Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…

June, 2019

(Note: I’ve updated this post in September, 2019, after climbing Mt Jefferson once again.  I’ve recently completed ascending all 48 4000-footers, and am going up a few again, in different seasons…)

began a new journey in May of 2016, aiming to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall, and to write a description of each ascent. And, each time, I wanted to write a reflection, sequentially, on my journey since joining Peace Corps just over 35 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

Last time I shared a few reflections that seemed to cut across these articles, a handful of themes that emerged for me as I prepared the previous 46 blogs. I hope you enjoyed it…

This is the 48th, and final article in the “4000-footer” series. It seems fitting to take time now to thank some of the many people who have helped me along the way.

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To skip the description of my ascent of Mt Jefferson, and go directly to my thanks to those amazing people, click here.

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The Climb – Mt Jefferson

I left Durham at 6:50am on June 22, 2018, on a beautiful, crisp, clear cool day. My plan was to walk up the Castle Ravine Trail to the top of Jefferson, and then drop down the Castle Trail.  I had read about both trails, and noted the warning that it was better to ascend Castle Ravine, on the Castle Ravine Trail, due to the steep and rocky section near the top; this would be much easier to ascend than to descend.  Then, descend the Castle Trail.

And so it was!

After stopping for coffee in Ossipee, and a sandwich in Gorham, I began the hike from a parking area just off Rt 2 in Bowman, New Hampshire, at 9:38am.  So it was over 2 1/2 hours from Durham.  The views of Mt Madison and Mt Adams, which I had climbed the week before, were spectacular as I passed through Pinkham Notch on the way north.

The sky was cloudless, and the temperature was perfect.  Perfect conditions for my final ascent of these 48 mountains!

I parked at Bowman.

The beginning of the walk is along a Rail-Trail, but the path soon takes a left turn onto the Castle Trail:

This sign grabbed my attention, as it had been designed to do!

There would be two more signs like this.  I wasn’t sure that I was in “top physical condition,” but I was going to give it a try!

Now the trail entered typical White-Mountain forest, and soon after entering the forest there was my first stream crossing.  Nothing difficult, but I did manage to fall into the water.  Luckily, the water didn’t reach my ankles, so my feet stayed dry!

From there I ascended gently up the Castle Trail until reaching the junction with the Israel Ridge Path at a bit after 10am:

Moose Droppings?

Here I took the left fork, and continued steadily up the Israel Ridge Path for 15 minutes, making the first of what would be 5 or 6 more stream crossings before taking the right-hand fork onto the Castle Ravine Trail:

At 10:25am I reached the junction of the Israel Ridge Path and the Castle Ravine Trail.  Here I took a right-hand turn, and began the long walk up the ravine, crossing the Castle Brook several times:

At 11:20am, I reached the junction with The Link Trail, which joined Castle Ravine from the left.  The trail was getting steeper:

Just 8 minutes later I arrived at the junction of the Emerald Trail and, a few moments after that, the Link Trail diverged to the right:

I was walking up Castle Ravine, the sides of which were closing in on me!  It felt like the pleasant, moderately-steep forest walking was going to come to an end soon, as I reached the end of the ravine!

At 11:45am I emerged into an avalanche area (from 2010, according to the White Mountain Guide), where I could see up to the ridge above me.  Lovely blue sky; a few hours later I would look down from those boulders as I descended on the Castle Trail:

Just ten minutes later I came across a famous feature of the Castle Ravine Trail – this short “tunnel” where the path goes underneath an enormous boulder.  Literally underneath!

As I took that photo, I saw two legs appear at the other end, and a stream of swearing erupted.  The hiker on the other side hadn’t seen me, and (it turned out) had twisted his ankle and was frustrated.  When he saw me he was very apologetic!

The hiker was doing a reverse of what I had planned – going up Castle Trail, and down Castle Ravine.  He was walking with a nice black labrador dog, and part of his frustration was that they had just descended a large talus field, which had been very tricky for the dog.  Very few level areas, which made it hard for the dog to make its way through, so the owner had to carry it for much of the descent, which must have been very difficult.  As I would soon see, the rock field is very steep – the White Mountain Guide had strongly recommended ascending this way, and descending on Castle Trail, just to avoid going down those rocks.  Hard enough for a person, virtually impossible for a dog, I reckon!

“… parts of the trail are very rough especially where it crosses a great deal of unstable talus on the headwall, which makes footing extremely poor for descending or when the rocks are wet.”

Here’s what that talus looked like, when I was near the end of it nearly two hours later:

Clearly very challenging for a dog! They had taken a long time to drop down that section of the trail, and the owner had carried the dog for much of the way.  Plus, the hiker was wearing walking shoes, not boots, which explained why he had twisted his ankle (apparently several times on the way down.)

Underneath the boulder I came across my first ice of the hike – protected from the sun and buffered from the heat of the day, this ice was still here on the day after the summer solstice!

Just after noon I emerged into the alpine area, where I came across the second warning sign – here a bit more explicit than the sign near the parking area had been!

“The Worst Weather In America”!
Sweating, But Enjoying The Climb

Here I continued to walk up very steeply on loose rock.  Must have been very hard for the dog!  I took a wrong turn at one point, ascending steeply, and had to drop back down where I found the trail.  So I lost some time and energy there!

Spectacular views to the north here, looking down the ravine, the way I had come:

Here are two images of the trail I was walking slowly up:

At 1:15pm, the trail began to level off and I filmed a video of the view to the north:

I had reached a much flatter area here, which was a great relief after a long stretch slogging up the steep talus.  Five minutes later I reached the junction with the Cornice trail and the Randolph Path:

And then I was at Edmund’s Col, a saddle between Adams and Jefferson.  Now I had a spectacular view to the south and south-east, including Adams and looking to the east across Rt 16 and Pinkham Notch overt to the Carter and Wildcat ranges.  This panoramic video captures the scene from where I had lunch:

A gorgeous day! I was well above tree-line, in one of the world’s most beautiful alpine areas.

After lunch, I continued towards Mt Jefferson.  I took this photo as I began to climb, back towards Mt Adams; you can see Mt Adams at the top right, with Mt Sam Adams to the left, and the trail (the Gulfside Trail) clearly visible below.  I had eaten lunch at the saddle in the foreground:

As I climbed, at 1:55pm, I came to a snow field!  Believe it or not, there was still a small patch of snow left to walk across, on this, the day after the summer solstice!  Hard to believe:

I had seen this patch of snow from Mt Adams the week before.  Soon I arrived at the junction of the Loop Trail and took a right turn to get to the top of Jefferson.  At 2:15pm I reached the junction of Loop Trail and Six Husbands Trail:

And at 2:25pm I reached the top of Mt Jefferson!  So I had completed climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers – just two years and two months after I had started by ascending Mt Tom:

Mt Jefferson – My 48th 4000-Footer!

It felt great to have completed climbing all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers.  I spent a bit of time thinking about the journey over the last two years and two months.  A great accomplishment, and a good way of using the time that I had after returning from Australia.

Now what?!

It was quite buggy at the top of Mt Jefferson, as can be seen in these videos.  But it was also spectacular, with views all the way around:

I put on some Bushman insect repellent and began to descend on the Castle Trail.

Looking Back At Mt Jefferson
The Start Of The Castle Trail – 5 Miles Back To Rt 2

At 3:10pm I arrived at the junction of Castle Trail and The Cornice, and continued downward.  The walking was difficult, a lot of talus, but not nearly as steep as the Castle Ravine Trail:

Now I started to get great views down towards the Castle Ravine, which I had climbed up that morning:

This video shows the full length of the Castle Ravine, with Mt Adams to the north, and Rt 2 down below:

At this point I left the alpine zone, with the third warning sign:

There was only one other person on this part of the Castle Trail, a middle-aged French Canadian who was going to take the Link Trail.  He had apparently climbed Jefferson and Adams that day, and wanted to avoid climbing Jefferson a second time!

I arrived at the junction of the Link Trail, where he took a left, at around 4:15pm.

Here the trail became more forested, small pines and ferns at first.  The going was very steep for some time, and my knees started to feel a bit of pain.  It was a relief when the trial became less steep, before becoming much steeper again as I got closer to the junction with Castle Ravine.  There were signs of trail maintenance here:

This Section Of The Castle Trail Was Not As Steep, And Very Pleasant.  I Made Good Time

At around 4:30pm I crossed the only other hikers I saw on this section of the Castle Trail, a father and son who were ascending.  I wondered about that, as it was getting late!

I continued walking moderately downward, and reached the end of the loop at 5:30pm.  Here I passed the turnoff I had taken that morning on the Israel Ridge Path, and continued downward, now not steep at all, to the end of the hike:

At 6pm I reached the stream that was near the parking area, where I had dipped my boots that morning:

And the final warning sign!

And here is a video of my last steps on the Castle Trail, walking to the parking area, after having completed the final ascent of the 48 4000-footers!

That last part of the Castle Trail is along an old railway bed, so is flat and easy.  But the day had been anything but flat and easy, as befitting a two-year journey up 48 challenging peaks.  It felt great to finish!

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Some Final Thanks!

I had a great feeling of accomplishment, a serious sense of achievement at having climbed these 48 majestic and formidable mountains, in just over two years. I was sore and exhausted, but left with deep respect and gratitude for this land and these mountains, for the opportunity I was given to experience them, and to learn from them.

In a very similar sense, as I wrap up this “4000-Footer” series, I want to take time to thank some of the people who I was lucky to work with, learn from, across these 35 years. They have been true “4000-Footers” in my life, and I am left with a deep sense of respect and gratitude to each of them… and so, in rough chronological order:

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As I wrote in the third article in this series, after my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer, Annuska Heldring arrived in Azogues, opening Plan International’s new Field Office for Cañar. In that earlier blog, I described Annuska (“Doctorita”) as charismatic, dedicated, and hilarious. But that only begins to describe her, and the influence she has had on me and my career since 1985.

Annuska Heldring at the Inauguration of the San Rafael Water System – See Here and Here

After I left Azogues, and the Peace Corps, it was Annuska who introduced me to Plan and who opened the door for me to join that organization. So in a very real sense I owe my career to her.

Along the way, I would end up working several times directly with Annuska, even becoming her manager at a couple of points as she worked in Colombia, Paraguay, and Albania. Along the years, her instincts were always right, and I learned a lot from her courage and her ability to sweeten difficult discussions with a huge dose of good humor.

Thank you Annuska!

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I joined the INGO world properly in 1987, when Jean and I moved to Tuluá, Colombia, and I took up the role of Assistant Director for Plan Tuluá. Monique van ‘t Hek was my first boss there, serving brilliantly as Field Director. Plan had an excellent induction program in those days, which helped a lot. But I was also lucky to have been assigned to Tuluá, because Monique was (and is) an inspiring leader and very effective manager. Not an easy combination, but she did it well, and made it look easy – it’s not!

I was lucky that Monique was my first INGO manager, because along with strong management and leadership skills, she had a very solid approach to building community ownership of the development process, as masterfully illustrated in her stewardship of the creation of a new community – Barrio Internacional – comprised of poor single mothers who would now have their own homes.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog series, Plan Tuluá was a “pilot” office for Plan’s new directions, and Monique managed the sometimes tricky balancing of our local concerns and realities with the need to respond constructively to Plan’s regional and international priorities. Huge learning for me.

Monique has returned to Plan, this time in the huge job of National Director for the Netherlands. They are lucky to have her!

Thank you Monique!

Monique van ‘t Hek, On The Right

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When we arrived in Tuluá, Monique’s manager was Leticia Escobar, Area Manager for Colombia and Ecuador. Leticia worked from Plan’s new, pilot Regional Office, in Quito, Ecuador. She had served in field positions with Plan in Colombia and Bolivia, and was chosen as part of the first Regional Office team, which was established in 1987.

When I succeeded Monique as Field Director for Plan Tuluá, Leticia became my boss. Later, when I moved to the South America Regional Office (SARO), she was my colleague; and then, as these things go, when I became SARO’s second Regional Director, she worked for me!

I greatly enjoyed working for, and with, Leticia. She was a very kind, thoughtful, hardworking, committed professional, who overcame significant personal challenges to carry out her duties to a very high quality. She kept things simple, never put her own ego or personality into the mix, and didn’t complicate matters – a rare talent.

Thank you Leticia!

Leticia Escobar, Third From Left.

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SARO’s first Regional Director was Andy Rubi, a person who inspired me, and influences me still, to become the best I could be. Andy had served with Plan in a range of field positions and, when the organization decided to regionalize, and to pilot test a regional structure in South America, nobody better could have been chosen to lead things. So Andy became Plan’s first Regional Director.

It wasn’t an easy task. Regionalization of any large organization, as Plan was becoming, is very complicated and complex, fraught with political behavior and clumsy compromises. To some extent, Plan’s first regionalization was not accompanied by the level of decentralization needed to make things work. That was corrected later, but it is to Andy’s great credit that he navigated these tricky waters with grace, humor, and great success.

When Jean and I went to Tuluá in 1987, Andy had just set up the South America Regional Office, in Quito. He brought me to Quito as Area Manager for Ecuador and Bolivia, three years later, as several of the initial SARO managers moved to help staff the next Regional Office to be established, in Manila. When Andy himself moved to serve as acting International Executive Director at Plan’s headquarters, I was appointed to succeed him as SARO’s second RD.

It would be hard to overstate how much I learned from Andy. Just to note one, of many, lessons: when discussions got heated, Andy would bring us back to our senses with a simple question – “what is the issue?” I often use that approach, and find that it is enormously clarifying.

Even recently, nearly 30 years after I first met Andy, he has helped me with wise counsel in a particularly complicated personnel matter.

Thank you Andy!

Andy Rubi

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When I succeeded Andy as Plan’s second Regional Director for South America, in 1992, I inherited a great team: Leticia Escobar (see above), Hernando Manrique, Luis Alfredo Cevallos, Ivette Lopez, Washington Muñoz, Tony Nolan, Roger Braden, Norma Fierro, Maggie Bastidas, and many others.

Soon Ricardo Gómez would join the South America team as Regional Administrator. We worked together for a couple of years, and during that time Ricardo demonstrated the dedication, and intelligence that characterizes him to this day. Ricardo was transitioning from the private sector (an MBA graduate, he had been working for Exxon/Intercor in Colombia) to where he felt he could contribute and realize himself, in our nonprofit world.

I quickly came to admire Ricardo’s courage. We faced a very challenging, and risky, situation involving a very corrupt senior staff member, and Ricardo faced the situation squarely and with great clarity.

Later Ricardo would move to Colombia as Country Director, and then to Sri Lanka in the same role. Ricardo retired from Plan in Guatemala, where he took a poorly-performing, low-morale Country Office and, through his leadership and courage, molded the operation into an example of effectiveness and team spirit. Today Ricardo has returned to his home country, and serves as HR Director for his family’s business there. But we have remained the closest of friends. We travelled for a month together, in India, a couple of years ago, and will be trekking in Nepal later this year.

Thank you, Ricardo!

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When Alberto Neri left Plan, Andy Rubi became acting International Executive Director, the titled used for Plan’s CEO at that time. A new IED was appointed in 1992 – Max van der Schalk joined Plan from a career in Shell Oil.

 In an earlier blog in this series I described Max as “Dutch, in his late 50’s, who had just completed a long career at Shell, finishing up as President of Shell Colombia … I found Max to be very easy to get along with.  He was a great listener, funny and curious, and very confident in his own skin.  Max had just as much business experience as Alberto (something that Plan’s board clearly wanted), but seemed to be a much more accessible, open, and emotionally-intelligent person.”

I learned an enormous amount from Max. He managed the organization with great panache, little ego, and clarity. When Max began to think through how to approach his new job, he gave me the opportunity to join him in that journey, and supported me as I designed and implemented the priorities I thought needed to be accomplished at headquarters: new program goals to unite us; clarity on where the organization would invest our resources, and where we would phase out; and what our working organizational structure would be.

Max was kind enough to write a guest blog for this series, which is here. And here is a recent photo, from April 2018, of Max and Annuska, with Jean and me:

Clockwise From Bottom Left: Annuska Heldring, Me, Max van der Schalk, and Jean.

Thank you, Max!

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One of Plan’s superstars was Donal Keane. When I served as program director at Plan’s headquarters, under Max van der Schalk, I had asked Donal to participate in the “skunk works” through which we created Plan’s new operational structure. When I formed that group, I had two goals: to create the best possible draft structure, and to shine a light on what I thought would be the next generation of leaders for Plan.

In the left-hand image, Donal is to the right, with another Plan superstar, Catherine Webster. On the right, Donal is in the center, between Catherine and, I think, Winnie Tay.

Later, as these things go, Donal became my supervisor when I served as Country Director for Plan in Viet Nam, and Donal was Plan’s Regional Director for Southeast Asia. He was an ideal manager, clear and calm and decisive. He was very supportive when I proposed an outlandish pilot test of a new way of organizing Plan’s work. I learned a lot from Donal, from his approach to managing and leading in the NGO world.

Thank you Donal!

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Working at any INGO headquarters is challenging. When Max had asked me to work with him at Plan’s head office, I proposed serving there for three years, just to make the point that hierarchical position shouldn’t be the goal inside our sector – get in, contribute and serve, and go back to the field to “face the mess you created” at headquarters.

So after serving as Plan’s program director, I took a year’s unpaid sabbatical and then was lucky to move to Viet Nam for four years, as Plan’s second Country Director in that country.

Those were amazing years. I was very fortunate to work with a stellar team, which I’ve written about extensively in an earlier article. A great team, great people.

There were many special people on that team, but one person really stands out: Pham Thu Ba, our “Operations Support Manager.” Or, as she often referred to her role, “Miscellaneous Support Manager.”

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Here I will quote from my earlier article.

Thu Ba became OSM when she was only 26 years old, and is one of the smartest, hardest-working and most effective professionals I’ve ever worked with – in Plan and beyond.  Her dedication to Plan’s work was unrivaled, and her ability to supervise the complex financial, administrative, and operational side of our work was very impressive.  Again, I can only imagine the pressures that Thu Ba faced in shepherding our financial and operational work, but she made it look easy.

I often tell an anecdote about Thu Ba, which I think describes what it was like working with these amazing people.  At the end of my first year, I carried out the performance reviews of the people who reported to me, including her.  Even more than most, Thu Ba’s work that year (and later) had been superb, so I had only positive comments to share with her.

Imagine my surprise when, after finishing providing lots of specific, positive feedback, Thu Ba’s response was:

  • “You’re not doing your job.”

Wow, not the response I had expected.  She went on to tell me that, as the only foreigner in the office, staff expected me to bring “international standards” to their work, and to guide them towards doing better jobs.  So, if I couldn’t help her improve, I wasn’t doing my job!  And, helpfully providing feedback to me (!), she described how people in the office were viewing my style:

  • “You always start by saying something positive, something we are doing right, or well.  Then you sometimes add suggestions for improvement.  We don’t listen to the first part, only to the second part, because that’s where we can learn.”

What an amazing response.  Since Thu Ba’s work was of such high quality, it wasn’t easy to identify specific areas where improvement was needed, or even possible, but I promised to give her that kind of feedback in the future.  I did rise to that challenge, but it wasn’t easy!

That’s one aspect of what it was like working in Viet Nam in those years – the innate intelligence and hard work of the people, combined with the country’s relatively-recent opening to the world, meant that people like me were seen as very important resources that could be learned from.  We were automatically looked up to as sources of “international standards.”

Often this status wasn’t really deserved (some of the foreigners I knew in Hanoi couldn’t add much value), and it’s changed now (Vietnamese people I know there now no longer look to foreigners automatically as fountains of wisdom), but I enjoyed it at the time!

My experience leading and managing the great Vietnamese staff in Plan has influenced my style ever since.  We American managers take such a nurturing, affirmational approach (for example, we love using tools like “appreciative inquiry”), that we often neglect to indicate where staff can improve.  This is what was happening that first year with Thu Ba.  And we don’t spend enough time observing our staff.  Working in Viet Nam helped me in this regard – I always make sure to complement positive, affirmational feedback with areas where the staff member could improve or develop.

Later, Thu Ba trained in HR management and development at the University of London, and today she manages that side of Plan’s work in Viet Nam, which is a big job.  From Australia I would continue to visit Viet Nam several times a year, and was happy to get together with Thu Ba and her husband and two children on most of my visits.

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Many thanks to Thu Ba!

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After 15 years with Plan, and four great years in Viet Nam, it felt that it was time to lead another life. Plan had been a fantastic, generous place to work, and I would always be grateful to the organization for the opportunities it gave me to serve, to learn, and to realize myself.

But it was time to repot myself…

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As I’ve written in an earlier article, a great opportunity presented itself at exactly the right time. As I said in that article: just as I was leaving Hanoi, I got an email from out of the blue, from a person I had never met.  Daniel Wordsworth was Program Development Director at CCF in Richmond, Virginia, and he wanted to know if I knew anybody who could help them reinvent their program approach.  I thought I knew of the perfect person…

That call led to three incredible years, helping CCF conceptualize, pilot test, and refine a new program approach which we came to call “Bright Futures.” For me, that process was a super example of rigorous, evidence-based, and effective organizational change in a major INGO. So I took the time in this blog series to described it over five articles: here, here, here, here, and here.

Daniel was, and is, a brilliant and insightful person, the perfect person to partner with. Later he left CCF and is now the CEO of Alight (formerly American Refugee Committee), an INGO working in humanitarian aid and disaster relief. When you look at Alight’s website, you’ll come to appreciate Daniel’s gifts as I do.

Thank you Daniel!

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By 2005, we had finished developing Bright Futures, and the next phase beckoned. But what would that be?

At that point, Jean and I had been living back in the United States for three years, having left Hanoi in late 2002. Those years – Bush’s Iraq invasion, his post-9/11 assault on civil liberties and use of torture – were sad ones for my country. It felt urgent to face the situation and apply myself to my own country.

Again, I was very lucky. While I was still consulting with CCF, I noticed a posting for the program director position at a Cambridge-based NGO called the “Unitarian Universalist Service Committee” (“UUSC“). I looked into it, and I really liked what I saw: a human-rights organization, working inside the US and overseas to advance social justice. I decided to apply…

I didn’t get that job, but later the president and CEO of UUSC, Charlie Clements, approached me for another role: Executive Director!

At that point, UUSC had defined its program, focusing on three broad areas: civil liberties, economic justice, and environmental justice. As I wrote in an earlier article, we later added a fourth focus – rights in (humanitarian) crises.

Despite some challenges, it was a perfect place for me – I was able to help UUSC thrive as an organization, while learning from Charlie’s long and deep human-rights and advocacy experience and working on some of the key issues of those years, including a large-scale response to our government’s inept and unjust “response” to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

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

Charlie was very generous to give me the opportunity at UUSC. I learned a great deal from him – after 20 years in the international development, poverty-focused sector, I was ready to tackle deeper issues of injustice and oppression. Charlie’s life, lived on the front-lines of social justice, and his deep expertise left big impressions on me and helped me grow.

Thank you Charlie!

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In 2009, Jean and I moved to Sydney, Australia, where I took up the newly-created post of International Program Director for ChildFund Australia. (CCF was rebranding to ChildFund, and the Australian member had been one of the first to adopt the new name.)

We spent six years in Australia, where I was very fortunate to work for Nigel Spence, the ChildFund Australia’s CEO. The whole ChildFund Australia team was fantastic – Di Mason, Lynne Joseph, Bandula Gonsalkorale, Jan Jackson, Xavier Hennekinne, Deb Leaver, Carol Mortenson, Prashant Verma, Manish Joshi, Chris Mastaglio, Keo Souvannaphoum, Win May Htwe, Nini Htwe, and so many others.

Nigel stands out, both because he was our leader and manager, but also because of his steady, calm, common-sense approach to our work. He delegated well, supported the people (like me) who worked for him, and kept the organization on a clear and accountable course.

It was a pleasure working for Nigel – he got the best from all of us, and navigated the sometimes nerve-wracking changes that I wanted to put in place (see these five articles: here, here, here, here, and here), tried to put in place, without any noticeable nervous breakdowns! Nearly always calm and clear, Nigel made it possible for us to do our best.

Thank you Nigel!

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Most of all, to Jean. We have made this journey our own, together, across the years.

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And many thanks to you, dear readers! Thanks for taking the time to read these articles. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve loved writing them!

Onward!

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Postscript: I climbed Mt Jefferson again on 9 September 2019, after having completed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers late in 2018. This time I ascended from the west, up the Caps Ridge Trail. My plan was to ascend the Caps Ridge Trail to the top of Jefferson, and then loop around The Cornice Trail a bit, rejoining Caps Ridge a little bit below the summit:

This map shows my 2018 climb route in yellow, and the 2019 ascent in pink. The Caps Ridge Trail is one of the highest trail-heads in the White Mountains, so in some ways it’s a much easier way up Mt Jefferson than I had taken the year before. Plus, as can be seen, it’s much shorter!

I left Durham around 8:15am on a partly-cloudy morning, stopping in Ossipee as normal for coffee and a sandwich. Due to road repair along the way, I didn’t get onto the trail until nearly 10:45am…

The Caps Ridge Trail starts out in forest, at around 3000ft, and the walking was gently upward for some time, until I emerged into the alpine zone at about 11:15am. So, a quick walk up above the tree-line.

The trail was a bit challenging in some places, up bare rock which would be tricky when wet or icy.

The weather forecast had been for partly to mostly-cloudy, but the cloud cover above me seemed pretty thick. As I ascended up the alpine zone, I started to get into the fog, with the top of Jefferson completely obscured above me, and decreasing views to the west.

I reached the top of Mt Jefferson at about 12:45pm, just two hours after starting the climb. It was completely in the clouds, which was a bit of a disappointment.

But quickly things started to change! Firstly the view to the east, towards Pinkham Notch, opened up, and then Mt Adams emerged in a glorious vista to my east. Having just climbed Mt Adams (again) the week before, I was very happy to see it from this angle.

I had lunch at the top, where it was quite cold for the season. But there were no bugs this time!

As can be seen in the video, the summit of Mt Washington never quite emerged, but I could see the Auto Road, and the Cog Railway. A spectacular view.

Dropping down to the The Cornice trail was tricky, rock-hopping; I was happy I had brought gloves, otherwise my hands would have gotten cut up a bit. The Cornice trail was great, with no other hikers and a great, peaceful feeling reminiscent of my walk along the Gulfside Trail after having climbed Mt Madison the second time (in this cycle).

Dropping down Caps Ridge Trail was fairly easy, just a bit complicated negotiating the steep, rocky patches on the way.

I arrived back at the parking area at about 3:30pm, so it took me just under five hours to get to the top of Mt Jefferson and back down.

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…

North Twin (40) – Value for Money

September, 2018

During my years with ChildFund Australia, the overseas-development sector, and organizations like ours, were booming.  The subject of this brief article is one issue that became a focus of attention during those years: Value For Money.  What is it?  Is it just a “bumper sticker”?  If not, how can we measure it?  How can we assure that our organizations deliver it?

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

I’ve recently been writing about the six years I was honored to serve as International Program Director at ChildFund AustraliaIn an earlier post in this series, I introduced, and thanked, the team I worked with in Sydney, the “International Program Team.”  And last time I took time to thank the great teams that I worked with in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam.

Before digging into the what “Value For Money” meant for us…

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To skip the description of my ascent of North Twin, and go directly to my discussion of Value for Money, click here.

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The Climb – North Twin

I climbed North Twin (4761ft, 1451m) on 2 September, 2017, with our grand-daughter V.   This would be number 40 of the 48 4000-footers that I hoped to climb, and it would be V’s first hike of this length, first real mountain-top, so she seemed a little bit curious about how it would go … but, as always, enthusiastic about giving it a try!  Just in case, our plan was to get to the top of North Twin and then decide if we wanted to continue to South Twin.

It was a perfect, dry, cool, cloud-free day for a hike:

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(I have also highlighted ascents of six other 4000-footers on the map, all of which I had climbed earlier in this series: Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead, West Bond, and Bond.)

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We left Durham fairly early that morning, at around 7:45am.  I wanted to leave early, because it seemed like the hike might be a long one, which would normally mean that I’d camp up in the White Mountains the night before, to get an early start; 7:45am wasn’t really early enough, but we headed west on Rt 4 to Concord, and then north on I-93 to Lincoln, where we picked up some sandwiches for lunch.

It was nearly 10:45am when we arrived at the very crowded North Twin trail-head: this was Labor-Day weekend, and the parking area on Haystack Road had overflowed.

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The hike up to the top of North Twin was straightforward: at first, up a nearly-flat old railway grade along the Little River, gradually getting a bit steeper, and then crossing the stream once (at 11:41am):

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The trail got gradually steeper as we neared the top of North Twin:

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Steeper

We saw very few people on the trail, which was somewhat surprising, especially given the overflow of cars down at the trail-head.  As we began to get above tree-line, the views became spectacular, perhaps the clearest and sharpest views I’ve had on all of these climbs:

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We arrived at a ledge outlook very near the top of North Twin at around 1:30pm, and had lunch there:

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Mt Washington And The Presidential Range
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There was a small group of people here, and it got a bit crowded with hikers, mostly coming down from South Twin.  We outlasted them, and had lunch pretty much to ourselves.

This video of the view from that ledge outlook illustrates what a spectacular place it was, what a perfect day we had:

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We finished lunch and left that ledge at about 2pm, and arrived at the true top of North Twin a few minutes later.

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We had reached my 40th of the 48 4000-footers!

From here, the view was amazing.  To the west and south we could see six 4000-footers (Galehead, Mt Flume, Mt Liberty, Mt Lafayette, and Mt Garfield), and Galehead Hut below us:

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V did very well getting up to the top of North Twin, and she was keen to continue.  So there was no question in our minds – we would now continue on North Twin Spur towards the summit of South Twin, and then retrace our steps to Haystack Road.

Onward!  More on that next time

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Value for Money

I served as International Program Director for ChildFund Australia for over six years, from mid-2009 until October of 2015.  Those were exciting and rewarding years for Jean and I, living in Sydney; and they were great years for ChildFund Australia.  In fact, generally-speaking, the whole overseas-development sector prospered during those years, because of great support from the Australian public and, in particular, from the Government.

The Rudd Government had been elected in 2007, and one of their stated commitments was to raise the overseas-aid budget up to commitments made by previous governments, with a target of 0.7% of GNP.

As can be seen in this graph, Kevin Rudd delivered a dramatic increase:

In constant (2018) dollar terms, Australia’s ODA budget grew from A$ 3841m in 2008 to A$ 5479m in 2012, an increase of nearly 43%.  (To be fair, as can be seen, this increase was actually a continuation, an acceleration, of growth initiated by the Howard government from around 2001.)  After 2012, the aid budget stayed fairly constant until 2015, when the Abbott government made dramatic cuts, going to the extent of even closing the government agency responsible for managing the program, AusAID.  By then I was nearing the end of my time with ChildFund.

The big ODA increases after 2008 meant that we could do more, reach more people, have more impact.  Our programs grew in scale and sophistication – many of the innovations that I’ve described in this series of articles (for example, here and here) were made possible, at least in part, by generous funding from the Australia government.

But it turned out that this growth in official development assistance wasn’t politically sustainable.  As other areas of government budget were tightened, political pressure grew to reign in ODA spending.  The Rudd and Gillard governments addressed this pressure in several ways, one of which was to emphasize “value for money.”  Agencies such as ChildFund began to be asked to demonstrate that they were delivering good value for the taxpayer’s dollar.  (The Abbott government didn’t resist the pressure at all, which is another story.)

Fair enough: nobody can be against delivering value for money.  But it was never clear what, exactly, “value for money” really was.  In fact, one quite-senior AusAID official once referred to it in a meeting that I attended as a “bumper sticker”!  Despite this, all INGOs in Australia that received government funding came under pressure to demonstrate their approach…

I’ve written about this topic in an earlier article.  Here I want to extend that discussion and update it with later work we did in ChildFund Australia to respond to the (correct, but vague) pressure we began to receive from AusAID staff.

I began to think about the concept, and started circulating drafts to our staff in Sydney and overseas.  Here are some of the results of that process of reflection.

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All reputable organizations working to overcome poverty seek to ensure that they provide “value for money.” Because our work is of the highest importance to people living in poverty, we must make best use of all resource we have. And, at the same time, because we are entrusted with valuable resources, we must be careful stewards of this trust.

But it is challenging to articulate a definition of “value for money” for work in the development sector.  Some large agencies have taken an econometric approach, using concepts of social return on investment and cost-benefit analysis.  These tools are very suitable, and represent a rigorous approach to assessing “value for money,” but they are much too complex for most development agencies to consider, and are very costly to implement.  Other agencies use randomised control trial methods, adapted in part from the pharmaceutical industry, where an intervention is tested and compared with a carefully-selected control population where the intervention doesn’t take place.  While such methods are increasingly accepted in our sector, for most INGOs like ChildFund (generalists, that don’t have the funds to hire the specialised staff and undertake the extensive reviews required), these methods are not yet fit for purpose.

(I’ve written extensively elsewhere about how we at ChildFund Australia approached the measurement and improvement of the effectiveness of our work: here, and here.)

And yet, the notion of “value for money” was important to us.  So how would we approach it?

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A Definition of “Value For Money”

The first step we took was to clarify our definition of “value for money,” and to indicate the mechanisms through which we could ensure that we achieve good value for the resources we manage.

After extensive research and reflection, and many drafts, we settled on this simple definition: For ChildFund Australia, “value for money” had three elements:

  • Firstly, we use resources effectively;
  • Secondly, we use resources efficiently;
  • Thirdly, we are accountable about our use of resources to our stakeholders and ourselves.

Using resources effectively, efficiently, and accountably – that was how ChildFund Australia intended to ensure “value for money.”  But for this definition to be operational, we needed to define what those terms meant!

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For ChildFund Australia, when we worked on this issue, we decided that “effectiveness” meant working on the causes of child poverty, according to our understanding of child poverty.  And it meant having a systematic approach to achieving development effectiveness, embedded in our programmatic work processes.

In terms of causes, we had learned that children are poor because they lack assets such as health, education, and income.  Assets such as clean air and water and access to productive land.  Assets such as the bonds of trust and solidarity in their communities and across cultures.  They experience poverty as being excluded from having voice and agency in processes that affect them. They are poor also because they, and their families and communities (and even nations) are relatively less powerful than other (children, families, communities, nations…)  And they are poor because they face increasing risks – from other people, from civil conflict, from climate change, and so forth.

So our programs were designed to build human, financial, social assets; stimulate opportunities for people living in poverty to express their opinions and exercise their personal agency; enhance the power of poor people to take collective action in the interests of their children; and strengthen protective networks around children.

But to be effective, we also needed to establish and maintain systems and procedures that keep us focused on these causes of child poverty.  Our “Development Effectiveness Framework” (DEF) provided that operational focus, making sure that all our programmatic efforts were aligned towards a defined purpose that was clearly embedded in each particular context in which we worked.

The DEF also supported a learning, adaptive approach, because the work we did was complex and only rarely could external models be put into place in the range of contexts where we work without extensive adaptation. This means that a tolerance for the risk that comes with innovation was also required to ensure effectiveness.

For us, that was effectiveness in a nutshell – understanding and addressing the causes of the phenomenon we sought to change, striving to understand the mechanisms through which those causes act, and taking deliberate action aligned to achieve our purpose.

Using resources efficiently meant that we put in place appropriate systems and procedures to ensure that we allocated our human and financial resources explicitly, clearly, for the purposes that are agreed, and according to good business practices.  Not being wasteful.

So we had budgets which were reviewed and approved; our expenditures and activities were authorized and controlled and monitored according to agreed protocols and standards.  We supported and trained our staff so they had the tools and competencies they needed.  We reviewed the use of these resources frequently with an eye towards ensuring that our costs were in line with good practice. And we had clear procurement and tendering procedures, and robust policies and procedures (including independent audits) to deter fraud.

These systems and procedures were set out clearly in our finance and HR documentation.  All our team members were trained in their use as appropriate to their functions, and our management teams in Sydney and in our Country Offices rigorously followed up operations to ensure that these guidelines were followed and that they in fact resulted in “efficient” use of resources.

In addition, we carefully managed the use of foreign staff in our programs, because we firmly believed that local people had the knowledge, skills, and capacities that were needed.  Our local staff were central to our program approach, which relied on long-term, positive relationships with communities and local partners.  And external resources were always somewhat more expensive and should therefore be used judiciously.

Finally, we couldn’t deliver value for money unless our stakeholders knew what we were doing and were able to influence us.   So we strived to be accountable – transparent and responsive – by developing our programs together with local communities and partners; by reporting periodically and fully about what we do with, and accomplish with, funds to a wide range of publics; and by responding to concerns, questions, suggestions from our stakeholders and the public.

We had a range of processes and procedures to enhance our accountability, transparency, and responsiveness, but this was not a destination – it was a journey, through which we sought to continually be more accountable.

Operationalizing the approach

That all sounded good, and correct, so then we had to put these measure in place, working operationally in the different places we worked.

In terms of effectiveness, ChildFund’s “Development Effectiveness Framework” (the “DEF”) was contained in Chapter 3 of our Program Handbook, and was mandatory for all ChildFund Australia offices. The DEF established how ChildFund’s Vision, Mission, Program Approach, and program policies were implemented in each particular country context.

The DEF contained procedures, formats, and guidelines for:

  • designing and improving holistic, evidence-based programs;
  • preparing, assessing, approving, monitoring, and evaluating projects that contribute to the goals of each program;
  • learning from project implementation;
  • contributing to community planning of projects;
  • assessing the impact of our work on the causes of child poverty.

When thinking about how to make sure that our operations were efficient, we had policies, procedures, resources, and systems in place, from the collection of funds through to delivery of quality programs pursuant to our Mission.  There were financial systems to control funds, administration systems to ensure appropriate use of funds in procurement and day-to-day administration, and people and organisational systems to support the people who work for us.

We were committed to minimising the risk of funds being misappropriated, wasted or used to fund terrorism and had policies for fraud, procurement and counter-terrorism. Our staff and partners to whom we entrust funds were regularly trained on the importance of complying with these policies and how to apply them. Our financial reports were audited by an international audit firm annually and we conducted internal audits in the field on a regular basis. The learning gained from these exercises was used to improve our financial, administration, and human-resources systems.

These systems and policies were documented in the Sydney Finance Manual, HR Manual, and policies and procedures maintained centrally and mandatory for all ChildFund Australia offices, including policies on Fraud Awareness and Prevention, and Procurement.

In addition, Country Offices had their own local procedures, consistent with central, organisation-wide policies and procedures that, together, ensured that our operations were efficient.

Finally, in terms of accountability, our DEF mandated several moments in the project cycle where key stakeholders (children, youth, caregivers, local partners, local government) were informed and were given authentic opportunities to influence decisions, and to help reflect on our performance.

Consistent with legal requirements, accreditation with the Australia government, and the code of conduct that was agreed by nearly all Australian INGOs (the ACFID Code), ChildFund Australia put in place a range of communication systems to inform our stakeholders (such as the reporting of financial and programmatic results) and to enable them to provide comments about our work, including complaints.

We instituted regular monitoring and evaluation processes, yearly financial audits and Annual Reports, yearly reporting to sponsors, and annual Country Office Reports – all of which were available publically on the ChildFund Australia website. A range of programmatic results were also published on our website, in the “Development Practitioners” section.

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In summary, during those years we took up the challenge of ensuring “value for money” by creating and implementing a Development Effectiveness Framework that was based on our understanding of the causes of child poverty, and which gave us the tools to measure and improve the impact of our work.  We created and followed a set of good business practices to ensure that we worked efficiently.  And we took measures to communicate the results of our work, and reported on our financial results, to be accountable to donors and community partners.

“Value for money,” in those days, was a vague concept, which nevertheless was important to us and to the whole sector.  Our approach to defining and delivering “value for money” was relatively straightforward, befitting the nature of our agency, but at the same time it was internally consistent and complete.  Other than the two agencies that I know of that tried to implement “randomized control trials” in a few test projects, I am not aware of any other Australian INGO that had as comprehensive and complete approach to this issue as we did at ChildFund Australia.

I am proud of what we achieved, how we took up the challenge to ensure that we were providing “value for money.”

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…

Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam

August, 2018

During my years with ChildFund Australia, I was privileged to work with great people in six countries.  In an earlier article, I wrote about the terrific Sydney-based International Program Team: Caroline, Jackie, John, Mai, Manasi, Maria, Ouen, Sanwar, Sarah, Richard, Terina … This time, I want to thank the teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam that did such great work to help children and their families overcome poverty.

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

Last time I described how we built collective action for child rights into our program approach, beginning with an exciting pilot project in Cambodia.  It was our way of building a rights-based approach into our development work, and I think there were many valuable lessons we learned through that project.

Earlier, I described ChildFund’s Sydney-based International Program Team.  Now, in this blog article, I want to introduce our teams in Southeast Asia and the Pacific: the people I had the pleasure of working with, overseas, during those years in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam.  Great people, doing great work…

But first…

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To skip the description of my ascent of Mt Cabot, and go directly to my tribute to ChildFund’s teams overseas, click here.

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The Climb – Mt Cabot

In the previous article in this series, I described climbing Mt Waumbek on 28 August.  My plan was to get to the top of Mt Waumbek, stay the night at Moose Brook Campground, and attempt to climb Mt Cabot the next day.  These are the two northern-most 4000-footers in New Hampshire, the farthest away from Durham, where we live, so it made sense to climb them both in one two-day trip.

I climbed Mt Cabot (4170ft, 1271m) on 29 August, 2017.  Cabot’s a much longer hike than Waumbek, especially given that (instead of going up-and-back) I hiked a loop up Bunnell Notch Trail, across Kilkenny Ridge Trail (including a visit to “The Horn” at lunchtime), and finally down Unknown Pond Trail.

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I Had Climbed Mt Waumbek The Day Before

Unusually, this day was characterized by a certain level of worry and anxiety: the trail-head is at the Berlin Fish Hatchery, which closes its gates at 4pm.  So, as I arrived at “The Horn” for lunch, at around 12:15pm, I began to worried about reaching my car in time!  Would I be able to reach the top of Mt Cabot and get back?

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I had camped at Moose Brook Campground the night before, so was able to get going pretty early, arriving at the York Pond trail-head at 8:41am.

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There were two cars at the trail-head as I arrived, so (once again) it looked like I would have a quiet hike!  After a lengthy stretch walking through hip-high shrubs and ferns, I emerged into typical White-Mountains low forest, along the side of a stream:

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I reached Kilkenny Ridge Trail at just after 10am, an hour and a quarter after starting.

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Along this section of Kilkenny Ridge Trail I encountered two hikers, both coming the other way.  They were doing the “Coos Trail,” which I had never heard of; we had a short chat about the 48 4000-footers (they had done them all, and we exchanged thoughts about Owl’s Head and the looooong Lincoln Woods Trail.)

At around 11am I reached Cabot Cabin, which is NOT at the top of Mt Cabot:

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There’s a small cairn just beyond Cabot Cabin, with views towards the north:

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Readers may have noticed that I don’t mention much wildlife when I describe these climbs.  That’s because there just isn’t much, or perhaps the animals that are in the area have learned to avoid humans.  But I did see a beautiful bird, probably a grouse of some kind, just after Cabot Cabin:

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The walk along Kilkenny Ridge Trail to the top of Mt Cabot is very pleasant – no real views, but a fine ridge walk.  I got to the top of Cabot at about 11:20am – number 39!:

From the top of Mt Cabot I dropped down towards “The Bulge,” continuing along Kilkenny Ridge Trail:

Between “The Bulge” and the spur trail up to “The Horn,” I began to be concerned about the time.  The trail-head, where I had parked, was inside the Berlin Fish Hatchery, which is closed (and the road gated, with the exit blocked) at 4pm.  It was nearly noon, and even though I hadn’t begun the hike until just before 9am, when I consulted the map I realized that I wasn’t yet halfway done!

But I was determined to walk up the spur to “The Horn,” as the view from there was supposed to be excellent.  I arrived at the junction with the path up to “The Horn” just at noon:

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As promised, the views from the top were great, though the clouds that were building took off a bit of the luster:

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I had a quick lunch there at The Horn, and decided to walk as quickly as possible to Unknown Pond: I figured that, if I arrived there before 1:15pm, all would be well and it would be easy to reach my car in good time.  If I got to Unknown Pond much later than 1:30pm, it might be close!  And even though I had my tent (down in my car), and would be fine, I didn’t want to spend the night at the trail-head, partly because there was no cellphone reception there and I thought Jean might be worried if she didn’t hear from me!

So I walked very quickly from “The Horn” to Unknown Pond, reaching there at 1:14pm,  just before the self-imposed deadline I had set!  The walk was pleasant, but I moved so fast that I didn’t see much of it!

Unknown Pond is quite pretty, with a campsite nearby – perhaps worth a visit sometime when the sun is out!

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Here I reached the junction with Unknown Pond Trail, which I would follow 3.3 miles down to the trail-head at York Pond Road, where I had left the car:

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Much of the rest of the day would be spent walking down alongside the stream that flows out of Unknown Pond, hiking at full velocity – I really didn’t want to be stuck behind the Hatchery gate!

There were many small meadows along the stream, with nice wildflowers, and as I dropped down in elevation, there were even some indications of the coming autumn:

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Autumn Is Coming!

So I flew down Unknown Pond Trail, not knowing when I would arrive at the trail-head; not sure if I’d make it or not because I couldn’t tell where I was!

I need not have worried, because I arrived at my car at 2:40pm – over an hour to spare!

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Mt Cabot, at least when hiked in a loop as I did, is a pleasant and long ascent, not challenging but a long day.  I had climbed number 39 of the 4000-footers – 9 to go!

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ChildFund’s Teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam

ChildFund Australia is part of a global group called, collectively, the ChildFund Alliance.  It’s a fairly loose grouping, in which each Member operates quite autonomously, and the few common policies that did exist across the ChildFund Alliance were not strictly enforced.  I will write more about some of the unusual behaviors of INGO groupings such as the ChildFund Alliance and Plan International in an upcoming article in this series.

For now, I just need to mention that, in the ChildFund Alliance, some Members both raise funds in their home markets and implement programs in developing countries, while others essentially only raise funds, supporting the work of other, more operational Members.  ChildFund Australia is in the former category – raising funds in Australia and also operating programs as “Lead Member” in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam, with other ChildFund Alliance members supporting our work financially.

During my six years with ChildFund Australia, I worked directly with those five Country Office teams, and in this article I want to introduce those teams.

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ChildFund Australia’s first operational Country Office was established in 1985, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  Working in PNG is very challenging; it’s a context of great poverty, incredible cultural and ecological diversity, huge inequality, astonishingly high costs, and shocking levels of violence.  My admiration goes to the three ChildFund Country Directors that I worked with in PNG, and their staff, that did such great work in the most challenging environment I ever worked in: I can compare it only to working in Tuluá, Colombia in terms of complexity and challenge.  And PNG is more complex and challenging.

Warwick “Smokey” Dawson had been CD in PNG for a few years when I arrived.  A lanky, phlegmatic Australian with lots of experience in PNG, Smokey and his wife Jeannie had established a high degree of discipline for local staff, and were doing some good work.

Here Smokey is to my left, with Terina Stibbard (our Sydney-based International Program Coordinator, who worked with PNG) on the far right, rear:

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Photo Taken At A ChildFund PNG Staff Retreat, 2010

But when I arrived in Sydney in 2009, our program operations in PNG were at a fairly small scale, and were in fact drifting slowly downward.  We were underspending our budget, and seemed to struggle meeting the basic requirements of our fundraising (mostly sponsorship).   Operational costs were very high.  As a result, our program ratios (a proxy for efficiency) were too low, and there were some strong and persistent opinions in Sydney that we should close our work there.  But, at the same time, PNG was a place with extreme child poverty, so I definitely wanted to try to address whatever was holding us back before giving up.

But certainly I was in no position to make changes myself, both because it wasn’t my role to directly manage things overseas, and also because at that point I was mostly learning about the (major!) challenges of working in the Pacific.  It’s a very complex and challenging environment, and I was on a very steep learning curve!  So hats off to Smokey and the team.

But we were very lucky to have Terina Stibbard as International Program Coordinator for PNG, based in Sydney – her passion and drive would be invaluable in turning around our operations in Port Moresby.

So when Smokey Dawson left, returning to Australia, I thought that a good next step might be to hire a PNG national as Country Director.  Given the complexities of working in such a unique culture, surely somebody from PNG would be better able to navigate this world, this parallel universe?  And, given her long experience overseas, I thought that Terina would be the perfect “critical friend” for a Papuan Country Director…

So Terina and I interviewed a range of candidates, both expatriates and PNG nationals.  In the end, we were lucky to find Andrew Ikupu, a PNG national with a PhD from Adelaide.  We felt that Andrew would be able to manage across the wide differences between these two cultures – PNG and Australia.

Here are a couple of images of Andrew:

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I liked Andrew a lot – he was very charismatic and smart.  Andrew was deeply immersed in his culture, and his long experience in Australia meant that he was also well able to bridge to other points of view.  He knew his country very well, and brought a unique combination of competencies to the role.  I learned a lot from him during the years we worked together.

On the other hand, I think that it was very challenging for Andrew to serve as our Country Director.  Firstly, having a decent salary and steady income in such a desperately-poor, and deeply-tribal place meant that, as a PNG national, Andrew faced constant pressure to help people in his home area (his “Wantoks” as they are called in PNG).  This pressure was financial (if a “Wantok” needed financial support, Andrew came under pressure to help), and also logistical (for example, if somebody in his home area was sick and needed to be evacuated, there were no formal alternatives; the only recourse people felt they had was to ask him to send a ChildFund vehicle, which he couldn’t do.)  I think he resisted these pressures, at least mostly, but I also think it was a big challenge.  I’m not sure I did Andrew a favor by hiring him…

At the same time, Andrew was in poor health, having developed diabetes just before joining ChildFund.  This illness is endemic in the Pacific, as a result (I think) of the encounter between a group of people living very traditional lives, with very traditional diets, abruptly transitioning to unhealthy Western food.  People there experienced a dramatic dietary shift to eating processed products, sugar, alcohol, etc., which seemed to have a big, negative impact on people in PNG and the Pacific, and certainly on Andrew.  The long-term consequences for people of the Pacific are likely to be quite negative.

So I think we made a good choice, but at the same time serving as ChildFund’s CD in PNG was very stressful for Andrew Ikupu.  We were very lucky that, just as Smokey was leaving, we also recruited another gifted senior manager: Manish Joshi joined as Program Manager for PNG.  Andrew and Manish worked together for some time and, when Andrew stepped down*, Manish was appointed Country Director.

Here are Manish and Andrew during the time that they worked together:

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Manish came to ChildFund from India, having recently worked in PNG as a United Nations Volunteer, in Madang with local government, so he was quite familiar with the country and the culture.  Manish did (and, as I write this article, still does) a truly outstanding job as Country Director, managing to address operational issues with a steady hand, and dramatically expanding the scale and scope of our program.

Early in Manish’s tenure, we made a very significant decision: we would stop raising funds through child sponsorship in PNG.  The associated costs of running sponsorship systems were way too high, and the complex and detailed nature of managing those systems in the chaotic context of PNG was too big a challenge for our (and any) team.  The whole system never seemed to work there.  But the flip side of this decision was that we would have to fund our programs exclusively through grants, which have their own serious complexities.  A very major challenge.

Manish and his team, with Terina’s support, succeeded brilliantly in this transition, exceeding all expectations.  One asset we would gain was the hiring of a very strong Program Manager (Aydel Salvadora) to replace Manish as he moved into the Country Director role.  Aydel served as a very competent “pair of hands,” enabling Manish to worry about the rest of our operation.

Amazingly, program activities increased steadily, despite having closed child sponsorship, and operations in general became more stable and functional. Our program ratio improved rapidly, and the operation moved quickly towards being financially sustainable.  Even more importantly, I think we were making increasing impact on child poverty.

Few INGOs can claim as much success in this challenging environment.  Of course our local staff deserves much credit, and Terina Stibbard played a fundamental role across the tenures of Smokey, Andrew, and Manish, keeping our support from Sydney at very high levels, and investing her heart and soul into the challenge.

But the most important factor in our success was the appointment of Manish Joshi as Country Director.  During the years that we worked together, I spoke with Manish most weeks by Skype, and almost every week there would be a situation or two – inside ChildFund or (most of the time) outside in the PNG environment – that was somehow catastrophic in a way that made Manish shake his head and worry.  We would talk about whatever it was, work through what we could do to minimize the impact on our world, Manish would chuckle about what an amazing place PNG was to work in, and then he’d get onto the issue in a relaxed but determined way.

Soon the voices in Sydney that had been insistently calling for the closing of our program in PNG became quiet.  Which made me feel very proud of our teams.

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This photo was taken during my final visit to the Port Moresby Country Office, in late 2015.  Manish Joshi is fourth from the left, and Joe Pasen (our Development Effectiveness Manager) is to my left.  Other key staff in this photo include Aydel Salvadora (who followed Manish into the Program Manager role), and program leaders Olive Oa, and Sharon Pondros:

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Nigel Spence, our CEO, is also in there (sixth from the right, in the back.)

And here is a photo from an early visit to PNG, with me on the left and Joe Pasen in the foreground:

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I’ve written about the villager Hillary, and shared a “Case Study” about his garden project, in an earlier blog article in this series.  Here Manish and I are visiting Hillary’s garden, with a ChildFund PNG staff member:

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With Manish Joshi
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Paul Brown (CEO Of ChildFund NZ), Manish Joshi, and Nigel Spence (CEO of ChildFund Australia)

Apologies to other staff members who I haven’t named – huge thanks to all of you!

It was a great pleasure working with Manish, who built ChildFund PNG into an important, high-performing organization in one of the world’s most challenging places.  Thank you Manish!  And warm appreciation goes to Terina Stibbard, who brought her formidable passion and energy to building ChildFund PNG.

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ChildFund Australia’s second Country Office was established in 1997, in Viet Nam.   By coincidence, I became Plan’s Country Director in Hanoi at about the same time, and I can remember meeting ChildFund’s second and third Country Directors there.

Later I would work with the first ChildFund Viet Nam CD, however, during my time consulting with CCF – by that time Daniel Wordsworth had moved to become Program Development Director in Richmond, Virginia, working with my old colleague Michelle Poulton.  I’m still not sure why I never met Daniel when we were both in Hanoi; perhaps it was Daniel’s predilection for nocturnal working hours…

I’ve written more about Daniel in several earlier articles in this series…

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By the time I joined ChildFund Australia, Peter Walton was finishing seven years as Country Director in Viet Nam.  He had done a great job there, and was ready to move on.

Here are three images of Peter (and others) from my first visit to ChildFund Viet Nam:

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Nigel Spence Is On The Far Left; Peter Walton And I Are In The Back
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Peter Walton (Back Left), Nigel Spence (Third From Left), Nguyen Ba Lieu (Third From Right)
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Peter Walton (Left), Nguyen Ba Lieu (Second From Right), Me (Right)

Peter’s departure was a challenge, partly because it came very soon after I joined ChildFund (I certainly didn’t want him to leave, at least not so soon after I arrived!)

But, in a sense it was good timing.  At the time, the Viet Nam operation was viewed by staff in Sydney as the model that our offices in PNG and Cambodia should emulate.  And it was also viewed by staff in Viet Nam as the model!  So the establishment of a program team in Sydney, with a mandate to lead program thinking, would be tricky for our team in Hanoi to handle…

Peter’s transition, although the timing was bad, was an opportunity to assert the proper role of the Sydney International Program Team and International Program Director.

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Hiring Peter’s successor was my first major overseas recruitment in my role at ChildFund.  So I was very lucky to have already met Deborah Leaver in Sydney.

At that time, Deb was Program Manager at ActionAid Australia, one of the few other INGOs based in Sydney.  (Most are based in Melbourne or Canberra.)  When I was reaching out to meet colleagues in my early months, Deb was one of the most welcoming, inviting me to visit her office near Sydney University and spending over an hour with me.  I was impressed, during that visit, with Deb’s obvious drive, energy, experience and intelligence.  So I was very happy when, a few weeks later, she asked if she could put her name forward for the Viet Nam Country Director position.

My response was: “of course!”

Here are two photos from our first visit to Hanoi, where we traveled together so I could  introduce her as our new Country Director:

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Deb Leaver, In The Center

Here is the Country Management Team in place when Deb arrived in Hanoi:

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Deb Leaver And The ChildFund Viet Nam Management Team
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Another Image Of The Viet Nam Country Management Team, Plus Me

ChildFund Viet Nam expanded on several important dimensions during Deb’s tenure.  We grew into a new province, Cao Bang, on the northern border with China.  And our local website and communications work really moved forward.  Our visibility in the development community was greatly enhanced, in a very good way; we became one of the “go-to” agencies.

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Several images of Nguyen Ba Lieu are included in the photos that I’ve shared, above.  He is on the far left in the image just above here.  Lieu was our Program Manager in Hanoi, and was one of our very first employees back in 1999 or so.  In fact, I can remember meeting Lieu when I was with Plan, ten years before I joined ChildFund!

Lieu was a vital part of our team in Viet Nam**, with a strong gift for working with local government partners (a complicated, and essential, aspect of working there.)  And he had a very agile and active mind, regularly creating interesting frameworks and concepts that were meant to guide our thinking and our work – not only for ChildFund Viet Nam.  I think that this meant that perhaps he had to adjust the most when I arrived on the scene and the International Program Team came into being, with our mandate for leading program thinking; but he handled the change with his innate grace and humility.

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Deb Leaver thrived in the CD role, and ended up staying for seven years before moving to Laos with another organization.  During that time she continued to build our program and enhanced the stature of ChildFund in the Vietnam development community.  And she started a family there in Hanoi.

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With Deb Leaver
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As I’ve hinted already in this article, one challenge Deb faced was that her arrival coincided with the establishment of the Sydney International Team, and my own new position as International Program Director.  During Peter Walton’s time, as I mentioned, ChildFund Viet Nam was seen as the leading Country Office, in effect leading program thinking for the overall agency.  My arrival meant that things would change – the Viet Nam team would now contribute to program thinking, of course, but would no longer act autonomously, no longer lead things.  And now there would be more space for other Country Offices, in PNG and Cambodia (and, later, in Laos and Myanmar) to contribute.

This was a tricky transition, and Deb worked hard to integrate ChildFund Viet Nam into the program-development efforts of the wider organization, under my leadership, while also maintaining the sense of agency and pride that had been built up during earlier years when the Viet Nam office essentially served as the program-development entity for ChildFund Australia.

I enjoyed working with the ChildFund Viet Nam team a great deal.  And it was great working with Deb: she was hard working, very smart, with a very wicked sense of humor.  It is a testament to her work with her senior management that her successor came from inside ChildFund Viet Nam: Nguyen Bich Lien, who had overseen administrative aspects of our operation, became our Country Director when Deb moved to Laos after seven years in Hanoi.

Huge thanks to the whole ChildFund Viet Nam team, and to Deb Leaver.  It was great working with all of you!

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ChildFund Australia’s third Country Office was in Cambodia, under the leadership of Carol Mortenson.  In 2009, the office was about a year old, our newest program, working in Svay Rieng province, in the far east of the country on the border with Viet Nam.

As I mentioned last time, given the nature of Cambodian governance, Carol made the astute decision early in her tenure to, essentially, work through local government to implement projects.  As a result, ChildFund faced relatively few difficulties operating on Cambodia.  Other agencies, whose mandates were more explicitly focused on human rights advocacy or democratization, faced a much different, much more challenging operating environment.

One key hire that Carol made early on was to recruit the gifted and talented, inspirational Sophiep Chat as her Program Manager.  Sophiep brought a unique set of skills to his role, and was of great help also to our wider program-development efforts beyond Cambodia.  I always enjoyed working with Sophiep, one of the most gifted NGO leaders I’ve worked with, and I learned a great deal from him – his contribution to our work in Cambodia, and to wider program development for the wider organization, was fundamental.

Later, two other gifted Cambodians joined Carol’s team:

  • Solin Chan became ChildFund Cambodia’s Development Effectiveness and Learning Manager, playing a key role in creating and implementing the overall ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework (DEF).  As with Sophiep, I learned a huge amount from Solin, who moved to work with UNICEF late in my time with ChildFund.  Solin was a very smart, and funny, professional who worked closely with Richard Geeves in moving the DEF forward;
  • Oum Vongarnith, our Finance and Administration Manager, was another key member of our team.  Hardworking and determined, we relied on Oum to make sure that operations were efficient and effective, and he never let us down.  I greatly enjoyed his sense of humor, and his dedication to our work was unrivaled.
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Solin, Carol, and Oum

During my time at ChildFund Australia, the Cambodia team grew into a second province (Kratie, north of Phnom Penh, on the Mekong) and slowly began to diversify our operational partnerships beyond local government.

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Carol Mortenson left ChildFund Cambodia after a productive seven years, the same length of time that Peter Walton had been with ChildFund in Viet Nam.  I thought that this was a good, long period of time, and reasonable to consider leadership changes.

After an extensive recruitment, we were lucky to bring Prashant Verma into ChildFund as Country Director.

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With Prashant Verma

Prashant came from Plan International in Cambodia, and brought with him probably the highest energy of any Country Director I’ve worked with.  His drive and commitment to our work was amazing to see, and upon assuming his position he immediately began to discern areas where we could advance the effectiveness of our work.  We were fortunate to bring Prashant on board, and although I only worked with him for a short time, I learned a lot from him.  Prashant is one of the most innovative Country Directors I ever worked with, and was a perfect successor to Carol.

My deep thanks to both Carol and Prashant!

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The fourth of our Country Offices to open was in Laos.  In Peter Walton’s last few months with ChildFund, he supervised initial research into our possible expansion into Laos, having hired a team of two consultants to carry out the work.  The outstanding work of those consultants, Chris Mastaglio and Keo Souvannaphoum, positioned us astutely to obtain a license to operate in the country.  Then they were selected as (respectively) Country Director and Program Manager.

We were very lucky to bring Chris and Keo onboard as our first staff in Laos.  They knew the country and its development context very well: Chris had been working in Laos with other INGOs for some time, and Keo was a Lao citizen with an advance degree from Duke University.

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With Chris Mastaglio

Personally, I found working with Chris and Keo to be a constant source of inspiration.  At first, Laos is a seemingly relaxed and uncomplicated place to work; but once we got going, the real situation revealed itself to be far more complex and challenging than initially perceived.  Chris and Keo knew this from the beginning, and positioned ChildFund in a very interesting space where we could make a lot of positive difference in the lives of children in Nonghet District while also subtly encouraging change in the deeper causes of poverty in the country.  This balancing act was very difficult and, in fact, most INGOs that tried to work in both areas were not successful.  It is a real testimony to Chris’s and Keo’s hard work and keen insights that we were able to stay engaged, successfully and sustainably (though not without some very nerve-wracking moments) in both domains.

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Vientiane Staff In 2011

As a result, ChildFund became a leader in the INGO community, and our work in Nonghet flourished, making a big difference in the lives of some people who were facing great poverty.

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Our first working area was in Nonghet District of Xieng Khouang Province, in the Northeast of the country, right on the border with Viet Nam.  A very good choice, because it was quite remote and the population was mainly from the Hmong ethnic group, somewhat excluded from Laos’s development process.

These images were taken in January of 2011; it was very cold in the winter!

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Staff Dinner

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Chris is a veteran rugby player, from Newcastle, and before joining ChildFund he had been coaching the Lao Women’s rugby team alongside his INGO work.  After a few years with ChildFund, Chris came up with a very innovative and fascinating project, supporting the development of female youth through rugby.  As this sport was new to Laos, it wasn’t “gendered,” so could be used as a tool to develop leadership skills, conflict management, teamwork, psycho-social development, etc.

The project, later called “Pass It Back,” was very successful and later expanded into other countries in Asia.  Today Chris directs the Pass It Back program, which is now a partnership with World Rugby, Asia Rugby Federation, and Women Win.  When Chris moved over to concentrate (more than) full-time on Pass It Back, we recruited his successor, and I was delighted that Keo was the successful candidate!  So Keo became our second Country Director for Laos.

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With Keo

It was a huge pleasure and honor working with these two gifted professionals and their teams in Vientiane and Nonghet.  My hats off to both Chris and Keo, and their teams, truly.

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The final Country Office to be established in my tenure with ChildFund was in Myanmar, initially headed up by the very gifted and smart Burmese Country Manager Win May Htway, and then by her successor Nini Htwe.  (After I left ChildFund, and Nini departed, Win May returned as Country Director.)

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With Win May
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ChildFund Myanmar Team In April 2013 (Maria Attard On The Left)
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Win May Inspecting Our First Country Office

This is an image of Win May (on the right) with Oum Vongnarith, our Finance Manager in ChildFund Cambodia.  Oum provided outstanding support to the Myanmar operation from Phnom Penh, with frequent visits to Yangon and Mandalay:

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Our Myanmar Team in January, 2015
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With Nini

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From the start, we hoped to work in a different way in Myanmar: Papua New Guinea is sui generis.  In Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam, the nature of the national political reality meant that we worked mostly, or exclusively, with and through local and regional governments.  This worked, but had obvious drawbacks.

But, ideally, organizations like ChildFund Australia work with and through local civil society – in principle this is more efficient, builds the capability of local society over the long-term, and is embedded within the actual reality of the country.  But working with local organizations requires a very different skill set than we in ChildFund had developed in our other Country Offices.  So we would have to learn by doing, and much would depend on our own local leadership – first and foremost, our Country Director.

So we were lucky to have recruited such experienced and dedicated local Burmese Country Directors.

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Our Staff And Partners, Plus Maria Attard (Front Row), and Nigel Spence and Me (Back Row)

We approached this carefully, researching the development context in Myanmar and then preparing a proposed approach.  We prepared a document summarizing how we hoped to work in Myanmar and, since it implied such a large change in our model, once Nigel Spence was in agreement, we took it to our board of directors for discussion and approval.

When we had refined our proposed approach, and had approval from our board, we got going.  Maria Attard was the International Program Coordinator for Myanmar (and Viet Nam), and she managed the process of selecting our initial staff and first partners.  This went well: Win May was amongst our first employees, a brilliant choice of a courageous and passionate leader.  Our first partner organizations were selected, knowing full-well that things would likely go very well with some, and not so well with others.

Based around the capital, Yangon, Mandalay, and Shwebo, north of Mandalay, our first partners included organizations focused on street children, early-childhood development, primary education, youth, etc.

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Early Childhood Development Project

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We saw this initial period of work in Myanmar as “Phase 1” of a possible shift to working through local civil society instead of implementing ourselves.  We weren’t thinking that ChildFund Australia would make that shift everywhere, but that it would be an important tool in our repertoire.

Many INGOs had already made this shift, years before, so in a sense it was overdue for us.  On the other hand, most the other major INGOs in Myanmar had begun to work in the country after Cyclone Nargis and, since the nature of the Myanmar government at that point was so oppressive, they had been forced to work directly, implementing projects with their own staff.  Even the INGOs that trumpeted their commitment to working in “partnership” with local civil society were not doing so, at least in Myanmar.  Because, in the interim, governance had changed (and improved) dramatically there, our relatively-late arrival gave us the opportunity to try to work in the right way.

“Phase 1” was meant to be a learning period, in which we worked with a larger number of partners, across a wider range of sectors and geographies, enabling us to learn and refine our approach and, in “Phase 2,” focus our programs more tightly on a narrower set of sectors and fewer partners.

This worked well – we had successes and setbacks.  One partner went a bit crazy and stopped cooperating.  Some project work wasn’t consistent with what ChildFund sought to achieve.  Most partners and projects went well.

But probably our biggest challenge was that our organizational systems and procedures were designed for direct implementation of projects.  At a deeper level, our culture and mental models were all consistent with operations being through our own staff.  Organizational ego is a problem in our development sector in general, but gets in the way even more significantly when working through partners.  And when our Myanmar staff began to interact with their peers in other ChildFund Australia countries, some sharing of experience actually ended up being quite unhelpful, because even in the same organization the operating models weren’t at all comparable.  These clashes of systems and assumptions caused on-going irritants and glitches, which is normal as this kind of fundamental shift progresses.

Many thanks to Win May and Nini and their teams in Myanmar, and to Maria Attard, for their hard work and courage in moving forward with such a different model.  It was very hard work, and they blazed a trail for ChildFund Australia.  Thank you!

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Myanmar was changing very quickly during the years that I was traveling there with ChildFund Australia.  The last military government seemed to be trying to reform, at least in some areas, and you could feel things loosening up.  Then free elections were held and the National League for Democracy came into power.  Optimism was in the air.  (Sadly, the giddy optimism of these early days seems now to be very tempered by ethnic conflict and a range of other setbacks…)

It was an interesting and positive time for the country, and visiting was fascinating.  One other reason that I enjoyed visiting Myanmar was that my own meditation practice is Burmese in origin, so I was able to connect with that part of the country’s tradition several times a year.

Here are a few images of the country taken during my visits:

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Shwedagon At Night
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Shwedagon
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Shwedagon
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Shwedagon
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Shwedagon
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One Of My Favorite Places To Eat In Myanmar: “Feel” Restaurant
Spices

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I would get together with our Country Directors, face-to-face, at least once each year.  Here is an image from an early get-togethers, with (from the left) Carol, Andrew, Chris, Deb, and me:

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And here is an image of the ChildFund Australia Country Directors in place as I departed, in 2015: from the left, Keo (Laos), Nini (Myanmar), Manish (PNG), Deb (Viet Nam), Prashant (Cambodia), Chris (Laos, then Pass It Back), and me:

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Keo, Nini, Manish, Deb, Prashant, Chris, Me

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My heartfelt appreciation goes to our teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam.  It was an honor and privilege working with all of you.  Thanks for your incredible hard work and commitment!

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…

*- Sadly, Andrew Ikupu died a few years after I left Australia.

**- Also very sadly, Lieu died a year or so before I left Australia.

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

March, 2018

I began a new journey nearly two years ago (May, 2016), tracing two long arcs in my life:

  • Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers.  I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

To skip the description of my ascent of Galehead Mountain, and go directly to my discussion of great NGO programs, click here.

*

The Climb – Galehead Mountain

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

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

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

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

First, the climb of Galehead Mountain:

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

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

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

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

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Evidence Of A Crampon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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South Twin From The Frost Trail
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Galehead Hut, North Twin Upper Left
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From Left: North Twin, South Twin, Bond Ridge

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

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Peak number 31, done and dusted!

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

*

What We Think About When We Think About Great NGO Programs

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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Building A Great International NGO

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

  • which was as close to people living in poverty as possible;
  • with clear policies and procedures, united around a clear purpose, driven to continuously improve what we did, and with a healthy and accountable management culture;
  • underpinned by an understanding that poverty was a shifting and dynamic mixture of deprivation, exclusion, and vulnerability;
  • informed by human-rights and social-justice frameworks, and by an understanding of power and collective action;
  • and, finally, that I would lead and manage in a way that brought out the best in our NGO people.
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May, 2009

A big challenge, that I would do my best to achieve, imperfectly, over the next six years.  In my next article, I will reflect about what I had learned about building strong NGO teams and then, in my 33rd posting in this series, my six years at ChildFund Australia begins with a description of the team we put together in Sydney…

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…

Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy

February, 2018

I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:

  • Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers.  I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

But before describing the next exciting year …

*

To skip the description of my ascent of Cannon Mountain, and go directly to my description of UUSC Just Democracy, click here.

*

The Climb – Cannon Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty Across Franconia Notch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A duck came over as I quietly sat there:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

UUSC Just Democracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

THE UNH FORUM ON CLIMATE CHANGE

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

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Scott and Mark Before The Forum
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Scott Introducing The Forum
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Larry Brickner-Wood, UNH Chaplain, Welcoming Participants
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Welcoming People
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Our Panel: Cameron, Nancy, Roberta, and Stacy
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Roberta Speaking, With Cameron And Nancy
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Stacy Speaking, With Roberta
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Candidate Representative Speaking
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The Audience
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The Audience

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

And here are links to the other ten parts:

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

*

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

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

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The UUSC Just Democracy Table At A Congregation
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Sorting Nonprofit Bulk Mail Appeals By Postal Code

*

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

Here are some images of those events:

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We know how that’s turned out.

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

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

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

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…
  1. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 9.
  2. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 14, emphasis added.

Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights

November, 2017

(Note: I’ve updated this post in August, 2019, after climbing Mt Lafayette once again.  I’ve recently completed ascending all 48 4000-footers, and am going up a few again, in different seasons…)

I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:

  • Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers.  I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

Since then, across 26 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing 26 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve reflected on: two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; 15 great years with Plan International; the deep, disruptive changes in the development sector over that time; the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures”; and, most recently, how we sought to embed the shifts underlying “Bright Futures” into CCF’s culture.

*

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

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

*

To skip the description of my ascent of Mt Lafayette, and go directly to the first article covering my years with UUSC, click here.

*

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

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

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

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

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

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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette
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Mt Garfield
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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette – Plenty Of People!

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

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

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

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Looking Down Towards Greenleaf Hut and Cannon Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The walking was pleasant, strolling through dappled forest:

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

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

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

*

Collective Action for Human Rights – My Years at UUSC

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

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

*

Charlie Clements

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

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

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

But, as I said there:

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me, Maxine Neil, Michael Zouzoua, and Maxine Hart

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario 5:      Name of Scenario: Composite

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

Scenario 6:     Name of Scenario: Composite + Disaster

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

Scenario 7:    Name of Scenario: Composite + Capital Campaign

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*

In upcoming blogs, I will continue to describe those years at UUSC, focusing first on relations with the staff bargaining unit and then my move to the 501(c)4 – “UUSC Just Democracy.”

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

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

*

Postscript: I climbed Mt Lafayette (and Mt Lincoln) again on 3 August 2019, after having completed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers late in 2018. This time I spent the day with our friend Draco, who had hiked up Carter Dome with me a couple of years earlier.

Back in June of 2017, as described above, I had done the Lafayette-Lincoln loop in a counter-clockwise sense, hiking up the Falling Waters Trail, along Franconia Ridge, and dropping down the Old Bridle Path by way of Greenleaf Hut. This time we did the same loop but in the opposite, clockwise, sense:

Draco and I left Durham at 8am, and (as before) we stopped at Tilton for refreshments and in Lincoln for lunch. We reached the Old Bridle Path trailhead at about 10:30am, and headed up, steeply and continuously, until reaching the Greenleaf Hut.

Unlike two years earlier, happily, there were few insects on this glorious summer day. After the hut, we climbed even more steeply up to the summit of Mt Lafayette, where we had lunch after arriving at about 1:30pm.

It was a gorgeous day, with views in all directions:

From here we would continue on to Mt Lincoln

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…
  1.  Adapted from http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/ methods_scenario_planning.html.)

Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot-Testing Bright Futures

September, 2017

(Note: I’ve updated this post in July, 2019, after climbing Mt Isolation once again, this time in the summer.  I’ve recently completed ascending all 48 4000-footers, and am going up a few again, in different seasons…)

I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:

  • Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers.  I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

So, 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!

To skip the description of my ascent of Mt Isolation, and go directly to description of how the pilot testing of Bright Futures went, click here.

*

The Climb – Mt Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From the Right: Mt Washington, Mt Adams, Mt Jefferson
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Mt Eisenhower
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And I had a winged visitor, looking for food.

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

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

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

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

*

Pilot Testing Bright Futures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We settled on a process that would look like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 1.37.11 PM.png
CCF’s Area Strategic Planning Model

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I will describe how Bright Futures ended!

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

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

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

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

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

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Postscript: I climbed Mt Isolation again on 24 July 2019, after having completed all 48 of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers late in 2018. This time, I went in from the north, ascending Glen Boulder Trail from Glen Ellis Falls parking lot, past Glen Boulder, and then taking Davis Path. Both climbs of Mt Isolation can be seen here: from June, 2017 (spring season), in purple, and from July, 2019 (summertime), in black:

There were several differences this time. First, the climb in 2019 involved much more elevation gain, and loss; and, because of that, I had much more time above tree-line, with views of the Presidential range for more of the day. Secondly, this time there were (blessedly) no insects at the summit of Mt Isolation! So my stay there was even more pleasant on this second ascent than it had been two years earlier. And the ascents couldn’t have been more different. As you have read, above, the hike in 2017 involved multiple stream crossings; in 2019, there was none of that. Finally, I didn’t camp the night before the hike this time, so my day was much longer.

Both ways of getting up to the top of Mt Isolation are worth doing. Very different experiences, though I think I would lean towards going up Glen Boulder Trail, just because more time is spent in the alpine zone, with those amazing views…

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I left Durham around 8:45am, and got onto the Glen Boulder Trail at 10am, having made my usual stop in Tamworth for coffee and lunch:

I started up Glen Boulder Trail. Back in October of 2017, I had climbed Mt Washington and Mt Monroe and, on that hike, I had descended Glen Boulder Trail, in substantial pain. I had run out of light, finishing up the hike in the dark, using my flashlight for the last half-hour. It was nerve-wracking!

I was looking forward to tackling that trail again, twice, since I was going to go in and back.

As I began, I was hiking up Glen Boulder, and it was relentlessly up-up-up, firstly in forest.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, cool temperatures and no other hikers to be seen, anywhere. Perfect!

I emerged into the alpine zone at around 11am, after an hour of steady, steep climbing:

You can see Glen Boulder in these next two images. When I had descended from Mt Washington I had been in substantial pain here.

Here are two views across Pinkham Notch towards the Wildcat Range. In the alpine zone the views were fantastic.

At 12:30pm, I arrived at the Davis Path, the top elevation for the day. I had reached 5000ft, though not the summit of Mt Isolation!: I would descend over 1000 ft from here, before ascending again to reach Isolation!

I turned left, south – here is a view towards Mt Isolation, which is in the middle distance. You can see that I would drop substantially from here, before climbing again:

A spectacular day. I had half of my lunch hereabouts, and figured I would have the rest when I got to the top of Isolation.

It took me another 90 minutes to reach the turnoff from Davis Path, for the short, final ascent to the summit:

The summit was, as it had been two years earlier, probably the most spectacular view of all of these climbs. The day was perfect – mostly sunny, cool – and there was much of the Presidential Range right in front of me. This time, with no biting insects!

When I compare this image with the view from the same spot, a bit over two years earlier, the main difference that I can see is that, this time, there are no traces of snow left on the slopes of Mt Washington!

Here I’ve drawn an indication of the ascent – first up Glen Boulder Trail (most of which is well out of this view), meeting Davis Path where I had my first lunch break, then down and back up again:

Here are two videos filmed at the top of Mt Isolation:

The only two hikers I saw, during the entire 8 hours of climbing that day, were at the summit. They had ascended ahead of me, hiking up the same route I took, and left the summit a bit before I did, leaving me alone in all of that splendor for a little while.

I had the other half of my lunch there at the summit, then turned around, retracing my steps back up Davis Path, leaving Mt Isolation at 2:30pm. I saw no other hikers, except for the two that I had met at the summit (who I passed on the way down), for the rest of the day. Amazing.

It was after 6:30pm when I arrived back down at Glen Ellis Falls parking lot. It had been an amazing day in the White Mountains, over 8 hours hiking, almost all of it steeply up or steeply down! And I had climbed Mt Isolation in a second season!

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. West Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  37. Mt Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”
  39. Mt Cabot (39) – ChildFund Australia’s Teams In Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam;
  40. North Twin (40) – Value for Money;
  41. South Twin (41) – Disaster Risk Reduction;
  42. Mt Hale (42) – A “Golden Age” for INGOs Has Passed.  What Next?;
  43. Zealand Mountain (43) – Conflict: Five Key Insights;
  44. Mt Washington (44) – Understanding Conflicts;
  45. Mt Monroe (45) – Culture, Conflict;
  46. Mt Madison (46) – A Case Study Of Culture And Conflict;
  47. Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey;
  48. Mt Jefferson (48) – A Journey Ends…