The People Do, and The People Check

 

The words translate, roughly, as “the people know, the people meet, the people do, and the people check.”  This usually meant, in practice, that “the People’s Committee” did those things; but we tried to broaden it to reflect what we thought Ho Chi Minh actually intended, where the people themselves got involved and engaged in meaningful ways.  Which was what we intended!

And we tried to use various decrees of the central government, which established frameworks for “grassroots democracy,” as entry points towards participation and empowerment.  To some degree, it worked, but the top-down nature of Vietnamese society (“democratic centralism” was one term that was used to describe the political system!) represented, in many ways, boundaries for these efforts.

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Part of our efforts to connect with the Vietnamese government involved me, as the representative of Plan in Viet Nam.  Field visits always included protocol meetings with the Provincial, District, and Commune People’s Committees.  In Hanoi, also, there were opportunities to connect at various levels.

By the time I had been in-country for two years, I was fairly well known, and knew my way around.  One perk that went with that kind of status was being invited to the yearly “Consultative Group” (CG) meetings, where the multi- and bi-lateral donors met formally with the government to review how the aid program was going.  The World Bank Country Director co-chaired these important meetings, along with a Deputy Prime Minister; several (I)NGO representatives were invited.

The WB Director in my time was Andrew Steer, a brilliant and charismatic leader who did a fantastic job, ably supported by Nisha Agrawal and Carrie Turk, both of whom had come from NGO backgrounds.  Here is a photo of the INGO representatives attending the 2001 CG Meeting, along with Andrew Steer:

CG Meeting - 1.jpg

From the left: Mandy Woodhouse (Oxfam GB), me, Bill Tod (Save the Children), CD from (I think) Marie Stopes, and Andrew Steer

 

At the end of CG Meetings, unless things had gone very badly, participants were invited to a closing meeting with the Prime Minister.  The first time I attended, the closing meeting was quite strained; apparently there had been tensions within the government unrelated to the CG Meeting.  The second year, all was positive, so we walked over to the PM’s offices and reported to him.

After the meeting with the Prime Minister was over, he invited the group, maybe a hundred people, to move up to a stage for a group photo with him.

Once the photo had been taken, people began to move off and leave.  I had brought a camera with me, and held back.  Imagine my surprise when I found myself standing with the Prime Minister with nobody else around!

So I moved quickly, knowing that a photo of the two of us would be priceless evidence of Plan’s status in such a hierarchical country.

Scan.jpeg

With the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Pham Van Khai

 

My only regret is that I was determined not to have my eyes closed, because I guessed that the PM would not hang around for long.  So my eyes are wide open!

My Vietnamese language skills were good enough for me to understand when, after the photo was taken, the PM asked his staff member: “who is this person?”  Luckily, the aid answered correctly, so all was well!

That photo hung in all of Plan’s offices across the country, until I left.

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One way that we “fit in” to the way that the Vietnamese people had structured their society was the mechanism through which we implemented projects.  A set of procedures had been designed by my predecessor Supriyanto and our Operations Support Manager, Pham Thu Ba, which they called “Community Managed Projects,” or “CMP.”  As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Supriyanto was originally from Indonesia, and the way that the Suharto government had structured that country was quite similar to Viet Nam’s approach; so, along with Thu Ba, Supriyanto was able to design a method for project implementation that fit into the Vietnamese way of working while also ensuring suitable levels of accountability and financial control.

Through the procedures spelled out in our CMP, projects were basically managed by committees based on government structure at the grassroots, commune level, linked with oversight committees at higher (district and province) levels.  These structures worked very well, pragmatically inserting Plan’s work into the realities of Viet Nam at that moment in its history.  It was interesting to watch our field leadership and Thu Ba negotiate the day-to-day tensions inherent in the different approaches of the Vietnamese government and our international non-governmental organisation.  For example, would contracting and purchasing related to project implementation follow government procedures, or Plan’s (sometimes more transparent) procedures?  Our CMP specified these matters, but when specific decisions came onto the table, the negotiation dance would often begin.

One strong advantage of Plan’s CMP was that, since project implementation was embedded in the government structure, when things went wrong we could elevate the discussion to district or province level.  And, since provincial leadership was extremely powerful, problems got resolved!   If Plan had tried to operate, somehow, apart from the government structure, things would have been much more difficult.  Perhaps we expatriates might have felt better, momentarily, more comfortable doing our own thing as we pleased; and project implementation would have felt more familiar; but in the end things would have fallen apart.

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One of the people I learned the most from in Viet Nam, at least amongst the foreigners working there, was Lady Borton.  Lady had been in Quang Ngai during the American War, and for many years after the end of the war had been spending much of her time working for the American Friends Service Committee in Hanoi.  She and I were elected members of the Steering Committee of the VUFO-NGO Resource Center, a joint resource providing support for international NGOs working in, or wanting to work in, the country.

She had also played a key role in uncovering the My Lai massacre, in the late 1960’s.

So Lady had been in Viet Nam for a long time, and knew more about Viet Nam than anybody else I knew, at least any foreigner; she loved the country, and the Vietnamese, and had worked tirelessly in the cause of reconciliation.  I learned a great deal from her, and feel lucky to have gotten to work alongside her in those years.

One of the many ways that Lady was helpful to many of us when we arrived in-country, if were lucky enough, was to get our hands on a copy of “To Be Sure…“, her guide to .  Since Lady was always very happy to have her article circulated freely, I’m attaching it here – To Be Sure — Final.  This important document explains, to a foreign audience, how Viet Nam was structured, and how foreign INGO workers could best work.  Thank you, Lady!

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I’ve talked about the context, and how we tried to fit in, but what did Plan actually do in Viet Nam during those years?  Perhaps the best way to describe it is by sharing our Country Strategic Plan, 2000-2005.  The document is relatively short, as was required, providing a summary of the situation in-country and our intended response.  The document can be downloaded here: Final CSP 2001 – Sent to RD on 3 August 2000.  Note that formatting of the document has been affected by software changes in the intervening 17 years, but it’s readable.

We started (and ended) the CSP by describing the lives of two (fictional) Vietnamese children:

Tran Thi Thuy lives in Quang Tri Province, with her parents and younger brother, and her father’s mother and father. For a ten-year-old girl, Thuy is very small, though she is bright and attentive, and seems happy. Her parents are rice farmers, working the small plot of land they have been allotted by the People’s Committee. Normally they have enough rice, even to sell a little, but last year Thuy’s parents lost their harvest when floods came in November. Their house flooded, and Thuy had to help find food; they hope for a better year this year, the Year of the Dragon. Thuy attends a local primary school that is in very poor condition; she reads and writes well, but she has some trouble with math. Students have to be careful because the fields around the school contain landmines from the American War. After class, Thuy takes care of the family’s water buffalo, helps her mother prepare lunch and dinner, and takes care of her brother and the pig (sometimes she cuts banana roots for the pig to eat.) Thuy would like to be a teacher someday.

 Pham Thi Nguyet is twelve, and lives in a house in Phuc Xa ward, in Ha Noi. Her mother sent Nguyet, and her 16-year-old brother, to Ha Noi from Hung Yen Province two years ago, to find work. They send money back to Hung Yen to help their family. Like many children of the street in Viet Nam, known as “children of the dust” in Vietnamese, Nguyet lives a precarious existence. Her work begins before dawn, preparing food for her landlady to sell. In exchange for this, Nguyet and her brother have a place to sleep. During the day, Nguyet’s brother shines shoes on the street in Ha Noi, while she sells newspapers. Some of Nguyet’s brother’s friends use drugs, and Nguyet herself has had some frightening encounters with people on the street. Like Thuy, Nguyet is very small for her age, though she is bright and has an open and positive attitude. She would like to become a seamstress.

Then we summarized the CSP:

Thuy and Nguyet represent the reality for many children in Viet Nam today. After decades of conflict and isolation, the economic transition of the last decade has undoubtedly improved the lives of the nation’s children, and the unique structure of Vietnamese society has enabled important achievements in health, education, and gender equity. But children now face greater risks and increased vulnerability; malnutrition levels remain very high; and the quality of education still lags. Underlying these trends, poverty persists, particularly in highland provinces, in the central region, and among marginalized groups.

Together with children such as Thuy and Nguyet and their families, with program partners and authorities, PLAN/Viet Nam has identified some of the most pressing issues affecting children, and has formulated integrated programs and methodologies to address these issues together with its partners and communities:

  • Because of a lack of access to adequate education, PLAN will carry out programs in preschool and basic education.
  • Due to poor access to adequate health care, PLAN will support nutrition, reproductive health and primary health care programs.
  • Livelihood and reforestation programs will address the causes of low employment and productivity among the poor.
  • The increasing vulnerability of children will be addressed through the implementation of an ambitious children-in-need-of-special-protection program, along with programs in disaster management and landmines.
  • Because children have limited access to good quality water, sanitation, and shelter, PLAN will implement programs in water and sanitation, and housing improvement.
  • To stimulate better participation in child-focused development, including children, PLAN will implement a wide-ranging leadership-training program.
  • And to build solidarity among PLAN families, sponsored communities, and donors, a building relationships program will be continued.

Underlying all of these programs will be an effort to scale up PLAN’s impact, and to influence broader child-related policy development in Viet Nam.

That’s what we did, or at least what we tried to do: in our provincial Program Units, we helped improve access to adequate education and health care; supported livelihood and reforestation programs; worked to build protective environments for children; supported water, sanitation, and housing improvement programs; trained leaders; and sought to build solidarity among families, communities, and donors.  From the Country Office, we worked to influence child-related policies.

Consistent with the CSP, once we set up the Large Grants Implementation Unit (LGUI – see below, and in my next blog post) Plan was able to go well beyond these fairly-standard projects, and begin to address a much wider range of manifestations of child poverty.  More on the LGIU, later!

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One of the things that I was most proud of, during my four years serving as Plan’s Country Director in Viet Nam, was how often I was able to get to visit our work in the provinces.  In part, this was because our team at the Country Office was so strong (see my descriptions of Le Quang Duat, Tran Minh Thu, and Pham Thu Ba in my previous blog post), as were our managers at Program Unit level, in the provinces.

But it would have been easy to stay in Hanoi, there was plenty to do there and plenty of demands from Plan’s hierarchy in the Regional Office and donor offices.  But I managed to get to the field for (roughly) week-long visits nearly 50 times in my four years there, which allowed me to stay connected to the realities of our work, build relationships with Plan’s staff and our partners, and to simply be true to the best ethos of our non-profit sector – to accompany the people we were working with, and for.

I have hours of film of these visits, unedited records of the people, the setting, and our work.  Here is video of two visits, both of which took place in October, 2000.

First, here is a five-minute video of my visit to Bac Giang province, north of Hanoi.  Bac Giang had been Plan’s third provincial office (after Nam Ha and Hanoi itself), still an area with plenty of poverty, as can be seen:

 

Pham Van Chinh was Plan’s Program Unit Manager in Bac Giang when I visited; many thanks to him and his team, and to our local partners, for hosting my visit, and many others during those years.

And here is a longer (almost 29 minutes) video of a visit to a new province for Plan in those days, Thai Nguyen – a beautiful, poor place, much less developed than Bac Giang in those days:

 

 

Tran Dai Nghia was Plan’s Program Unit Manager in Thai Nguyen when I visited; many thanks to him and his team, and to our local partners, for hosting my visit.

(I might include more video in later edits of this blog post.  I have more!  They document, in a way, a part of the history of Viet Nam, of the history of Plan in Viet Nam, and of the people involved in that effort, that is unique.)

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Next time, I want to share our experience pilot testing a new structure in Plan.  This was our attempt to solve a problem that had vexed the organisation for many years: how to increase the proportion of funding coming from non-sponsorship sources, in particular, in the form of “large grants” from bi- and multi-lateral aid agencies.  It’s a story of innovation, success and, ultimately, failure.

I’ve invited Ary Laufer, the person who contributed more than anybody to make the “Large Grants Implementation Unit” in Viet Nam the success it was, to share his thoughts on the experience.

So, stand by for the next chapter in the story!

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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.