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.


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…


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.



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.



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…





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.


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


Mt Eisenhower






And I had a winged visitor, looking for food.




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!



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!


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!


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.


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!


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.


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:


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.


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.


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:

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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.

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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!)


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!


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.


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.


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…


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.


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.



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:




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:



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:


Looking Across Crawford Notch, Mt Tom


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:


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


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!:



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.



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:




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:



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



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.



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!





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



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!



Soaking Wet, But Happy


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



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.

Gesture 5.jpg

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:

  • Carlos - 1.jpg

    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”;





  • Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 2.18.44 PM.png

    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-
    Screen Shot 2017-08-01 at 2.18.35 PM.png

    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 Passaconaway (8) – The South American Regional Office (SARO)

I’ve been writing over the last few months about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  Each time I’ve also been reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

The eighth of the 48 peaks that I summited was Mt Passaconaway (4043 ft, 1232 m), which is slightly to the Northeast of Mt Whiteface.  I went up both of these peaks on 15 June 2016, just five days after having gone up Mt Osceola and East Osceola.

It was a very beautiful day.  The hike started from “Ferncroft”, a very lovely farm settlement:


Ferncroft, With Mt Whiteface Just Above

I left Ferncroft at around 10am, walking alongside the buildings that can be seen above, and quickly entering the Sandwich Wilderness:



The hike up Mt Passaconoway was beautiful, climbing up Dicey’s Mill Trail on a cool, partly-cloudy day.  A near-perfect White Mountains climb… challenging enough to get me drenched with sweat, so there was a sense of accomplishment, but not ridiculously hard.  There were very few insects, at least until I got over to Mt Whiteface!

Near the top of Passaconoway, I passed the junction with the Rollins Trail, which I would take over to Mt Whiteface, after lunch.

I had lunch at the top at around 12:30pm: not a spectacular view, actually not a view at all!, but there had been plenty of vistas on the way up:


The Summit Cairn, Mt Passaconoway

Here’s a view back towards Mt Passaconoway, looking from near the top of Mt Whiteface, later that day (around 2:30pm):



I left off my narrative, last time, as Jean and I were leaving Tuluá, Colombia, and heading to Plan’s first Regional Office, in Quito, Ecuador.  Of course, I was very familiar with that city, having arrived there as a Peace Corps Volunteer-to-be in early 1984.  My two years as a PCV in Ecuador were described in earlier posts in this series (here, here, here, and here).

We moved to Quito from Tuluá in 1991.  The city hadn’t changed very much since I left Ecuador in 1986, which was (mostly) a good thing.  Living on 6 de Diciembre, near the Olympic Stadium “Atahualpa”, we were a short walk to the Plan office, close to Parque Carolina (where I jogged), and shopping was easy.  This was before the Ecuadorean government adopted use of the US dollar as currency, so the old “sucre” still circulated, but had devalued massively.  For us, the cost of living was low – not so for the bulk of Ecuadoreans, however, who suffered high levels of inflation.

Our house was at the top of the “Jockey Club” building – pretty nice views of the city, and of surrounding mountains (which were MUCH higher than little Passoconoway in the White Mountains of New Hampshire!):

My new boss, Plan’s first Regional Director, was Andy Rubi:


Andy Rubi, Plan’s First Regional Director

Andy was a gifted leader, with many years of experience in Plan – he understood our work very deeply, and he understood the dynamics of the organization very deeply, too.  I learned a lot from Andy, and often find myself using advice he gave me.  For example, when in conflict, stepping back and remembering to ask “what is the issue.”  That’s a great question!

(In fact, much later on, when I was in Australia in the mid-2010’s, I reached out to Andy for advice on a personnel challenge I was facing.  Andy, now retired and living in Honduras, was of great help to me then, as always…)

Here is an image of the Regional Office team, and senior staff from across South America a couple of years later, with many of the same people:


(Some names, from the left side of the photo: Luis Alfred Cevallos, Kevin Porter, Roger Braden, Hank Beder, Zach Macy, Washington Muñoz, Diane Carazas, Frank van den Hout, Durval Martinez, Martin Fanghaenel, Hernando Manrique, Beatriz Gonzales, Michael Taylor, Paul Bode, Prem Shukla, Palmiro Soria, Leticia Escobar, Hans van Oosten, Luis Paredes, Freddy Diaz-Albertini, Ron Seligman, Tony Nolan, Mac Abbey, Larry Culver, Yvette Lopez, and Alejandro Acosta.  Missing: Andy himself, Ricardo Gómez, Rezene Tesfamarian, Henk Franken, Jairo Rios, and others.  A great group of people.  Apologies to those whose names I’ve forgotten! – please write with additions and corrections!)

Under Andy’s leadership, Plan’s first Regional Office had been established in July of 1987; I wrote a bit about this in an earlier post, describing how I came to join the organization.

One feature of the Regional Office, when it was established in 1987, was that it was not really guided by a goal to regionalize; it was actually more of a decentralization of headquarters functions.  This soon became very problematic.

Here is my recollection of that initial RO design:


The International Executive Director, Alberto Neri, had his office at Plan’s “International Headquarters” (“IH”) in Rhode Island, in the US.  Reporting to Alberto were several Directors, a few of which are shown in the figure, above.

As you can see, in the initial iteration of the South America Regional Office (“SARO”), staff in Quito related to IH through four separate reporting lines:

  • Andy Rubi, Regional Director, reported to the Program Director at IH;
  • Hernando Manrique, Regional MIS Coordinator, reported to the Technical Service Director at IH;
  • Jairo Rios, Regional Administrator, reported to the Finance Director at IH;
  • Washington Muñoz, Regional Auditor, reported to the Board Audit Committee.

In addition, when SARO was created, the “Area Managers” had two “hats” – they managed a group of Field Directors, and they had a technical responsibility as well.  For example, Leticia Escobar, Area Manager for Colombia and part of Ecuador, supervised my boss in Tuluá (Monique van’t Hek) and also supported the implementation of new Human Resources systems across South America; in this, she related to the HR Director at IH.

Leticia’s colleagues, the two other Area Managers, handled, along with the rest of the Field Office Directors in Ecuador and Bolivia, the other areas of systems strengthening that Plan was piloting:

  • Impact evaluation, through the implementation of the new, pilot “Field Office Evaluation System” – FOES.  This was system was developed by the Technical Services Department at IH;
  • Planning and Budgeting, using the new, pilot “PB2” software.  This was developed by the Finance Department at IH.

So Regional Office staff were pulled in many directions, mostly towards headquarters (rather than towards serving and supporting the Field Offices).  These multiple reporting lines made life very challenging for the human beings involved… on both sides of the organization.

But SARO was meant to be a pilot, with lessons learned to be incorporated as the five other projected Regional Offices were rolled out (in Central America and the Caribbean, in West Africa, in Eastern and Southern Africa, in Southeast Asia, and in South Asia.

So the experience with SARO was studied very thoroughly, very professionally.  For example, when I was working in Tuluá, we hosted a couple of visits from Bill Kieffer, who was in charge of regionalization (reporting to Alberto Neri), and Fred Thomas, who was a Plan board member at the time, and a very experienced management consultant.  It was an excellent process, with Field Office staff (such as myself) listened to as important “customers” of  regionalization.  And, in fact, all of this attention led to major adjustments being made over time, in SARO and also as other Regional Offices were established.

But the initial pilot structure created plenty of conflict, which I could see and feel when I arrived in Quito, especially between Andy and the Regional Administrator: initially, Jairo Rios, and later Luis Paredes.  For example, I vividly recall Andy and Luis arguing over the relative sizes of their offices and, in the end, sending floorplans to International Headquarters for the issue to be arbitrated!  What a waste!


Early in my time in Quito, the structure was changed, and our Regional Office began to look much more like a Regional Office, with the entire regional team, except for the very-appropriate exception of Regional Audit, reporting to Andy:


Around the same time, the “dual hat” for the Area Managers was simplified: we focused on supporting and supervising Field Directors, and a new position was created to support the implementation of the Field Office Evaluation System.

Now Andy was able to form a real team and create a sense of unity of purpose.


Several developments around the time when we arrived in Quito led, eventually, to dramatic changes in Plan.  In an earlier post in this series, I described the arrival of Alberto Neri, an Italian businessman, as Plan’s International Executive Director.  As I said there, it seemed (and seems) to me that Alberto’s initiatives were on target, and necessary, but his “approach to implementing them, and his interpersonal skills, however, let him down and created upheaval at headquarters.”

By the time I arrived in Quito, as Andy was consolidating a strong, creative, and united Regional Team, morale and effectiveness at International Headquarters was falling fast.  Many at Plan’s Rhode Island headquarters, including much of Senior Management, were extremely unhappy with Alberto’s leadership; as a result, the organizational center was becoming increasingly weak and inward-looking.

Meanwhile, across the world, people were showing signs of impatience with us in South America.  The establishment of other Regional Offices had been delayed, partly because changes in structure of our pilot Region were being made, and these changes needed to be assessed, too.  At the same time, headquarters was losing effectiveness, so staff outside of South America weren’t getting any more support than before – even less, since headquarters was focused on South America.  Alberto’s initiatives were getting a lot of attention, and they were only being implemented in South America, so understandably others got tired of hearing all about the work we were doing, and were skeptical about it – they wanted to get going, too.

Finally, alongside regionalization, and the HR, evaluation, and planning and budgeting initiatives that Alberto was pushing, he was very strongly focused on making Plan more “businesslike”.  This made a lot of sense to the finance and audit teams, but we development hippies grumbled as more financial systems, controls, and were put in place – didn’t Alberto trust us?

This was a potent mix, that only become more dangerous when Andy’s team decided to fill the vacuum that Plan’s headquarters was leaving.  We filled the vacuum with two big initiatives:

  • We rallied around an initiative, coming from several Field Offices but, most strongly, from my old friend Annuska, in Cañar.  Annuska had implemented a “low-staff” model which seemed to be effective and exciting.  We rebranded this as “empowerment” and ran with it;
  • Total Quality Management (“TQM”) was receiving lots of attention in the business world, and we at SARO decided to explore what this might mean for us.

These two initiatives gave us in South America a strong sense of momentum, that we were innovating and unifying, in an organization that seemed to be drifting.  For us, it was very exciting; for others, it seemed that SARO was going its own way, endangering the unity of the organization…


Stay tuned for more about “Empowerment” and TQM in Plan’s South America operations in upcoming blog posts in this series…


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

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

Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá

After getting up to the top of Mt Flume, bruised and a bit bloodied by the long ascent up the slippery granite rock face, we descended slightly and then climbed up to the summit of Mt Liberty.  Walking along Franconia Ridge Trail, the views were spectacular.


From the top of Mt Liberty. Photo courtesy of Eric Smith.

There was still a little bit of snow and ice in the saddle between Flume and Liberty, having been packed down by winter and early-spring hikers.  (But nothing like I had dealt with on Mt Tom and Mt Field.)  At the top of Mt Liberty, we could see many of the peaks that I will be climbing in coming weeks and months, that I will be describing in this series: on the west side of Franconia Notch, there were North and South Kinsman and Cannon; on the east side, where we were, we could see Garfield, Owl’s Head, North and South Twin, and the Bonds.  Just ahead, Lincoln and Lafayette loomed – for another day.

Soon after reaching the top of Mt Liberty, Eric and I took a left turn and re-joined Liberty Spring Trail, which forms part of the Appalachian Trail here.  We passed the busy Liberty Spring Tentsite (we were walking on a summer holiday weekend, crossing lots of folks coming up Liberty Spring Trail to the tentsite), and then back into the White Mountains forest for the long walk back to the parking lot.

Doing Flume and Liberty in one long day was the way to go, but it was exhausting, mainly due to effort involved in ascending the steep granite face of Mt Flume.  Far better to do it counter-clockwise, as we did, because coming down Mt Flume would have been even more challenging than going up…Map - Mt LibertyI’m writing here about climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers.  After a brief description of each hike, I reflect a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 32 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, and experiences along the way.  This is my fifth blog of the series; over the next months, I hope to share thoughts in 43 more posts.  We’ll see how that goes!

Over the next few entries in this series, I’m going to share what it was like to join Plan International, and live in Colombia, in the late 1980’s.  These were very formative, exciting times for that international NGO, and for Jean and me.  As I will describe, it was also an extremely challenging time for the nation of Colombia – somehow it’s very apt that, as I write this, a landmark peace agreement between the government of Colombia and the biggest remaining guerrilla group, the FARC, has just been signed.  The FARC were very active in the area around Tuluá, where we lived in the late 1980’s … but I’m getting ahead of myself here.


Jean and I were married in Massachusetts in October, 1985, on my only trip out of Ecuador during two years in the Peace Corps.  When I finished up in Azogues and left Ecuador, I joined her in Somerville, eventually getting what turned out to be my last engineering job, at Tecogen in Waltham.  It was a very good job, working with Leo Smolensky and Fred

Mark - Tecogen

The prototype coal-water slurry burner.

Becker to design and build a prototype home-heating system using coal-water slurry.  Those were days of high gasoline prices, and it was felt that burning an abundant, clean resource instead of oil was a good idea.  But although grinding the coal into fine particles made removing the sulphur from it, and adding water made it relatively easy to pump and (in principle) distribute, it wasn’t easy to burn something that was 85% water!

I remember trying various paint-sprayers in the Tecogen parking lot early in the project, just getting a feeling for the slurry and how it would burn.  The slurry was so corrosive that sprayer nozzles lasted only a few minutes.  But we learned a lot, and were able to get the prototype to work stably for a visit from the US Department of Energy, who had contracted Tecogen to develop the prototype system.  One of the DOE visitors told us he had never actually seen the coal-water slurry burn sustainably, so we were proud!


I experienced some “culture shock” returning to the US, reentering my native country.  Just the scale of affluence, of consumer choice, was initially bewildering.  In Azogues, for example, there had been two kinds of bread, just two kinds: two Sucre bread, and three Sucre bread, sold in small bakeries in town.  (The “Sucre” was Ecuador’s currency until, a decade later, in the midsts of very high levels of inflation, they adopted the US dollar.)    The only difference between the two kinds of bread, other than the price, was the size!

During my first week back in the US, I went to our local Somerville supermarket to buy bread.  There was a whole aisle of bread! – white, whole wheat, oat, rye, etc., etc., etc.  I got confused with the huge selection – after all, I was used to a choice of two kinds of bread, and was happy with that choice!! – so I just grabbed a loaf, any loaf, and went home.  It was too much to deal with, in my culture-shocked condition.

Turned out I had grabbed a loaf of raisin bread, which was not what I needed.

Soon I re-adapted to the US, but it was a challenge!


I had been working at Tecogen for nearly a year when Plan International, the NGO that I wrote about earlier, got in touch, and that led to a very significant fork in the road for Jean and me.

Like many international NGOs in the mid-1980’s, Plan was expanding rapidly.  This growth was mainly due to the massive public response to food shortages in the horn of Africa.  Initiatives such as Live Aid and “We Are The World” had raised awareness of poverty in general, and of the situation in Ethiopia in particular, which led to a very strong  increase in public response.

As a result, many international NGOs were able to scale up their programs in the late 1980’s.  This figure illustrates the vertiginous growth that Plan was about to experience, more than quadrupling in size in ten years:

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 2.53.51 PM(Data for this figure are from Plan’s Annual Reports of the time; the figure is from an article I wrote some years later, which will be the subject of another blog later in this series.)

One consequence of this growth was that INGOs were becoming large businesses, with large budgets; risks were growing along with budgets.  Boards began to insist on systems and controls, and we started to see much more focus on efficiency and accountability.  At around this time, not coincidentally, we started to see senior executives come into the sector from the business world, bringing management approaches from the business world.

Plan was no exception, with a range of initiatives underway, as I’ll describe below.  One way that Plan was handling its growth was by setting up regional offices.  This was very lucky for me, because the launch meeting for the first Region – being established in South America, with the Regional Office to be located in Quito, Ecuador – was taking place at Plan’s headquarters in Rhode Island, and Annuska Heldring, their Field Director in Cañar, attended.  Annuska, who figures centrally in the last two blogs of this series (here, and here), and I had stayed in touch after I left Ecuador, so Jean and I drove down from Somerville to Rhode Island to have dinner with Annuska one evening during the launch meeting.

It was great seeing Annuska, and soon after that dinner I was contacted by Plan – was I interested in coming down to Rhode Island for an interview?  Annuska was working behind the scenes!

A few weeks later I went down to East Greenwich for an interview, which led to an offer to join Plan as “Assistant Director” at their Field Office in Tumaco, Colombia.  Jean and I were excited at the opportunity, and so I accepted the offer immediately, moving away from engineering without looking back – to a life and and what became thirty years in international development.

After I accepted that job offer, however, Plan got back in touch, asking if we would be willing to go to Tuluá, Colombia, instead of Tumaco.  Although I had travelled through Colombia years before, and must have passed through Tuluá in a bus, I didn’t have much of a sense of the two places, so we said “sure, why not!”  It was all the same to us…

Later I came to understand why they made the change: Plan’s new CEO (then called International Executive Director, IED), Alberto Neri, was pushing the organisation to change very rapidly, in part as a response to growth prompted by the situation in Ethiopia, and several major initiatives were being pilot tested in 13 Field Offices in South America.

One of those pilot offices was in Tuluá.  The idea was to add capacity to those offices so, in July, 1987, Jean and I flew to Cali, Colombia to begin what became 15 fantastic and formative years with Plan.

Alberto Neri, an Italian, had recently joined Plan, from the private sector.  (Rumour had it that he had been manager of a high-tech valve production facility…)  This was, of course, consistent with broader trends in the sector at the time, bringing in senior staff from the private sector to “professionalize” our organizations as they grew.

Alberto is on the right in this photo, taken at a meeting just after I joined Plan:

Tuluá - 7

Replacing Plan’s beloved IED, George Ross, who was a social worker by training and had risen through the ranks, Alberto was an outsider with an abrasive and somewhat authoritarian streak.  Or maybe it was just that he was from the business world and the rest of us were development hippies…

Although Alberto’s priorities, as I came to experience them from the Field Office perspective, made a lot of sense, and even though, as I came to get to know him personally (much later), we got along well, there was clearly a big clash of cultures going on.  Plan was a family, and George Ross was the father; Alberto viewed Plan as a business that needed systems and accountability, and staff were employees, not family.

But all of that was far away from Jean and me, as we arrived in Tuluá.

In addition to being part of Plan’s first region – getting set up in Quito, covering South America, and led by Plan’s first Regional Director, Andy Rubi – the main focus for the 13 pilot offices was the implementation of four new systems, all aimed at enabling our offices (and, once the pilot period was completed, all of Plan) to handle the growth we were experiencing efficiently and effectively, with strong financial control.

Underspending was a big problem in Plan during those days, with surpluses building up, particularly from operations in India.  This was a potential risk – why should the public  support an organization that couldn’t spend the money it already had?  Alberto felt that Plan’s Field Offices overall needed to do a much better job in planning their work to make budgeting more accurate and to enhance the quality of implementation.

From my perspective, as I joined Plan, he was right – so one of the new systems we were testing was focused on Planning and Budgeting.  (Later, when I went to Plan’s headquarters as program director, we would deal with the accumulation of surpluses in a more robust way – more on that later!)

This focus on planning and budgeting fit in well with my own background as an engineer, so I was very comfortable with it.  Along with Plan’s new Planning and Budgeting software (we were testing the second version – “PB2”), I introduced project-planning methods and tools such as Gantt Charts, helping staff plan and track projects better and more accurately.  Our great staff in Tuluá embraced these tools with great enthusiasm.

Complementing “PB2” was a new general ledger system, “FS2”.  Before this, Plan’s accounting system was manual; FS2 was the first computerized accounting system introduced into the organization.  It was meant to import data from PB2, and would then be able to produce a range of budget and actual reports at the end of each quarter.  The idea was that these tools would enable offices to better plan and implement their budgets.

In 1987, Plan lacked a number of HR systems that were common in the private sector, such as a consistent way of establishing job descriptions, modern performance appraisal processes, and an approach to career development, etc.  Alberto pushed Plan to professionalize all of these practices, and set up support structures in headquarters and the Quito Regional Office to help.  In Tuluá we tested these new HR systems, starting with job-task analysis and moving into job design, and job grading and remuneration systems.

(One fantastic HR system that Plan did have was new-staff orientation, at least for new expatriate staff.  It was so good, in fact, that I’ve shared the training package that I went through in 1987 as a model several times in my career since, in other organizations that were creating orientation materials, but nobody has come close to creating anything this good.  Here is a scanned copy of the main section of that package, dating from December, 1985: Plan – AD Training Manual – 1985.

Why do I think this package is so good?  It’s thorough and concrete, and demanding, in a good way: you had to actually carry out all of the key tasks in the Field Office, physically, yourself, and get your manage to sign off.  So, once you had gone through the training process, over at most six months, you were actually ready to manage and support that particular function in the Field Office, because you had done it yourself.  No other orientation package I’ve seen since prepared new staff so thoroughly to be competent at the basic functions of the office they were joining.

Finally, note the reference to growth on the first page of the package, consistent with the driver that I’m emphasizing in this article:

“There is a push to complete this project (the orientation) as soon as you can because of growth.  We need FDs (Field Directors).  We will consider an AD (Assistant Director) for FD after 18 months.”) 

Ann Kerrigan-Amaral and Meredith Richardson were leading the HR modernization from Plan’s headquarters, very effectively.

Plan had a good approach to setting strategy at Field Office level, but didn’t have a system to measure impact, so the agency put resources into developing and rolling out the “Field Office Evaluation System” – FOES.  This involved establishing a “baseline” situation in the population we served, remeasuring the same set of indicators three years later, and then comparing and analyzing any changes.

Most of these new systems were computerized, so all 13 pilot Field Offices received two of the new-fangled IBM Personal Computers that had just entered the marketplace.  Here’s a photo of our new computer room with one of our new IBM “AT” machines:

Tuluá - 6

As our 13 pilot offices began to pilot test these new systems, much stricter financial controls were rolled out across the entire organization.  Now, for example, delegations of authority were put in place so that, for example, Field Directors could only sign contracts up to certain levels, beyond which staff in the Regional Office had to get involved.

And Alberto was pushing Plan to become more efficient, setting a target that was called “70/20/10”: this meant that, over time, at least 70% of our budgets had to go towards “tangible benefits” in communities; at most 20% would go to staffing costs; and at most 10% would be for other, administrative costs such as office rent, transportation, etc.

This was a good goal, because (from my perspective) Plan was spending too much money on itself those days, and even early on in my time I could see that there were certainly ways we could be more efficient.  But messaging and implementation were both counter-productive: the new ratios were set without much discussion (at least that I was aware of), and seemed arbitrary.  Especially, counting staff as purely an overhead cost was wrong and counter-productive, leading to “creative accounting” in some cases.  Program staff should have been counted as part of the program, surely. (We made that change later…)

Over time, we were able to achieve Alberto’s goal of 70% tangible benefits.  But, as leadership changed and (well-intentioned) priorities shifted, the situation deteriorated again, and by 2009 these ratios were quite a bit worse than they had been before Alberto’s time.

Overall, however, the 70/20/10 goal was healthy, as were Alberto’s initiatives in general.   His approach to implementing them, and his interpersonal skills, however, let him down and created upheaval at headquarters.


Being one of the 13 pilot offices was a great opportunity – for Plan Tuluá, for the staff, and for me.  I certainly learned a lot about financial accountability, and business systems and controls, which I wouldn’t have learned as early or as quickly elsewhere.  Like my two years in Azogues, I was in the right place at the right time to learn and grow quickly.

But there were drawbacks.  PB2 and, especially, FS2 were both very buggy.  Plan wasn’t really set up to build software, to say the least, and on several occasions, the FS2 database became corrupted (through no fault of the Plan Tuluá accounting staff) and all transactions for the fiscal year had to be re-entered.  That was a lot of work, and frustrations built as the systems failed several times.


I feel very fortunate to have joined Plan, and to have gone to Tuluá.  To a great extent, this was because of my new manager – Monique van’t Hek, Plan’s Field Director there.

I would come to learn a great deal from Monique, who was a dynamic and smart leader and manager, with very strong organizational and social skills.  She was able to build close relationships and strong loyalty, while also maintaining clear and unquestioned authority.  A difficult balancing act, which she did very well.

Here’s a photo of Monique and I, with a couple of other Plan staff members, at a meeting:

Tuluá - 4

One of Monique’s greatest achievements in Tuluá, of many, was the creation of what became “Barrio Internacional.” When I arrived in Tuluá, Monique was already working with a large group of around 200 single mothers, helping them get organized to obtain financial support from the Colombian government to help build their own homes.

Over the next three years, Monique worked patiently and carefully with this group, helping them raise funds step-by-step, purchase a large plot of land on the periphery of Tuluá, design a model for their new homes, learn how to be carpenters or carpenters’ assistants, and build their own houses.  I watched Monique in action, as she met every week in the evenings, building the solidarity and confidence of this group of very poor and vulnerable women – progressing through the stages of what was a very ambitious project.

The new neighborhood became a reality a year or so after Monique left Plan Tuluá, after I had stepped into her shoes as Field Director.  My own contributions to the Barrio Internacional project were minimal, mainly just learning and supporting what Monique had built – so I was very glad when she was able to attend the inauguration of Barrio Internacional as guest of honor; even a terrible case of hepatitis didn’t deter her from attending!

Throughout my career with Plan I was very lucky to work with people like Annuska, and Monique, as mentors.  In future blogs in this series I will recognize a few more of them, people like Leticia Escobar, Andy Rubi, Donal Keane, Max van der Schalk, and Ricardo Gomez.


And here are photos of all the staff of Plan Tuluá, at the 1989 Christmas party in La Marina:


Tuluá - 2

Tuluá - 3They were a joyful group in Tuluá, and I learned a lot from them.  For example, I vividly recall our program head (Lucyla Posso) and several program staff working to carry out a PRA exercise – I had no idea what that was, but they were excited by this new methodology.  I was still caught up in my engineering approach – Gantt Charts, etc. – and didn’t pay enough attention to what Lucyla, Lijia, and Oscar Arley and others were doing.  Later I would catch on to the power of PRA methods!

As I will describe in my next blog, living and working in Tuluá in those days was a dangerous proposition, but our team faced the dangers inherent in working amidst one of the world’s most vicious narcotics cartels, surrounded by two violent rebel armies (FARC and ELN), and facing the ongoing legacy of the terrible political violence that had been an integral part of Tuluá’s history.


In my next blog, I’ll describe what it was like to live there in that tumultuous time in Colombia’s history.  And, after that, I plan to describe how we built a special water system in an informal settlement near Tuluá, called Cienegueta.


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

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


Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2)

I’m writing about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that over 4000 feet tall.  A brief description of the hike and, each time, some reflections on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

The fourth of the 48 peaks that I summited was Mt Flume, a challenging climb because of the very steep scramble near the top.  Eric and I  continued from Flume to the top of Mt Liberty (which will be the subject of my next blog entry), so along with being a tough climb, it was also a long day.


From the parking lot, we headed north along the highway before turning east on Liberty Spring Trail.  Soon we came to the junction with Flume Slide Trail, which we took.

The hike was pleasant at first, a typical White Mountain forest walk, but the last section was very challenging – very steep granite face, quite wet and slippery.  Holding onto narrow, wet handholds with long drops below – quite nerve wracking.

Here are two photos from the climb: one at lunch, the other at the top (these two images courtesy of Eric Smith):



A Stop For Lunch, Before Summiting Flume Mountain

Flume Mountain

Top of Flume Mountain


That’s Mt Liberty on the right side of the photo – more about that in my next blog.

I was happy to have that walking stick, though an ice-axe would have been better!  Not that there was any ice or snow, but holding on to rock with the pick end of an ice-axe would have been very helpful and comforting!


I’m writing twice about the work we did in the community of San Rafael in 1985-86.  Last time I described the context of that indigenous, Cañari community, the origins of the potable-water system we built, focusing mainly on the design and construction of the  first ferrocement water-storage tank built in Ecuador.

I mentioned in that blog that our work in San Rafael was very important for me, because of the situation in that community, which was suffering an outbreak of typhoid* when I first visited: encountering small coffins being taken out of the community, through the fog, was an indication of the situation there.  Important because of what I learned in designing and working to help build an innovative water system.  And important because of where it led me, personally and professionally, connections I made during that time that led me into a career in international development and social justice.

When I returned to the US after completing my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Azogues, I spent some time writing and publishing two journal articles about the San Rafael water project – both articles are available by clicking below:

  • one article was an overview of the system in “Waterlines”, a journal devoted to appropriate technologies for water supply and sanitation.  I’ve uploaded a copy of that article, here: Waterlines;
  • and another article describing the design and construction of the ferrocement tank in some technical detail, in “Journal of Ferrocement” published by the International Ferrocement Information Center.  That article is here: Journal of Ferrocement – A 50m3 Water Reservoir for Cañar Ecuador – MCPEAK

My focus this time is on the windmill we built to pump water for San Rafael’s system.

As I mentioned last time, there were no sources of surface water above the community, so we couldn’t build a simple gravity-flow system.  But we did find water a few meters below ground, above the community.  That was lucky.

So we began construction in mid-1985, digging a well by hand, and lining it with simple concrete rings that we poured at the site.  Here are a few images of that process:


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(If you look closely, in one of the photos you can see the location of the water storage tank downhill from where we were pouring the reinforcement rings.)

This process worked well.  We formed the rings with the same tin sheets that we would soon use for the tank formwork.  Once the rings were cured, and the 6m-deep well dug by hand, we carefully lowered each ring into place.

We needed a pump to get the water out of that well, of course.  There was no electricity in San Rafael, and the community wouldn’t be able to afford fuel for a gasoline or diesel pump (but, see below for how that turned out!).

Amazingly, I was able to source 11 years of wind data from a nearby meteorological station, confirming that the use of wind power to pump water for San Rafael’s system was feasible.  So, I would design and we would build a windmill on top of the well…

How to design the windmill?  As I mentioned last time, Peace Corps had initially indicated that I wasn’t qualified for assignment to IEOS because I was a Mechanical, rather than a Civil, Engineer.  Thanks to the easy-going Peace Corps Country Director of the time, Ned Benner, in the end I was welcomed, and bureaucratic requirements were finessed.

Not being a Civil Engineer wasn’t a problem, and as I described earlier it even enabled me to think differently about how to build water-storage tanks.  But designing a windmill – that was a task for a Mechanical Engineer!  So I was well-prepared.

I no longer recall where I found it, but somehow I got my hands on “How to build a Cretan sail wind pump for use in low-speed wind conditions,” from IT Publications in London (1979).  Maybe there was a copy in the Peace Corps office in Quito?

Given the wind records, and my estimate of the required water flow for the community, I chose a diameter of 6m for the windmill; the metal tubing we used for the spokes of the wind wheel were 3m long, so that was convenient.  To simplify the design, I chose to have the turbine operate downwind of the tower, which meant that no tail would be required: rather, I designed a counterweight to balance moments across the bearing assembly, so the wind would push the structure around and orient it correctly.

Here are some images of the construction and installation of the Cretan Sail windmill:


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We welded the tower in sections, enabling easy transport.  And we assembled the 6m-diameter wind wheel at a nearby shop in Biblian, close to Azogues.  There was a factory near Azogues that manufactured heavy canvas covers for truck beds, and I arranged for them to prepare the sails for the windmill – a set of large sails for low-wind conditions, and a set of smaller sails for higher-wind days.

Transporting the wind wheel to San Rafael, along the Pan-American Highway, was tricky – as can be seen in one of the images in the slideshow, above, it was large!  And, unlike the tower, we couldn’t build it in sections.  So we had to sneak it under many electrical and telephone wires along the way, and even a few water pipes that had been hung informally across the road.  Luckily there were no underpasses between Azogues and Cañar!

We built a small hut for the chlorination plant, and trained a couple members of the community to manage that, and to maintain the windmill.

Once the windmill was installed, we tested it over several weeks.  When the windmill caught the wind, it was a dramatic sight.  The wind wheel turned downwind of the tower and caught the wind, accelerating quickly and impressively.  It pumped a lot of water and took your breath away when it accelerated!

Fitting the sails was fairly simple: the caretaker simply tied the wind wheel to the tower, and then swapped to sails that were suitable for the wind conditions – small sails for high-wind conditions, and larger ones when the wind was light.

But, in contrast to the ferrocement tank, the Cretan Sail windmill we built for San Rafael wasn’t so successful.  There were two main problems.  Firstly, my design was not really robust enough.  It pumped water very well in a range of conditions, but there were some very severe wind gusts in the area.  A few days after installation, a couple of welds in the wind wheel broke in heavy wind, and we had to bring welding equipment up to the site to repair it.

And although climbing up the tower to change sails was simple, it was a bit scary; like climbing up Mt Flume, it was steep and nerve-wracking!  When the wind wheel was turning, especially, even though there was no danger of being struck by the wind wheel, climbing up the tower was still a daunting task.  I think that the community caretakers we had trained to maintain the system, including the windmill, were understandably nervous about changing sails when the wind was up.

A few weeks after the San Rafael system was inaugurated, I finished my Peace Corps service.  We built two more ferrocement tanks in those weeks, using the manual I had written.  I don’t think that the windmill lasted very long after I left; a weld or two probably broke, and that was that.

A couple of years later, when Jean and I were living in Colombia and I was working for Plan International (more on that in upcoming blogs!), we visited Plan Cañar, and I made sure we went to San Rafael.  The ferrocement tank was in great shape, working perfectly.  The windmill, however, was abandoned, and the community had bought a diesel pump with support from Plan.  So, in fact, the water system was working well, supplying water.

We could see that construction of a large irrigation canal was nearing the area where we had built the windmill and water-storage tank.  Local community members told me that they had gotten permission to take water from that canal for their water system.  So, in the end, the potable water system for San Rafael was successful!


I certainly learned a lot from that community.  Introducing innovations into a community like that was tricky and, in particular, issues of maintenance needed to be thought through very carefully.  There were cultural aspects of the process of introducing new technology that I learned about – the windmill, for example, was a challenge from that point of view.  Who knows what the Cañari people living in San Rafael made of it!

So the Cretan Sail windmill failed.  The ferrocement tank was a big success, and in the future I would come across many water-storage tanks built from that design in many parts of South America, even in Albania (where Annuska Heldring would serve as Country Director for Plan.)  The particular section of a sphere that I chose for the cupola was very recognizable!

Most importantly, the community of San Rafael had water.  Some day I would love to visit, now a bit over 30 years later, to see how they have progressed.


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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed.
  • * I got it wrong in my last blog – it was typhoid, not cholera.   Still…

Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1)

I’ve been writing in this series about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  And, each time, I’m also reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

The third of the 48 peaks that I summited was Mt Moosilauke, which was a gorgeous climb.


From the parking lot at the start of Beaver Brook Trail – which is also the Appalachian Trail for the section that I walked – the trail ascends rapidly.  I passed this sign, which warns hikers: in the winter, or in the rain, climbing up past the Black Brook Cascades could be tricky (or, as the sign says, even “tragic”) … on a sunny day in May, for me, it was merely steep.



Beaver Brook Cascades are beautiful – and, of course, easier going up than down:


Still, there were a couple of patches of snow on that sunny late May day, though nothing like I had seen going up Mt Tom and Mt Field!




And at the top, well above tree-line, there’s an extensive, fragile, alpine field with lots of granite rubble and some spectacular views of other White Mountains:


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This was one of my favorite climbs in the White Mountains – a strenuous ascent up through forest, featuring a long, early climb up next to rushing waterfalls, no bugs, and then a fabulous alpine area at the top.  Simply fantastic!


I will be writing twice about the work we did in the community of San Rafael in 1985-86.  It was a very important water project for me, because of the situation in that community, which was suffering an outbreak of cholera when I first visited.  Important because of what I learned in designing and working to help build an innovative water system.  And important because of where it led me, connections I made during that time that led me into a career in international development and social justice.

This first blog about San Rafael will describe the ferrocement water tank, unique for its time and the first of many that were built using the same design – in Ecuador, other parts of South America, even in Albania!  Next time, I’ll write about the other main innovation that we introduced in the San Rafael system: the Cretan Sail windmill…

When we had built the water system in El Tambo earlier, we had used a standard design for the water tank and filters – reinforced concrete, with walls about 20cm thick.  Here’s a photo of the filters at El Tambo: take a look at the thickness of the walls, same as the walls we built for the water tank:

El Tambo - 5

Treatment plant. I’m standing on the wall between two slow sand filters.

By comparison, here’s an image of the water tank we built in San Rafael, just 2cm thick!  In this photo, the wall had just been roughly plastered, and you can see how thin it was, in comparison:


San Rafael - 8a


But I’m getting ahead of myself here… let me start at the beginning:

When I joined Peace Corps, I was assigned to be Project Engineer at the Ecuadorean Institute of Sanitary Works (IEOS, the acronym in Spanish).  There had been a hiccup in my recruitment at the beginning: since I was trained as a Mechanical Engineer, not a Civil Engineer, I didn’t technically qualify for the assignment to IEOS.  They wanted people who could design and supervise construction of potable water systems; typical civil engineering stuff, according to the specifications.

Luckily, when I was on the phone with Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, DC, talking about this obstacle, the Ecuador Country Director (Ned Benner) happened to be in town, and he happened to walk past the person just as we were talking about the problem.  The recruiter put me on hold, and then casually leaned back and asked Benner about the issue.

I’m grateful to Benner, who apparently said something like “sure, send him along!”

Bless him.  Because the engineering involved in simple, gravity-flow water systems is pretty straightforward.  And not being a Civil Engineer made me see things a little bit differently, later.

For example, in my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteers I had built standard IEOS design reinforced-concrete water tanks with very thick walls, in Cochancay and El Tambo, like the one you can see in the photo, above.

Since water-storage tanks were the most expensive single item in these gravity-flow systems, and they seemed very over-designed – and unnecessarily expensive – to me (seeing things freshly, not being a Civil Engineer!), it all felt very wasteful.  Could we build a tank with thinner walls?  I had a suspicion that they might even be as much as 75% cheaper … which would mean that we could build more water systems with the same funding…

Sometime early in 1985, things came together.  First, a small delegation of indigenous Cañari villager leaders came to visit the IEOS office from San Rafael, a village near the town of Cañar, led by Manuel Cungachi.  They had obtained a small budget allocation from the Congress of Ecuador to build a potable-water system in their village, which was suffering from a cholera outbreak.  And they wanted to know when we could get started!  (Collective action works!)

My boss, the IEOS director for Cañar, sent me to visit San Rafael to see what we could do.  I vividly recall the first afternoon when I walked into that community through the thick fog that rose up from the coast almost every afternoon.  I came across a small group of villagers carrying two tiny coffins, walking towards me, out of the fog.  Children, they told me, that had died from cholera due to the bad water sources in the village.

Earlier that year, world oil prices had collapsed, and since Ecuador was an oil-exporter (in fact, an OPEC member state) and much of the governmental budget was dependent on robust oil revenues, IEOS’s budget had been cut.  And when I estimated the cost of a typical potable-water system, based on my rough surveying of the village that foggy day, the budget that San Rafael had obtained from the Congress wasn’t nearly enough.  IEOS had no spare funds.

So, despite the obvious need, and despite the community having obtained some budget from the Congress, we didn’t have enough  money to address the problem.

But, happily, an international NGO had just arrived in town!  Plan International was establishing a Field Office in Azogues and, since there were so few foreigners in town – just me and a newly-arrived Peace Corps Volunteer now working as a “water promoter” in the IEOS office (David Wright) – it was hard to miss the arrival of Plan’s new Field Director, Annuska Heldring.

A charismatic, dedicated, and hilarious Dutch woman, Annuska drove around town in a brand new, shiny white Toyota Land Cruiser, creating quite a buzz in the quiet provincial atmosphere in Azogues.  (More about Plan, and Annuska, will come in future posts in this series…)  She wanted to get a program going quickly, and had decided that potable water was going to be one of the focuses of Plan Cañar.  And I needed to find funding for San Rafael…

Things were coming together.

I arranged to visit San Rafael with Annuska one weekend, and she was struck by how the people there were organized and dynamic, and by the obvious need.  Under Annuska’s leadership, Plan became enthusiastic about putting some funding into the project.

But even with Plan’s support we still didn’t have enough money to make things happen in San Rafael.

So I came up with the idea of trying out some innovations to get the cost down.  I knew that US AID, in Quito, had a fund for innovative water projects, so I sent a proposal to Herb Caudill, who headed up the US AID water program.

There was no source of water above the village, which meant that water would have to be pumped – normally a very expensive proposition.  I had read about a simple water-turbine design called a “Cretan Sail” windmill, so I thought I could design and build one to pump water from a well above the village; building a windmill was a job for a Mechanical Engineer!  More on that part of the San Rafael project in the next blog!

The other major expense would be, of course, the water-storage tank.  As I mentioned earlier, the 20cm thick walls of the tanks in Cochancay and El Tambo seemed way over-designed to me, from a Mechanical Engineer’s point of view.  Wastefully so… and certainly not affordable for San Rafael.

Then I remembered that I had heard of boats had been build from concrete, using a technology called I vaguely recalled, “ferrocement.”  I began to sketch out what that kind of tank might look like.  But I had almost no access to technical information there in Azogues in those pre-internet days.  What to do?

So I asked my girlfriend, soon to be wife, Jean, who lived in Massachusetts, to buy me a copy of Roark’s stress tables (which I had used when I worked at Boeing a few years earlier – here’s a current version to give you an idea) so I could start to calculate how much reinforcement a water tank would need.  And Jean also paid a visit to the engineering library at my university and found a couple of articles about ferrocement (from the “Journal of Ferrocement” no less!)  Jean mailed the book and the articles to me, and I went to work.

The idea with ferrocement seemed to be that, instead of concentrating the steel reinforcement in thick rebar, requiring thick walls to cover it and distribute tensile loads to it, in ferrocement you distributed the reinforcement more evenly, using chicken-wire and steel wire instead of rebar.  You needed the same amount of steel in total to handle tensile loads in the concrete, but since the reinforcement was distributed more evenly, the concrete covering could be thinner.  Or so I hoped…

With Roark’s stress tables, and hints from the articles Jean had sent me, I came up with a basic idea for San Rafael’s water project:

  • We would dig a well by hand, and line it with simple concrete rings that we would pour at the site;
  • On top of the well, we would build a Cretan Sail windmill to pump the water.  By some incredible luck, there was a weather station in the town of Cañar, so I had records of the wind there: there was a lot of wind in that area, little doubt that a windmill would be feasible, if I could get one built.  More on that in the next post!;
  • Given the population of San Rafael, the water system needed a storage tank of at least 50m3.  We would build it of ferrocement.  And to keep costs down even further, we would reuse materials as much as possible.  For example, one article in the “Journal of Ferrocement” described how the author had used tubing around the tank formwork to create a ribbed surface, easy to plaster.  To keep costs down, I’d use the tubing that would later be used for the household connections for that purpose.  And, to cover the tank, I would use roofing tin, which we would first use for the tank’s formwork.

To my delight, Herb Caudill of US AID in Quito quickly approved an innovation grant, so we had enough money to build the system!

Looking back, it seems amazing that funding for the water system in San Rafael came together – from the Ecuadorean Congress (thanks to effective collective action by San Rafael’s leaders), from Plan International (thanks to Annuska), and finally from US AID (thanks to Herb Caudill).

One final stroke of luck was still to come: when I showed my initial design for the ferrocement water tank to the Provincial Head of IEOS, he told me it would never hold water.  I should forget about it!

Since I was a Mechanical Engineer, and he was an experienced Civil Engineer (and my boss!), this made me very nervous.  Who was I to say that the tank wouldn’t collapse, if an experienced Civil Engineer was so sure I was heading towards disaster?

So I spent many weekend days pouring over my calculations, and decided to go ahead; to give him credit, my boss didn’t stop me.  And then, just at the right time, IEOS employees nation-wide went on strike for several weeks, and the Provincial Head of IEOS had to stay home; I was in charge of the office, sort of!  During those weeks, in his absence, we built the tank!

The first step was to pour the floor.  We dug out an area near where the windmill would be placed, and placed rocks as a foundation, with a network of drainage pipes underneath.  After pouring an initial layer of concrete, we put chicken wire down, extending it well beyond where the walls would later be erected.  The idea was that the chicken wire for the walls would tie in to the wire in the floor, making the whole structure, essentially, one piece, one structure, one ferrocement shell.

Here are some images of the floor being prepared:


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Next we prepared the walls, and this is where things got tricky.  Because I was so nervous about the tank failing, I became fixated on the placement of its walls: any deviation from perfectly round would create tensile stresses that would break the tank when it filled with water.  The challenge was that the masons involved, very capable IEOS veterans, were used to  traditional construction methods, which were very forgiving.  That was an advantage of the thick-walled tanks – they were easy to build.  Costly, but with wide margins of safety for placing the steel reinforcement, the formwork, etc.

I hadn’t thought of that.  My insistence on the formwork being placed exactly as designed, and the chicken wire and reinforcing wire being located exactly where I had specified, was hard for the masons to comply with.

I was so nervous that, during the preparation and construction of the tank walls I visited San Rafael very frequently, and asked the masons to make many, minute adjustments.  I’m sure they grumbled when I wasn’t there!  Surely they viewed me with some resentment, a silly gringo obsessed with meaningless details.

Here are some images of the preparation of the walls:

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I vividly recall driving up to the construction site the day after we had begun to fill the tank for the first time.  Although all my many, many calculations had led me to believe that the tank would easily survive being filled with water, my head echoed with the doubts of every Civil Engineer I had spoken with.  So you can imagine my relief, and joy, when I arrived the next morning and saw this:


San Rafael - 901

It held water perfectly!

San Rafael - 903

It held water! (Note the IEOS truck above, with the windmill tower. More on that later)


Seeing that tank full of water, and holding firm, was a big moment for me.

I mentioned earlier that my plan was to reuse the tin roofing sheets we had used for the tank formwork, using them to cover the tank.  But I was so excited at how well the tank was holding water that I started thinking that I might be able to design a ferrocement top for the tank, too.

So as the walls cured, I spent a few weeks designing a cupola, which would sit on top of the tank walls.  This was risky, because the tank walls were not initially designed to hold the weight of a ferrocement cupola… but my calculations indicated that it was possible.  And we had enough money for this.

I chose a particular section of a sphere for the cupola, and later, when I saw tanks built from the same design, I could easily recognise my handiwork from that particular spherical section!

Placement of the formwork for the cupola was, if anything, even trickier than it had been for the walls.  That’s because, if the walls had failed, it would have destroyed the tank; but if the cupola fell and somebody was on top, or inside the tank, they could easily be killed.

Here are some images of the cupola: during construction, and when it was completed:


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At the time I estimated that the water-storage tank in San Rafael saved about 2/3rds of the cost of a standard, IEOS-style reinforced concrete tank.  As the months passed, and as the tank continued to perform perfectly, IEOS Engineers came to visit it – including the head of construction for IEOS headquarters in Quito, Napoleon Duque.  Here is Ing Duque on top of the tank!:


San Rafael - 1102

Napoleon Duque on top of the cupola

Duque later told me that he had build a ferrocement tank, using my design, near Quito, close to a similarly-sized standard tank.  A medium-sized earthquake had struck the area, destroying the traditional tank; the ferrocement tank, being light and resilient, merely floated along with the earthquake without the slightest problem.  And before I left Azogues, we built two more tanks of different capacities: 10m3 and 20m3, I think.

In my final weeks as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I wrote an instruction manual for constructing tanks of this type, of various capacities.  Later that manual was greatly improved by a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Kenny Stevens, and many tanks were built using that document.

One was even built in Albania, in the early 1990’s, where Annuska Heldring became Plan’s Country Director there!

Years later, I visited Plan in Cañar when I was Regional Director for South America.  We were celebrating the five year anniversary of the establishment of Plan’s office in Azogues.

Of course, I paid a visit to San Rafael, and our water tank was functioning perfectly.  At the ceremony for Plan Cañar, my old boss from IEOS was in attendance.  He told me that he had left IEOS, and had now focused his work building ferrocement tanks!  I didn’t remind him of his initial scepticism.  Instead, I felt happy that our work in San Rafael was echoing into the future, helping make the limited resources available for building water projects in Ecuador go a bit further.


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

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

Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey

A few weeks ago I climbed Mt Tom, one of 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall.  Since moving to New England in the late 1970s, I have climbed many of these peaks, but in the coming months I’ll climb all 48.  May take me a year or two? … we’ll see.

So that’s a new journey.  Along with a brief description of each of these climbs, I’ll also reflect a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.  Over the next months, 48 posts.

Mt Tom is 4051 ft tall (1235 m), and I got to the top (a solo hike) on 10 May 2016, leaving from Crawford Depot:


There isn’t much of a view from Tom’s top, as it’s surrounded by short pine trees, but near the summit you can look over towards the “Presidential Range” – Mt Washington, the tallest of the 48, can be seen clearly, still with snow on May 10, 2016.


The Presidential Range, From The Top Of Mt Tom

And here is the summit of Mt Tom – not the most spectacular!  Well below the tree line, so no real view.


Mt Tom Summit

An easy and enjoyable start to this project, with few other hikers.  So I had a nice, solitary walk for the most part…

However, as I neared the top, I found myself on snow and then ice that had been packed by climbers over the winter.  I had brought my Yak-Trax on the trip, thinking that there might be some risk of snow, but it was quite warm at the trailhead, with no snow visible, so I left them behind, in the car.  Big mistake!  Because as I walked from Mt Tom over to my second 48-footer – Mt Field – I ran into much more snow and ice and the trail became steeper.  The few other hikers I saw had brought along micro-spikes, and used them.  I felt a bit nervous on the ice.

I will write about getting to the top of Mt Field, and down, soon.  For now I’ll just say that the descent was very tricky!


Another new journey began on Valentine’s Day, 1984, when I flew from Boston to Miami to begin two years of Peace Corps service.  That was an emotional day, because I was leaving Jean behind in Boston.  Little did I know that, in 2016 we would celebrate 31 years of marriage!  But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit…

Omnibus 44 gathered that day at the Everglades Hotel (demolished in 2005), for training and assessment before flying to Quito a few days later.  I made two long-lasting friendships that week (this means you, Chris, and Kenny!).  And, in retrospect, it was the beginning of a new career, because in my second year as a Volunteer a large international NGO came to town, and that led to a long and happy career in the NGO world.  More on that in future posts!

Having studied mechanical engineering, when I signed up to volunteer I was assigned to the Instituto Ecuadoreano de Obras Sanitarias (IEOS) as a project engineer.  There were several different groups of soon-to-be Peace Corps Volunteers gathering that day in Miami, forming Omnibus 44: agriculture, disability (vision-impaired), water, etc.  Some in our water group were going to be “water promoters” – focused on working with communities, organising projects.  Others, like me, would be “water engineers”, working  as project heads, designing and overseeing project implementation.  Despite having studied mechanical engineering, I was assigned as a water engineer because the technical skills required weren’t very specialised… Chris, who would spend his two years in Guaranda, was a “promotor de agua”; Kenny, a fellow engineer, would be assigned to Cayambe, north of Quito.

So after five days in Miami, we flew to Quito and stayed there for about a month, focused mainly on language training.  Each of us lived during that month with an Ecuadorean family – I lived with the “Familia Larrea”, not too far from the training center.

Omnibus 44’s different groups (agriculture, disability, water, etc.) then split for two months of technical training.  We moved outside Quito, and then farther afield to Riobamba, continuing (less intensive) language training.  Here’s the water group, future engineers and promoters, in a photo taken at the Ecuadorean Cooperative Institute (ICE) training centre, outside of Quito.  Our technical trainer, and one of our Spanish instructors (Laura) are also in the photo…

ICE - 1984

Water Volunteers, Peace Corps Ecuador Omnibus 44, April 1984.

After three months of training we went to our assigned sites – for me, Azogues, capital of Cañar province.

Azogues wasn’t too isolated geographically, being fairly close to Cuenca, but (for my first year, at least) I was the only PC Volunteer assigned there; I had heard some rumours that, because the Province of Cañar was quite leftist in its politics, earlier Volunteers had a hard time.  So I guess I was a bit of a guinea pig (a “cui”!)

I was very lucky to be assigned to Azogues, and to IEOS Cañar.  Being the only Volunteer in the province for the first year, and the only project engineer (apart from “L”, the “Jefe Provincial“) I had nothing to do but work, which is what I did: on my very first day in the IEOS office, the “Jefe Provincial” told me that there were two communities ready and waiting for a water project to begin, materials were in the office, so he didn’t want to see me until the water systems were built!  What a great opportunity – just out of graduate school, and I had responsibility for two significant water projects.

Being fairly isolated in Azogues, I wasn’t distracted by socialising with other Volunteers, unlike (for example) some of my fellow PCVs closer to Quito, who got together a lot.  This helped me learn Spanish – nobody to speak English with except Jean, who telephoned the IEOS office every two weeks!

Another reason I was lucky was that, after a year, an international NGO arrived in Azogues. There was absolutely no missing the arrival of Annuska (Plan Cañar’s first Field Director) and her white Land Cruiser – Plan International opened a Field Office!

But first, I had a couple of water systems to get built that first year in Azogues.  In my next post, covering my hike up Mt Field, I will also describe what it was like helping bring potable water to El Tambo and Cochancay.  Stay tuned!


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

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