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

I began a new journey 18 months ago: writing about climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall and, each time, reflecting a bit on the journey since I began to work in social justice, 30 years ago: on development, human rights, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

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

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

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

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

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

So Mt Willey had been pending for over a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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Views across Crawford Notch started appearing as I climbed:

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Mt Webster

 

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

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

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

 

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

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An “Appalachian Trail” Blaze On The Willey Range Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on that next time!

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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.

 

 

 

Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Franconia Ridge, From South Kinsman

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

 

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

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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette

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Mt Garfield

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The Summit Of Mt Lafayette – Plenty Of People!

 

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

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

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

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Looking Down Towards Greenleaf Hut and Cannon Mountain

 

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

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

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

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Greenleaf Hut

 

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

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

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

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

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A Glider Can Just Be Seen, Top Center

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

The walking was pleasant, strolling through dappled forest:

 

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

But, as I said there:

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Me, Maxine Neil, Michael Zouzoua, and Maxine Hart

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scenario 5:      Name of Scenario: Composite

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

Scenario 6:     Name of Scenario: Composite + Disaster

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

Scenario 7:    Name of Scenario: Composite + Capital Campaign

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*

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

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

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

*

Here are links to 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.

 

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

Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Looking Across Crawford Notch, Mt Tom

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That’s Mt Webster Up Ahead

 

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

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

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The Ridge

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

“These are some heavy hills” I said.

“Hills?!” he exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soaking Wet, But Happy

 

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

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

*

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

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Daniel Wordsworth, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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    Carlos Montúfar

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

 

 

 

 

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    James Ameda

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed

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

Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”

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

But, unlike Bob Dylan, I still cared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Summit Of Middle Carter

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

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

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Mount Washington From Wildcat “C”

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Looking East, the Atlantic Ocean (Right Side Background)

 

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

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

 

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

What is a ‘cycle’?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Stay tuned for descriptions of those climbs!

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Plan Struggles To Increase Grants

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

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

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

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

A Regional Meeting in Plan Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Large Grants Implementation Unit” – Conceptual Drafts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My response was three-fold:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foresight, hindsight and the LGIU becoming the new norm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Ary for his recollections!

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

So, stay tuned!

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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The Summit Of Wildcat “D”

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

Population Below $1 (PPP)

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

U5MR

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

Improved Drinking Water

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

*

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

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

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

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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With the Prime Minister of Viet Nam, Pham Van Khai

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we summarized the CSP:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters

After four years as Director of Planning and Program Support (Program Director) at Plan’s International Headquarters (“IH”), I stepped down in early May, 1997.  Jean and I would spend the next 12 months on sabbatical in New Hampshire.

My time at IH was very eventful for me, as I hope I’ve described in the four previous blogs in this series.  Even today I feel (mostly) proud of what we achieved, but at the end of it I was certainly ready to go back to the field.  After the year-long sabbatical, I would wrap up 15 great years with Plan: Jean and I would move to Hanoi, where I would serve as  Plan’s Country Director for Viet Nam.  But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself …

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

Before I wrap up my description of those years at IH, sharing some overall reflections, it occurred to me to ask Max to share his thoughts about his five years as IED: another perspective on some of the events I’ve been describing from my own point of view.

Max kindly agreed, and his reflections are included below as a “guest blog.”  Next time, it’ll be my turn!

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This is one in an ongoing series of posts that has been describing how I’ve been climbing each of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are over 4000 feet tall.  The idea is to publish 48 posts, each time, also reflecting a bit on the journey since I joined Peace Corps, 30 years ago, on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

*

I climbed Mt Eisenhower (4780ft, 1457m) on 20 August 2016, with Raúl and Kelly, friends and colleagues from Australia.  We also climbed Mt Pierce later that day, and we had planned to climb Mt Jackson as well, but we ran out of steam.  In my next blog I’ll write about our walk down from the top of Eisenhower, over Mt Pierce, and then the long hike back down Crawford Path via the Mizpah Cutoff.

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We drove up from Durham that morning, and parked by the side of Saco Lake, just across from the old Crawford Depot.

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The first part of the hike took us around the lake, rejoining Rt 302 briefly, arriving at the start of the Crawford Path, the “oldest continuously-used mountain trail in America,” or so the sign says!  The section we walked on was created in 1819 by Abel and Ethan Crawford.

 

 

The walk up Crawford Path was pleasant, a steady upward walk.

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We came across several large, beautiful expanses of bright green moss that day.

 

We arrived at the saddle between Mt Pierce and Mt Eisenhower a little before 2pm, and took a break there.  It was a beautiful spot, with a view towards the north and Mt Eisenhower:

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Kelly, with Mt Eisenhower on the right.

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Raúl and Kelly

 

From here, towards Mt Eisenhower, the Crawford Path forms part of the famous Appalachian Trail.  The section leading up to Mt Eisenhower is above the tree line, through some low scrub and ledge with fine views in all directions.

It was quite cool and windy at the top of Mt Eisenhower.  There were plenty of other hikers around, walking up or resting around the cairn at the top, where we arrived at around 2:15pm:

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The Summit of Mt Eisenhower

We were all pretty tired when we got to the top of Mt Eisenhower, and the day wasn’t even close to half over!

I’ll write more about our ascent of Mt Pierce, and the long walk back down to Crawford Notch, next time.  But the walk up Eisenhower was great that day, and the company was just as good.

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Max van der Schalk served as Plan’s International Executive Director for five years; for four of those years, I worked directly with, and for, him.  Earlier, I described how I ended up being appointed to that position, and I noted Max’s involvement in the three major projects that I advanced in my four years in this blog on Plan’s Program Directions; in this blog on the preparation of Plan’s growth plan; and here as related to our creation of the new country-level operational structure for the agency.

I thought it would be valuable to get Max’s perspective on events during those four years.  And I don’t know of very many “memoirs” from nonprofit CEOs, particularly in the international development sector, so his thoughts might be useful more broadly.

So, since I’m still in contact with him, I invited Max to share his thoughts, which follow:

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“I arrived in Rhode Island from Colombia. I had had 30 years experience in industry and the main reason I was selected for the job of IED was that this experience was mainly in the developing world. That also caused my interest in the job: I had seen enough poverty to know that something should be done to eradicate that pest on human happiness. When I arrived at IH I was asked whether I joined the charity in order to make up for the sins I had committed in private industry. My answer was exactly the opposite: I was going to introduce a businesslike attitude to the charity in order to make best use of the generous contribution of so many people to poverty reduction, specially child poverty.

I commenced by trying to create a management team (IED, RD’s and IH managers) that would feel joint responsibility for the quality of the programme part of the organization. Despite the efforts of some of the more capable managers in the team, this was never achieved. To the contrary: the RD’s didn’t see eye to eye with the IH managers and what was worse : they didn’t see eye to eye with each other. There was  a lack of mutual confidence. This was something new, in my 30 years industry experience I had not encountered that. I learned from experience to mistrust most of the RD’s. I wasn’t always sure of their honesty and I also doubted that the whole team felt responsible for the effectiveness of the organization. Quite a few RD’s appeared to me to take advantage of their position and to think mainly about their own achievement.

Part of the reason for that behaviour is the difference in work attitude in charity as compared to industry. Where in industry people are motivated by the objectives of the organization and by their success in achieving these, in charity staff has a much more personal viewpoint about what should be done. As a result you could find great differences in how the money was spent in PLAN: some field offices were mainly concentrated on health matters, others on education or on wealth creation for the communities they were assisting. My cooperation with Mark was so useful because he had the intelligence to see that that was not the optimum way to spend the money. I brought him into IH to create a framework, setting out the objectives and ambitions of the organization: to reduce poverty in our communities and achieve a way they could live comfortably without outside financial contribution. This was eventually achieved, though acceptance of this framework throughout the organisation took a long time. In the end it was generally accepted by all staff, but we never achieved full acceptance by the International Board.Max at IH01

The International Board (IB) consisted of non-executive directors of the fundraising organisations. The number of directors each country organisation could appoint to the IB was dependant on the money they contributed. The Board was far too big to be useful, some 25 persons. The main problem was that board members were generally from a business or government background, seldom was there any experience in development work. However they all thought they had a full understanding of the problems of international development and furthermore that they knew quite a bit more about running a business than the PLAN staff. This created an atmosphere where instead of being supportive they were often highly critical of the way the organization was run. Furthermore, because of the various nationalities that were represented there was often a cultural difference amongst the various board members. As IED I made the mistake to try running the show as far as possible without the active participation of the IB, but that led to a lack of trust of board members in their Chief Executive. This was shown very clearly when my 5-year term came up and I was requested to continue in the job. I said I only wanted to do that if the IB would become a supportive board rather than a critical one and if I would get complete freedom to technically run the show on my own, without specific approval for things like staff changes and office accommodation. The Chairman of the IB did a round of phone calls to discuss my request with his colleagues and the outcome was a clear NO to both .

Reflecting on the things that went well during my tenure and the things which could have been done better, I am not unhappy with the results obtained. We clearly formalized the objectives of the organization and the way to achieve them. We also exchanged many – expensive- expatriate staff members for high quality local staff, thereby reducing the cost of carrying out the work of the charity. We also created a career path for staff and improved the audit procedure: both financial audit – how was the money spent – as the programme audit – how successful were the programmes. The organisation grew rapidly in money, volume and results; a number of additional national organisations were created. However, I am less than happy about my relationship with the Board and I missed a chance there. It is always difficult to change the culture of an organization, but we changed the staff attitude considerably and with good results for our effectiveness. I could have achieved the same results with the International Board, but as I was unhappy with their attitude regarding my role, I decided to ‘walk around them’ . On balance I believe I made a wrong decision there and it resulted in my effectiveness being less than what could have been achieved.

After I resigned from the charity, I expected I would be asked to join the local board of either the Dutch ( my nationality) or English ( my residence) organisation. This didn’t happen and my relationship with the organisation ended the day after my resignation. I felt very disappointed about this, but now – at a much bigger distance – I feel I should blame my own attitude to the IB and also to the local boards for this total rupture. I just wasn’t liked by them………

My next job after PLAN was Chairman of the Board of my local Health Authority and I learned so much of my negative experience of dealings with boards in PLAN, that I was sure the managers in the NHS working in my area would not form a similar opinion about my board’s role. And that was indeed very effective, so I learned my lesson just in time before I sat at the other side of the table!”

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Next time I will describe the rest of my hike with Raúl and Kelly that day – down from Mt Eisenhower and over Mt Pierce.  And I will share my own reflections from those four years at IH.

I’m grateful to Max for sharing his perspectives here in this “Guest Blog.”  They set up my own reflections – in some ways consistent, in other ways different.  That will come next time.

So, stay tuned!

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

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