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

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

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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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 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.

*

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.

*

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…

*

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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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!

*

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.

*

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!

*

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.

*

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

*

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.

*

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

*

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

*

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!

*

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

*

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

*

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!

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  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 Assessement in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  38. Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”

 

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

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

 

Mt Waumbek (38) – “Building the Power of Poor People and Poor Children…”

July, 2018

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 37 of the 48 peaks, and I’ve covered my journey from Peace Corps in Ecuador (1984-86) through to my arrival in Sydney in 2009, where I joined ChildFund Australia as the first “International Program Director.”

Last time I described how we assessed the impact of our work, using two components of the comprehensive ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”).  We developed the DEF to help us make sure we were doing what we said we were going to do, and, crucially, so that we could verify that we were making a difference in the lives of children and young people living in poverty.  So we could learn and improve our work.  It was the “Holy Grail” of development work.

In other words, the DEF was built to measure if we were doing what we promised, if we were achieving what we aimed for.  At the highest level, what we promised was articulated in ChildFund Australia’s vision and mission:

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These are great statements, very clear, but we needed a bit more specificity if we were going to articulate a program approach describing “how” we would achieve that vision.  So we had built a “Theory of Change” that articulated a causal framework for how we would achieve the impact described in the vision and mission.  We summed up our Theory of Change in the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook:

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The ChildFund Australia “Theory of Change”

 

For ChildFund, the most innovative, and difficult, aspect of that “Theory of Change” was the notion of “power” – “building the power of poor people and poor children.”

Like most INGOs, ChildFund Australia was not used to thinking this way, we had little direct experience working to build collective action of people living in poverty.  And, I would suggest, even INGOs that talk a lot about power and collective action really end up not doing very much in that domain – they think through the issue, and frame their work that way, sometimes in very inspiring ways, but actual work building the power of excluded people is rare.  Because it’s hard.  And because local governments often don’t want us to work in this space.

So in this, my 38th post in the series, I want to go into more depth on on the topic of “Power” – what did we mean by it, what we actually ended up doing to advance the collective action for people facing poverty.  This is really a story of organizational development, of fairly deep change.  Like most such stories, it was a mixture of success and failure, of joys and sorrows.  But, in this case, we were mostly successful, at least for some time.

But first…

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I climbed Mt Waumbek (4006ft, 1221m) on 28 August, 2017; this was a solo hike.  Waumbek is the third shortest 4000-footer of the 48 in New Hampshire, taller only than Isolation and Tecumseh.  Climbing it involves a fairly simple and short hike, up-and-back, which I greatly enjoyed on this pleasant day:

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(The loop up Mt Cabot is also shown on the map, since I did that climb the next day – stay tuned for that!)

It was a beautiful, sunny and cool morning as I left Durham, in the low 50’s.  I got going just before 8am and arriving at the trail-head at 10:58am – a longer drive than usual, as Waumbek is at the northern end of the White Mountains.  My plan was to get to the top of Mt Waumbek, stay the night at the nearby Moose Brook Campground, and climb Mt Cabot the next day.

As I started up Starr-King Trail, the skies were blue and it was still quite cool and dry. There was only one other car in the parking lot, so it looked like I would have much of the hike to myself!

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A New, “Boy’s Regular” Haircut

 

It would be 3.6 miles to the top.  The first section is typical White-Mountains lower forest, with a fairly wide trail.  A few minutes up the trail from the parking lot, I came across the remains of an old well, which must have fed somebody’s water system long ago:

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I reached the top of Mt Starr-King just after noon; there’s a cairn there, and the remains of an old cabin just past the top, with fine views towards the Presidential Range.  This was the first time I could remember looking at Mt Washington from the north!

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Presidential Range, From The North!

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Fireplace From An Old Cabin, At The Top Of Mt Starr King

 

I continued on toward Mt Waumbek, now along a forested ridge – the walking was very pleasant, gently up and down:

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I reached the top of Mt Waumbek at 12:50pm, so it had taken me a bit less than two hours to reach the summit.  There’s a cairn marking the spot, along with a sign indicating the beginning of the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, which I would hike on for part of the next day, as I climbed Mt Cabot…

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Passing the summit, I continued a few meters to reach a blow-down, perfect for lunch, with views towards the Presidentials:

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After lunch, I retraced my steps back down to the parking area, uneventfully, which I reached at around 3pm.  Round-trip, four hours.

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I camped that night at Moose Brook Campground, staying in site 026 – highly recommended, as it’s a bit distant from other sites, fairly private and quiet.   It was nice to be able to have a hot shower a short walk away, and my other indulgence that night was the purchase of a few sticks of firewood, which gave a great ambiance for the evening.

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So I had climbed thirty-eight of the 48 New Hampshire 4000-footers, just ten to go!  I would reach number 39 the next day, stay tuned for that!

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Once we had articulated our “Theory of Change,” it became clear that, of the four pillars of ChildFund Australia’s emergent program approach, the notion of “power” would be the trickiest for us.  Partly this was because ChildFund Australia had not been working directly in this space, or even thinking about our work in terms of building the collective power of people in communities where we worked.  Until that point, we were implementing projects that helped make people’s lives better, working on the causes and manifestations of child poverty.

But now our Theory of Change had been approved and, if we were going to take it seriously, we needed to figure out how to work in all four areas we had identified: building assets, voice and agency; enhancing collective power; and child protection.

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Initial reactions of my colleagues – in Sydney and overseas, on our Board of Directors and in Senior Management – to the notion of working to build the power of people facing poverty, tended to either be positive but cautious (“Sounds great, but what does it really mean in practice?  How do we do this?  We aren’t an advocacy organization…”) or wary (“Won’t local governments be hostile towards it if we organize people?  We have to have the permission of national government in Country X, and if we start to become political they will throw us out…”)

It didn’t help that I really couldn’t find many examples of Australian INGOs working to build collective action, except for efforts (for example, by World Vision Australia) to help set up “Scorecards” through which local communities could comment on and rate the provision of services by local government.  That kind of work was consistent with what we had in mind, and it was good work, but I wanted to go farther.

And it was a mixed blessing that I was really the only person on staff with significant experience in this domain –  from my time with UUSC.  Collective action, activism for social justice, was key to the identity of that agency, going back to the spiritual movement that led to its establishment, as well as to the heroic actions of two of UUSC’s founders, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, who had helped rescue children from Nazi Germany, at great personal risk.

Also, a commitment to building collective power had been an essential part of “Bright Futures,” the program approach I had helped develop for CCF.  In that case we had built on the parents’ associations that were already in place, and federated them at district level, so these representative bodies could interface with district-level service provision.  The idea was that the “Parents Federations” would serve as an interest group, advocating for the realization of human rights for the poor communities where CCF worked.

So I was able to draw upon those experiences to help clarify and articulate what power might mean for ChildFund Australia; and I could draw on resources that could help us, including two great consultants (Valerie Miller and Ricardo Gómez – see below.)

After all, I was the International Program Director – so leading the strategic thinking of our program was my job!  That’s what I had been hired to do.  All that was good.

But, on the other hand, even though program staff in Sydney and overseas were instinctively aligned with the notion and even passionate about collective action, as I was, and despite having been very clear in our Theory of Change that we would have to work to build power if we were going to advance our vision and mission, I felt that we would need a much broader foundation of support inside ChildFund if we were to overcome the (appropriate) caution that many felt about promoting collective action.  Especially if we began to get much push-back from local or national governments where we worked, as seemed likely.

So this is really a story of organizational change: how we were able, for the most part, to grow our organization’s abilities to work in a very different way.

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So beginning in 2010, I thought through a process of program development and organizational change:

  • We would start by building a common understanding of “Power,” leading to a degree of shared understanding of what it would mean for ChildFund Australia.  I felt that I was well-placed to take this forward, as I mentioned above;
  • I would look for opportunities to get our feet wet, places where it seemed that we had some safe space for projects consistent with our common understanding, so we could try, and learn without fearing that local authorities would react negatively.  I will describe the first of those projects, which we implemented in Svay Rieng, Cambodia, in some detail below, along with our reflections on that project;
  • We would form a “Community of Practice,” with delegates from each of our Country Offices, to help with the process of program development and learning from initial experiences, building capabilities internally while keeping enthusiasm strong;
  • Finally, we probably needed support from people who had more experience, from outside ChildFund, that could be helpful.  In the end we were very fortunate to engage two gifted consultants that I knew from the past: Valerie Miller and Ricardo Gómez.  More on Valerie and Ricardo below.

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We started with some definitions, to clarify things.  I found an extremely helpful set of materials for this effort on a great website “Powercube – Understanding Power for Social Change.”  I highly recommend the materials that (as of this writing) are still available on this website.

And, in a fortuitous coincidence, as I began to use the PowerCube website to help me develop a framework for ChildFund Australia, I noticed a familiar name: one of the leaders of the group that had created the PowerCube materials was Valerie Miller.

I had met Valerie when I was with UUSC.  When I moved from the 501(c)3 to set up UUSC Just Democracy, a 501(c)4 entity, I had met and worked with Valerie’s husband Ralph Fine.  At that time, Ralph was the advisor to one of our major donors, serving as my contact with that important resource.  And, just before I had joined UUSC, Valerie’s organization (Just Associates) had carried out review of our program, which had led to the establishment of our three program focuses there (economic justice, environmental justice, and civil liberties.  (A few years later we added a fourth plank – rights in crisis.)

Later, as I will describe below, Valerie accompanied us as we began to dip our toes into the water of collective action, which was of enormous help.

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I ended up adapting and using the conceptual framework included in the PowerCube website to help clarify matters in ChildFund Australia.  A summary of their framework can be seen in “Power Pack, Understanding Power for Social Change,” a document that is still available on the PowerCube website.

Included in that document are two basic frameworks that I relied on frequently in this journey.  Firstly, it seemed to help people understand “power” if we added a modifier to the word, unpacking the notion that way.  In other words, power could be understood in four ways, the first of which is normally seen as negative:

  • Power Over.  “The ability of relatively powerful actors to affect the actions and thought of the relatively powerless.”  In other words, coercive, oppressive power, the negative sense of the word “power.”

But in addition to that negative sense of the word, there are at least three potentially positive ways of thinking about “power”:

  • Power To.  “The capacity to act, to exercise agency and to realize the potential of rights, citizenship or voice”;
  • Power Within “Gaining a sense of self-identity, confidence and awareness that is a pre-condition for action”;
  • Power With.  “The synergy which can emerge through partnerships and collaboration with others, or through processes of collective action and alliance-building.”

Over time I found that it was most helpful and accurate to define “Power” in ChildFund Australia as essentially equivalent to “Power With,” or (in the terminology I would use over those years) collective action for children.  Other domains of our work had the effect of building “Power To” (for example, building educational and health assets), and “Power Within” (in particular when we worked with groups of women and youth), so what was new here was “Power With.”   That’s what we had to learn more about…

And it helped us to think through how power is manifested in the world, in different forms, in different spaces, and at different levels.  Again, material in that PowerCube document was very helpful:

 

“Forms” of Power

“Visible forms of power are contests over interests which are visible in public spaces or formal decision making bodies. Often these refer to political bodies, such as legislatures, local government bodies, local assemblies, or consultative forums…

“Hidden forms of power are used by vested interests to maintain their power and privilege by creating barriers to participation, by excluding key issues from the public arena, or by controlling politics ̳backstage‘. They may occur not only within political processes, but in organizational and other group contexts as well, such as workplaces, NGOs or community based organizations…

“Invisible power goes a step further. It involves the ways in which awareness of one‘s rights and interests are hidden through the adoption of dominating ideologies, values and forms of behavior by relatively powerless groups themselves. Sometimes this is also referred to as the ̳internalisation of powerlessness‘ in a way that affects the awareness and consciousness of potential issues and conflicts, even by those directly affected.”

“Spaces” of Power

“Though we may value the democratic right of people to participate more fully in decisions that affect their lives, in practice in many settings decision-making spaces are closed.  Decisions are made by a set of actors behind closed doors, without any pretence of broadening the boundaries for inclusion. Closed spaces are where elites such as politicians, bureaucrats, experts, bosses, managers and leaders make decisions with little broad consultation or involvement.

“Closed spaces often involve issues like trade, macro economic and finance policies, military policies, etc. which have a great deal of impact on peoples‘ lives but which are considered off-limits for public participation. In some societies and countries, especially those with long histories of authoritarian rule, closed spaces can be quite dominant, yet they also exist in strongly in so-called democracies as well. Closed spaces also exist – and often predominate – in workplaces, organizations and social movements, as well in as political institutions.”

“In many societies and governments, demands for participation have created new opportunities for involvement and consultation, usually through ̳invitation‘ from various authorities, be they government, supranational agencies or non-governmental organizations. Invited spaces may be regularized, that is they are institutionalized and ongoing, such as we find in various legally constituted participatory fora, or more transient, through one-off consultations. Increasingly with the growth of new forms of ̳participatory governance‘, these spaces are seen at every level, from local, to national policy and even to global forums, and often within organizations and workplaces as well.”

“While much emphasis on citizen action and participation is on how to open up closed spaces, or to participate effectively with authorities in invited spaces, there are almost always examples in any society of spaces for participation which relatively powerless or excluded groups create for themselves.

“These (claimed) spaces range from ones created by social movements and community associations, to those simply involving natural places where people gather to debate, discuss and resist, outside of the institutionalised policy arenas.

“… these spaces … ‘organic‘ spaces … emerge ̳out of sets of common concerns or identifications‘ and ̳may come into being as a result of popular mobilisation, such as around identity or issue-based concerns, or may consist of spaces in which like-minded people join together in common pursuits…”

This last concept, claimed spaces in which like-minded people join together in common pursuits, would come very close to capture where ChildFund Australia was headed.

“Levels” of Power

Global: “Globalisation and new forms of global governance have created a wide array of formal and informal, state and non-state spaces for participation and influence at levels beyond the nation-state.  At the international level, this includes formal institutions such as those associated with the UN, the World Bank or the IMF, meetings associated with global agreements and treaties, such as those on climate, and a host of consultative spaces for participation…

National: “… many argue that national government is still the critical entry point for change. It is national governments that often officially represent citizens in global governmentalarenas, or who can decide whether or not to implement international treaties. While many activists and campaigners have focused in recent years on global forms of citizen action,increasingly various actors are recognising the importance of national level change as well,including focus on parliaments, executive bodies, national political parties, courts, and the like.

Local: “In the last two decades, programmes of decentralisation have also made the local level very important, both through local government programmes, as well as a host of other structures for participation in development projects, service delivery, or NGOs.  Strategies for participation in local governance have been very important for planning, allocating and monitoring budgets, and holding local institutions to account.”

For ChildFund Australia, quite embedded at local level, the notions of enhancing “participation in local governance” and for “holding local institutions to account” were to become central to our work to build the collective action of people living in poverty.

Later, as we worked through what this would mean in ChildFund Australia, I convened a “Community of Practice” so that staff from all of our program countries could, together, begin to formalize an “approach” to Power, and begin to share experiences so that our work in this domain would be demystified.  See below.

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But first, we needed to put some of these ideas into practice, to get our boots muddy in the reality of this kind of social change.  Things came together pretty quickly, with a fortuitous visit I made to Guatemala.

I went on a field monitoring trip to Guatemala in mid-2010, and spent some time with Ricardo Gómez, an old friend who was Plan’s Country Director there.  He had really revolutionized Plan’s approach in Guatemala, moving decisively from what was a quite archaic, needs-based approach with lots of charity, to a rights-based program approach.  The results had been independently evaluated in glowing terms – much more positive impact on children, greatly-improved staff morale, better relations with local government and partners, etc.

Essentially, Ricardo was taking a “constitutional” approach, diving deeply into the commitments made in Guatemala’s founding documents and international human-rights commitments, helping excluded populations take collective action to claim their rights, and working with duty-bearers to help realize child rights in some of the country’s most marginalized populations.

As a result of our discussions, and my own reflections visiting ChildFund’s projects in Guatemala with another old friend, Jason Schwartzman, I was able to conceptualize a framework for our collective action work in a sketch that I created one evening in my hotel room:

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I forwarded an elaboration of this sketch to my colleagues in Sydney, Richard Geeves and Caroline Pinney, because they were involved with our program in Cambodia, where I was beginning to sense an opportunity:Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 4.29.58 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-06-21 at 4.35.34 PM.png

This proposed framework, which I was considering for discussion in ChildFund’s work in Cambodia (because of what I had sensed as opportunities there during initial field visits), was consistent with what Ricardo had been doing in Plan Guatemala, which I interpreted in this way:

  • The role of duty-bearers, mostly district-level government service providers, was to fulfill the human-rights obligations that their national governments had assumed by acceding to international covenants;
  • Rights-holders, on the other hand, needed to hold duty-bearers accountable through democratic or collective-action processes;
  • Other actors, such as international NGOs like Plan and ChildFund, needed to get off the playing field (and into supporting roles), because having three teams on the field was confusing to everybody!

So the diagram that I sent to Richard and Caroline showed ChildFund focused on:

  1. Helping citizens influence the planning and delivery of services related to their children (health, education, etc.) that are included in human-rights commitments assumed by their government;
  2. Helping citizens monitor these services;
  3. Building the capacity of local duty-bearers to deliver these services.

The first two of these focuses represented what I was beginning to label “Power,” if the processes took place through collective action.  Other than those three areas, at least in this framework, ChildFund had no business implementing projects, or even funding other NGOs to implement projects.  Our role was to support duty-bearers and rights-holders.

(By the way, many readers of this blog will know that there are many ways of defining a “rights-based” approach to development work.  For me, a “rights-based” approach is a program method consistent with the three focuses described here.)

If we moved in this direction, even as a pilot, it would be a very big deal.

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Much later, I found an article in “Development in Practice” that echoed Ricardo’s thinking: “A Positive Notion of Power for Citizen Voice and State Accountability,” by Keren Winterford (1).  It is very consistent with ChildFund Australia’s thinking about power, and with what we ended up pilot testing in Cambodia.

Here are a few quotes from that article:

“Lack of state accountability is viewed as a cause of poverty. Linked to this is lack of citizen participation to influence state accountability and service delivery. The idea of increasing citizen power by ‘‘putting people at the center of service provision’,’ in order to increase state accountability and improve basic services and reduce poverty, has become a dominant theme within contemporary development discourse…

From the late 1990s onwards, development discourse shifted from a focus on how participation could influence the delivery of development interventions, confined
by boundaries of a project, to how participation could influence the state and the functioning of government within the public sphere. Within this discourse, the notion of participation was repositioned as citizenship, with an emphasis on citizen engagement and citizen influence on the state…  The notion of power is central to notions of citizen–state relations and the view that poverty is a result of lack of state accountability and poor citizen participation…

A “… positive notion of power affirms the power of the state in creating change. This is in contrast to viewing state power as domination which needs to be dismantled … As described above, Green (2) notes the need of ‘‘harnessing the state’s ‘power over’ not doing away with it’’.  Chambers (3) also suggests mutual benefit can be gained by using the power of the state to support citizen action, and collective action for development outcomes. He writes, ‘‘there is extensive unrealised potential for win-win solutions through uppers using their power over to empower’’. A positive notion of power seeks to affirm and utilise state power in creating change.”

“… a positive notion of power is also operationalised and enacted through emphasising and enabling relational dialogue between citizens and the state…”

“… it is important to recognise that this may not be applicable in all situations relevant to citizen–state relations. A positive perspective on power may be compromised especially where the state discounts citizen voices and denies opportunity for dialogue as a means of creating change. A social contract is necessary whereby an agreement exists between citizens and the state and the state takes on roles and responsibilities for its citizens, and by virtue of their citizenship, citizens have rights and entitlements. The social contract enables state power to be vested in citizens.”

(1)  Winterford, Keren 2016.  “A Positive Notion of Power for Citizen Voice and State Accountability,” Development in Practice 26 (6): 696-705;

(2)  Green, D. 2008. “From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States can Change the World.”  Oxford: Oxfam International;

(3)  Chambers, R. 2006.  “Transforming Power: From Zero-Sum to Win-Win?” IDS Bulleting 37 (6): 99-110.

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From Guatemala, I contacted Carol Mortensen, our Country Director in Cambodia.  Even though Cambodia did not have the most-advanced human-rights record, to be sure, from my early visits there I had sensed an opportunity in Svay Rieng province, where ChildFund’s first program areas were located.  It seemed as if the “social contract” mentioned by Keren Winterford, above, might exist there, despite the broader context of oppression existing in Cambodia at the time.

Carol had been very careful to work closely with local authorities in Svay Rieng province, and I knew that ChildFund had particularly good relations with a district governor in Svay Chrum district (Mr Uy Than).

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Here I need to describe a little bit of “Decentralization and Deconcentration” – “D & D” in Cambodia.  Beginning in the late 1990’s, “encouraged” by donor governments, the Cambodian government had gradually been delegating some functions and financial resources to districts and communes. Along the way, commune council members began to be elected rather than appointed, with (during the time described here) district council members selected by the elected commune counselors instead of being directly elected.

Our opportunity seemed to rest on two auspicious conditions in Cambodia: firstly, Cambodian law required a huge majority of people in the district to be consulted during budget planning – something like 85%!  This seemed like a very valuable opportunity to adapt the framework I had adapted from Ricardo’s work in Guatemala to a real situation, where we could help people, collectively, influence government service delivery.  And, secondly, I was assured that Mr Uy Than seemed to really want to create his district plan according to the rules, including consultation…

So I worked with Carol and her program staff in Cambodia to design a first step: the concept that we agreed in mid-June 2010 is included here, below:

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In another document I prepared around the same time, I began to envision how this approach, if successful, might evolve:

“… in a second phase of this effort, ChildFund in Cambodia will consider interventions to help citizens influence service provision, and support District government in responding to this influence in a way which advances the human rights of marginalized populations, particularly of children and youth. The organization envisions a flexible, iterative approach – learning and consulting with local partners along the way, including feedback to national level regarding this experience of ‘rights holders and duty bearers working together’.”

The project that emerged after a period of design and consultation ended up being called “Community Voices.”

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Throughout this process, as we designed and implemented the “Community Voices” project, reflected on its achievements, and expanded our work in the “power” domain, one small obstacle appeared occasionally, along the way: in some ways:

  • my direct involvement in this project was inconsistent with ChildFund’s organizational design.

In other words, in principle, our Country Director, Carol Mortensen, was meant to lead and manage all operations in Cambodia, reporting to me.  And, in turn, Carol had hired provincial staff in Svay Rieng (and Kratie) who had certain levels of autonomy and authority.  Having me so directly involved in a particular project was very unusual, to say the least!  And made things sometimes a bit confusing…

But there was no way around it.  Staff in ChildFund Cambodia, including Carol, were not at all used to working to promote collective action, and were in fact very wary of the entire notion because of the atmosphere in the country.  The space for activism around human rights in Cambodia then, and at least as much now, was very constrained, and the centerpiece of Carol’s approach was to work through local government.  This had worked well, and certainly made life easier for ChildFund; even though we were careful to work within the framework of Cambodia’s “decentralization and deconcentration” effort, and to coordinate carefully with Mr Uy Than, in some ways we were risking the stability of ChildFund’s work in our “Community Voices” work.

Despite this pressure, and despite the unusual role I was playing in this particular project, I never felt serious resistance from Carol.  A few times she seemed to be a bit uncomfortable, but we talked things through and we were always able to adjust aspects of project implementation that were making her nervous.  Probably our local staff in Svay Rieng were even more nervous at times, but somehow they were able to carve out a safe space for the project, and for themselves.  I paid careful attention to this, checking in with staff (through Carol and other Phnom Penh-based senior managers) along the way.

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What was the “Community Voices” project?  There were two main components, and a third area that depended on how the initial work went:

  • We carried out thorough research to understand Cambodian law with respect to district planning, in the context of the overall “decentralization and deconcentration” process and, at Mr Uy Than’s invitation, we trained district government staff especially in areas related to community participation in district budgeting.  The consultant we hired to carry out this research, and to provide training in Svay Chrum district, had been a senior member of the Ministry team that was designing and overseeing the implementation of the process of “decentralization and deconcentration” – his report is attached here: End-of-Consultancy Report (ChildFund);
  • We helped mobilize youth, mothers, and other community members to gather information and provide input from their perspective to the district budgeting process.  I was able to observe some of the information-gathering events, led by youth and young mothers, and was very impressed.  Sadly, I can’t seem to locate photos of these events that I took at the time, in particular from consultations that took place at a local pagoda…

Once the consultations were completed, we supported Mr Uy Than and his district staff as they prepared their district investment plan, and we were delighted to be able to see the influence of local people, and children, in the budget.

We were also delighted when we were informed that the Svay Chrum district investment plan was approved by the national government, the first (and only, at that date) such plan (of over 150 districts in Cambodia) that fully complied with the commitment made to involve local people in its preparation.  A big success.

The third component of the “Community Voices” project was a tentative commitment to fund the district government to implement child-related projects that were included in the district investment plan due to input from the community consultations that ChildFund had supported.  We hoped to revisit this idea once we saw how the creation of the district investment plan went, ideally with very strong input from children, youth, mothers, fathers in poor communities where ChildFund worked.

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Once we had gone through this process, with what seemed like great success, I wanted to make sure we documented what we had learned, and to begin to spread the word to our other program countries.  So we convened a week-long reflection workshop in Svay Rieng, with the participation of local district government, including (the recently-retired governor) Mr Uy Than (and his new successor); youth and families from a range of communities in Svay Chrum district; and ChildFund staff from Cambodia, but also from neighboring Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam, as well as Sydney.  Uniquely, there was enough interest in the project across the ChildFund Alliance that we also were fortunate to have the participation of Martin Ostergaard from ChildFund Denmark.

And I was also fortunate that my old friend Ricardo Gómez, who had by that time left Plan International in Guatemala and returned to join his family firm in Colombia, as an external participant and facilitator.  This was very helpful, in part because of the lessons that Ricardo could share with us from his experience in Guatemala, but also because my own conceptualization of what became “Community Voices” emerged in part from discussions with him (as described above.)

Here are a few images from that workshop:

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ChildFund Staff And Consultants Gathering Before The Workshop (From Australia, Cambodia, Colombia, Denmark, Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam,

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ChildFund Cambodia Country Director Carol Mortensen and Former District Governor Chairman Mr Uy Than

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ChildFund PNG Country Director Manish Joshi Presenting Thoughts About The Framework I Had Prepared In Guatemala

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From Left: Nguyen Ba Lieu (ChildFund Viet Nam), Ricardo Gómez (Program Consultant), Kristen Rasmussen (Documentation Consultant)

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Ricardo Gómez and Translator

 

A workshop report was produced, but (sadly) the report ended up being very focused on the role of the district government, shying away from any significant discussion of how the community had been mobilized.  In a positive sense, this was a reflection of the approach that ChildFund Cambodia had taken to ensure their ability to work smoothly in a challenging context: we needed to be very cautious about any sense that we were working in the “human rights” field.  And the document did help us summarize lessons that we were able to take forward.  But it did mean that the lessons learned related to collective action were not included.

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A more balanced and complete representation of our work was included in Ricardo’s consultancy report, included here: ChildFund RR Workshop Final Document 120521.  After nearly a week of reflections, we agreed seven action steps, indicated here in bold with comments from me (in normal type) and from Ricardo (in italics):

  1. Expand ChildFund community (staff) knowledge, awareness and commitment.  We had agreed that the “Community Voices” project had great potential, but we recognized that working in this way required very different skills from our staff.  So this was a positive commitment to build the skills and then to extend the pilot project.  Place special emphasis developing and promoting ChildFund Cambodia staff and team work.  Develop ChildFund team’s social capital that will support this community to evolve as a model community, one that communities in the field will be stimulated to emulate, to learn from.  Provide the support for this community to be able to reach high levels of staff motivation and morale;
  2. Expand Village Development Committee skills and expertise.  Of course, as we built the skills of our staff, it was just as important that local communities learned how to influence district planning.  Promote active citizenship in a relation that will support local governments to gradually explore program phases of: participative local public policies, participate budget planning, monitoring and evaluation;
  3. Deepen district planning approach to commune level.  Our focus had been at district level, from which most government services-delivery was managed.  But some government services were also provided at the local level below the district (the commune).  And in 2010, when we were implementing the Community Voices project, commune council members were being elected democratically, while district councils were selected from commune representatives (so, not elected directly).  So the commune level was also important.  Consider reaching an agreement with provincial authorities to support improving local government’s capacity and services.  A first step could be agreeing on a set of indicators on good governance and establish a plan of action to expand and improve services, initially on those within the domain of the local government and later on services provided by the national government;
  4. Consult with provincial Decentralisation and De-concentration (D&D) persons to clearly understand sub-national management: including development planning, monitoring and evaluation, financial responsibilities.  Expand Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness to be applied at local levels;
  5. Identify a project out of the District Development Plan and provide funding directly to the government level to implement.  It would be appropriate to involve communities in this process and start rolling-out the scheme “right holder + duty bearers = exercise of rights.”  It would good to identify a successful existing government program that could be expanded and improved in the Svay Rieng Province -­‐ensure continuity and sustainability;
  6. Support the relevant Ministry of Interior D&D working group.  Good strategic move;
  7. Continue to support the Royal Government of Cambodia at national level.  Consider linking this work with the work being implemented at community and district levels, sharing relevant issues from local levels with national levels. Consider implementing a system of downwards accountability from Country Office to communities, further supporting communities’ empowerment.

The fifth recommendation was controversial inside ChildFund Cambodia.  Although (as mentioned above) we had always envisioned the possibility of funding government work in an area identified in the district investment plan, especially if some new ideas came from consultations with local people, for many staff, it felt quite risky to even consider providing funding directly to local government.  For me, however, while recognizing the risks, if we didn’t at least test this step, the whole point of supporting duty-bearers and rights-holders to work together to realize human (and child) rights would be incomplete.

*

As ChildFund Cambodia moved into a second phase, I turned my attention to expanding our work to more places where we worked, in other countries.  The most important venue for this effort was the formation of a “Community of Practice,” meeting periodically to formulate program recommendations and review implementation of our commitments to build power and collective action of people, and of children.  I chaired this Community of Practice (“COP”).

We were very lucky that Valerie Miller, my old friend from UUSC Just Democracy days, was willing to participate actively in the Power COP.  She had visited ChildFund Australia earlier, at my invitation, to carry out workshops with our teams and with the broader INGO community in Australia, including AusAID, where I discovered that a number of government staff had used a book Valerie had written in their university studies!  I think this visit and the workshops were very helpful in building enthusiasm for work promoting collective action, while also raising our profile in Australia.

One of the first tasks undertaken by the Power COP was to develop a short, succinct “Approach” to Power, which sought to clarify what we meant by the concept and how it fit into our program work.  I’m attaching here a final (but still incomplete) draft of the document: ChildFund Australia_s Approach To Power – 5.  The key message in that document is:

Our overarching Program Approach commits ChildFund Australia to build the power of people and children living in poverty. To accomplish this, ChildFund and our partners will work at community level, and with local government duty bearers. We will link these efforts with our campaigning work at national and international levels.

At community level, ChildFund and our partners will help build the awareness, skills and organising abilities necessary for children, youth, families, and local organisations to engage with duty bearers, so that they can – together – constructively influence local government policies and practices in favour of children and youth. We will work to ensure that those normally excluded from engagement are included.

Often we will seek to build awareness, skills and organising abilities through participation in projects focused on other development outcomes. For example, when implementing a water project, activities such as conducting and analysing the situation in the community (including a power analysis) in preparation for project design, can build awareness and analytical skills in youth in the community; this can lead to ChildFund or our partners helping community members to influence local government provision of water services, either collectively or via a local organisation, thus learning and practicing organising and influencing skills in a practical way. At other times ChildFund or our partners will build awareness, skills, and organising abilities as stand-alone, focused interventions with, for example, youth clubs.

ChildFund or our partners will help build the awareness and skills of local government to understand and implement their own planning processes, particularly related to consultation with local citizens – especially those members of the community often excluded from engagement, such as girls and women, ethnic minorities, the poorest, people with disability, people living with HIV, sex workers, etc. Our aim in doing this is to support inclusive service delivery that realises the rights of all children.

For example, when local government is preparing budget for a future financial period, ChildFund or our partners will help government staff include the voices of excluded children, youth, and their families. We will consider supporting government implementation of those priorities that emerge from consultative processes, particularly as related to issues put forward by children, youth, and their families. This will lead to better and more inclusive service delivery in areas related to the rights of children.

Over time, ChildFund’s work in communities, with partners, and with local government enable us to prepare and implement integrated campaigns. These campaigns will raise the voices of local people related to a particular child right or set of rights, and will include programming, advocacy, and activism in countries where we work, including Australia, and internationally, perhaps together with other like-minded groups such as the ChildFund Alliance.

For me, this is a very clear and inspiring statement.

*

By the time I left ChildFund Australia, it seemed that work in this very new domain of our program approach was underway in Cambodia and Viet Nam, and we were nearing clarity regarding what it might mean in Laos and Papua New Guinea.  Four very different contexts, but we were getting there!

*

Introducing elements of collective action for human rights in ChildFund Australia was a big challenge.  The organization was quite project-focused, and project work was going very well – so why change?!  Especially since working to build collective action could be interpreted as political in nature, something that would not be practical in places like Cambodia, Laos, and Cambodia in particular.  On top of all that, Australians are very pragmatic, common-sense people, averse to fancy language and concepts.  All in all, a difficult context for this particular innovation.

On the other hand, we had made the commitment in our Theory of Change, and I’m very happy with how our teams in Sydney and (especially) Cambodia put their heads down and tried it.

Thinking about this shift in terms of organizational change, the approach we took was smart, and successful:

  • We built the commitment to collective action into our fundamental organizational theory of change, so the mandate was clear;
  • We found resources internally (me!) and externally (Ricardo and Valerie) that could help us build our own capabilities;
  • We identified a place to learn and test where favorable conditions existed.  Failure in that early experience would have emboldened voices within ChildFund Australia that were cautious about collective action, so we wanted to succeed while also learning and then taking on the challenge in more difficult places;
  • We created a safe space for learning, a “Community of Practice,” in which ideas and experiences could be shared, debated, and trialed.

On the other hand: my own direct involvement in particular projects was unusual, which meant that I had to be a bit cautious about how hands-on I became.

By the time I left Australia, projects including significant elements of collective action for child rights were underway in Viet Nam, and planning was taking place in Papua New Guinea and Laos.

Overall, I’m very proud with what we achieved, and am grateful to our teams in Svay Rieng and our Cambodia Country Office in Phnom Penh, and to Ricardo Gómez and Valerie Miller for the excellent external support and accompaniment.

*

Next time, I will introduce the ChildFund Australia teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam.  Stay tuned to meet some great people!

*

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

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

 

 

 

 

West Bond (37) – Impact Assessment in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness Framework

June, 2018

International NGOs do their best to demonstrate the impact of their work, to be accountable, to learn and improve.  But it’s very challenging and complicated to measure change in social-justice work, and even harder to prove attribution.  At least, to do these things in affordable and participatory ways…

Two times in Plan International, earlier in my career, I had worked to develop and implement systems that would demonstrate impact – and both times, we had failed.

In this article I want to describe how, in ChildFund Australia, we succeeded, and were able to build and implement a robust and participatory system for measuring and attributing impact in our work.

Call it the Holy Grail!

*

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 36 of the 48 peaks, and covered my journey from Peace Corps in Ecuador (1984-86) through to my arrival in Sydney in 2009, where I joined ChildFund Australia as the first “International Program Director.”  This is my 37th post in the series.

In recent posts in this series I’ve been describing aspects of the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”) the system that would help us make sure we were doing what we said we were going to do and, crucially, verify that we were making a difference in the lives of children and young people living in poverty.  So we could learn and improve our work…

There are three particular components of the overall DEF that I am detailing in more depth, because I think they were especially interesting and innovative.  In my previous blog I described how we used Case Studies to complement the more quantitative aspects of the system.  These Case Studies were qualitative narratives of the lived experience of people experiencing change related to ChildFund’s work, which we used to gain human insights, and to reconnect ourselves to the passions that brought us to the social-justice sector in the first place.

This time, I want to go into more depth on two final, interrelated components of the ChildFund Australia DEF: Outcome Indicator Surveys and Statements of Impact.  Together, these two components of the DEF enabled us to understand the impact that ChildFund Australia was making, consistent with our Theory of Change and organizational vision and mission.  Important stuff!

But first…

*

Last time I described climbing to the top of Mt Bond on 10 August 2017, after having gotten to the top of Bondcliff.  After Mt Bond, I continued on to West Bond (4540ft, 1384m), the last of three 4000-footers I would scale that day.  (But, since this was an up-and-back trip, I would climb Mt Bond and Bondcliff twice!  It would be a very long day.)

As I described last time, I had arrived at the top of Bondcliff at about 10:30am, having left the trail-head at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center just after 6:30am.  This early start was enabled by staying the night before at Hancock Campsite on the Kancamagus road, just outside of Lincoln, New Hampshire.  Then I had reached the top of Bondcliff at 10:30am, and the summit of Mt Bond at about 11:30am.

Now I would continue to the top of West Bond, and then retrace my steps to Lincoln Woods:

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So, picking up the story from the top of Mt Bond, the Bondcliff Trail drops down fairly quickly, entering high-altitude forest, mostly pine and ferns.

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After 20 minutes I reached the junction with the spur trail that would take me to the top of West Bond.  I took a left turn here.  The spur trail continues through forest for some distance:

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I reached the top of West Bond at 12:30pm, and had lunch there.  The views here were remarkable; it was time for lunch, and I was fortunate to be by myself, so I took my time at the summit.

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Bondcliff From West Bond

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At The Summit Of West Bond.  Franconia Ridge And Mt Garfield In The Background.  A Bit Tired!

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Mt Bond, On The Left, And Bondcliff On The Right

 

Here are two spectacular videos from the top of West Bond.  The first simply shows Bondcliff, with the southern White Mountains in the background:

 

And this second video is more of a full panorama, looking across to Owl’s Head, Franconia Ridge, Garfield, the Twins, Zealand, and back:

 

Isn’t that spectacular?!

After eating lunch at the top of West Bond, I left at a bit before 1pm, and began to retrace my steps towards Lincoln Woods.  To get there, I had to re-climb Mt Bond and Bondcliff.

I reached the top of Mt Bond, for the second time, at 1:20pm.  The view down towards Bondcliff was great!:

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Bondcliff From The Top Of Mt Bond, Now Descending…

 

Here is a view from near the saddle between Mt Bond and Bondcliff, looking up at the latter:

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Looking Up At Bondcliff

 

As I passed over Bondcliff, at 2:15pm, I was slowing down, and my feet were starting to be quite sore.  I was beginning to dread the descent down Bondcliff, Wilderness, and Lincoln Woods Trails… it would be a long slog.

Here’s a view from there back up towards Mt Bond:

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A Glorious White Mountain Day – Mt Bond And West Bond, From Bondcliff

 

But there were still 8 or 9 miles to go!  And since I had declined the kind offer I had received to ferry my car up to Zealand trail-head, which would have saved me 3 miles, I had no other option but to walk back to Lincoln Woods.

It was nearly 5pm by the time I reached the junction with Twinway and the Lincoln Woods Trail.  By that time, I was truly exhausted, and my feet were in great pain, but (as I said) I had no option but to continue to the car: no tent or sleeping bag, no phone service here.

The Lincoln Woods Trail, as I’ve described in more detail elsewhere, is long and flat and wide, following the remnants of an old forest railway:

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Sleepers From The Old Forestry Railway

 

Scratches from walking poles?

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It was around 5:30 when I got to the intersection with Franconia Notch Trail, which is the path up Owl’s Head.

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It was a very long slog down Lincoln Woods Trail – put one foot in front of the other, and repeat!  And repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat …

Finally I reached the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center, where I had parked my car at 6:30am that morning, at 6:40pm, having climbed three 4000-footers, walked 22 miles, and injured my feet in just over 12 hours.

Looking back, I had accomplished a great deal, and the views from the top of three of New Hampshire’s highest and most-beautiful were amazing.  But, at the time, I had little feeling of accomplishment!

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Knackered!

 

*

Here is the diagram I’ve been using to describe the ChildFund Australia DEF:

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Figure 1: The ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework

 

In this article I want to describe two components of the DEF: #2, the Outcome Indicator Surveys; and #12, how we produced “Statements of Impact.”  Together, these two components enabled us to measure the impact of our work.

First, some terminology: as presented in an earlier blog article in this series, we had adopted fairly standard definitions of some related terms, consistent with the logical framework approach used in most mature INGOs:

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According to this way of defining things:

  • A Project is a set of Inputs (time, money, technology) producing a consistent set of Outputs (countable things delivered in a community);
  • A Program is a set of Projects producing a consistent set of Outcomes (measurable changes in human conditions related to the organization’s Theory of Change);
  • Impact is a set of Programs producing a consistent set of changes to Outcome Indicators as set forth in the organization’s Strategic Plan.

But that definition of “Impact,” though clear and correct, wasn’t nuanced enough for us to design a system to measure it.  More specifically, before figuring out how to measure “Impact,” we needed to grapple with two fundamental questions:

  • How “scientific” did we want to be in measuring impact?  In other words, were we going to build the infrastructure needed to run randomized control group trials, or would we simply measure change in our Outcome Indicators?  Or somewhere in between?;
  • How would we gather data about change in the communities where we worked?  A census, surveying everybody in a community, which would be relatively costly?  If not, what method for sampling would we use that would enable us to claim that our results were accurate (enough)?

*

The question “how ‘scientific’ did we want to be” when we assessed our impact was a fascinating one, getting right to the heart of the purpose of the DEF.  The “gold standard” at that time, in technical INGOs and academic institutions, was to devise “randomized control group” trials, in which you would: implement your intervention in some places, with some populations; identify ahead of time a comparable population that would serve as a “control group” where you would not implement that intervention; and then compare the two groups after the intervention had concluded.

For ChildFund Australia, we needed to decide if we would invest in the capability to run randomized control group trials.  It seemed complex and expensive but, on the other hand, it  would have the virtue of being at the forefront of the sector and, therefore, appealing to technical donors.

When we looked at other comparable INGOs, in Australia and beyond, there were a couple that had gone that direction.  When I spoke with my peers in some of those organizations, they were generally quite cautious about the randomized control trial (“RCT”) approach: though appealing in principle, in practice it was complex, requiring sophisticated technical staff to design and oversee the measurements, and to interpret results.  So RCTs were very expensive.  Because of the cost, people with practical experience in the matter recommended using RCTs, if at all, only for particular interventions that were either expensive or were of special interest for other reasons.

For ChildFund Australia, this didn’t seem suitable, mainly because we were designing a comprehensive system that we hoped would allow us to improve the effectiveness of our development practice, while also involving our local partners, authorities, and people in communities where we worked.  Incorporating RCTs into such a comprehensive system would be very expensive, and would not be suitable for local people in any meaningful way.

The other option we considered, and ultimately adopted, hinged upon an operational definition of “Impact.”  Building on the general definition shown above (“Impact is a set of Programs producing a consistent set of changes to Outcome Indicators as set forth in the organization’s Strategic Plan”), operationally we decided that:

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In other words, we felt that ChildFund could claim that we had made an significant impact in the lives of children in a particular area if, and only if:

  1. There had been a significant, measured, positive change in a ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicator; and
  2. Local people (community members, organizations, and government staff) determined in a rigorous manner that ChildFund had contributed to a significant degree to that positive change.

In other words:

  • If there was no positive change in a ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicator over three years (see below for a discussion of why we chose three years), we would not be able to claim impact;
  • If there was a positive change in a ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicator over three years, and local people determined that we had contributed to that positive change, we would be able to claim impact.

(Of course, sometimes there might be a negative change in a ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicator, which would have been worse if we hadn’t been working in the community.  We were able to handle that situation in practice, in community  workshops.)

I felt that, if we approached measuring impact in this way it would be “good enough” for us – perhaps not as academically robust as using RCT methods, but (if we did it right) certainly good enough for us to work with local people to make informed decisions, together, about improving the effectiveness of our work, and to make public claims of the impact of our work.

So that’s what we did!

*

As a reminder, soon after I had arrived in Sydney we had agreed a “Theory of Change” which enabled us to design a set of organization-wide Outcome Indicators.  These indicators, designed to measure the status of children related to our Theory of Change, were described in a previous article, and are listed here:

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These Outcome Indicators had been designed technically, and were therefore robust.  And they had been derived from the ChildFund Australia Vision, Mission, and Program Approach, so they measured changes that would be organically related to the claims we were making in the world.

So we needed to set up a system to measure these Outcome Indicators; this would become component #2 in the DEF (see Figure 1, above).  And we had to design a way for local partners, authorities, and (most importantly) people from the communities where we worked to assess changes to these Outcome Indicators and reach informed conclusions about who was responsible for causing the changes.

First, let me outline how we measured the ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicators.

*

Outcome Indicator Surveys (Component #2 in Figure 1, Above)

Because impact comes rather slowly, an initial, baseline survey was carried out in each location and then, three years later, another measurement was carried out.  A three-year gap was somewhat arbitrary: one year was too short, but five years seemed a bit long.  So we settled on three years!

Even though we had decided not to attempt to measure impact using complex randomized control trials, these survey exercises were still quite complicated, and we wanted the measurements to be reliable.  This was why we ended up hiring a “Development Effectiveness and Learning Manager” in each Country Office – to support the overall implementation of the DEF and, in particular, to manage the Outcome Indicator Surveys.  And these surveys were expensive and tricky to carry out, so we usually hired students from local universities to do the actual surveying.

Then we needed to decide what kind of survey to carry out.  Given the number of people in the communities where we worked, we quickly determined that a “census,” that is, interviewing everybody, was not feasible.

So I contacted a colleague at the US Member of the ChildFund Alliance, who was an expert in this kind of statistical methodology.  She strongly advised me to use the survey method that they (the US ChildFund) were using, called “Lot Quality Assurance Sampling.”  LQAS seemed to be less expensive than other survey methodologies, and it was highly recommended by our expert colleague.

(In many cases, during this period, we relied on technical recommendations from ChildFund US.  They were much bigger than the Australia Member, with excellent technical staff, so this seemed logical and smart .  But, as with Plan International during my time there, the US ChildFund Member had very high turnover, which led to many changes in approach.  This meant, in practice for us, although ChildFund Australia had adopted several of the Outcome Indicators that ChildFund US was using, in the interests of commonality, and – as I said – we had begun to use LQAS for the same reason, soon the US Member was changing their Indicators and abandoning the use of LQAS because new  staff felt it wasn’t the right approach.  This led to the US Member expressing some disagreement with how we, in Australia, were measuring Impact – even though we were following their – previous – recommendations!  Sigh.)

Our next step was to carry out baseline LQAS surveys in each field location.  It took time to accomplish this, as even the relatively-simple LQAS was a complex exercise than we were typically used to.  Surveys were supervised by the DEL Managers, carried out usually by students from local universities.  Finally, the DEL Managers prepared baseline reports summarizing the status of each of the ChildFund Australia Outcome Indicators.

Then we waited three years and repeated the same survey in each location.

(In an earlier article I described how Plan International, where I had worked for 15 years, had failed twice to implement a DEF-like system, at great expense.  One of the several mistakes that Plan had made was that they never held their system constant enough to be comparable over time.  In other words, in the intervening years after measuring a baseline, they tinkered with [“improved”] the system so much that the second measurement couldn’t be compared to the first one!  So it was all for naught, useless.  I was determined to avoid this mistake, so I was very reluctant to change our Outcome Indicators after they were set, in 2010; we did add a few Indicators as we deepened our understanding of our Theory of Change, but that didn’t get in the way of re-surveying the Indicators that we had started with, which didn’t change.)

Once the second LQAS survey was done, three years after the baseline, the DEL Manager would analyze differences and prepare a report, along with a translation of the report that could be shared with local communities, partners, and government staff.  The DEL Manager, at this point, did not attempt to attribute changes to any particular development actor (local government, other NGOs, the community themselves, ChildFund, etc.), but did share the results with the communities for validation.

Rather, the final DEF component I want to describe was used to determine impact.

*

Statements of Impact (Component #12 in Figure 1, Above)

The most exciting part of this process was how we used the changes measured over three years in the Outcome Indicators to assess Impact (defined, as described above, as change plus attribution.)

The heart of this process was a several-day-long workshop at which local people would review and discuss changes in the Outcome Indicators, and attribute the changes to different actors in the area.  In other words, if a particular indicator (say, the percentage of boys and girls between 12 and 16 years of age who had completed primary school) had changed significantly, people at the workshop would discuss why the change had occurred – had the local education department done something to cause the change?  Had ChildFund had an impact?  Other NGOs?  The local community members themselves?

Finally, people in the workshop would decide the level of ChildFund’s contribution to the change (“attribution”) on a five-point scale: none, little, some, a lot, completely.   This assessment, made by local people in an informed and considered way, would then serve as the basic content for a “Statement of Impact” that would be finalized by the DEL Manager together with his or her senior colleagues in-country, Sydney-based IPT staff and, finally, myself.

*

We carried out the very first of these “Impact” workshops in Svay Rieng, Cambodia, in February 2014.  Because this was the first of these important workshops, DEL Managers from Laos and Viet Nam attended, to learn, along with three of us from Sydney.

Here are some images of the ChildFund team as we gathered and prepared for the workshop in Svay Rieng:

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Here are images of the workshop.  First, I’m opening the session:

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Lots of group discussion:

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The DEL Manager in Cambodia, Chan Solin, prepared a summary booklet for each participant in the workshop.  These booklets were a challenge to prepare, because they would be used by local government, partners, and community members; but Solin did an outstanding job.  (He also prepared the overall workshop, with Richard Geeves, and managed proceedings very capably.)  The booklet presented the results of the re-survey of the Outcome Indicators as compared with the baseline:

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Here participants are discussing results, and attribution to different organizations that had worked in Svay Rieng District over the three years:

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Subgroups would then present their discussions and recommendations for attribution.  Note the headphones – since this was our first Impact Workshop, and ChildFund staff were attending from Laos, Viet Nam, and Australia in addition to Cambodia, we provided simultaneous translation:

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Here changes in several Outcome Indicators over the three years (in blue and red) can be seen.  The speaker is describing subgroup deliberations on attribution of impact to the plenary group:

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Finally, a vote was taken to agree the attribution of positive changes to Outcome Indicators.  Participants voted according to their sense of ChildFund’s contribution to the change: none, a little, some, a lot, or completely.  Here is a ballot and a tabulation sheet:

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Finally, here is an image of the participants in that first Statement of Impact Workshop: Local Community Members, Government Staff, ChildFund Staff (From The Local Area, Country Office, Sydney, and From Neighboring Viet Nam):

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*

Once the community workshops were finished, our local Senior Management would review the findings and propose adjustments to our work.  Then the DEL Managers would prepare a final report, which we described as “Statements of Impact.”

Generally speaking, these reports would include:

  • An introduction from the Country Director;
  • A description of the location where the Statement of Impact was produced, and a summary of work that ChildFund had done there;
  • An outline of how the report was produced, noting the three-year gap between baseline and repeat survey;
  • Findings agreed by the community regarding changes to each Outcome Indicator along with any attribution of positive change to ChildFund Australia;
  • Concluding comments and a plan of action for improvement, agreed by the local Country Office team and myself.

Examples of these reports are shared below.

*

This process took some time to get going, because of the three-year delay to allow for re-surveying, but once it commenced it was very exciting.  Seeing the “Statement of Impact” reports come through to Sydney, in draft, from different program countries, was incredible.  They showed, conclusively, that ChildFund was really making a difference in the lives of children, in ways that were consistent with our Theory of Change.

Importantly, they were credible, at least to me, because they showed some areas where we were not making a difference, either because we had chosen not to work in a particular domain (to focus on higher priorities) or because we needed to improve our work.

*

I’m able to share four ChildFund Australia Statements of Impact, downloaded recently from the organization’s website.  These were produced as described in this blog article:

*

Here are a few of the findings from that first “Statement of Impact” in Svay Chrum:

  • ChildFund made a major contribution to the increase in primary-school completion in the district:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.49.40 AM.png

 

  • Although the understanding of diarrhea management had improved dramatically, it was concluded that ChildFund had not contributed to this, because we hadn’t implemented any related projects.  “Many development actors contributed to the change”:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.52.47 AM.png

 

  • ChildFund had a major responsibility for the improvement in access to hygienic toilets in the district:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.49.54 AM.png

 

  • ChildFund made a significant contribution to the increase in access to improved, affordable water in the district:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.54.41 AM.png

 

  • ChildFund had made a major contribution to large increases in the percentage of children and youth who reported having opportunities to voice their opinions:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.56.08 AM.png

  • Although the percentage of women of child-bearing age in the district who were knowledgeable regarding how to prevent infection with HIV, it was determined the ChildFund had made only a minor contribution to this improvement.  And recommendations were made by the group regarding youth knowledge, which had actually declined:

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 8.57.47 AM.png

 

To me, this is fantastic stuff, especially given that the results emerged from deep and informed consultations with the community, local partners, and local authorities.  Really, this was the Holy Grail – accountability, and lots of opportunity for learning.  The results were credible to me, because they seemed to reflect the reality of what ChildFund had worked on, and pointed out areas where we needed to improve; the report wasn’t all positive!

*

For me, the way that the Outcome Indicator Surveys and Statements of Impact worked was a big step forward, and a major accomplishment.  ChildFund Australia now had a robust and participatory way of assessing impact so that we could take steps to confidently improve our work.  With these last two components of the DEF coming online, we had managed to put in place a comprehensive development-effectiveness system, the kind of system that we had not been able to implement in Plan.

As I shared the DEF – its design, the documents and reports it produced – with our teams, partners, Australian government, donors – I began to get lots of positive feedback.   At least for its time, in Australia, the ChildFund Australia DEF was the most comprehensive, robust, participatory, useful system put into place that anybody had ever seen.  Not the most scientific, perhaps, but something much better: usable, useful, and empowering.

*

My congratulations and thanks to the people who played central roles in creating, implementing, and supporting the DEF:

  • In Sydney: Richard Geeves and Rouena Getigan;
  • And the DEL Managers in our Country Offices: Chan Solin (Cambodia), Joe Pasen (PNG), Marieke Charlet (Laos), and Luu Ngoc Thuy and Bui Van Dung (Viet Nam).

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  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. Mt Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System.

 

 

Mt Bond (36) – “Case Studies” In ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness Framework

June, 2018

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.

So far, I’ve described climbing 35 of the 48 peaks, and covered my journey from Peace Corps in Ecuador (1984-86) through to my arrival in Sydney in 2009, where I joined ChildFund Australia as the first “International Program Director.”

Last time I described the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework,” the system that would help us make sure we were doing what we said we were going to do and, crucially, verifying that we were making a difference in the lives of children and young people living in poverty.  So we could learn and improve our work…

This time, I want to go into more depth on one component of the DEF, the “Case Studies” that described the lived experience of people that we worked with.  Next time, I’ll describe how we measured the impact of our work.

But first…

*

On 10 August, 2017, I climbed three 4000-footers in one very long day: Bondcliff (4265ft, 1300m), Mt Bond (4698ft, 1432m), and West Bond (4540ft, 1384m).  This was a tough day, covering 22 miles and climbing three very big mountains.  At the end of the hike, I felt like I was going to lose the toenails on both big toes (which, in fact, I did!) … it was a bit much!

Last time I wrote about climbing to the top of Bondcliff, the first summit of that day.  This time, I will describe the brief walk from there to the top of Mt Bond, the tallest of the three Bonds.  And next time I’ll finish describing that day, with the ascent of West Bond and the return to the trail-head at Lincoln Woods.

*

As I described last time, I arrived at the top of Bondcliff at about 10:30am, having left the trail-head at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center just after 6:30am.  I was able to get an early start because I had stayed the night before at Hancock Campsite on the Kancamagus road, just outside of Lincoln, New Hampshire.

It was a bright and mostly-sunny day, with just a few clouds and some haze.  The path between Bondcliff and Mt Bond is quite short – really just dropping down to a saddle, and then back up again, only 1.2 miles:

Bond Map - 6b

 

It took me about an hour to cover that distance and reach the top of Mt Bond from Bondcliff at 11:30am.  The path was rocky as it descended from Bondcliff, in the alpine zone, with many large boulders as I began to go back up towards Mt Bond – some scrambling required.

This photo was taken at the saddle between Bondcliff and Mt Bond: on the left is Bondcliff, on the right is West Bond, and in the middle, in the distance, is Franconia Ridge; Mt Bond is behind me.  A glorious view on an amazing day for climbing:

IMG_1929.jpg

From the Left: Bondcliff, Franconia Ridge, West Bond

 

It got even steeper climbing up from the saddle to the summit, passing through some small pine shrubs, until just before the top.

The views were spectacular at the summit of Mt Bond, despite the sky being slightly hazy – I could see the four 4000-footers of the Franconia Ridge to the west and Owl’s Head in the foreground, the Presidential Range to the east, and several other 4000-footers to the south and south-west:

IMG_1948 (1)

Looking To The West From The Summit Of Mt Bond

 

And I had a nice view back down the short path from the top of Bondcliff:

IMG_1943 (1)

 

There were a few people at the top, and I had a brief conversation with a couple that were walking from Zealand trailhead across the same three mountains I was climbing, and finishing at Lincoln Woods.  This one-way version of what I was doing in an up-and-back trip was possible because they had left a car at Lincoln Woods, driving to the Zealand trailhead in a second vehicle.  They would then ferry themselves back to Zealand from Lincoln Woods.

Kindly, they offered to pick up my car down at Lincoln Woods and drive it to Zealand, which would have saved me three miles.  I should have accepted, because finishing what became 22 miles, and three 4000-foot peaks, would end up hobbling me for a while, and causing two toenails to come off!  But I didn’t have a clear sense of how the day would go, so I declined their offer, with sincere thanks…

Getting to the top of Mt Bond was my 36th 4000-footer – just 12 more to go!

I didn’t stay too long at the top of Mt Bond on the way up, continuing towards West Bond… stay tuned for that next time!

*

Jean and I had moved to Sydney in July of 2009, where I would take up the newly-created position of International Program Director for ChildFund Australia.  It was an exciting opportunity for me to work in a part of the world I knew and loved (Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Viet Nam) and in a challenging new country (Papua New Guinea).  It was a great chance to work with some really amazing people – in Sydney and in our Country Offices… to use what I had learned to help build and lead effective teams.  Living in Sydney would not be a hardship post, either!  Finally, it was a priceless chance for me to put together a program approach that incorporated everything I had learned to that point, over 25 years working in poverty reduction and social justice.

In the previous article in this series, I described how we developed a “Development Effectiveness System” (“DEF”) for ChildFund Australia, and I went through most of the components of the DEF in great detail.

My ambition for the DEF was to bring together our work into one comprehensive system – building on our Theory of Change and organizational Vision and Mission, creating a consistent set of tools and processes for program design and assessment, and making sure to close the loop with defined opportunities for learning, reflection, and improvement.

Here is the graphic that we used to describe the system:

Slide1

Figure 1: The ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework (2014)

 

As I said last time, I felt that three components of the DEF were particularly innovative, and worth exploring in more detail in separate blog articles:

  • I will describe components #2 (“Outcome Indicator Surveys) and #12 (Statement of Impact) in my next article.  Together, these components of the DEF were meant to enable us to measure the impact of our work in a robust, participatory way, so that we could learn and improve;
  • this time, I want to explore component #3 of the DEF: “Case Studies.”

*

It might seem strange to say it this way, but the “Case Studies” were probably my favorite of all the components of the DEF!  I loved them because they offered direct, personal accounts of the impact of projects and programs from children, youth, men and women from the communities in which ChildFund worked and the staff and officials of local agencies and government offices with whom ChildFund partnered.  We didn’t claim that the Case Studies were random or representative samples; rather, their value was simply as stories of human experience, offering insights would not have been readily gained from quantitative data.

Why was this important?  Why did it appeal to me so much?

*

Over my years working with international NGOs, I had become uneasy with the trend towards exclusive reliance on linear logic and quantitative measurement, in our international development sector.  This is perhaps a little bit ironic, since I had joined the NGO world having been educated as an engineer, schooled in the application of scientific logic and numerical analysis for practical applications in the world.

Linear logic is important, because it introduces rigor in our thinking, something that had been weak or lacking when I joined the sector in the mid-1980s.  And quantitative measurement, likewise, forced us to face evidence of what we had or had not achieved. So both of these trends were positive…

But I had come to appreciate that human development was far more complex than building a water system (for example), much more complicated than we could fully capture in linear models.  Yes, a logical, data-driven approach was helpful in many ways, perhaps nearly all of the time, but it didn’t seem to fit every situation in communities that I came to know in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  In fact, I began to see that an over-emphasis on linear approaches to human development was blinding us to ways that more qualitative, non-linear thinking could help; we seemed to be dismissing the qualitative, narrative insights that should also have been at the heart of our reflections.  No reason not to include both quantitative and qualitative measures.  But we weren’t.

My career in international development began at a time when the private-sector, business culture, started to influence our organizations in a big way: as a result of the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980’s, INGOs were booming and, as a result, were professionalizing, introducing business practices.  All the big INGOs started to bring in people from the business world, helping “professionalize” our work.

I’ve written elsewhere about the positive and negative effects that business culture had on NGOs: on the positive side, we benefited from systems and approaches the improved the internal management of our agencies, such as clear delegations of authority, financial planning and audit, etc.  Overall, it was a very good, and very necessary evolution.

But there were some negatives.  In particular, the influx of private-sector culture into our organizations meant that:

  • We began increasingly to view the world as a linear, logical place;
  • We came to embrace the belief that bigger is always better;
  • “Accountability” to donors became so fundamental that sometimes it seemed to be our highest priority;
  • Our understanding of human nature, of human poverty, evolved towards the purely material, things that we could measure quantitatively.

I will attach a copy of the article I wrote on this topic here:  mcpeak-trojan-horse.

In effect, this cultural shift had the effect of emphasizing linear logic and quantitative measures to such a degree, with such force, that narrative, qualitative approaches were sidelined as, somehow, not business-like enough.

As I thought about the overall design of the DEF, I wanted to make 100% sure that we were able to measure the quantitative side of our work, the concrete outputs that we produced and the measurable impact that we achieved (more on that next time).  Because the great majority of our work was amenable to that form of measurement, and being accountable for delivering the outputs (projects, funding) that we had promised was hugely important.

But I was equally determined that we would include qualitative elements that would enable us to capture the lived experience of people who facing poverty.  In other words, because poverty is experienced holistically by people, including children, in ways that can be captured quantitatively and qualitatively, we needed to incorporate both quantitative and qualitative measurement approaches if we were to be truly effective.

The DEF “Case Studies” was one of the ways that we accomplished this goal.  It made me proud that we were successful in this regard.

*

There was another reason that I felt that the DEF Case Studies were so valuable, perhaps just as important as the way that they enabled us to measure poverty more holistically.  Observing our organizations, and seeing my own response to how we were evolving, I clearly saw that the influence of private-sector, business culture was having positive and negative effects.

One of the most negative impacts I saw was an increasing alienation of our people from the basic motivations that led them to join the NGO sector, a decline in the passion for social justice that had characterized us.  Not to exaggerate, but it seemed that we were perhaps losing our human connection with the hope and courage and justice that, when we were successful, we helped make for individual women and men, girls and boys.  The difference we were making in the lives of individual human beings was becoming obscured behind the statistics that we were using, behind the mechanical approaches we were taking to our work.

Therefore, I was determined to use the DEF Case Studies as tools for reconnecting us, ChildFund Australia staff and board, to the reason that we joined in the first place.  All of us.

*

So, what were the DEF Case Studies, and how were they produced and used?

In practice, Development Effectiveness and Learning Managers in ChildFund’s program countries worked with other program staff and partners to write up Case Studies that depicted the lived experience of people involved in activities supported by ChildFund.  The Case Studies were presented as narratives, with photos, which sought to capture the experiences, opinions and ideas of the people concerned, in their own words, without commentary.  They were not edited to fit a success-story format.  As time went by, our Country teams started to add a summary of their reflections to the Case Studies, describing their own responses to the stories told there.

Initially we found that field staff had a hard time grasping the idea, because they were so used to reporting their work in the dry, linear, quantitative ways that we had become used to.  Perhaps program staff felt that narrative reports were the territory of our Communications teams, meant for public-relations purposes, describing our successes in a way that could attract support for our work.  Nothing wrong with that, they seemed to feel, but not a program thing!

Staff seemed at a loss, unable to get going.  So we prepared a very structured template for the Case Studies, specifying length and tone and approach in detail.  This was a mistake, because we really wanted to encourage creativity while keeping the documents brief; emphasizing the “voice” of people in communities rather than our own views; covering failures as much as successes.  Use of a template tended to lead our program staff into a structured view of our work, so once we gained some experience with the idea, as staff became more comfortable with the idea and we began to use these Case Studies, we abandoned the rigid template and encouraged innovation.

*

So these Case Studies were a primary source of qualitative information on the successes and failures of ChildFund Australia’s work, offering insights from children, youth and adults from communities where we worked and the staff of local agencies and government offices with whom ChildFund Australia partnered.

In-country staff reviewed the Case Studies, accepting or contesting the opinions of informants about ChildFund Australia’s projects.  These debates often led to adjustments to existing projects but also triggered new thinking – at the project activity level but also at program level or even the overall program approach.

Case Studies were forwarded to Sydney, where they were reviewed by the DEF Manager; some were selected for a similar process of review by International Program staff, members of the Program Review Committee and, on occasion, by the ChildFund Australia Board.

The resulting documents were stored in a simple cloud-based archive, accessible by password to anyone within the organization.  Some Case Studies were also included on ChildFund Australia’s website; we encouraged staff from our Communications team in Sydney to review the Case Studies and, if suitable, to re-purpose them for public purposes.  Of course, we were careful to obtain informed consent from people included in the documents.

*

Through Case Studies, as noted above, local informants were able to pass critical judgement on the appropriateness of ChildFund’s strategies, how community members perceived our aims and purposes (not necessarily as we intended); and they could alert us to unexpected consequences (both positive and negative) of what we did.

For example, one of the first Case Studies written up in Papua New Guinea revealed that home garden vegetable cultivation not only resulted in increased family income for the villager concerned (and positive impact on children in terms of nutrition and education), it also enhanced his social standing through increasing his capacity to contribute to traditional cultural events.

Here are three images from that Case Study:

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 3.07.54 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 3.07.27 PM

Screen Shot 2018-06-09 at 3.07.41 PM

 

And here is a copy of the Case Study itself:  PNG Case Study #1 Hillary Vegetable farming RG edit 260111.  Later I was able to visit Hillary at his farm!

Another Case Study came from the ChildFund Connect project, an exciting effort led by my former colleagues Raúl Caceres and Kelly Royds, who relocated from Sydney to Boston in 2016.  I climbed Mt Moriah with them in July, 2017, and also Mt Pierce and Mt Eisenhower in August of 2016.  ChildFund Connect was an innovative project that linked children across Laos, Viet Nam, Australia and Sri Lanka, providing a channel for them directly to build understanding of their differing realities.   This Case Study on their project came from Laos: LAO Case Study #3 Connect DRAFT 2012.

In a future article in this series, I plan on describing work we carried out building the power (collective action) of people living in poverty.  It can be a sensitive topic, particularly in areas of Southeast Asia without traditions of citizen engagement.  Here is a Case Study from Viet Nam describing how ChildFund helped local citizens connect productively with authorities to resolve issues related to access to potable water: VTM Case Study #21 Policy and exclusion (watsan)-FINAL.

*

Dozens of Case Studies were produced, illustrating a wide range of experiences with the development processes supported by ChildFund in all of the countries where we managed program implementation.  Reflections from many of these documents helped us improve our development practice, and at the same time helped us stay in touch with the deeper purpose of our having chosen to work to promote social justice, accompanying people living in poverty as they built better futures.

*

A few of the DEF Case Studies focused, to some extent, on ChildFund Australia itself.  For example, here is the story of three generations of Hmong women in Nonghet District in Xieng Khoung Province in Laos.  It describes how access to education has evolved across those generations:  LAO Case Study #5 Ethnic Girls DRAFT 2012.  It’s a powerful description of change and progress, notable also because one of the women featured in the Case Study was a ChildFund employee, along with her mother and daughter!

Two other influential Case Studies came from Cambodia, both of which touched on how ChildFund was attempting to manage our child-sponsorship mechanisms with our programmatic commitments.  I’ve written separately, some time ago, about the advantages of child sponsorship: when managed well (as we did in Plan and especially in ChildFund Australia), and these two Case Studies evocatively illustrated the challenge, and the ways that staff in Cambodia were making it all work well.

One Case Study describes some of the tensions implicit in the relationship between child sponsorship and programming, and the ways that we were making progress in reconciling these differing priorities: CAM Case Study 6 Sponsorship DRAFT 2012.  This Case Study was very influential, with our staff in Cambodia and beyond, with program staff in Sydney, and with our board.  It powerfully communicated a reality that our staff, and families in communities, were facing.

A second Case Study discussed how sponsorship and programs were successfully integrated in the field in Cambodia: CAM Case Study #10 Program-SR Integration Final.

*

As I mentioned last time, given the importance of the system, relying on our feeling that the DEF was a great success wasn’t good enough.  So we sought expert review, commissioning two independent, expert external reviews of the DEF.

The first review (attached here: External DEF Review – November 2012), which was concluded in November of 2012, took place before we had fully implemented the system.  In particular, since Outcome Indicator Surveys and Statements of Impact (to be covered in my next blog article) were implemented only after three years (and every three years thereafter), we had not yet reached that stage.  But we certainly were quite advanced in the implementation of most of the DEF, so it was a good time to reflect on how it was going.

I included an overview of the conclusions reached by both reviewers last time.  Here I want to quote from the first evaluation, with particular reference to the DEF Case Studies:

One of the primary benefits of the DEF is that it equips ChildFund Australia with an increased quantity and quality of evidence-based information for communications with key stakeholders including the Board and a public audience. In particular, there is consolidated output data that can be easily accessed by the communications team; there is now a bank of high quality Case Studies that can be drawn on for communication and reflection; and there are now dedicated resources in-country who have been trained and are required to generate information that has potential for communications purposes. The increase in quantity and quality of information equips ChildFund Australia to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders.

One of the strengths of the DEF recognized by in-country staff particularly is that the DEF provides a basis for stakeholders to share their perspectives. Stakeholders are involved in identifying benefits and their perspectives are heard through Case Studies. This has already provided a rich source of information that has prompted reflection by in-country teams, the Sydney based programs team and the ChildFund Australia Board.

This focus on building tools, systems and the overall capacity of the organization places ChildFund Australia in a strong position to tackle a second phase of the DEF which looks at how the organization will use performance information for learning and development. It has already started on this journey, with various parts of the organization using Case Studies for reflection. ChildFund Australia has already undertaken an exercise of coding the bank of Case Studies to assist further analysis and learning. There is lots of scope for next steps with this bank of Case Studies, including thematic reflections. Again, the benefits of this aspect have not been realised yet as the first stages of the DEF roll-out have been focused on data collection and embedding the system in CF practices.

In most Country Offices, Case Studies have provided a new formal opportunity for country program staff to reflect on their work and this has been used as a really constructive process. The Laos Country Office is currently in the process of translating Case Studies so that they can be used to prompt discussion and learning at the country level. In PNG, the team is also interested in using the Case Studies as a communication tool with local communities to demonstrate some of the achievements of ChildFund Australia programs.

In some cases, program staff have found Case Studies confronting when they have highlighted program challenges or weaknesses. The culture of critical reflection may take time to embed in some country offices and may be facilitated by cross-country reflection opportunities. Currently, however, Country Office staff do not know how to access Case Studies from other country programs. ChildFund Australia is exploring how the ‘bank’ of DEF Case Studies would be most accessible and useful to country office personnel.

One of the uses of Case Studies has been as a prompt for discussion and reflection by the programs team in Sydney and by the Board. Case Studies have been seen as a really useful way to provide an insight into a program, practice and ChildFund Australia achievements.

At an organizational level, an indexing and cross-referencing system has been implemented which enables Case Studies to be searched by country and by theme. The system is yet to be introduced to MEL and Program users, but has potential to be a very useful bank of qualitative data for reflection and learning. It also provides a bank of data from which to undertake thematic reflections across and between countries. One idea for consideration is that ChildFund draw on groups of Case Studies to develop practice notes.

In general Case Studies are considered to be the most ‘successful’ part of the DEF by those involved in collecting information.

The second reviewer concentrated on other components, mainly aspects I will describe in more detail in my next article, not so much the Case Studies…

*

So the Case Studies were a very important element in the overall DEF.  I tried very hard to incorporate brief reflections on selected Case Studies at every formal meeting of the International Program Team, of ChildFund Australia’s Program Review Committee, and (less frequently) at meetings of our Board of Directors.  More often than not, time pressures on the agendas of these meetings led to us dropping the Case Studies from discussion, but often enough we did spend time (usually at the beginning of the meetings) reflecting on what we saw in them.

At the beginning, when we first began to use the Case Studies, our discussion tended to be mechanical: pointing out errors in the use of English, or questioning how valid the observations might be, challenging the statistical reliability of the conclusions.  But, over time, I noticed that our teams began to use the Case Studies as they were designed: to gain insight into the lived experience of particular human beings, and to reconnect with the realities of people’s struggle for better lives for themselves and their children.

This was a great success, and really worked as I had hoped.  The Case Studies complemented the more rigorous, quantitative components of the DEF, helping the system be holistic, enabling us to see more deeply into the effect that our work was having while also enhancing our accountability.

*

Next time, I will describe getting to the top of West Bond, and all the way down the 11 miles from there to the Lincoln Woods parking lot, where I staggered back to my car with such damage to my feet that I soon would lose toenails on both my big toes!  And I will share details of the final two components of the DEF that I want to highlight: the Outcome Indicator Surveys and Statements of Impact were probably the culmination of the whole system.

So, stay tuned!

*

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

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

 

 

Owl’s Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change

May, 2018

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

  • During those two years, I’ve been 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;
  • Alongside descriptions of those climbs, I’ve been sharing what it was like working in international development during the MDG era: 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 each article in this series, I am writing about climbing each of those mountains and, each time, I reflect a bit on the journey since I began to work in social justice, nearly 34 years ago: on development, human rights, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

*

In 2009 Jean and I moved to Sydney, where I took up a new role as International Program Director for ChildFund Australia.  On my way towards Sydney, I was thinking a lot about how to build a great program, and how I would approach building a strong team with clarity, trust, and inspiration.  Last time I described the role and staffing and structural iterations of the International Program Team there.

This time, I want to begin to unpack the program approach that we put in place, building on what was already there, and on the lessons I had learned in the previous 25 years.

But first…

*

Owl’s Head (4025ft, 1227m) is described by many hikers as uninteresting, boring, and challenging – something that “should not be left to the end” of the 48 peaks.  I guess that’s because climbers want to finish their long voyage up so many great mountains in a blaze of glory, but they find Owl’s Head to be a letdown after the challenges and thrills of the other 47 4000-footers.

I climbed Owl’s Head on 26 July, 2017, and enjoyed every minute of it!

Yes, it’s long and mostly in the forest.  Yes, getting up the rock slide on the western side of Owl’s Head is tough going.  Yes, there are several river crossings which can be problematic when the water’s high.  And, yes, it’s not a ridge walk, so the views are (mostly) obstructed.  But on this late-July day, the walking was fantastic, the river crossings were nerve-wracking but doable, and the views going up (and coming down) the rock slide, looking across at Franconia Ridge, were fantastic.

I left Durham at about 6am, getting an early start because my calculations were that the ascent would be over 6 hours, just getting to the top.  Figuring in a descent of 4 hours, at least, made me want to get walking as soon as possible.  As has been my normal routine these days, I stopped in Tilton for coffee, and I bought a sandwich for lunch in Lincoln, very near the trailhead.

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I had brought sandals to carry with me for the river crossings, just in case.

After parking at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center, I started the hike at 8:10am.

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It was a beautiful, cool, sunny day.  Just beyond the Visitor Center, two trails head up the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River: the Pemi East Side Trail and the Lincoln Woods Trail.  To get to the Lincoln Woods Trail, which I would take, I crossed a suspension bridge and took a right turn to head north:

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The Lincoln Woods Trail runs along an old forest railway, and is wide and straight for over two miles.  Dappled, high forest, just gorgeous, crisp day.  Nervous about how long I thought it would take me to reach Owl’s Head, and return, I flew up this first easy part, almost trotting up the gentle incline:

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Lincoln Woods Trail – Formerly a Forest Railway, Straight and Wide

 

Old railway ties can be seen in the image, above.  Here is an image of one of the nails in a tie:

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There were a few other hikers heading up the Lincoln Woods Trail along with me, more than I expected on a summer Wednesday, but it wasn’t crowded.  I reached the junction with the Osseo Trail at 8:33am, and Black Point Trail at 8:53am:

 

Just before 9am, I arrived at the junction with Franconia Brook Trail.  So it had taken me about 50 minutes to walk up the 2.6 miles from the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center.  It had been gently up hill the whole way so far.

Here, just after a small footbridge over Franconia Brook, I would turn left, up the Franconia Brook Trail:

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Footbridge Over Franconia Brook

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(A few weeks later I would come to this junction once again, but would continue straight on the Bondcliff Trail.)

Franconia Brook Trail was a real trail, at least at the beginning, but soon, as I headed north up the Franconia Brook, there were long sections that must have also been old railway – straight, and wide, and gradually uphill.  Pleasant walking!  I thought that coming down would be even faster.

From here, the water level in Franconia Brook didn’t look too high:

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I hiked up Franconia Brook Trail, 1.7 miles, and reached the junction with Lincoln Brook Trail at 9:33am.  I was still making very good time – 1.7 miles in about 30 minutes.  But I didn’t feel that I was rushing, it was very nice hiking through the woods on the wide trail!

Here I would swing west to walk around Owl’s Head in a clockwise sense, following (and repeatedly crossing) the Lincoln Brook until reaching Owl’s Head Path:

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I would cross Franconia Brook four times going up the west side of Owl’s Head, and four times coming back down, retracing my steps.  The first crossing, at 9:44am, was the most difficult, and I almost gave my boots a good bath that time.  It was a little dicey…

Of course, as I climbed up the valley, the Brook became smaller as I walked above different streams that were feeding into it.  So the first (and last, when returning) crossing had the most water.

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The trail was less maintained here, certainly not an old forest railway, though I did see two trail crews working on it that day.

I reached the turnoff for Owl’s Head Path at 11:08am.  I had become nervous that I had passed it, feeling that I should have reached the turnoff some time before, and there were no signs.  By the time I reached the cairns marking the turnoff I was quite anxious and was thinking vaguely about turning back.  But, luckily, as I was approaching the cairns that can be seen in the next image, a young woman came down from having gone up Owl’s Head, and she confirmed that I had reached the junction!

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The Junction With Owl’s Head Path – Steeply Up From Here!

 

So it had taken me nearly an hour and a half to walk Lincoln Brook Trail, from Franconia Brook Trail to Owl’s Head Path, including four stream crossings.  Since Owl’s Head Path was supposed to be quite steep for some time, up a rock slide, I decided to leave some weight here at the bottom; so I took a quart of water and my sandals out of my pack and hid them at the junction.

I started up Owl’s Head at 11:17am, a bit lighter, after having a snack.  Soon I reached the famous rock slide, which was very steep, indeed.  Mostly gravel, so lots of sliding downward which made it heavy going.

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It was slippery and challenging, and did I mention that it was very steep?  Another young person came down and we crossed paths; she was very unhappy and had turned back before reaching the summit.  It was too dangerous and she was giving up, and was vocal about how unpleasant it was.  This would have been summit number 29 for her, but when carrying a full pack it wasn’t possible.  It was very heavy going, relentless and challenging!

But the views from the rock slide were fantastic, looking back towards Franconia Ridge I could see all four of the 4000-footers there: Flume, Liberty, Lincoln and Lafayette.  The light was still good, not yet noon, so the sun shined on the ridge from the east:

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Flume Is On The Far Left, Then Liberty, Lincoln, And Then Lafayette.

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Here is a video of that view from the rock slide, looking over to Franconia Ridge:

The White Mountain Guide indicates that the top of Owl’s Head is not very accessible, and that the end of Owl’s Head Path, which is just short of the actual summit, qualifies as reaching the top.  Apparently, at least when my edition of the Guide was published, reaching the actual summit involved a fair amount of bush-whacking.

Owl’s Head Path began to flatten out at about 12:09pm, and I reached what (I think) was the former end of the Path at about 12:15pm.

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The End Of Owl’s Head Path – Not The Summit!

 

Here I was able to turn left, to the north, and there was a path heading towards the actual summit – not a very wide path, switching back and forth a lot, but certainly not bush-whacking.

I got to the actual top at about 12:30pm, and had lunch.  Though I had seen a few other climbers after I passed the discouraged young woman, I had the summit to myself for lunch – it was very pleasant!

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Owl’s Head Summit

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Some Vestiges Of Lunch Are Visible!

 

I had really really enjoyed the walk so far… maybe partly because expectations had been so low?

I left the summit, after a nice lunch, still wet with sweat, at about 12:45pm.  I could see Franconia Ridge to the west, through the forest:

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And there were some views to the east, towards the Bonds, but the Owl’s Head ridge was more forested that way, so no photos were possible.  I got back to the top of Owl’s Head Path at about 1pm, and to the beginning of the rock slide about 20 minutes later.  I dropped down the slide, taking care and many photos, reaching the junction with Lincoln Woods Trail at about 2pm.  So, about an hour to descend carefully.

The walk back down Lincoln Woods Trail was pleasant:

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Recrossing Lincoln Brook four times – simpler this time – and passing the trail-maintenance crews again, I got back to the junction with Franconia Brook Trail at about 3:36pm.  Here I turned south and walked back down that old railway line:

 

There was a bit of old railway hardware along the side of the trail:

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For much of this section, there were a few mosquitoes, but the walking was pleasant, on a soft bed of pine needles:

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I passed a young woman resting on the side of the trail, with a very full pack.  “You’re carrying a lot!” I said, and she replied: “I’m ready to let it go!” in a resigned tone of voice…

Ups and down … mostly downward gently.  Long and level and wide.  I reached the junction with Lincoln Woods Trail at about 4:11pm, and the Trail got even wider and straighter and easier.  Funnily enough, there is a section of measured length here, which (of course) I had passed on the way up: 200 yards.  The idea is to measure how many paces it took.  On the way up, I counted 41 (double) paces, and 44 on the way back.  So I was walking with shorter paces on the way down!

 

I reached the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center, and my car, at about 5:15pm.  It had taken me almost 9 hours to climb Owl’s Head, which was substantially less than I had calculated: from the White Mountain Guide, just the ascent, walking up, should have been about 6 1/2 hours.

But it was a great hike on a wonderful day.  I enjoyed every minute of it!

*

As I arrived in Sydney to take up the newly-created position of International Program Director, one of my biggest priorities was to clarify our program approach.  This would involve lots of internal discussion, research and reflection, and I was determined to bring to this task the lessons I had learned in the previous 25 years of working in the sector (and described in the articles in this series!)

I understood that our program approach needed to be built on a clear understanding of what we were going to achieve, and why.  After completing the staffing of the first iteration of the International Program Team in Sydney, getting to know our programs in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam, and settling in with other Sydney-based senior managers and our board, I got going!

*

I had first heard of the concept of “Theory of Change” when I asked Alan Fowler to critique an early draft of the UUSC Strategic Plan in 2005.  He had, quite rightly, pointed out that the draft Strategy was good, but that it didn’t really clarify why we wanted to do what we were describing: how did we understand the links between our actions and our vision and mission?

Reflecting on Alan’s observation, I understood that we should put together a clear statement of causality, linking our actions with the impact we sought in the world.  So we did that, and ended up with a very important statement that really helped UUSC be clear about things:

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. 

UUSC’s strategy derived from that statement in a powerful way.

Perhaps a better definition of the concept comes from the “Theory of Change Community”:

Theory of Change is essentially a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is focused in particular on mapping out or “filling in” what has been described as the “missing middle” between what a program or change initiative does (its activities or interventions) and how these lead to desired goals being achieved. It does this by first identifying the desired long-term goals and then works back from these to identify all the conditions (outcomes) that must be in place (and how these related to one another causally) for the goals to occur. These are all mapped out in an Outcomes Framework.

The Outcomes Framework then provides the basis for identifying what type of activity or intervention will lead to the outcomes identified as preconditions for achieving the long-term goal. Through this approach the precise link between activities and the achievement of the long-term goals are more fully understood. This leads to better planning, in that activities are linked to a detailed understanding of how change actually happens. It also leads to better evaluation, as it is possible to measure progress towards the achievement of longer-term goals that goes beyond the identification of program outputs.

At ChildFund Australia, one of my earliest actions was to develop and finalize a Theory of Change and the associated Outcomes Framework and Outputs.  In this article, I want to describe how we did this, and what we achieved.

*

First, some definitions.  Strangely, my experience is that when we in the INGO community try to agree on a common set of definitions, we usually end up arguing intensely and never agreeing!  The concepts we seek to define can be viewed productively in different ways; for me, it seemed most useful to find definitions that we could all live with, and use them, rather than trying to reach full consensus (which, over time, seemed to be an impossible dream!)

Here is the visual framework and definitions that we used in ChildFund Australia:

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A set of Inputs producing a consistent set of Outputs is a Project; a set of Projects producing a consistent set of Outcomes is a Program; a set of Programs producing a consistent set of Impacts is a Strategic Plan.

Note that:

  • “Inputs” are usually time or money;
  • “Outputs” are tangible and concrete products delivered by or through ChildFund: for example, a training course, a trip or meeting, a publication, rent, a latrine – see below;
  • “Outcomes” are changes in the Outcome Indicators that we developed – see below;
  • “Impact” is the highest-level of organisational achievement, related directly to the achievement of our mission.

This is pretty standard stuff, nothing particularly innovative.  But ChildFund Australia hadn’t formally adopted these definitions, which now began to provide a common language for our program work.

*

When we began to develop ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change, Outcomes Framework, and Outputs, I took care to bring into the process several important lessons I had learned from previous experiences:

  • As mentioned above, from my experience at UUSC I had learned that the creation of a Theory of Change had the potential to be energizing and unifying, if it was carried out in a participatory manner;
  • Along the way, as the loyal reader of this series will have seen, my own view of development and poverty had grown to incorporate elements of social justice, collective action, and human rights.  I wanted to recognize these important elements into ChildFund Australia’s understanding of child poverty and development;
  • I recognized the significant complexity and cost associated with crafting and measuring Outcome Indicators, which would essentially articulate how we would hold ourselves accountable to our purpose.  Outcome Indicators are complex to use and expensive to measure.  So I felt that we should rely on the work done by technical agencies (the UNDP and UNICEF, other INGOs, and other ChildFund members) whenever possible, and to rely on national-government measurement systems when available and credible.  That meant that using MDG-related indicators, where appropriate, would be our first priority, because of the enormous effort that had been put into creating and measuring them around most of the world;
  • From my work with CCF, especially having participated in their child-poverty study, I had learned that children experience poverty in a more-complex way than we had earlier recognized: as deprivation, certainly; but also as exclusion and vulnerability.  We would incorporate this DEF framework now in Australia;
  • In my next blog article, I will describe how we created a “Development Effectiveness Framework” for ChildFund Australia.  The “DEF” would describe and detail the processes and products through which we would use the Theory of Change, Outcomes Framework, and Outcomes to operationally improve the effectiveness of our development work.  Twice, during my career with Plan International, we had tried to produce such a system, and failed comprehensively (and at great expense.)  We had failed due to several fundamental mistakes that I was determined to avoid making in Australia:
    • At Plan, we fell into the trap of designing a system whose purpose was, mostly, the demonstration of impact rather than learning and improvement of programming.   This led to a complex, and highly-technical system that was never actually able to be implemented.  I wanted, this time, to do both – to demonstrate impact and to improve programs – but fundamentally to create a practical system that could be implemented in the reality of our organization;
    • One of the consequences of the complexity of the systems we tried to design at Plan was that community members were simply not able to participate in the system in any meaningful way, except by using the data to participate in project planning.  We would change this at ChildFund, and build in many more, meaningful areas for community involvement;
    • Another mistake we made at Plan was to allow the creation of hundreds of “outputs.”  It seemed that everybody in that large organization felt that their work was unique, and had to have unique descriptors.  I was determined to keep the DEF as simple and practical as possible;
    • The Plan system was entirely quantitative, in keeping with its underlying (and fallacious) pseudo-scientific purpose.  But I had learned that qualitative information was just as valid as quantitative information, illustrating a range of areas for program improvement that complemented and extended the purely quantitative.  So I was going to work hard to include elements in the DEF that captured the human experience of change in narrative ways;
    • Both times we tried to create a DEF-like system in Plan, we never really quite finished, the result was never fully finalized and rolled out to the organization.  So, on top of the mistakes we made in developing the system, at great expense, the waste was even more appalling because little good came of the effort of so many people, and the spending of so much time and money.  In ChildFund, we would not let “the best be the enemy of the good,” and I would make sure to move to rapidly prototype, implement, and improve the system;
  • Finally, I had learned of the advantages and disadvantages of introducing this kind of fundamental change quickly, or slowly:
    • Moving slowly enables more participation and ownership, but risks getting bogged down and losing windows of opportunity for change are often short-lived;
    • Moving quickly allows the organization to make the change and learn from it within that short window of enthusiasm and patience.  The risk is that, at least for organizations that are jaded by too many change initiatives, the process can be over before people actually take it seriously, which can lead to a perception that participation was lacking.

I decided to move quickly, and our CEO (Nigel Spence) and board of directors seemed comfortable with that choice.

*

The ChildFund Australia Theory of Change

Upon arrival in Sydney in July of 2009, I moved quickly to put in place the basic foundation of the whole system: our Theory of Change.  Once staffing in the IPT was in place, we began.  Firstly, since we knew that effective programs address the causes of the situation they seek to change, building on the work of Amartya Sen, we defined poverty as the deprivation of the capabilities and freedoms people need to live the life they value.

Then I began to draft and circulate versions of a Theory of Change statement, incorporating input from our board, senior managers (in Sydney and in our Country Offices in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam), and program staff across the agency.

This process went very well, perhaps because it felt very new to our teams.  Quickly we settled on the following statement:

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The ChildFund Australia “Theory of Change”

 

Note here that we had included a sense of social justice and activism in the Theory of Change, by incorporating “power” (which, practically, would mean “collective action”) as one central pillar.  And it’s clear that the CCF “DEV” framework was also incorporated explicitly.

The four dot-points at the end of the Theory of Change would come to fundamentally underpin our new program approach.  We would:

  • Build human, capital, natural and social assets around the child, including the caregiver.  This phrasing echoed the Ford Foundation’s work on asset-based development, and clarified what we would do to address child deprivation;
  • Build the voice and agency of poor people and poor children.  This pillar incorporated elements of “empowerment,” a concept we had pioneered in Plan South America long before, along with notions of stages of child and human development; and
  • Build the power of poor people and poor children.  Here we were incorporating the sense that development is related to human rights, and that human rights don’t advance without struggle and collective action; and we would
  • Work to ensure that children and youth are protected from risks in their environments.  Our research had shown that poverty was increasingly being experienced by children as related to vulnerability, and that building their resilience and the resilience of the caregivers and communities around them was crucial in the modern context.

This Theory of Change would serve admirably, and endure unchanged, through the next five years of program development and implementation.

*

Output Indicators

Now, how would we measure our accomplishment of the lofty aims articulated in the Theory of Change?  We would need to develop a set of Outcome and Output Indicators.

Recall that, according to the definitions that we had agreed earlier, Outputs were seen as: tangible and concrete products delivered by or through ChildFund: for example, a training course, a trip or meeting, a publication, rent, a latrine.

Defining Outputs was an important step for several reasons, mostly related to accountability.  Project planning and monitoring, in a classical sense, focuses on determining the outputs that are to be delivered, tracking whether or not they are actually produced, and adjusting implementation along the way.

For ChildFund Australia, and for our public stakeholders, being able to accurately plan and track the production of outputs represented a basic test of competence: did we know what we were doing?  Did we know what we had done?  Being able to answer those questions (for example, “we planned to drill 18 wells, and train 246 new mothers, and ended up drilling 16 wells and training 279 new mothers”) would build our creditability.  Perhaps more pungently, if we could not answer those questions (“we wanted to do the best we could, but don’t really know where our time and the budget went…”!) our credibility would suffer.  Of course, we wanted to know much more than that – our DEF would measure much more – but tracking outputs was basic and fundamental.

To avoid the trap we had fallen into in Plan, where we ended up with many hundreds of Outputs, I was determined to keep things simple.  We had already planned to bring all our Program Managers to Sydney in October of 2009, for another purpose, and I managed to commandeer this key group for a day.  I locked them in a meeting room for a day with the task of listing all the outputs that they were producing, and agreeing a short and comprehensive list.  We would then work with this draft and use it as a starting point.

The process worked very well.  Our Program Managers produced a list of around 35 Output Indicators that covered, well-enough, pretty much all the work they were doing.  Over the next three years, as our programming evolved and matured, we ended up adding about 15 more Output Indicators, with the final list (as of March, 2014) as follows:

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This listing worked very well, enabling us to design, approve, monitor and manage project activities in an accountable way.  As will be seen when I describe our Development Effectiveness Framework, in the next article in this series, we incorporated processes for documenting ChildFund Australia’s planning for Output production through the project-development process, and for tracking actual Output delivery.

Outcome Indicators

Designing Outcome Indicators was a bigger challenge.  Several of our colleague ChildFund agencies (mostly the US member) had developed indicators that were Outcome-like, and I was aware of the work of several other INGOs that we could “borrow.”  Most importantly, as outlined above, I wanted to align our child-focused Outcome Indicators with the Millennium Development Goals as much as possible.  These were robust, scientific, reliable and, in most countries, measured fairly accurately.

As we drafted sets of Outcome Indicators and circulated them for comment with our Board Program Review Committee, Senior Management, and program staff, our CEO (Nigel Spence) was insistent that we kept the number of Outcome Indicators as small as possible.

I agreed with Nigel, in general (“keep things simple”) and in particular (in Plan we had been swamped by too many indicators, and never actually implemented either system).  But it was a big challenge to measure the lofty concepts included in our Theory of Change with just a few indicators!

When we finalized the first iteration, approved by our Board of Directors in June of 2010, we had only 16 Outcome Indicators:

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Nigel thought this was too many; I thought we had missed covering several crucial areas.  So it seemed a good compromise!

It would take some time to work out the exact mechanism for measuring these Indicators in our field work, but in the end we were able to keep things fairly simple and we began to work with communities to assess change and determine attribution (more on that in the next article in this series.)

Additional Outcome Indicators were introduced over the next few years, elaborating especially the domains of “Protection” and “Power,” which were relatively undeveloped in that initial package of 16, finalized in June of 2010.

*

So, by the time I was celebrating one year at ChildFund Australia, we had agreed and  approved a clear and comprehensive Theory of Change, a coherent and concise set of robust Outcome Indicators, and a complete set of (not too many) Output Indicators.

*

Looking back, I think we got this right.  The process was very inclusive and participatory, yet agile and productive.  The results were of high quality, reflecting the state of the art of our sector, and my own learning through the years.  It was a big step forward for ChildFund Australia.

This meant that the foundation for a strong Development Effectiveness Framework was in place, a framework which would help us make our program work as effective as possible in building brighter futures for children.  This was (if I do say so myself!), a huge achievement in such a complex organization, especially that we accomplished it in only one year.

From the perspective of 2018, there is little I would change about how we took on this challenge, and what we produced.

*

My next article in this series will describe how we build the ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework on the foundation of our Theory of Change and Outcome and Output Indicators.  Stay tuned!

*

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

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

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

April, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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View Looking Down Franconia Brook

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

 

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

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

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

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

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At least I had water.

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

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

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

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

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Looking Back Towards Galehead, and The Twins

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

In that earlier article I noted that:

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework (DEF)

 

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.