Mt Adams (47) – As I Near the End of This Journey.

May, 2019

began a new journey in May of 2016, aiming to climb every one of the 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall, and to write a description of each ascent. And, each time, I wanted to write a reflection, sequentially, on my journey since joining Peace Corps over 30 years ago: on development, social justice, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

So far, I’ve written about 46 of those ascents, and traced my own journey, reaching nearly to the present day. Last time I shared a case study of cross-cultural conflict, involving two international NGOs. I tried to show how some of the tools and insights described in earlier articles (on conflict and culture) helped me understand the tricky and complex dynamics of that situation. And I described my climb of Mt Madison, my 46th 4000-footer, and one of the highest of the 48, on 12 June 2018.

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In this article, I want to start wrapping up the journey thus far, with some reflections. As I write this, it has been just over 35 years since I flew from Boston to Miami, headed towards two years in the Peace Corps in Ecuador. In the previous 46 articles in this series, I’ve described climbing the same number of 4000-footers, and I’ve written about those two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, and the fifteen years that followed, with Plan International, in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, headquarters (in the US and then in the UK), and Viet Nam. I wrote about two exciting years as a consultant with CCF, helping create their (then) new program approach (“Bright Futures”), and serving as acting VP for Africa, based in Addis Ababa. Blogs about four great years with UUSC in Cambridge followed, and several more covered the six fantastic years I served with ChildFund Australia, working in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea and Viet Nam. Most recently I’ve described more recent study and work on conflict, culture, and cross-cultural conflict.

In this article I want to reflect on a few themes that emerged for me as I prepared those 46 blogs. I hope you’ll enjoy it!

But first…

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The 2018 climbing season began for me on 12 June, when I climbed both Mt Madison and Mt Adams (5774ft, 1760m).  Scaling both of these 5000-footers, including the second highest (Adams) was very challenging.  I was exhausted and a bit battered when I finished!

I described the first part of that long and tough day, getting to the top of Mt Madison, last time. Driving up from Durham at around 7am, I had started up the Great Gulf Trail at 9:15am, and after a tricky fall near the top, which left me a bit bruised and battered, I had reached the top of Mt Madison at about 1:30pm.  Now I would continue to the south-west, descending Madison, past the Madison Springs Hut and, hopefully, up Mt Adams.  All going well, I would then return to the Hut, and drop down Madison Gulf Trail and Great Gulf Trail to the parking lot:

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The descent from Mt Madison was steep and a little bit tricky; and my right knee, which had really bothered me (the year before) when descending from Mt Monroe, began to hurt a bit.  The pounding I was giving the knee as I dropped down was taking a toll.

Descending, I crossed a steady stream of people who must have been staying at the hut, which I passed at 2pm:

Madison Springs Hut, With Mt Adams In The Background

Here I turned left, past the Hut, and joined the Star Lake Trail, which would take me to the summit of Mt Adams. Signage was a bit unclear, but I went on:

Star Lake is actually just a tiny and shallow pond, the water source for the Madison Springs Hut.  A beautiful spot, in the saddle between Madison and Adams.  Here is an image looking back at Mt Madison above Star Lake, as I began the climb up Mt Adams:

A lovely, alpine area.  The climb up Mt Adams was arduous, steep and rocky.  Here is a view back towards Mt Madison; Star Lake still visible.  Earlier that day I had ascended Madison along the ridge that can be seen to the right of the peak:

After some tricky climbing in high winds, I reached the top of Mt Adams at about 3:15pm.  It had been nearly six hours getting here, across Mt Madison, reaching the top of the second-highest of the 48 4000-footers.  I had now climbed 47 of the 48!

From The Top Of Mt Adams: Mt Washington And Mt Jefferson.  Jefferson Would Be My Last 4000-Footer!
The Summit Of Mt Adams

Look how far above Mt Madison I was!

Looking Down At Madison From The Summit Of Mt Adams

It was cold and very windy at the top of Adams, and I was feeling very knackered.  But I did stay at the top for a few minutes to savor the accomplishment.  And the views were fantastic!

But soon I began the long descent, now favoring my right knee in a major way.  It took me over an hour to drop most of the way down Mt Adams, carefully rock-hopping most of the way.  It was 4:15pm by the time I approached Star Lake again:

Here I took a right turn onto the Parapet Trail:

A Bit Sunburned?

And soon I reached the junction of Madison Gulf Trail.  Here I left Parapet, and began to descend steeply down Madison Gulf:

Here I Started My Descent; Wildcat Ridge Is In The Background

I felt quite tired, and my knee was in some pain, so I took a couple of pain relievers!

Soon I regretted not having come UP Madison Gulf instead of descending it: very steep, large boulders, so quite difficult to descend.  It seemed to go down very steeply for a very long time, which was not pleasant at all.  No choice now!

At 5pm I took a short video of a wet, mossy patch:

It was not until 5:30pm that Madison Gulf Trail flattened out significantly, so it was over an hour of steep descent.  Very slow going… torture!  Here is an image of a makeshift bridge, taken just after 5:30pm:

Muddy

Madison Gulf Trail was not well-maintained, so even when it got to be a bit less steep it was still slow-going.  Now I was into typical White-Mountains forest, with small waterfalls:

Even though it was getting a bit late in the day, since I was hiking in mid-June I had plenty of time before it would be dark, so I wasn’t too worried.  Even so, I was somewhat concerned that I had missed the turnoff for the Osgood Cutoff trail, relieved when I reached it at just after 7pm:

Here I would turn left briefly, and then continue downward to join the Great Gulf Trail.  This would take me down the West Branch of the Peabody River to reach the junction with Osgood Trail that I had taken at 10am that morning (seemingly decades earlier!)

A few moments later I passed a tree growing out of a boulder, slightly reminiscent of Angkor Wat!

Reaching that junction with Osgood Trail at 7:30pm, I continued downward through the pleasant evening light to reach the parking lot at 8:15pm.  A pleasant walk, soft path underfoot, with a few mosquitoes in the late evening:

Knackered

Arriving at the car, I was in pain and exhausted.  It had taken me 11 hours to reach the top of Madison and Adams, and return to the trail-head.  Although I enjoyed it a lot, and felt exhilarated by the day, this hike was beyond my capabilities, a bit too much.  I did recover a bit, got more energy after finishing up the steep descent down Madison Gulf Trail from Mt Adams.  And I had climbed to the top of two of the highest 5000-footers in one day, an accomplishment for sure.  Worth celebrating!

I reached Durham at 10:30pm, finishing a long and incredible day!  One more 4000-footer to go: Mt Jefferson, and the end of the journey (for now), awaits!

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Since this is my penultimate article in the “4000-Footer” series, I want to share reflections on a few of the themes that have emerged for me as I looked back. It was a great, long ride from my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer to today, almost exactly 35 years later as I write this. So this article is in some ways a bit of a look back at the 46 articles that preceded it…

It’ll be a briefer article this time, just a few thoughts.

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I’ve been lucky to work across the globe, and in many different roles. I’ve learned that there is a big difference between leadership and management. Both are important in our sector, but I think that leadership is about being authentic as a human being, and management is about having the tools needed to run a business. Different things. I was lucky to learn a lot about both over these years.

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My career has been in the social-justice arena, and I’ve been very lucky to work with great people doing good work. So, are we “do-gooders”?

It always made me a bit uncomfortable when I would hear colleagues talking about helping “poor people.” To be fair, there weren’t very many who talked that way, and I often thought about why that kind of description didn’t work for me…

I’m reminded of the week we spent in Miami, in February 1984, as Omnibus 44 got ready to ship out to Ecuador to be trained as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Peace Corps Country Director, Ned Benner, and a couple of his staff, had flown up from Quito for the training, along with a couple of current Volunteers.

One day during our staging in Miami they put on a role play, with a PCV named Rita (I think) playing the part of a Volunteer who kept using the phrase “I’m here to help…” They were making an important point, of course, about humility and entitlement. “Don’t ever say that” was the message!

And, inadvertently, I think they were making the point I’m trying to make here: that those years of working in international development, overseas, and advancing social justice, domestically and internationally, were important for me and to me. I was learning, and I was realizing myself, and I was experiencing life across dozens of countries, and I was having a lot of fun. Yes, also, I was realizing myself and my potential through service, in a great cause, but I think it’s important to note that I benefitted enormously.

So when I hear people talk about having worked to help poor people, or when people praise us for our “sacrifices,” it makes me nervous about motivations. It seems to me that if our motivation is about others, a whiff of “white-man’s burden” or “mission civilisatrice” creeps into us, which can puff up our egos. Better, I think, to recognize that we are lucky to do the work we do, that we grow as people along the way, and that as we are accompanying people living in poverty and facing oppression, we learn as much as we give.

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Across the years described in this series, our understanding of the fundamental nature of human poverty changed pretty dramatically. From even before I went to Ecuador as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and through my time with Plan International, until early in the 21st century, much of the “international development” sector was focused on “basic needs” – helping people increase income, achieve better education and health, etc.

As progress was made on the MDGs, however, it became clear that our thinking about poverty had to shift. Sure, progress was dramatic, on average, across the world, but many people were being left behind, not included in the general progress being made. For example, it should be no surprise that several of the MDG indicators that were lagging behind related to women and girls. Finally, we began to think about justice and equity, not just basic human needs, as we thought more deeply about why people – such as women and girls – were being left behind.

(Very important to note here that many, many people were thinking about social justice and human rights all through this time, and long before. The labor-rights movement, the civil-rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the abolitionists long before, of course they were fighting for justice. It’s just that the INGO world, and the bilateral and multilateral agencies, perhaps the public at large, and certainly I, myself, was still looking at poverty as the lack of things. Nothing wrong, for the time. And soon we would learn better…)

The work that I did as a consultant with CCF, and in particular with their Program Development Director Daniel Wordsworth, is a good example of how my own thinking was evolving. We put together, and tested, a new program approach for that organization, which we named “Bright Futures.” Bright Futures placed an emphasis on human dignity and stigma, not just basic needs, and we included a clear focus on building the collective action of marginalized people for children’s rights. Good stuff, and an example of the evolution that was happening.

This evolution took me, for a time, out of the “development” sector and to UUSC, an organization focused on activism, social justice, and human rights. At ChildFund Australia, I helped design a program approach that included building the power of people and children living in poverty. It led to a new formulation of international goals, the “Social Development Goals” that have more of a focus on “getting to zero,” peace and justice, and climate action.

What’s missing in the new formulation? Conflict, of course… more on that below.

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So as rapid progress was made on fulfilling “basic human needs” and the international community’s view of human poverty evolved to include more of a focus on social justice, many international NGOs struggled to adapt.

In a sense, they were victims of their own success: it was hard to let go of the tools and concepts that had been so useful. These large organizations were doing very good work and, by the turn of the century they had annual budgets of millions, even hundreds of millions of dollars, and thousands of employees – the stakes were very high, and institutional survival became a fundamental driver. Perhaps that drive for self-preservation, growth, dominance in the sector, distracted many of these organizations from their missions…

Today some of the INGOs that were prominent in the 1980s have adapted well to the new age, but others struggle to remain relevant. One big mistake that our sector made was our unthinking incorporation of private-sector culture into our organizations. As I argue in my “Trojan Horse” article mentioned in an earlier post in this series, “… the influx of private-sector culture into our organizations meant that:

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

As we fell into those traps, my sense is that we began to lose some of the spirit that had motivated us from the beginnings of the sector. This was a significant mistake, one that, perhaps, undermined our confidence as a sector to some extent…

I will attach a copy of the article I published on this topic here:  mcpeak-trojan-horse. (For another take on this, see the insights of Daniel Wordsworth that I discussed in an earlier blog in this series.)

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I’ve been very lucky to work, over 35 years and across six continents, with many hundreds of highly-motivated, committed, passionate people. In some ways it wasn’t luck, because the nonprofit world, the NGO sector, attracts people who want to make a positive difference – these are overwhelmingly good, dedicated people.

(Of course, there were a few bad eggs along the way, but very few and, anyway, no matter…)

The advantages of working with such passionate, dedicated people are many, and obvious: I almost never had to work to motivate the teams I managed, commitment and dedication was nearly never lacking. What a pleasure, and an honor working with these people: once we were able to clarify the task, inspire and connect it with our mission, build a collaborative approach, and align efforts with people’s passion, we were able to move very quickly.

The only challenge – a big one – was that such committed, inspired, motivated people tend to associate themselves, their personal identity, very closely with their work. Again, the result of this association is, mostly, very positive, but when it became necessary to change things, to make sometimes-tricky management decisions, firmly, our people can take things very personally.

I wouldn’t change this characteristic of our people – it’s a huge asset, and trading our dedicated people for wage-earners would be catastrophic! But it does mean that leaders and managers in our sector have to lead and manage in a very consultative and empowering way, and we have to face great resistance when, for whatever reason, we have to make top-down, unpopular decisions.

Managing in consultative and empowering ways – that’s something that I think the for-profit sector can learn from us: see the Trojan horse article I’ve linked to above for more on this.

There are of course times when we as leaders and managers have to make unpopular decisions. The danger is that our commitment to participatory values makes us hesitate to make decisions which aren’t seen as being consistent with that ethos. I’ve described a couple of these situations in this series (for example), and it’s been a good learning for me: sometimes I had to do the right thing for the mission, for the organization, in ways that weren’t consultative or empowering. There were a few times when I should have moved in that way, and paid the price for hesitating. A good learning for me… I got a bit tougher across the years, in this respect.

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Thousands of international NGOs sprang during the years after the 1980’s crisis in the Horn of Africa, with many growing into very large organizations.

Back in the 1990’s, many of us thought there would be a shake-out in the sector: there were just too many INGOs. Most of us thought that the sector would likely split into two groups:

  • a few very large, generalist INGOs working on mass poverty, “basic needs”; and specialized. These agencies would gain economies of scale through growth, by merging with other agencies, and would occupy a market position characterized by efficiency. So we saw a consolidation coming;
  • a larger number of specialized, focused NGOs working on particular issues, with specific capabilities, presenting themselves to the market as issue “experts.” We thought that this kind of smaller, specialist organizations would emerge.

Some of that happened, but we missed two important developments. Firstly, as I pointed out above, poverty was changing, and “mass poverty,” “basic needs” poverty, was quickly disappearing, at least in the main, on average. But we also missed the emergence of “Southern” NGOs – that is, NGOs and INGOs formed in the Global South (the “developing world”.)

These two trends have had a big impact on our sector, in ways that we hadn’t foreseen when we predicted consolidation and the emergence of specialist NGOs. Yes, the larger, generalist INGOs have consolidated to some extent, and emphasize their efficiencies. But, responding to these additional trends, many of them have also tried to focus on particular issues, pivoting away from “basic needs.”

For example, I worked for 15 years for Plan International, and across those years we worked mostly on community development issues, even when we began to speak in the language of human rights. Today, Plan presents itself as an organization advancing the rights of girls – a laudable position that narrows their focus on a particular excluded population. (What this positioning means in practice is another question…)

And loyal readers of this series will recall that I worked for two years as a consultant with ChildFund US, and six years as International Program Director with ChildFund Australia. The wider ChildFund Alliance worked for years to reduce violence against children, and now presents itself as focused on child safety – another laudable position that seeks to address a particular issue of injustice.

Our earlier thinking was right, however, about the trend of specialization. In these articles I’ve mentioned my admiration for the work of Daniel Wordsworth and the American Refugee Committee – focused on the humanitarian crisis of our age.

And I’ve mentioned that I’ve recently finished six months as interim COO at the Disability Rights Fund (“DRF”), a participatory grantmaking organization that seeks to empower persons with disabilities, including internally inside the organization, and in their governance. As a participatory grantmaker, DRF illustrates another of the trends that I’m seeing – the emergence of capacity in the Global South. DRF is not operational in the Global South, it operates by supporting grassroots people’s organizations. In these ways – focusing on a particular issue of social-justice exclusion, and working to support local people’s organizations – I think DRF represents the way that our social-justice sector should be working now.

So the trend toward specialization is clear, driven by changes in poverty. And I think we’ll see more organizations begin to operate as grantmakers, like DRF, supporting NGOs in the Global South rather than being operational themselves. The big INGOs should watch out!

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Globalization and information technology helped the many advances in human development that I’ve described here. But these same trends are also contributing to the rapid increase in conflict that we are seeing across our societies and, inevitably, inside our organizations. (We can’t isolate our organizations from the societies they are part of…)

Conditions for widespread conflict are emerging in front of our eyes, all around us: economic inequality rises; the climate warms rapidly; people move in their millions escaping war and poverty; the public loses faith in government, the media, and post-War institutions; and populist political movements fan the flames of resentment and intolerance. It’s ironic that these trends are arising, given the massive improvements in human wellbeing that have taken place, but it’s our reality.

This means that conflict will be one of the most important characteristics of our age, becoming only more and more important in the future. We need urgently to address the causes of this trend, working to build fairer economic systems, more responsive democracies.

But – make no mistake – conflict in our societies will grow. So as we work on the causes of conflict, we also need to build resilience in our communities, learn to appreciate diversity, develop the ability to manage difference through dialog, and we need to equip ourselves with tools to manage conflict. To mitigate and to adapt. We’ll need to do this with urgency, because conflict creates a negative feedback loop: more conflict will exacerbate the causes of conflict.

It’s easy to see this happening in our societies, and equally easy to understand the urgency. But our organizations are not isolated from our societies and our communities, which means that we will need to manage, prevent, and resolve conflict inside our workplaces, too, as an urgent priority.

But we are not equipped for this challenge. Our educational systems don’t teach conflict resolution, and in our professional development these same skills are almost never prioritized. In my own case, late in my career I realized that a crucial key set of tools had been neglected: leaders and managers alike needed to be able to manage, resolve, and transform conflict inside our organizations. So, as I’ve described, I decided to take a deep dive into conflict, working to gain a second Masters degree, this time in Dispute Resolution at the Law School of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

So now I’m focused on helping organizations, in particular in our sector, navigate this new world of internal conflict. It’s going to be a key skill for their survival, and I think I can help.

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There are probably many other reflections to share, but … enough for now!

It’s been a great journey, sharing climbing the 4000-footers of the White Mountains of New Hampshire with you, and looking back at the last 35 years. One more blog article will complete the series: next time, I will described climbing my final 4000-footer, Mt Jefferson, and I will take the time to thank a few of the many people who I’ve learned from, and been inspired by, along those years.

So, stay tuned for one last article!

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

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

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

August, 2018

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

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

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

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

But first…

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

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

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I Had Climbed Mt Waumbek The Day Before

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Autumn Is Coming!

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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Photo Taken At A ChildFund PNG Staff Retreat, 2010

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a couple of images of Andrew:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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With Manish Joshi

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

 

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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Nigel Spence Is On The Far Left; Peter Walton And I Are In The Back

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Peter Walton (Back Left), Nigel Spence (Third From Left), Nguyen Ba Lieu (Third From Right)

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Peter Walton (Left), Nguyen Ba Lieu (Second From Right), Me (Right)

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

My response was: “of course!”

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

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Deb Leaver, In The Center

 

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

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Deb Leaver And The ChildFund Viet Nam Management Team

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Another Image Of The Viet Nam Country Management Team, Plus Me

 

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

*

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

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

*

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

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With Deb Leaver

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Solin, Carol, and Oum

 

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

*

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

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

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With Prashant Verma

 

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

My deep thanks to both Carol and Prashant!

*

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

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

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With Chris Mastaglio

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

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Vientiane Staff In 2011

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

*

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

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

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Staff Dinner

*

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

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

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With Keo

 

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

*

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

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With Win May

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ChildFund Myanmar Team In April 2013 (Maria Attard On The Left)

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Win May Inspecting Our First Country Office

 

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

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Our Myanmar Team in January, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

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With Nini

*

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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Early Childhood Development Project

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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Shwedagon At Night

 

 

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Shwedagon

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Shwedagon

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Shwedagon

 

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Shwedagon

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One Of My Favorite Places To Eat In Myanmar: “Feel” Restaurant

Spices

*

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

June, 2018

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

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

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

Call it the Holy Grail!

*

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

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

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

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

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

But first…

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bondcliff From West Bond

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Isn’t that spectacular?!

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

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

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Bondcliff From The Top Of Mt Bond, Now Descending…

 

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

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Looking Up At Bondcliff

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Sleepers From The Old Forestry Railway

 

Scratches from walking poles?

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

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

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

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

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Knackered!

 

*

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

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Figure 1: The ChildFund Australia Development Effectiveness Framework

 

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

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

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According to this way of defining things:

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words:

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

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

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

So that’s what we did!

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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Lots of group discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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*

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

Generally speaking, these reports would include:

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

Examples of these reports are shared below.

*

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change;
  35. Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System;
  36. Mt Bond (36) – “Case Studies” in ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness System.

 

 

Bondcliff (35) – ChildFund Australia’s Development Effectiveness Framework

June, 2018

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

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

In each article, I am writing about climbing each of those mountains and, each time, I reflect a bit on the journey since I began to work in social justice, nearly 34 years ago: on development, human rights, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

So, when I wrap things up in this series, there should be 48 articles…

*

In 2009 Jean and I moved to Sydney, where I took up a new role as International Program Director for ChildFund Australia, a newly-created position.  On my way towards Sydney, I was thinking a lot about how to build a great program, and how I would approach building a strong team – my intention was to lead and manage with clarity, trust, and inspiration.  A few weeks ago, I wrote describing the role and staffing and structural iterations of ChildFund’s International Program Team and, last time, I outlined the foundational program approach we put in place – a Theory of Change and Outcome and Output Indicators.

Once the program approach was in place, as a strong foundation, we moved forward to build a structured approach to development effectiveness.  I am very proud of what we achieved: the resulting ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”) was, I think, state-of-the-art for international NGOs at the time.  Certainly few (if any) other INGOs in Australia had such a comprehensive, practical, useful system for ensuring the accountability and improvement of their work.

Since the DEF was so significant, I’m going to write three articles about it:

  1. In this article I will describe the DEF – its components, some examples of products generated by the DEF, and how each part of the system worked with the other parts.  I will also share results of external evaluations that we commissioned on the DEF itself;
  2. Next time, I will highlight one particular component of the DEF, the qualitative “Case Studies” of the lived experience of human change.  I was especially excited to see these Case Studies when they started arriving in Sydney from the field, so I want to take a deep dive into what these important documents looked like, and how we attempted to use them;
  3. Finally, I will the last two DEF components that came online (Outcome Indicator Surveys and Statements of Impact), the culmination of the system, where we assessed the impact of our work.

So there will be, in total, three articles focused on the DEF.  This is fitting, because I climbed three mountains on one day in August of 2017…

*

On 10 August, 2017, I climbed three 4000-footers in one day: Bondcliff (4265ft, 1300m), Mt Bond (4698ft, 1432m), and West Bond (4540ft, 1384m).  This was a very long, very tough day, covering 22 miles and climbing three mountains in one go.  At the end of the hike, I felt like I was going to lose the toenails on both big toes… and, in fact, that’s what happened.  As a result, for the rest of the season I would be unable to hike in boots and had to use hiking shoes instead!

Knowing that the day would be challenging, I drove up from Durham the afternoon before and camped, so I could get the earliest start possible the next morning.  I got a spot at Hancock Campground, right near the trailhead where I would start the climb:

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The East Branch of the Pemigewassit River runs alongside this campground, and I spent a pleasant late afternoon reading a book by Jean Paul Lederach there, and when it was dark I crawled into my sleeping bag and got a good night’s sleep.

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Here is a map of the long ascent that awaited me the next morning, getting to the top of Bondcliff:

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After Bondcliff, the plan was that I would continue on to climb Mt Bond and West Bond, and to then return to Lincoln Woods… more on that in the next two articles in this series.  In this one I will describe climbing the first 4000-footer of that day, Bondcliff.

I got an early start on 10 August, packing up my tent-site and arriving at the trailhead at Lincoln Woods at about 6:30am:

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It was just two weeks earlier that I had parked here to climb Owl’s Head, which I had enjoyed a lot.  This time, I would begin the same way – walking up the old, abandoned forestry railway for about 2.6 miles on Lincoln Woods Trail, to where I had turned left up the Franconia Brook Trail towards Owl’s Head.  I arrived at that junction at about 7:30am:

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This time I would continue straight at that intersection, continuing onto the Wilderness Trail, which winds through forest for a short distance, before opening out again along another old logging railway, complete with abandoned hardware along the way, discarded over 130 years ago:

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At the former (and now abandoned) Camp 16 (around 4.4 miles from the parking lot at Lincoln Woods), I took a sharp left and joined a more normal trail – no more old railway.  I began to ascend moderately, going up alongside Black Brook: now I was on the Bondcliff Trail.

 

I crossed Black Brook twice on the way up after leaving the Wilderness Trail, and then crossed two dry beds of rock, which were either rock slides or upper reaches of Black Brook that were dry that day.

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It’s a long climb up Black Brook; after the second dry crossing, Bondcliff Trail takes a sharp left turn and continues ascending steadily.  Just before reaching the alpine area, and the summit of Bondcliff, there is a short steep section, where I had to scramble up some bigger boulders.  Slow going…

But then came the reward: spectacular views to the west, across Owl’s Head to Franconia Ridge, up to Mt Garfield, and over to West Bond and Mt Bond.  Here Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette are on the left, above Owl’s Head, with Mt Garfield to the right:

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Lincoln and Lafayette In The Distance On The Left, Mt Garfield In The Distance On The Right

 

Here is a view looking to the southwest from the top of Bondcliff:

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From The Summit Of Bondcliff

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From The Summit Of Bondcliff

 

And this is the view towards Mt Bond, looking up from the top of Bondcliff:

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West Bond Is On The Left, And Mt Bond On The Right

 

I got to the top of Bondcliff at about 10:30am, just about four hours from the start of the hike.  Feeling good … at this point!  Here is a spectacular view back down towards Bondcliff, taken later in the day, from the top of West Bond:

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I would soon continue the climb, with a short hop from Bondcliff up to the top of Mt Bond.  Stay tuned!

*

Last time I wrote about how we built the foundations for ChildFund Australia’s new program approach: a comprehensive and robust “Theory of Change” that described what we were going to accomplish at a high level, and why; a small number of reliable, measurable, and meaningful “Outcome Indicators” that would enable us to demonstrate the impact of our work as related explicitly to our Outcome Indicators; and a set of “Output Indicators” that would allow us to track our activities in a consistent and comparable manner, across our work across all our programs: in Cambodia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Viet Nam.  (Myanmar was a slightly different story, as I will explain later…)

Next, on that foundation, we needed a way of thinking holistically about the effectiveness of our development work: a framework for planning our work in each location, each year; for tracking whether we were doing what we had planned; for understanding how well we were performing; and improving the quality and impact of our work.  And doing all this in partnership with local communities, organizations, and governments.

This meant being able to answer five basic questions:

  1. In light of our organizational Theory of Change, what are we going to do in each location, each year?
  2. how will we know that we are doing what we planned to do?
  3. how will we know that our work makes a difference and gets results consistent with our Theory of Change?;
  4. how will we learn from our experience, to improve the way we work?;
  5. how can community members and local partners directly participate in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of the development projects that ChildFund Australia supports?

Looking back, I feel that what we built and implemented to answer those questions – the ChildFund Australia “Development Effectiveness Framework” (“DEF”) – was our agency’s most important system.  Because what could be more important than the answers to those five questions?

*

I mentioned last time that twice, during my career with Plan International, we had tried to produce such a system, and failed (at great expense).  We had fallen into several traps that I was determined to avoid repeating this time, in ChildFund Australia, as we developed and implemented the DEF:

  • We would build a system that could be used by our teams with the informed participation of local partners and staff, practically – that was “good enough” for its purpose, instead of a system that had to be managed by experts, as we had done in Plan;
  • We would include both quantitative and qualitative information, serving the needs of head and heart, instead of building a wholly-quantitative system for scientific or academic purposes, as we had done in Plan;
  • We would not let “the best be the enemy of the good,” and I would make sure that we moved to rapidly prototype, implement, and improve the system instead of tinkering endlessly, as we had done in Plan.

I go into more detail about the reasons for Plan’s lack of success in that earlier article.

*

Here is a graphic that Caroline Pinney helped me create, which I used very frequently to explain how the DEF was designed, functioned, and performed:

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

 

In this article, I will describe each component of the DEF, outlining how each relates to each other and to the five questions outlined above.

However, I’m going to reserve discussion of three of those components for my next two articles:

  • Next time, I will cover #3 in Figure 1, the “Case Studies” that we produced.  These documents helped us broaden our focus from the purely quantitative to include consideration of the lived experience of people touched by the programs supported by ChildFund Australia.  In the same way, the Case Studies served as valuable tools for our staff, management, and board to retain a human connection to the spirit that motivated us to dedicate our careers to social justice;
  • And, after that, I will devote an article to our “Outcome Indicator Surveys” (#2 in Figure 1, above) and Statements of Impact (#12 in Figure 1). The approach we took to demonstrating impact was innovative and very participatory, and successful.  So I want to go into a bit of depth describing the two DEF components involved.

Note: I prepared most of what follows.  But I have included and adapted some descriptive material produced by the two DEF Managers that worked in the International Program Team:  Richard Geeves and Rouena Getigan.  Many thanks to them!

*

Starting Points

The DEF was based on two fundamental statements of organizational identity.  As such, it was built to focus us on, and enable us to be accountable for, what we were telling the world we were:

  1. On the bottom left of the DEF schematic (Figure 1, above) we reference the basic documents describing ChildFund’s identity: our Vision, Mission, Strategic Plan, Program Approach, and Policies – all agreed and approved by our CEO (Nigel Spence) and Board of Directors.  The idea was that the logic underlying our approach to Development Effectiveness would therefore be grounded in our basic purpose as an organization, overall.  I was determined that the DEF would serve to bring us together around that purpose, because I had seen Plan tend to atomize, with each field location working towards rather different aims.  Sadly, Plan’s diversity seemed to be far greater than required if it were simply responding to the different conditions we worked in.  For example, two Field Offices within 20 km of each other in the same country might have very different programs.  This excessive diversity seemed to relate more to the personal preferences of Field Office leadership than to any difference in the conditions of child poverty or the local context.  The DEF would help ChildFund Australia cohere, because our starting point was our organizational identity;
  2. But each field location did need a degree flexibility to respond to their reality, within ChildFund’s global identity, so at the bottom of the diagram we placed the Country Strategy Paper (“CSP”), quite centrally.  This meant that, in addition to building on ChildFund Australia’s overall purpose and identity globally, we would also build our approach to Development Effectiveness on how we chose to advance that basic purpose in each particular country where we worked, with that country’s particular characteristics.

Country Strategy Paper

The purpose and outline of the CSP was included in the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook:

To clarify, define, communicate and share the role, purpose and structure of ChildFund in-country – our approach, operations and focus. The CSP aims to build a unity of purpose and contribute to the effectiveness of our organisation.

When we develop the CSP we are making choices, about how we will work and what we will focus on as an organisation. We will be accountable for the commitments we make in the CSP – to communities, partners, donors and to ourselves.

While each CSP will be different and reflect the work and priorities of the country program, each CSP will use the same format and will be consistent with ChildFund Australia’s recent program development work.

During the development of the CSP it is important that we reflect on the purpose of the document. It should be a useful and practical resource that can inform our development work. It should be equally relevant to both our internal and external stakeholders. The CSP should be clear, concise and accessible while maintaining a strategic perspective. It should reflect clear thinking and communicate our work and our mission. It should reflect the voice of children.  Our annual work plans and budgets will be drawn from the CSP and we will use it to reflect on and review our performance over the three year period.

Implementation of the DEF flowed from each country’s CSP.

More details are found in Chapter 5 of the Program Handbook, available here: Program Handbook – 3.3 DRAFT.  Two examples of actual ChildFund Australia Country  Strategy Papers from my time with the organization are attached here:

For me, these are clear, concise documents that demonstrate coherence with ChildFund’s overall purpose along with choices driven by the situation in each country.

*

Beginning from the Country Strategy Paper, the DEF branches in two inter-related (in fact, nested) streams, covering programs (on the left side) and projects (on the right side).  Of course, projects form part of programs, consistent with our program framework:

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Figure 2: ChildFund Australia Program Framework

 

But it was difficult to depict this embedding on the two dimensions of a graphic!  So Figure 1 showed programs on one side and projects on the other.

Taking the “program” (left) side first:

Program Description

Moving onto the left side of Figure 1, derived from the Country Strategy Paper, and summarized in the CSP, each Country Office defined a handful (some countries had 3, others ended up with 5) “Program Descriptions” (noted as #1 in Figure 1), each one describing how particular sets of projects would create impact, together, as measured using ChildFund Australia’s Outcome Indicators – in other words, a “Theory of Change,” detailing how the projects included in the program linked together to create particular  positive change.

The purpose and outline of the Program Description was included in the ChildFund Australia Program Handbook:

ChildFund Australia programs are documented and approved through the use of “Program Descriptions”.  All Program Descriptions must be submitted by the Country Director for review and approval by the Sydney International Program Director, via the International Program Coordinator.

For ChildFund Australia: a “program” is an integrated set of projects that, together, have direct or indirect impact on one or more of our agreed organisational outcome indicators.   Programs normally span several geographical areas, but do not need to be implemented in all locations; this will depend on the geographical context.  Programs are integrated and holistic. They are designed to achieve outcomes related to ChildFund Australia’s mission, over longer periods, while projects are meant to produce outputs over shorter timeframes.

Program Descriptions were summarized in the CSP, contained a listing of the types of projects (#5 in Figure 1) that would be implemented, and were reviewed every 3 or 4 years (Program Review, #4 in Figure 1).

To write a Program Description, ChildFund staff (usually program managers in a particular Country Office) were expected to review our program implementation to-date, carry out extensive situational analyses of government policies, plans and activities in the sector and of communities’ needs in terms of assets, aspirations and ability to work productively with local government officials responsible for service provision. The results of ChildFund’s own Outcome Indicator surveys and community engagement events obviously provided very useful evidence in this regard.

Staff then proposed a general approach for responding to the situation and specific strategies which could be delivered through a set of projects.  They would also show that the approach and strategies proposed are consistent with evidence from good practice both globally and in-country, demonstrated that their choices were evidence-based.

Here are 2 examples of Program Descriptions:

Producing good, high-quality Program Descriptions was a surprising challenge for us, and I’m not sure we ever really got this component of the DEF right.  Probably the reason that we struggled was that these documents were rather abstract, and our staff weren’t used to operating at this level of abstraction.

Most of the initial draft Program Descriptions were quite superficial, and were approved only as place-holders.  Once we started to carry out “Program Reviews” (see below), however, where more rigor was meant to be injected into the documents, we struggled.  It was a positive, productive struggle, but a struggle nonetheless!

We persisted, however, because I strongly believed that our teams should be able to articulate why they were doing what they were doing, and the Program Descriptions were the basic tool for that exact explanation.  So we perservered, hoping that the effort would result in better programs, more sophisticated and holistic work, and more impact on children living in poverty.

*

 

 

Program Reviews

For the same reasons outlined above, in my discussion of the “Program Descriptions” component of the DEF, we also struggled with the “Program Review” (#4 in Figure 1, above).  In these workshops, our teams would consider an approved “Program Description” (#1 in Figure 1) every three or four years, subjecting the document to a formal process of peer review.

ChildFund staff from other countries visited the host country to participate in the review process and then wrote a report making recommendations for how the Program under review might be improved.  The host country accepted (or debated and adjusted) the  recommendations, acted on them and applied them to a revision of the Program Description: improving it, tightening up the logic, incorporating lessons learned from implementation, etc.

Program Reviews were therefore fundamentally about learning and improvement, so we made sure that, in addition to peers from other countries, the host Country Office invited in-country partners and relevant experts.  And International Program Coordinators from Sydney were asked to always attend Program Reviews in the countries that they were supporting, again for learning and improvement purposes.

The Program Reviews that I attended were useful and constructive, but I certainly sensed a degree of frustration.  In addition to struggling with the relatively-high levels of abstraction required, our teams were not used to having outsiders (even their peers other ChildFund offices) critique their efforts.  So, overall, this was a good and very-important component of the DEF, designed correctly, but it needed more time for our teams to learn how to manage this process and to be open to such a public process of review.

*

Projects and Quarterly Reports

As shown on the right hand side of Figure 1, ChildFund’s field staff and partners carried out routine monitoring of projects (#6 in the Figure) to ensure that they were on track, and on which they based their reporting on activities and outputs.  Project staff summarized their monitoring through formal Quarterly Reports (#7) on each project documenting progress against project plans, budgets, and targets to ensure projects are well managed.  These Quarterly Reports were reviewed in each Country Office and most were also forwarded to ChildFund’s head office in Sydney (and, often, donors) for review.

When I arrived, ChildFund Australia’s Quarterly reporting was well-developed and of high quality, so I didn’t need to focus on this aspect of our work.  We simply incorporated it into the more-comprehensive DEF.

*

Quarterly Output Tracking

As described last time, ChildFund developed and defined a set of Outputs which became standard across the organization in FY 2011-12.  Outputs in each project were coded and  tracked from Quarter to Quarter by project.  Some of the organizational outputs were specific to a sector such as education, health and water sanitation or a particular target group such as children, youth or adults.  Other Outputs were generic and might be found in any project, for example, training or awareness raising, materials production and consultation.

Organizational Outputs were summarized for all projects in each country each Quarter and country totals were aggregated in Sydney for submission to our Board of Directors (#8 in Figure 1, above).  In March 2014 there were a total of 47 organizational Outputs – they were listed in my last article in this series.

One purpose of this tracking was to enhance our accountability, so a summary was reviewed every Quarter in Sydney by the International Program Team and our Program Review Committee.

Here is an example of how we tracked outputs: this is a section of a Quarterly Report produced by the International Program Team for our Board and Program Review Committee: Output Report – Q4FY15.

*

Project Evaluations

ChildFund also conducted reviews or evaluations of all projects (#9 in Figure 1, above) – in different ways.  External evaluators were employed under detailed terms of reference to evaluate multi-year projects with more substantial budgets or which were significant for learning or to a particular donor.  Smaller projects were generally evaluated internally.  All evaluators were expected to gather evidence of results against output targets and performance indicators written against objectives.

*

All development effectiveness systems have, at their heart, mechanisms for translating operational experiences into learning and program improvement.  In the representation of ChildFund’s DEF in Figure 1, this was represented by the central circle in the schematic which feeds back evidence from a variety of sources into our organizational and Country Strategy Papers, Program Descriptions and project planning and design.

Our program staff found that their most effective learning often occurred during routine monitoring through observation of project activities and conversations in communities with development partners.  Through thoughtful questioning and attentive listening, staff could make the immediate decisions and quick adjustments which kept project activities relevant and efficient.

Staff also had more formal opportunities to document and reflect on learning.  The tracking of outputs and aggregation each Quarter drew attention to progress and sometimes signaled the need to vary plans or redirect resources.

Project evaluations (#9 in Figure 1, above) provided major opportunities for learning, especially when external evaluators bring their different experiences to bear and offer fresh perspectives on a ChildFund project.

*

The reader can easily grasp that, for me, the DEF was a great success, a significant asset for ChildFund Australia that enabled us to be more accountable and effective.  Some more-technically-focused agencies were busy carrying out sophisticated impact evaluations, using control groups and so forth, but that kind of effort didn’t suit the vast majority of INGOs.  We could benefit from the learnings that came from those scientific evaluations, but we didn’t have the resources to introduce such methodologies ourselves.  And so, though not perfect, I am not aware of any comparable organization that succeeded as we did with our DEF.

While the system built on what I had learned over nearly 30 years, and even though I felt that it was designed comprehensively and working very well, that was merely my opinion!

Given the importance of the system, relying on my opinion (no matter how sound!) wasn’t good enough.  So we sought expert review, commissioning two independent, expert external reviews of the DEF.

*

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

In that light, this first external review of the DEF concluded the following:

The development of the DEF places ChildFund Australia in a sound position within the sector in the area of development effectiveness. The particular strength of ChildFund Australia’s framework is that it binds the whole organisation to a set of common indicators and outputs. This provides a basis for focussing the organisation’s efforts and ensuring that programming is strategically aligned to common objectives. The other particular strength that ChildFund Australia’s framework offers is that it provides a basis for aggregating its achievements across programs, thereby strengthening the organisation’s overall claims of effectiveness.

Within ChildFund Australia, there is strong support for the DEF and broad agreement among key DEF stakeholders and users that the DEF unites the agency on a performance agenda. This is in large part due to dedicated resources having been invested and the development of a data collection system has been integrated into the project management system (budgeting and planning, and reporting), thereby making DEF a living and breathing function throughout the organisation. Importantly, the definition of outcomes and outputs indicators provides clarity of expectations across ChildFund Australia.

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

Significantly, the DEF signals a focus on effectiveness to donors and the sector. One of the benefits already felt by ChildFund Australia is that it is able to refer to its effectiveness framework in funding submissions and in communication with its major donors who have an increasing interest on performance information.

Overall, the review found that the pilot of the DEF has been implemented well, with lots of consultation and engagement with country offices, and lots of opportunity for refinement. Its features are strong, enabling ChildFund to both measure how much it is doing, and the changes that are experienced by communities over time. The first phase of the DEF has focused on integrating effectiveness measurement mechanisms within program management and broader work practices, while the second phase of the DEF will look at the analysis, reflection and learning aspects of effectiveness. This second phase is likely to assist various stakeholders involved in collecting effectiveness information better understand and appreciate the linkages between their work and broader organisational learning and development. This is an important second phase and will require ongoing investment to maximise the potential of the DEF. It place ChildFund Australia in a strong position within the Australian NGO sector to engage in the discourse around development effectiveness and demonstrate its achievements.

A full copy of this first review, removing only the name of the author, is attached here: External DEF Review – November 2012.

In early 2015 we carried out a second review.  This time, we had implemented the entire DEF, carrying out (for example) Statement of Impact workshops in several locations.  The whole system was now working.

At that point, we were very confident in the DEF – from our point of view, all components were working well, producing good and reliable information that was being used to improve our development work.  Our board, program-review committee, and donors were all enthusiastic.  More importantly, local staff and communities were positive.

The only major concern that remained related to the methodology we used in the Outcome Indicator Surveys.  I will examine this issue in more detail in an upcoming blog article in this series; but the reader will notice that this second formal, external evaluation focuses very much on the use of the LQAS methodology in gathering information for our Outcome Indicator workshops and Statements of Impact.

That’s why the external evaluator we engaged to carry out this second review was an expert in survey methodologies (in general) and in the LQAS (in particular.)

In that light, this second external review of the DEF concluded the following:

ChildFund Australia is to be commended for its commitment to implementing a comprehensive and rigorous monitoring and evaluation framework with learning at its centre to support and demonstrate development effectiveness. Over the past five years, DEL managers in Cambodia, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam, with support and assistance from ChildFund Australia, country directors and program managers and staff, have worked hard to pilot, refine and embed the DEF in the broader country programs.  Implementing the DEF, in particular the Outcome Indicator Survey using LQAS, has presented several challenges.  With time, many of the early issues have been resolved, tools improved and guidelines developed.  Nevertheless, a few issues remain that must be addressed if the potential benefits are to be fully realised at the organisational, country and program levels.

Overall, the DEF is well suited for supporting long-term development activities in a defined geographic area.  The methodologies, scope and tools employed to facilitate Outcome Indicator Surveys and to conduct Community Engagement and Attribution of Impact processes are mostly fit for purpose, although there is considerable room for improvement.  Not all of the outcome indicators lend themselves to assessment via survey; those that are difficult to conceptualise and measure being most problematic. For some indicators in some places, a ceiling effect is apparent limiting their value for repeated assessment. While outcome indicators may be broadly similar across countries, both the indicators and the targets with which they are to be compared should be locally meaningful if the survey results are to be useful—and used—locally.

Used properly, LQAS is an effective and relatively inexpensive probability sampling method.  Areas for improvement in its application by ChildFund include definition of the lots, identification of the sampling frame, sample selection, data analysis and interpretation, and setting targets for repeated surveys.

Community Engagement and the Attribution of Impact processes have clearly engaged the community and local stakeholders.  Experience to date suggests that they can be streamlined to some extent, reducing the burden on staff as well as communities.  These events are an important opportunity to bring local stakeholders together to discuss local development needs and set future directions and priorities.  Their major weakness lies in the quality of the survey results that are presented for discussion, and their interpretation.  This, in turn, affects the value of the Statement of Impact and other documents that are produced.

The DEF participatory processes have undoubtedly contributed to the empowerment of community members involved. Reporting survey results in an appropriate format, together with other relevant data, in a range of inviting and succinct documents that will meet the needs of program staff and partners is likely to increase their influence.

A full copy of this second review, removing only the name of the author, is attached here: DEF Evaluation – April 2015.

*

Great credit is due to ChildFund staff that contributed to the conceptualization, development, and implementation of the DEF.  In particular, Richard Geeves and Rouena Getigan in the International Program Team in Sydney worked very hard to translate my sometimes overly-ambitious concepts into practical guidelines, and ably supported our Country Offices.

One of the keys to the success of the DEF was that we budgeted for dedicated in-country support, with each Country Office able to hire a DEL Manager (two in Viet Nam, given the scale of our program there.)

Many thanks to Solin in Cambodia, Marieke in Laos, Joe in Papua New Guinea, and Thuy and Dung in Viet Nam: they worked very hard to make the DEF function in their complex realities.  I admire how that made it work so well.

*

In this article, I’ve outlined how ChildFund Australia designed a comprehensive and very robust Development Effectiveness System.  Stay tuned next time, when I describe climbing Mt Bond, and then go into much more depth on one particular component (the Case Studies, #3 in Figure 1, above).

After that, in the following article, I plan to cover reaching the top of West Bond and descending back across Mt Bond and Bondcliff (and losing toenails on both big toes!) and go into some depth to describe how we carried out Outcome Indicator Surveys (#2 in Figure 1) and Statements of Impact (#12) – in many ways, the culmination of the DEF.

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (Part 1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team;
  34. Owls’ Head (34) – Putting It All Together (Part 2): ChildFund Australia’s Theory of Change.

 

 

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

May, 2018

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

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

So, in each article in this series, I am writing about climbing each of those mountains and, each time, I reflect a bit on the journey since I began to work in social justice, nearly 34 years ago: on development, human rights, conflict, experiences along the way, etc.

*

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

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

But first…

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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Footbridge Over Franconia Brook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Owl’s Head Summit

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Some Vestiges Of Lunch Are Visible!

 

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

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

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

The walk back down Lincoln Woods Trail was pleasant:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

Note that:

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

The ChildFund Australia Theory of Change

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

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

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

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The ChildFund Australia “Theory of Change”

 

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

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

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

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

*

Output Indicators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outcome Indicators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

  1. Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
  2. Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
  3. Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
  4. Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
  5. Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
  6. Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
  7. East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
  8. Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
  9. Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
  10. North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
  11. Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
  12. North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
  13. South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
  14. Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
  15. Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
  16. Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
  17. Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
  18. South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
  19. Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
  20. Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
  21. Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
  22. South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
  23. Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
  24. Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
  25. Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
  26. Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
  27. Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
  28. Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
  29. Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
  30. Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
  31. Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
  32. Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration;
  33. Mt Moriah (33) – Putting It All Together (1): the ChildFund Australia International Program Team.

Mt 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.

*

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…

*

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!

*

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.

*

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:

IPD Structure - 1.002

 

  • 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.

*

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.

*

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.

*

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:

IPD Structure - 1.004

 

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

 

*

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.

*

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+.

*

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

*

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…

*

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.

Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997)

February, 2018

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

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

So far, I’ve described climbing 29 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).

*

In this blog post, I want to describe a short “project” that Max van der Schalk, then the CEO of Plan International, gave me as I was leaving Plan’s international headquarters for a year’s sabbatical.  We were looking at a big merger, and Max asked me to head up the merger team on Plan International’s side.

But first…

*

I climbed Carter Dome (4832ft, 1473m) on 9 July 2017, with Yingji Ma, a friend who is studying at UNH.  He goes by the name of “Draco” here.  Carter Dome is the eighth-highest of the 48 peaks

We left Durham at about 7:15am and drove up Rt 16 towards the White Mountains, stopping along the way for coffee and tea, and sandwiches to pack for lunch.  We arrived at the trailhead of the 19-Mile Brook Trail at about 9:30am:

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Draco, Peppy And Energetic – As We Departed!

 

Our plan was to hike up 19-Mile Brook Trail, and then bear left to take the Carter Dome Trail up to Carter-Moriah Trail, on the ridge.  Then we would turn south, taking the spur over to Mt Hight (4675ft, 1425m), and continue along Carter-Moriah to reach Carter Dome.  Rejoining 19-Mile Brook Trail at Carter Notch, we’d finish the day dropping down directly back to the parking area.

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(Note that Mt Hight does not qualify as an official “4000-footer.”  The AMC criteria for being included as an official “4000-footer” is that a mountain must (1) be at least 4000 feet high while also (2) rising at least 200 ft above the low point of its connecting ridge with a higher neighbor.  In this case, Mt Hight does not rise 200 feet above the ridge connecting it to Carter Dome, which is higher.)

I had climbed the southern and northern sections of this ridge over two very memorable  days in September, 2016 – climbing Wildcat D, Wildcat Mountains, and then Middle Carter and South Carter.  Once we finished the climb today, I would have only Mt Moriah left of the six 4000-footers on this long ridge that stretches along the east side of Mt Washington.

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We walked up the 19-Mile brook, gently upward for some time.  It was a very nice day, mostly sunny, perfect cool temperature.  Draco said he felt good and fresh!

 

At 10:41am, we reached the start of the Carter Dome Trail, where we went left onto a less-developed path:

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The trail then became steeper, and at 11:57am we reached the junction of Carter Dome Trail and Carter-Moriah Trail:

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Here we turned south towards Carter Dome, our objective for the day, joining the Appalachian Trail.  Soon we came to another junction where we had the option of going directly towards Carter Dome, or getting there via Mt Hight.  It was about noon, and we had time, so we decided to take the slightly-longer route, and go via Mt Hight:

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This was a good decision because, even though the ascent up to Mt Hight was very steep and rocky, the views from there were excellent.  As we would see, the summit of Carter Dome is forested, without any view at all!  We arrived at the summit of Mt Hight at 12:30pm, very windy, and a good time to have lunch.

There were really great views towards the east and the Presidential Range, and towards the west and the Atlantic Ocean:

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The Presidential Range Is Behind Me

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Mt Washington On The Left

 

After lunch at the cold and windy top of Mt Hight, we continued towards Carter Dome, at about 1pm.  We were now up at elevation, so the trail was up-and-down along the ridge:

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We arrived at the junction of the Black Angel Trail, and continued towards Carter Dome:

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We reached the summit of Carter Dome at about 1:30pm:

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The Summit of Carter Dome

 

It looks like there used to be a tower here at the summit, but we didn’t stay too long at Carter Dome, as there are no views.  So we continued along the Carter-Moriah Trail and, as we approached Carter Notch, the view down into the notch was impressive.  Here the Carter Notch Hut complex is visible below, and Wildcat Mountain rises above the Hut:

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Back in September of 2016, I had sat on Wildcat Mountain and had lunch looking north into the notch.  A guy with two new artificial knees had sat with me, and described his plan to do the “cycle” of the 48 4000-footers: every one of the 48 peaks, in each month of the year!  Too much for me…

Here is the mirror-image view, taken last year from that spot at the top of Wildcat Mountain at lunchtime: I’m looking back towards Carter Dome here, in September of 2016:

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Draco and I dropped down steeply toward the hut, hopping over and around typical White Mountains granite boulders, and arrived at the lake next to hut at 2:20pm:

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After resting for a few minutes (Draco said he was getting tired!), here at the junction of the 19-Mile Brook and Carter-Moriah trails, we took a right turn, and headed north.  It was about 2:30pm … the 19-Mile Brook Trail ascends briefly up to the Carter Notch saddle, and then drops steadily down to the trailhead.

Soon the trail rejoins the 19-Mile Brook, and we walked down alongside it, crossing occasionally:

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We had seen an inviting swimming hole on the way up, and talked about taking a quick dip when we came back through.  In the end, Draco took the chance and said it was “SUPER COLD”:

We arrived back at Rt 16 at about 4:20pm after a very nice day, beautiful views along the way, especially at Mt Hight.

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Arriving Back At The Car – Looking Slightly Less Energetic!

 

A glorious White-Mountains day, and peak number 30 had been climbed!

*

Loyal readers of this blog will recall that Jean and I had left the UK in May of 1997.  I had wrapped up four years at Plan’s International Headquarters (“IH”), and was looking forward to spending a year in Durham, New Hampshire, on a “sabbatical.”  This was a very generous policy that allowed Plan staff with tenure in the organization to take time to reflect, without pay but with a guarantee of a job at the end.

We flew from Heathrow airport to Boston that May, on the day that Tony Blair became Prime Minister, and then drove up to Durham, where Jean’s sister Joan had helped us rent a house outside of town.  The plan was to take a year and reflect about my time at IH, maybe climb a few of the White Mountains, take some courses at the University of New Hampshire (which is based in Durham)…

It was a great year.  The “reflection” part of that year led to two papers that were published in peer-reviewed journals, and which have informed several blog posts in this series:

Few operational staff in INGOs take the time to write for serious journals, so I was proud to have managed to publish these articles.

As for taking classes at UNH, that worked out well also.  I took a course in African History, Intro to Architecture (with Jean), and bicycle maintenance.  That winter, I spent a good amount of time learning to cross-country ski.  And I did two small pieces of work for Plan, researching the potential for the organization to begin work in two new countries: Madagascar and Eritrea.  This involved a few weeks of work, and a visit to each country.

During the year, I kept my eye on internal vacancies in Plan, thinking about reentry.  My ideal next job would be back in the field, starting up a new country for Plan, as Country Director.  The visit to Eritrea had been positive, and I had recommended that Plan consider establishing operations there.  After that decision had been made, I applied for the job and was appointed as Country Director.  The future looked bright for Eritrea, and for Jean and I there, but just as I was leaving the country from my research visit, tensions rose (again) with Ethiopia, which led to a long period of conflict.  Soon, what had looked to be a possible model for an open society in Africa descended into repression and dictatorship.  This included a rapid closing of space for civil society in the country, including for INGOs.  So Plan deferred the opening of a Country Office in Asmara…

In the end, as readers know, Jean and I ended up flying to Hanoi in July of 1998, where I had been appointed as Country Director.  This would be my favorite posting in Plan, which I’ve described extensively in earlier articles in this series: here and here and here and here.

*

But as left for that sabbatical year, in May of 1997, Max asked me to continue to look after a very important and rather sensitive project for a few more weeks, from New Hampshire.  Now, 20 years later, I feel that I can write about it: we were moving towards merging three organizations together: Plan International, Plan USA, and Save the Children USA.

Over the years, our sector always seems to be on the cusp of consolidation.  The logic is clear: many of our organizations do very similar work overseas, duplicating many functions.  And we compete for funds domestically.  So, at least in principle, mergers would seem to offer opportunities for massive cost savings.  To my knowledge, if we had succeeded in merging Plan, Plan USA and Save USA, it would have been one of the first mega-mergers in the sector.  The fact that the merger failed is, I think, a case study that illustrates why consolidation hasn’t really happened, despite the clear economic (and moral) case that can be made.  Instead, what we’ve seen, mostly, is consolidation between unequal parties (a larger INGO absorbing a smaller agency) rather than the kind of merger we were examining (between three large organizations.)

*

The day after Jean and I arrived in New Hampshire, still with major jet lag, I drove south to Rhode Island.  You may recall that Plan’s International Headquarters had been located in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, before we moved to the UK.  But the US fundraising office, “Plan USA,” was still there in Rhode Island, in separate premises not far from where IH had been.  It was a two hour drive for me: an hour to Boston, then another hour to Rhode Island.

The idea of merging Plan International, Plan USA, and Save USA had been on the table, quietly, for a few months.  I think that the idea emerged from what we had called “The Gang Of Four,” which was an initiative that Max van der Schalk had prompted over coffee with three other CEOS (Dean Hirsch of World Vision International, the head of Save USA, and Paul McCleary of CCF) one afternoon in Geneva at a UNICEF meeting.  Max thought that Plan, Save, World Vision, and CCF ought to be able to collaborate on something big, and the other three CEOs agreed.  Maybe as a way of building towards something even bigger.

We four program directors (the Save International program director had joined us) were asked to figure out something that made sense, and I proposed that we work together to figure out how we could do a better job with girl education, together.  My colleagues liked it, our CEOs embraced the idea, and off we went.  (It’s quite interesting that Plan is now becoming quite focused on girls, overall.  A good move into “exclusion” and away from “deprivation”, very appropriate for these times.  More on that later…)

From the “Gang of Four” initiative came, among other things, closer relations at the programmatic level, with me, Gary Shaye of Save US, Steve Commins of World Vision, and  Joy Carol of CCF getting to know each other.   It was great working with the three of them – I certainly learned a lot.  And, out of that very positive initiative came, I think, the idea of merging.

*

There were three CEOs directly involved in this possible merger: Max, of course, at Plan.  Then there was Sam Worthington, who was the CEO of Plan USA (now the CEO of the US peak body for INGOs, Interaction.)  And of course the CEO of Save USA.

The potential for efficiencies was really clear: Plan USA and Save USA competed for support in a very similar marketplace: individual donors, major donors, corporations, and the US government.  Even more interesting was that Plan USA raised most of its funding from private sources, and Save USA got the majority of its money from the US government; this meant that the potential for leveraging Plan’s private income to “match” a big increase in government grants, seemed very large if the two agencies were merged.  In fact, Save USA’s government funding was pretty much “matched out”:  they they didn’t have any more “private” income to match government funding, so they couldn’t grow.

And Save USA and Plan International both had operations in a number of countries, doing very similar work in the same places.  Duplication and inefficiencies across the three organizations seemed ripe for elimination.  All in all, there seemed to be big financial, programmatic, and moral reasons to at least consider consolidation.

But structural relations were complex: Plan USA was, in theory, mostly, a fundraising office for the Plan alliance, tightly bound to the wider group.  Plan International implemented programs for the whole Plan alliance.  Save USA was, similarly, a key member of the Save the Children Alliance, raising funds and running their own programs around the world, and also remitting funds to other Save members.  A merger would be very challenging.

But first we needed to figure out if the advantages we saw, in principle, really existed in fact.  And we needed to do this very quietly, because a merger of this kind, with Save USA leaving the Save the Children alliance, would be a bombshell!

(As an aside, as I was leaving IH for my sabbatical, I had a strange conversation with the chairman of Plan’s international board of directors, Fred McElman.  I thought he simply  wanted to thank me for having spent four years at IH, which he did, but then he went on to express his sorrow that things hadn’t worked out… but perhaps something would come from the merger.  Later I thought that he was assuming that I had been interested in the CEO job, Max’s job, and that perhaps something like it would emerge from the merger for me!  It was kind of him, but of course he was looking at things from a private-sector point of view: I was DELIGHTED to be leaving IH and, after the year on sabbatical, going back to the field.)

As I mentioned above, Max asked me to lead the due diligence from Plan International’s perspective.  Sam Worthington was, of course, based in Rhode Island, and Gary’s office was in Connecticut.  There was a fourth player involved in the process: Dave Matheson, a senior partner at the Boston Consulting Group, was on the board of Plan USA and Plan International and he offered to provide expert assistance, in the form of a very savvy BCG analyst, with experience in our sector.  I’ve forgotten this person’s name, sadly, but we all worked together very well in the process.  New Hampshire, Boston, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – we were all in the same general area, which boded well for being able to get through the due diligence.

*

Gary and I were asked to look at the value proposition for the merger from the programmatic and government-funding sides, with that excellent BCG analyst helping us.   We met a few times in Rhode Island and Boston, and worked out the details.

We saw how overhead costs could be lowered by eliminating duplication where both agencies had field operations in the same country.  And, most importantly, Plan’s private income could be used to “match” a big increase in government funding.  In both ways, the combined entities would be able to do more than the three separate organizations could do.  Perhaps a lot more.  From our perspective, as I recall, the business case for the merger was overwhelmingly strong and we realized that, if it went ahead, we would be in the vanguard of consolidation that so many had predicted for years.

The arguments for, and against, the merger were prepared and board meetings were scheduled to consider matters.

Sam Worthington had become seriously ill while visiting Plan’s work in Africa, and was still recovering during this time.  I vividly remember a lengthy meeting of Save USA’s board which Sam and I both attended, where he had to retire to an adjoining room where a cot had been set up so he could rest a few times during the meeting.  His courage, and commitment, were admirable.

*

Of course, the merger didn’t happen.  In fact, things fell apart rather quickly after Gary and I concluded our due diligence.

Why did it all fall apart?  From what I could observe, which admittedly was only part of the story, I think there were two main reasons that such an obvious good idea didn’t go forward.

First, in two of the three agencies the CEOs weren’t in strong positions.  Max van der Schalk was transitioning out of Plan, and would leave within a few months.  This kind of merger would need strong leadership from all sides, and while Max certainly was a strong leader, he was also leaving.  What was worse was that Max’s successor, John Greensmith, had been named but had no idea that this huge merger was a distinct possibility!

It’s hard for me to understand why Plan’s board hadn’t briefed John about the discussions, but it is easy to understand why he was very opposed to the idea once he found out: there would be nothing attractive about the idea for him, which might even threaten his (very new) job!  So while Max was on-board, and saw the compelling logic, John Greensmith was uninterested and skeptical.

The situation with Save USA was even stranger.  The board meeting that Sam and I attended was surreal, to say the least, and not because Sam was so sick: despite clear evidence why it made lots of sense, the idea of the merger was basically put aside without significant discussion.

What was going on?  Like Plan’s board, Save’s board was well aware of the discussions; and, in this case, their CEO was very involved and positive, and he wasn’t on the way out of his job.  So it wasn’t like the situation in Plan, where the board was involved but a new CEO was uninterested.

My sense, from attending that one board meeting, was that the Save CEO had lots of great initiatives bubbling along, he was very creative … and his board had learned that many of them wouldn’t come to fruition.  I got the feeling that the Save USA board tended to let a thousand flowers bloom, but when this one unexpectedly looked like it was turning into something serious they were very uninterested, to say the least.  And they quashed it without hesitation.

So the first reason why the merger didn’t go ahead was that two of the three CEOs didn’t, or weren’t able to, push things ahead with their boards.  The second reason is also related to the boards that were involved: ego.

The brief discussions at that Save USA board meeting were informative: they didn’t focus on the business case, but rather on their individual roles in a combined entity.  In other words, sure, it makes sense from the perspective of doing more for children living in poverty, but what role will I, a Save board member, have in this merged organization?   Since Save USA would be a large minority part of a a combined organization, the writing was on the wall.  So: no!

From my perspective, the merger failed for those two reasons: Plan’s new CEO hadn’t been briefed on a huge development that affected his job, and Save USA’s board thought that merging the  organizations would diminish their own roles in some way.

*

Once the merger failed, I focused on the things I had wanted to do in my sabbatical: skiing, studying, writing, hiking.  In later years, of course, some mergers would happen in our sector and many more acquisitions would take place.  But I still wonder about the  impact that our merger would had in the sector – it would have been a big deal, I think,  a very positive example of putting aside vested interests and ego in favor of the mission.

*

Stay tuned for the next blog in this series: before describing how Jean and I moved to Australia for six great years with ChildFund, I want to reflect a bit about how poverty, the sector, and my own thinking had changed since my time in the Peace Corps, 25 years before.

*

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.