Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team

May, 2018

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

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

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Picking up the story in July of 2009, I flew to Sydney for what would become 6 great years as ChildFund Australia’s first International Program Director; Jean would join me there in a few weeks.  In two previous blog entries of this series, I described how I was thinking about programming, and about putting together a strong set of teams in Sydney and overseas, as I approached this exciting new challenge.

In many ways, as I headed towards Sydney, I was hoping to put it all together: 25 years in international development and social justice, designing and implementing programs and partnerships, building cohesive and high-performing teams – this was my chance to start afresh with all of the lessons learned over those decades.  To really get it right.

In this article, I want to introduce the program team at ChildFund’s head office in Sydney – the “International Program Team” – share a bit about the great people I worked with, along with a description of how the team’s staffing and structure evolved.  I would approach this task very mindful of what I had learned in Plan International, especially how we refocused and restructured the agency; and keeping the lessons about building strong teams in complex situations, that I had learned at UUSC in my mind also.

But first: I climbed Mt Moriah (4049ft, 1234m) on July 22, 2017, with Kelly Royds and Raúl Caceres, friends from Australia who, coincidentally, had worked at ChildFund (but not on the IPT.)  We had hiked up Mt Pierce and Mt Eisenhower a year earlier, in August of 2016…

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Raúl and Kelly came up from Cambridge the day before, and we left Durham at about 7:45am, and stopped for sandwiches and coffee in Ossipee on the way north.  Traffic was heavy on this summer weekend, so it wasn’t until 10:45am that we reached the trailhead in Gorham, in the northern reaches of the White Mountains.

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Raúl and Kelly at the Beginning of the Climb

 

Mt Moriah is the northern-most of the six 4000-foot peaks in the Wildcat-Carter range.  I had climbed Wildcat “D” and Wildcat Mountain (on one day), and Middle and South Carter (on the next day), in September of 2016, solo; and I had summited Carter Dome on 9 July, 2017, with our friend Draco.  So Moriah was the last of these six that I would climb.

Moriah is an “easy to moderate” hike, and we had a nice day for the climb: not too hot, partly cloudy and a bit misty.   It’s 4.5 miles up, and we retraced our steps from the top.

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The trail climbs moderately from the trailhead just outside of Gorham, reaching a ledge outlook at Mt Surprise.  There, views opened to the west towards the Presidential range:

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This ledge area seemed unusual to me – not so high in altitude, but quite alpine in nature: low pines and large areas of lichens, as if we were at a much greater elevation:

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I guess the conditions here were affected by a combination of elevation and latitude: since we were at the northern end of the White Mountains, perhaps the winter weather would be a bit more severe?

It was a bit misty, with views that were not quite as dramatic as last time I was up on this range, but still very impressive.  There is a short boggy area near the top.

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Nearing the Top – Raúl, With Kelly in the Background

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We reached the spur path to the summit of Mt Moriah at 2pm.  From here it wasn’t too far to the top.

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The summit itself is a small, rocky clearing, and on this day it was quite crowded, so we ate a late lunch at an outlook a short distance from the top, with great views to the north:

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The (Crowded) Summit Of Mt Moriah

 

An outcropping was visible to the south, without anybody on it.  It looked like there would be great views from there so, after lunch I thought that I would go ahead to try to get to it.  Maybe the view there would be worth the walk.  When we reached the intersection with the Kenduskeag Trail, Kelly and Raúl decided to wait for me there; I kept going, hoping to reach that outcropping.

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Taking first the right-hand turn (along the Carter-Moriah Trail, coincident with the Appalachian Trail here) and then doubling back to explore briefly along the Kenduskeag Trail, I just couldn’t find that outcrop.  After poking around a bit, I headed back to where I had last seen Raúl and Kelly, but they had gone.  So I began the descent back to the trailhead.

Soon I passed a couple who were climbing up, and I asked them if they had seen my friends.  No!  Whoops!  Clearly we had gotten separated at the top, so I asked the couple to tell Raúl and Kelly that I had begun the descent.  A few minutes later I was able to get reception on my cellphone, and rang Raúl: sure enough, they were waiting for me back at the summit!  In retrospect, I should have thought of that – of course they would want to wait where there was a view! – but I had been too tired to climb back up there, and assumed that they were feeling similarly.

From their perspective, as I was descending, Raúl and Kelly became worried that I was lost and perhaps injured.  Finally they decided that it would be best to walk to the trailhead, and then I called Raúl and we realized what had happened.

I descended as we had ascended, a beautiful day for a hike in the White Mountains:

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Presidential Range, Now Backlit In The Afternoon

 

Nearing the trailhead, I came across part of an old car that I hadn’t seen on the way up:

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I arrived back at the trailhead at 5pm, and Kelly and Raúl finished at about 6:30pm.  Despite our inadvertent (and temporary!) separation, all turned out OK and it was a pleasant and enjoyable day.  Mt Moriah, peak number 33, was climbed – 15 more to go!

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When I arrived in Sydney, one of my first tasks was to finalize the structure of the new International Program Team (“IPT”), and complete its staffing.  Having spent lots of time and energy worrying about structure in previous roles (particularly at the International Headquarters of Plan International – see this blog), I was thinking about this in two ways:

  1. Because structure has a strong influence on behavior, I wanted to keep the IPT’s structure lean, flat and close to the field, and efficient, cost-wise;
  2. Because with the right people, structure wasn’t the most important thing, I wanted to not worry about it too much: just get the right people, make as good a structural decision as I could, and then get on with the work and let things evolve through intentional, restorative, reflective learning.

It turns out that these two aims are fairly consistent.  Yes, structure does have a strong influence on behavior, so it’s important not to get it wrong.  And, within reason, flatter structures are better: fewer levels of bureaucracy between field and senior management keeps things a bit more grounded in the reality of our NGO work.  Flatter structures help keep head-office costs down, also.  But I had also learned an important lesson along the way: hire great people, make roles very clear and connected to the organization’s mission and people’s passions, and then let things evolve, reflecting and learning-by-doing.  Don’t obsess too much about structure.

So that’s what I did.

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When I arrived in Sydney, the IPT was in flux.  Even though ChildFund Australia had been working in Papua New Guinea for fifteen years, and in Viet Nam for a decade, the main role of Sydney-based program staff at that point was to oversee projects funded through the Australia-NGO Cooperation Program (“ANCP”) of AusAID (the Australian Government’s overseas aid agency), implemented by the US member of the ChildFund Alliance, confusingly-named ChildFund International.  This meant that the IPT had little role with regards to ChildFund Australia’s own programming…

In 2009, ChildFund Australia was preparing for growth: our private income was growing strongly, and because the new Labor government was promising to strongly-increase overseas development assistance in line with international commitments, and we had just become top-tier ANCP “Partners” with AusAID, it looked like that income stream was also going to grow quite rapidly.  Part of that preparation for growth resulted in the creation of my new role as International Program Director, which would assume the management of ChildFund Australia’s three (becoming five) Country Directors.

ChildFund Australia’s organizational structure as I arrived in Sydney looked something like this:

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  • Five Department Directors worked with Nigel: Bandula Gonsalkorale (Finance and IT); Jan Jackson (HR); Lynne Joseph (Sponsor Relations); Di Mason (Fundraising and Marketing); and me;
  • Initially we had three Country Directors, handling program implementation and reporting to me: Carol Mortenson (Cambodia); Smokey Dawson (PNG); and Peter Walton (Viet Nam).  Peter also handled regional responsibilities for the Mekong, supervising ChildFund’s research into setting up operations in Laos.  I will share more about these Country Directors, and their successors and teams, in upcoming articles in this series…

And in the Sydney Program Department, five positions were in the FY2010 budget (in addition to my own):

  • Veronica Bell had just left ChildFund, taking up a position at the Human Rights Council for New South Wales.  So her International Program Manager position was vacant;
  • Richard Geeves had just joined, only a few days before my arrival, as International Program Coordinator for the Mekong programs (Cambodia and Viet Nam).  Richard had long experience in the education sector in Australia (including in indigenous areas), and was recently returned to Australia after many years working from Cambodia;
  • Rouena (“Ouen”) Getigan had joined ChildFund several years earlier, and therefore was our repository of wisdom and knowledge; the rest of us were new, but Ouen knew how things worked!  She handled relations with our ChildFund partners in Africa and Asia that were funded through the ANCP program, and did an outstanding job of building and maintaining these partnerships.  In addition, to support a large regional HIV and AIDS project in Africa, Ouen supervised a very capable Kampala-based project coordinator, Evas Atwine;
  • Terina Stibbard, like Richard, had just joined ChildFund, only a few days before my arrival, as International Program Coordinator for Papua New Guinea.  Overflowing with passion for the work, and with a tireless commitment, Terina took on what was perhaps our biggest challenge: building a strong program in PNG.  I will write much more about PNG in a future blog post in this series.  Also, among other things, Terina introduced us to the concept of “critical friend,” which perfectly captured the IPC role with our Country Offices: without direct authority, but able to advise and speak truth directly without harming relationships;
  • And Nigel had left one position undefined, for me to consider.

Interviews for the Mekong and PNG roles had begun before I was hired, but before finalizing things with Richard and Terina, Nigel and Jan had consulted me, asking if I wanted them to wait until I got to Sydney before finalizing these hires.  But Richard and Terina looked great to me, on paper, and I saw no reason to delay.

In terms of the program-team’s structure, I didn’t see any reason, at this point, for the extra structural level implied by the “International Program Manager” role.  Over time, I saw things might evolve in three general domains:

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In the Program Support domain, one group of staff in Sydney would accompany Country Directors and, most directly, the Program Managers in our program countries, helping develop projects and programs with the greatest impact on the causes of child poverty in each location.  In the Program Development area, Sydney staff would provide technical and systems support, establishing standards and helping measure results.  Finally, of course, we had a general function of Program Implementation – our Country Directors.

As we will see, in fact, the IPT structure did in fact evolve in this way.

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So here is the first iteration of the IPT structure, put in place soon after my arrival:

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Richard, Ouen, and Terina focused mainly on “Program Support” duties, working directly with our Program Managers in Cambodia, PNG, and Viet Nam, and with ChildFund partner offices in Asia and Africa to help them develop and implement, and learn from, increasingly sophisticated programming.  Two new hires, Jackie Robertson and Cory Steinhauer, joined ChildFund to support program development: Jackie was focused on developing the policies and standards that would govern our work; and Cory would focus on building a development-effectiveness framework through which we would design our programs and measure our results.

Here are some images of that first IP team:

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Terina, Richard, Cory, Jackie, Me and Ouen

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Richard, Terina, Me

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Ouen

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This structure worked very well.  In terms of how I managed the team, from the beginning I tried to put in place a range of “restorative” practices, aimed at keeping the team together, keeping us grounded and motivated:

  • Every Monday morning at 10am, we had a team checkin.  I had learned how to do this from Atema Eclai at UUSC, though I had to adapt it quite a bit: Australians weren’t enthusiastic about the “touchy-feely” aspects of checkins like Atema’s.  So we limited things to a brief general chat followed by a discussion of priorities for the week.  This seemed to work very well, settling us into the week smoothly, and was replicated by the team even when I was away;
  • Every month or two, we had a formal IPT Meeting.  These events had agendas, minutes, pending-action-items lists, etc.  They were business meetings, which I would chair, meant to be efficient fora for decision-making and accountability.  They worked very well.  For example, I had learned how to use “pending-action-items” lists from Max van der Schalk while working at Plan’s international headquarters, and the introduction of this tool was very important at ChildFund: decisions that required action went onto the list, organized in order by date, and stayed on the list until they were completed or the IPT agreed to remove them.  This provided a strong element of accountability and was a helpful irritant that kept us from neglecting decisions and becoming less accountable.  Once the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”) was completed, we introduced a short reflection from a field case study at the beginning of each IPT Meeting, to help ground us in the reality of our work; much more detail about the DEF will come in a future blog in this series;
  • My intention was to complement the formal IPT meetings with periodic reflection meetings about a topic related to our work.  These sessions wouldn’t have agendas or minutes, much less structured and more relaxed than the IPT Meetings, and would be chaired by different members of the IPT who had expressed an interest in a particular topic – micro-finance, human rights, direct giving, etc.  These sessions were always interesting and useful, and energizing, so I regret not organizing more of them.  Somehow they seemed to drop off the agenda with the fast pace of work, over time, and I don’t think that I fully realized the potential of this concept;
  • I tried to have an open door policy, available for IPT members at any time.  I made sure to close my door only when necessary, and to invite any team member to come in and sit down whenever they dropped by.  I think this was helpful in creating and sustaining a culture of caring and support, clearly communicating to everybody that helping the team was my main job.  Of course, there were times when my office door needed to be closed – for the discussion of sensitive matters, particularly on the phone with our Country Directors – but I had learned at UUSC to be quite mindful of asking permission to close my door, to enhance transparency and make sure people were comfortable.  As with the team checkins, it seemed that our mostly-Australian staff viewed this habit of mine – asking permission to close my door – as a bit silly.  But I think it was helpful;
  • Of course, I carried out an annual performance review of each member of the team, and spent lots of time preparing these documents.  I tried to be balanced, but to always include areas for improvement – loyal readers of this blog will remember my experience with Pham Thu Ba, back in Plan Viet Nam: when I finished her first performance review, which was stellar, she told me I wasn’t doing my job if I couldn’t help her improve!  This made a big impression on me, and even though western culture these days seems to only value praise, I wanted to honor Thu Ba’s example in my work in Australia.  This worked well, most of the time!;
  • In addition to the yearly performance review process, I tried to have some less-formal, one-on-one time with each IPT member every year.  I’d invite them for coffee or lunch, and have an open, unstructured chat about how things were going. I wasn’t able to make this happen as often as I wanted, but it was a very useful mechanism, helping surface concerns and opportunities that I might not have appreciated otherwise;
  • Finally, also dating from my time in Viet Nam, I adapted and used a “Team Effectiveness Assessment” for use with the IPT, and was able to use this tool to formally assess how we were progressing.   The framework I used came from a great workbook that I had discovered at Asia Books in the Bangkok Airport, back when I worked in Hanoi in the late 1990’s: “The Team-Building Workshop,” by Vivette Payne.  The approach included in the book outlined eight elements of team effectiveness, and a survey was included that could be used to measure the status of a particular team.  Starting with how I had used the survey in Hanoi, I now adapted the survey and used it four times with the IPT, tracking results and identifying areas that we could focus on to improve (in yellow):

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You can see that our overall score, a measure of team effectiveness, improved from 197.1 in March, 2011 to 230.6 in December of 2011, and then moved back down to 204.1 in January of 2014.  I think that the decrease in score reflects the arrival of several new IPT members, and the corresponding need to settle the team down into new roles and relationships.

Each time we used this tool, we identified areas for focus, which are initiated in yellow: for example, in October of 2012 we looked to focus on “Roles” and “Team Relationships” and “Skills & Learning.”  I found the tool to be practical and very useful, though not to be taken too literally; discussion of results and team reflection on next steps was more important than the numerical scoring… and the fact that I was using this tool periodically gave the team a message that I was taking our effectiveness seriously, and investing my time, and all of our time, on improving the team environment.

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In one of my blogs about UUSC, I described how I had created the “UUSC Handbook,” to enhance clarity of how things would be done in that agency.  From my perspective, as Executive Director there, the UUSC Handbook was a big success, notwithstanding its large size.  Given the tensions that existed in that agency, having an agreed, approved set of standards and procedures was helpful, and since it mainly simply codified and clarified existing practices, it didn’t create too much bureaucracy.

I replicated this approach at ChildFund Australia, creating the ChildFund “Program Handbook.”  Like its UUSC predecessor, the Program Handbook was quite complex and bulky to produce and update, which happened periodically … they were both meant to be living documents.   And it contained much content that was already existing, just needing to be codified.

But, unlike the UUSC Handbook, ChildFund’s document contained much that was new: our Theory of Change and our Development Effectiveness Framework, and a range of program policies – these were new, developed by the new IPT, and represented the ongoing maturing of ChildFund’s programming.

A copy of a version of the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook is here (Program Handbook – 3.3 DRAFT ); even though this is marked as “Draft,” I think it was the final update that we issued before I left Sydney in 2015.

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Two years later, in 2011, ChildFund Australia was growing strongly, and we had commenced operations in Laos.  The IPT structure in Sydney evolved consistently with this growth:

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Carol Mortensen continued as CD in Cambodia, but changes had been made in PNG and Viet Nam, and we had started operations in Lao PDR:

  • Andrew Ikupu, a very-experienced Papua New Guinean, had replaced Smokey Dawson as CD in PNG.  Andrew had long experience working in development in his country, and had a PhD from the University of South Australia in Adelaide;
  • Deb Leaver had taken over from Peter Walton in Viet Nam.  I had first met Deb in late 2009, when I visited ActionAid Australia, where Deb was Program Director, and she had been probably the most welcoming of my peers in Sydney.  We were lucky to hire Deb to follow Peter;
  • Chris Mastaglio, with his able colleague Keoamphone Souvannaphoum, had helped ChildFund with the initial research into why, how, and where we should work in Laos.  Once we made the decision to start working there, we were fortunate that both Chris and Keo were available to join ChildFund: Chris as CD, and Keo as Program Manager (and, later, as CD when Chris transitioned to head up a regional sport-for-development program).

We were very lucky to have Andrew, Chris, Deb and Keo join ChildFund Australia.

In Sydney, things had also evolved.  Cory Steinhauer had departed, and Richard Geeves had moved over from Program Support (where he had served as IPC for the Mekong) to work on Development Effectiveness.  He was quite good at this role: while I was the primary architect of ChildFund’s Development Effectiveness Framework, which I will describe in detail in a future blog post in this series, Richard was an able foil, working to keep things simple and practical, and he had a good touch with the field, keeping the implementation of what was a new, challenging system on track, with good humor.

John Fenech joined the Program Development team, helping our Country Offices prepare grant proposals.  Relative to our size, ChildFund Australia had a lower proportion of income from technical grants (bilateral, multi-lateral, foundation) than our peer organizations, and John’s role was to build our portfolio.  Although John was one of the younger members of the IPT, he brought a vivid countercultural sense, sometimes seeming to date more from the 1970’s than from the 2010’s.  In a good way…

Terina remained engaged with PNG, and she was doing a fantastic job working with Andrew Ikupu and his Program Manager Manish Joshi (later becoming CD there).  As a result, our programs in PNG were really taking off – growing in size, impact, and sophistication, and diversifying in income source.  And Ouen continued to work with our ChildFund International partners across Africa and Asia as they implemented an increasing number of ANCP-funded projects.

As our programs were expanding, two new IPCs had joined, working with our programs in the Mekong: Caroline Pinney took over support from Cambodia and Laos, and Maria Attard worked with our team in Viet Nam, while also coordinating research and initial engagement in Myanmar.  Caroline brought long experience in Asia, with AVI (the Australian volunteer-sending agency), and a very strong level of dedication and passion for our work.  Maria’s work had been in Cambodia (working with women and children that had suffered from domestic violence) and the Pacific (in the disability sector), before returning to Australia (continuing in the disability sector).  Maria brought a welcome sense of activism to the team, building on her advocacy work in the disability sector.  Both Caroline and Maria showed remarkable dedication to the heavy workload and complicated realities of the programs that they supported.

Finally, in this second iteration of the IPT structure, we decided that the scale of operations was large enough to merit a program officer to provide a range of support services to the team.  Initially we wanted to hire an indigenous Australian, accessing subsidy programs offered by the government.  This was Terina’s idea, and was a very good one, but we were never able to make it work due to complicated and dysfunctional bureaucracy on the government side.

So we shifted concepts, and decided instead to look towards recent graduates in international development.  Given how many people were finishing degrees in the field, and how few jobs there were, we thought it would be good to make the position time-limited – giving new graduates some real work experience, and some income, while taking some administrative load off of the rest of the IPT.  And then booting them out into the real world.

We recruited externally, and were able to hire a very smart, extremely hard-working new graduate, Mai Nguyen.  From then on, Mai handled a range of administrative and program-support duties with great efficiency and good humor.

Here are images of that iteration of the IPT:

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IPT in February, 2012.  From Left To Right: John Fenech, Ouen Getigan, Me, Maria Attard, Terina Stibbard, Mai Nguyen, Caroline Pinney, and Richard Geeves.  Missing: Jackie Robertson

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IPT in March, 2012.  From Left To Right: Ouen Getigan, Maria Attard, Terina Stibbard (seated), Caroline Pinney, Jackie Robertson, Me (seated), John Fenech, Mai Nguyen, and Richard Geeves

 

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In 2014 we introduced IPT’s third structural evolution, the last version of my time as International Program Director.  At this point, our scale had grown further, with the addition of Myanmar and, with 11 direct reports, I was having trouble providing proper individual attention to everybody.  So we introduced a new level, partly to break my “span of control”: so Ouen and Richard became “Managers”:

 

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Ouen would be handling Program Development and the support of our Development Effectiveness Framework, and Richard moved to manage Program Support while also serving as IPC for PNG (after Terina Stibbard departed.)  This allowed me to give priority attention to the five Country Directors now reporting to me, and to Ouen and Richard.

Here is an image of that final iteration of the Sydney-based team:

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IPT in November, 2014: John Fenech, Sanwar Ali, Caroline Pinney, Richard Geeves, Maria Attard, Me, Manasi Kogekar, Mai Nguyen, Sarah Hunt, and Ouen Getigan.  Missing: Jackie Robertson.

 

We had upped our technical support capacity, by recruiting Sanwar Ali from Oxfam Australia; he would head support for our increasing Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response efforts.  John Fenech had moved to serve as IPC for Cambodia, allowing Caroline Pinney to focus on Cambodia, and Mai Nguyen had moved to serve as IPC for Myanmar, allowing Maria Attard to focus on Viet Nam.  To replace John in the grant-development role, we (re)hired Sarah Hunt, who was quickly very successful in bringing in additional resources to the program; Sarah had served on the IPT before my arrival, and we were lucky to bring her back, thanks to Ouen’s strong recommendation.  Sarah made grant development look easy, which it certainly isn’t!

This team worked very well, and seemed harmonious and effective.  Ouen and Richard were good, supportive managers of their teams, and I was able to spend much more time with our Country Directors.

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In my last article in this series, I shared a framework that I developed over time, for thinking about effective teams in NGO settings:

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In that article, I said that “… our INGO teams will perform strongly if:

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

How did we do in ChildFund Australia’s IPT?

  • Clarity: We did fairly well here.  I was careful to engage with the IPT to make sure that their roles and jobs were clear, and the work we did to develop a programmatic Theory of Change and Development Effectiveness Framework also greatly enhanced clarity.  The preparation and frequent updating of the Program Handbook also provided clarity, though perhaps was viewed as a bit bureaucratic by some.  But, overall, I’d say things were clear;
  • Trust: this is a bit harder to judge, for me, because it was my job to create and maintain an environment of trust.  Trust comes from a combination of competence and honesty, and I feel that IPT members viewed me as quite competent and honest.  For example, I decided to share minutes of all Senior Management Team meetings with IPT members at our IPT Meetings – orally, in summary, and omitting any confidential content.  I think that sharing this information helped reinforce a sense of transparency.  But of course many factors were beyond my control, and I was imperfect in my communications skills;
  • Inspiration: I think we did fairly well here, I tried to bring a sense of the realities in the field into all our meetings, and into board and Senior-Management meetings, using (for example) case studies from our Development Effectiveness Framework to reconnect us with the deeper motivations that brought us into the NGO sector.  Again, I was imperfect in this, but I think we did pretty well;
  • Restorative Practices: earlier in this article I described my efforts to build restorative practices into the ongoing context of the IPT, and I think these worked very well.

Overall, perhaps a solid B+.

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That’s some of the story of ChildFund Australia’s International Program Team, from 2009 through 2015.  ChildFund’s work expanded enormously during that time, and the IPT  managed to support that expansion smoothly, with increasing attention to the quality and sophistication of our programming.

It did come at a financial cost: program support increased from around 4% of funds remitted to international programming in 2010, to 6.7% in 2015.  My sense is that the gains in effectiveness and impact were well worth this investment – I will explore this in more depth in an upcoming post in this series.

I enjoyed working with the IPT, and learned a lot from them.  Morale was good, consistently, and though I can’t take sole credit for that success, I think that the approach we took helped.

With gratitude and warm appreciation to:

  • Sanwar Ali
  • Maria Attard
  • John Fenech
  • Richard Geeves
  • Rouena Getigan
  • Sarah Hunt
  • Manasi Kogekar
  • Mai Nguyen
  • Caroline Pinney
  • Jackie Robertson
  • Cory Steinhauer
  • Terina Stibbard

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Stay tuned for more blog posts about ChildFund Australia: our Theory of Change and Development Effectiveness Framework, our work and great teams in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam, and much  more…

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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;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.

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

March, 2018

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

First, the climb of Galehead Mountain:

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

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Looking Fresh – That Would Change!

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

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

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

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Evidence Of A Crampon

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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South Twin From The Frost Trail

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Galehead Hut, North Twin Upper Left

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From Left: North Twin, South Twin, Bond Ridge

 

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

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Peak number 31, done and dusted!

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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Building A Great International NGO

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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May, 2009

 

A big challenge, that I would do my best to achieve, imperfectly, over the next six years.  Stay tuned for next time, when six years at ChildFund Australia begins!

*

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

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

 

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

October, 2017

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mt Lafayette and Franconia Notch

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Mt Lincoln Just North Of Mt Haystack

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Looking North Towards Mt Lincoln

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

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North and South Kinsman Visible Across Franconia Notch

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Cannon Mountain and the Kinsmans

 

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

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

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Looking East Towards Owl’s Head and the Bonds

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Looking South Towards Mt Liberty and Mt Flume

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Looking North Towards Mt Lincoln

 

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

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

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dola Mohapatra, at the BF101 workshop

 

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

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Jason Schwartzman, on the left, during our community immersion

 

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

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Evelyn Santiago at the BF101 Workshop

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Jason, Me, Dola and Evelyn

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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