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

March, 2018

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

The story has two long arcs:

  • Climbing all 48 4000-foot mountains in New Hampshire.  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 late 1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

First, the climb of Galehead Mountain:

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

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Looking Fresh – That Would Change!

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

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

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

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Evidence Of A Crampon

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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South Twin From The Frost Trail

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Galehead Hut, North Twin Upper Left

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From Left: North Twin, South Twin, Bond Ridge

 

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

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Peak number 31, done and dusted!

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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Building A Great International NGO

 

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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May, 2009

 

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

*

Here are links to 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).

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

February, 2018

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

This journey’s themes are:

  • Climbing all 48 4000-foot mountains in New Hampshire;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era.

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 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.

Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy

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

This journey’s themes are:

  • Climbing all 48 4000-foot mountains in New Hampshire;
  • Working in international development during the MDG era.

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

But before describing the next exciting year …

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lafayette, Lincoln, and Liberty Across Franconia Notch

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A duck came over as I quietly sat there:

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*

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

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

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

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

THE UNH FORUM ON CLIMATE CHANGE

 

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

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Scott and Mark Before The Forum

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Scott and Roberta Before The Forum

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Scott Introducing The Forum

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Larry Brickner-Wood, UNH Chaplain, Welcoming Participants

 

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Welcoming People

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Our Panel: Cameron, Nancy, Roberta, and Stacy

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Roberta Speaking, With Cameron And Nancy

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Stacy Speaking, With Roberta

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Candidate Representative Speaking

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The Audience

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The Audience

 

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

 

And here are links to the other ten parts:

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

*

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

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

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The UUSC Just Democracy Table At A Congregation

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Sorting Nonprofit Bulk Mail Appeals By Postal Code

*

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

Here are some images of those events:

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

 

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We know how that’s turned out.

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

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

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

*

Here are links to 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.

 

  1. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 9.
  2. UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 14, emphasis added.

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

So Mt Willey had been pending for over a year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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Views across Crawford Notch started appearing as I climbed:

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Mt Webster

 

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

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

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

 

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

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An “Appalachian Trail” Blaze On The Willey Range Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

Some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

More on that next time!

*

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.

 

 

 

South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study

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.

In this article, I move into another phase of my journey – working with CCF as a consultant for two years, helping that organization develop, pilot test, and begin to implement a new program approach for their global operations.  It was a very creative and exciting time for me, and (I think) for that organization, and it very much builds on the reflecting I’d been doing about how the development sector had changed.  It’s worth telling the story.

But first, let me describe my climb of South Carter, and the disaster that struck after that climb was over: an injury that would just about put an end to my hiking adventures for the rest of 2016.

*

I had reached the top of Middle Carter at noon on 13 September, 2016.  After a quick lunch, I continued south towards the top of South Carter (4430ft, 1350m).

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Here is a view looking back at Middle Carter, taken at about 12:30pm:

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What a beautiful day it was.  Here are some views towards the east and south as I hiked away from Middle Carter:

 

 

Approaching South Carter, I had a fine view back towards the Wildcat Range, where I had hiked the day before.  Here Carter Dome (as yet, unclimbed at this time) is on the left, with Wildcat Mountain (which I had climbed the day before) on the right, with Carter Notch in between:

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Carter Dome On The Left, Wildcat “A” On The Right

 

Views to the east, towards the ocean, were also fantastic.  Here the Atlantic is clearly visible on the horizon:

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No insects, clear blue sky, heaven!

I retraced my steps from the top of South Carter, arriving back at the junction of Carter-Moriah and North Carter at 1:25pm.

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Descending from the Carter Ridge on North Carter, I reached the Imp Trail at a little after 2pm.

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This time I took the southern branch of Imp Trail, reaching the road (NH 16) at 3:45pm.  The Imp Trail reaches NH 16 slightly south of where it leaves from, so there was a brief road-walk to get back to the car, which was still there, eight hours later!

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My two days climbing four of the six 4000-footers in the Carter Range were spectacular – dry and clear, no insects, and few other hikers.  Two great days in the White Mountains, with a pleasant evening camping nearby.

*

Then I drove home back to Durham.  Since I had camped at Dolly Copp Campground the night before going up Middle and South Carters, when I got home my groundcloth and tent needed cleaning before putting them away.  So, the next day, I took them out the back of our second-floor unit, and went down the metal circular staircase, in my socks.  My plan was to clean up both the groundcloth and the tent, and then leave them out to dry in the sun.

But as I started down the metal spiral stairway, with the damp groundcloth in one hand, the tent in the other, wearing socks, I slipped and fell.  As my feet came out from under me, I landed with all my weight directly on the edge of a metal stair, hitting (and breaking) a left rib.  I then slid down the rest of the stairway, trying to arrest my fall by hanging on with my left arm.

(Readers may recall that I had hurt my left shoulder on the very first hike in this series, when I climbed Mt Tom and Mt Field.  There was ice on the trail descending from Mt Field, and I had slipped on steep ice, going down, and grabbed onto a small tree with my left arm, twisting and wrenching it up and behind me as I arrested the fall, my full weight, with my left arm.  That had seriously injured the rotator cuff on my left shoulder.)

On the stairway, this time, I severely re-injured that shoulder, tearing my left rotator-cuff.  And breaking a rib.  Ouch!

These injuries put me out of circulation for some time, so I wasn’t able to hike again until I went up Mt Tecumseh, in late October.  (It was hard enough just getting out of bed, for a few days at least!)  I probably shouldn’t have climbed Mt Tecumseh, but I got away with it… Several months of physical therapy followed over the winter of 2016/2017.

*

I returned from Viet Nam in October of 2002, and (as I mentioned last time) I had made a connection with Daniel Wordsworth just before leaving Hanoi when, out of nowhere, he had sent me an email.  It turned out that he had been the CCF Australia Country Director in Viet Nam during my first two years there, but I don’t think I had ever met him there: I think he worked at night and slept during the day, actually.

(Much later I would find out how the connection was made.  Daniel’s CEO colleague in Sydney, Jane Edge, had visited Hanoi when I worked there, and made an appointment to meet with me.  Just networking, I think, but it turned out that she had read one of the articles I had published during my sabbatical year – perhaps the only person I’ve ever met who had read that piece – which was a bit mind-blowing.  Later, I think she suggested that Daniel contact me…)

Daniel Wordsworth

Daniel Wordsworth in 2003

Daniel was the Program Development Director at CCF’s headquarters in Richmond, Virginia.  More about Daniel in my next blog.

He worked for Michelle Poulton, who was CCF’s Vice President for Program; I knew Michelle from my time at Plan’s International Headquarters – our positions were equivalent – but hadn’t stayed in touch after that.  I had admired Michelle’s obvious intelligence, experience, passion, and courage.

Michelle and Daniel were engaged in a fundamental reconsideration of how CCF approached its programming, aimed at realizing the agency’s strategic goal of being a “leader for children.”  John Schultz, CCF’s President, articulated the motivation quite well, with impressive humility and candor:

As a worldwide organization that has been lifting children and their families from the grip of poverty for over 65 years, Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) understands well the difficulty of our task. Not all of our approaches have worked and some have become outmoded over the years. Education alone is certainly not the guaranteed route out of poverty and deprivation we once thought. Anti-poverty programs of all types have had mixed success.

As a learning organization that has changed enormously and adapted to new situations and new locations, CCF is always seeking out ways to do what we do better. We know that breaking the cycle of multi-generational poverty-making a truly long-lasting difference in a young person’s life — is a tall order. There are no set recipes. It is always good to reflect on our goals, our methods, and our rates of success in accomplishing our mission.

We arranged to talk by phone before I left Hanoi, and Daniel asked if I knew anybody who could help CCF create a “program practices guide” that would describe their new approach, which would have to be created.

It sounded like a perfect next step for me.  I had been thinking a lot about how things had changed in the development sector, and the idea of spending some time helping an agency think through how they could have the most impact was very appealing.  Jean and I left Hanoi in early October, 2002, and a week later I flew from Boston to Richmond to spend a couple of days talking with Daniel and Michelle and John Schultz, CCF’s president, about the assignment.  We quickly agreed that I would help out as an external advisor, working directly with Daniel to define, pilot test, and document CCF’s new program approach.

*

While I was in Richmond, I asked Michelle if I could meet with John Schultz.  I had learned from my time with Plan International that the kinds of changes she and Daniel were contemplating would need support from the top if they were to be successful.  So, one afternoon, I walked down to John’s office – it said a lot for Michelle and Daniel that they let me have that meeting by myself!

John and I had a good conversation.  It was clear that he was fully behind the changes that were being discussed; but two comments he made struck me in particular.  First, when I asked him about the degree of support for the programmatic changes that were coming, he said that “everybody supports the changes, but nobody understands them.”  That was a very perceptive and interesting remark, indicating that we would have to build consensus carefully, because once the nature of the shifts became apparent, support might evaporate.  Or, alternatively, just push the changes through…

He also took care to describe CCF as a “faith-based” organization.  That comment made me sit up and take notice!

This was 2003, and the US Administration, under President George W Bush, had placed great emphasis on working through “faith-based organizations.”  There was a White-House office tasked with increasing governmental partnerships, and grants were flowing to these agencies.  John Schultz himself was a retired Christian minister, and (after all) the agency he headed was called “Christian Children’s Fund.”  So I took his comments seriously.

But this was a problem for me.  I had witnessed the toxic combination of development assistance and religion in the past.  For example, I had seen people leaving evangelical Christian services in Colombia being given sacks of cement by the international NGO that was sponsoring the services.  And I had seen that same INGO proudly display its “transformational development indicators” in Uganda and in Viet Nam: in (predominantly) Christian Uganda, several indicators related to Christian conversion were included, but in (predominantly) non-religious Viet Nam, those indicators were nowhere to be seen in the agency’s literature.  This seemed wrong to me.

So when I was finished with my (otherwise very positive) conversation with John Schultz, I returned to debrief with Daniel and Michelle.  When I told them what John had said about CCF being “faith-based,” and shared my misgivings, Michelle said: “If that’s true, we’re both quitting!”  Then she went to speak with John Schultz!

Of course, what John meant was that CCF’s work had originally flowed from the values of compassion and solidarity of early-20th-century American Christianity, but that no religious content was, or would ever would be, included in the organization’s program work.

Well OK, then!

*

Some months before, CCF had completed a new strategic plan that articulated an overall aim of becoming a “Leader For Children.”  Michelle and Daniel had asked Alan Fowler to carry out an overall “Organizational Capacity Assessment” (the “OCA”), focused on positioning CCF to increase grant funding from technical donors.

I will describe a bit more about the OCA, below.  An action plan had emerged from the OCA, and the first goal of the action plan led directly to the CCF Poverty Study, which will also be described below:

  • Goal 1: CCF will work from a more comprehensive understanding of poverty, and its impact on children, and will seek to integrate itself within the global movement against poverty.

My own assignment was to support work on the second goal:

  • Goal 2: CCF program practices will be guided by a more refined development approach that mitigates both the cause and effect of child and community ill-being through holistic and sustainable intervention strategies.

Next time, I will describe the research that I carried out as we developed what became known as “Bright Futures.”  This time, I want to describe the OCA, and the CCF Poverty Study, two efforts that produced important inputs for what became “Bright Futures.”  These projects were clear evidence that Michelle and Daniel, and John Schultz, were very serious about transforming CCF into a world-class evidence-based development organization: they were questioning almost everything, in an honest and open spirit of discovery.  Exciting stuff.

*

The Organizational Capacity Assessment – “OCA”

Michelle had asked Alan Fowler to review CCF’s capacity to reach a major strategic goal: increasing private funding by 50%, and growing technical grants by a whopping 800%.  Alan was, and is, one of our sector’s “respected elders” – people who have thought and written deeply about our work.

Along the way, I had read several of Alan’s books, and many of the papers he produced.  (I had never met Alan, though had briefly collaborated with his wife, Wendy Crane, when she was with Plan International: as I arrived at Plan’s headquarters in 1993, a new strategic plan was being finalized, and it was my responsibility to finalize the plan.  Wendy had been on the taskforce developing the plan, so we worked together to finish it up and present the draft to Plan’s senior management and board.)

If CCF wanted to have an unvarnished assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, Alan was the perfect choice.

Data for Alan’s draft “OCA” report, dated April, 2002 (a few months before I arrived on the scene) was gathered through in-depth case studies, a survey, and focus group discussions.  He began with an appreciation of what CCF was already doing:

A major finding is that CCF’s distinct model of parent-driven and managed development using directly remitted sponsor funds has the potential to place it in a good position to raise funds from professional grant makers – predominantly the official aid system.

CCF’s approach produces what parents want for their children. It creates local community capacity, albeit within the narrow confines of managing CCF inputs. It fosters community ownership of change. It is sensitive to local and culturally appropriate forms of organising and oversight. It has helped bridged cleavages within communities and kept at bay political and external interference. And, it has helped women make significant gains in terms of position, voice and capabilities. These assets are some of CCF’s best-kept secrets.

But Alan had some significant suggestions, many of which led directly into the Poverty Study, and also into what became Bright Futures.  For example, the following observation was an important element in the organization’s decision to study how children and youth actually experience poverty:

However, there are important weaknesses in the CCF development model. It is insufficiently holistic and lacks a cause-based analysis of child poverty, vulnerability and deprivation. Consequently, symptoms receive more attention than causes.

As will be seen next time, Bright Futures would emphasize building the capacity of local partners to interact with, and influence, government service provision, in favor of people living in poverty.  The OCA pointed out the importance of building this into the new approach:

Attention needs to be given to policy and practical reform and strengthening in the CCF community development methodology. The policy parameters for CCF assistance require adjustment to deal with the problem of ‘development ceilings’. This does not automatically imply that CCF should gather every conceivable development competence in house. Rather, it implies building the capacity to relate and link communities to others. Of particular importance is capitalising on the decentralisation thrust in government reform and service delivery, with communities as legitimate claimants with rights, not supplicants.

Associated with this type of review, is developing a capability to build the capacities of local organisations and associations beyond the confines and requirements of managing CCF and community inputs. In other words, that the principle of community engagement is one of organisational development, not project management.

These findings would provide important underpinnings to what became “Bright Futures.”  Alan had identified with great clarity many of the ways that CCF’s program approach was falling short; it would be for Daniel and me to propose the remedy.

But first, Jo Boyden and her colleagues were busy interviewing children in five countries, trying to understand how they experienced poverty.  The resulting “Poverty Study” would be fundamental to the design of “Bright Futures.”

*

The CCF Poverty Study

Consistent with the first goal that emerged as CCF considered Alan’s recommendations in the OCA, Jo Boyden was asked to carry out a ground-breaking effort to understand how children actually experience poverty.

A few years earlier, the World Bank had commissioned a landmark study of the lived experience of poverty, interviewing over 20,000 men and women across the globe.  The document that emerged, “Voices of the Poor: Crying Out for Change,” had a powerful effect on work in our sector.  (I’ve mentioned the work of one of the study’s authors, Robert Chambers, in an earlier posting, and I will return to highlight an impressive talk he gave many years later, at a conference I attended in Canberra.)

That the World Bank, such an enormous organisation with such an uneven record of impact, would take the time to listen to so many people living in poverty was, itself, impressive.  Even if the document’s findings didn’t seem to have much impact on many projects, particularly larger, infrastructure-focused efforts, it was easy to see the powerful effect it had on the wider policies and commitments of the Bank.

The findings from “Voices of the Poor” were organised around ten themes:

  • Livelihoods and assets are precarious, seasonal and inadequate.
  • Places of the poor are isolated, risky, unserviced and stigmatized.
  • The body is hungry, exhausted, sick and poor in appearance.
  • Gender relations are troubled and unequal.
  • Social relations are discriminating and isolating.
  • Security is lacking in the sense of both protection and peace of mind.
  • Behaviors of those more powerful are marked by disregard and abuse.
  • Institutions are disempowering and excluding.
  • Organizations of the poor are weak and disconnected.
  • Capabilities are weak because of the lack of information, education, skills and confidence.

This was important stuff, and I really liked that the authors had recognised that poverty, for those who experienced it, was more than deprivation.  Much more.

I still highly recommend “Voices of the Poor” – for me, it’s become one of the seminal, foundational texts for our sector.  But Daniel and Michelle recognised that the Bank study was incomplete in one important way, especially for a child-focused agency like CCF: it didn’t look at poverty from the perspective of children and youth!

As CCF sought to reformulate its program approach, this was a gap that needed filling.  And, importantly, it was an opportunity for the organisation to contribute fundamental research to the sector, and to thereby raise its fairly-low profile.

CCF had asked Jo Boyden to carry out the ambitious project that would fill this important gap.  Jo was a well-respected professional, with a strong background in participatory methods with children and youth, then working at Queen Elizabeth House at Oxford University.  Daniel and Michelle formed a steering committee, including Alan Fowler and, later, me, among others.

Jo and her team would produce three reports: firstly, they produced an extensive review of contemporary literature and thought related to child poverty, included here CHILDRENANDPOVERTY1 – COPY.  There were ten main findings, which I copy here from the report’s executive summary:

  1. Assumptions and Cultural Bias.  The literature of child poverty is based on demarcations of children and childhood drawn from Western cultures, and promotes certain conceptualizations of child and family relationships as the ‘goal’ of alleviation strategies, while vilifying others as the ‘cause’.
  2. Inaccurate Measurement, Irrelevant Indicators.  The literature is overly dependent on the statistical, quantifiable dimensions of child poverty, and organizes its knowledge around adult and institutional requirements rather than real situations. This has meant that the terminology, indicators and resulting interventions are often irrelevant to children’s lives in many ways.
  3. Overly-Simplistic Macro-Micro Linkages.  Not enough attention is given to how features in the macro environment — such as economic policy, political governance and conflict — translate into impacts on children. This partly because child poverty studies tend to adopt a ‘snapshot’ approach, making it difficult to assess the longitudinal effects and linkages to larger macro frameworks.
  4. Stigma and Discrimination.  The understanding of how child poverty is regarded by and responded to within the community is poor, and myopics, exclusively targeted interventions may themselves encourage or create further discrimination, as is the case with disabled children. There too little focus on how institutionalized systems of exclusion (e.g. caste and ethnicity) interact with the economic poverty of the family.
  5. The Narrowness of Health.  Health is a prime indicator of child poverty, but in the literature it is largely confined to considerations of mortality, excluding the mental health issues and other less visible concerns of older children. Local understandings and practices of healthcare are ignored, as are the views of the children themselves.
  6. The Reification of School-based Education.  Literacy and schooling are consistently held up as the universal keys to breaking the cycle of poverty in the literature, despite increasing evidence from many countries that education may be contextually useless or damaging, particularly for girls. The benefits are far from automatic, and are rarely available to all.
  7. The Myths of Child Labor.  Culturally biased notions of childhood as ideally ‘work-free’ have vilified the labor contribution of children and over-determined the causal link between work and poverty. There is evidence that in many cases employment can actually be more beneficial to the child than schooling, and may be entered into willingly without parental pressure.
  8. Overstating Vulnerability.  The creation of categories of ‘especially vulnerable children’ such as street children, AIDS orphans and child sex workers has led to disproportionate attention at the expense of other children suffering similar but less visible threats to their protection. It also appears that the vulnerability of such groups is in many cases overstated or misplaced, and being singled out in such a way may unintentionally further their stigmatization.
  9. Ignoring Child Agency.  The literature is very reluctant to accord any social or economic agency to children, despite increasing evidence of children taking control over their own lives at significant stages, and developing strategic capacities for coping that were once thought beyond them. 
  10. Understanding Poverty and Protection.  There is little recognition of child poverty as a protection issue, despite significant reports into child prostitution and trafficking. If at all, these threats to the protection of children are nearly always considered as originating from outside the home, and very little information is available on how poverty affects levels of domestic violence, family dynamics or alcoholism, for example. Some simply see these issues as pertaining to crime and lawlessness, and therefore outside their ‘development’ mandate.

For me, these were powerful findings, dramatically illuminating the biases and blind-spots that were common in our sector.  It was particularly challenging, to me, to read the critique of how we were overemphasising formal education, and demonising child labor, without considering the real impacts of each.

Parallel with the literature review, Jo’s team was engaged in semi-structured and focus-group discussions with children in five countries: Belarus, Bolivia, India, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.  Her report is included here: CHILDRENANDPOVERTY2 – COPY.

This was the most important output of the CCF Poverty Study: actually listening to children, across five continents, hearing them describe their lived experience of poverty, in their own words.  For example:

  • A 16-year-old girl in Kenyas said: “I feel bad. I feel like the odd one out…You lack self-esteem. You feel like you shouldn’t talk wherever you are, like you shouldn’t be expressing your ideas. You feel lonely. You feel ashamed. Like if you have only two underpants and you have to wear one and wash the other and hang it up to dry everyone will always see that you have only two – the red one and the green one – and you are alternating between them.”
  • A young woman in Sierra Leone said: “You have to be humble to the aunt and uncle and show them respect. You must not be proud. Because you don’t have a mother, you don’t have a father so you have no other choice but to be humble. If you do good things you never get praised – they always shout on you and put you down.”
  • A 30-year-old woman in Bolivia said: “There’s no justice. For them (urban population) there’s justice, there’s law, while here there’s nothing, we die and that’s it. Quietly we disappear…that’s how it is.”
  • A 9-year-old girl in India said: “It does not look good when Patlia children say on our face that ‘you are Harijan and we do not eat the food served to you’. I do not feel good when they do not eat in the school. It hurts me.”
  • A young girl in Belarus said: “Poverty means unequal relationships with others. If you are poor you suffer from stigma. Others look at you in a certain way like you’re worthless. Feeling unimportant: ‘No one will listen to me, no one cares for me’. ‘You don’t count’. ‘I’m poor, I don’t count, I’m a piece of dirt.’”
  • A 12-year-old boy in India said: “Of course I want more money because ultimately, food is the ultimate thing you want in life, you know there’s lots of problems we don’t have enough money to get food, for ourselves so we would…we have only two goats and two cows and we have little land, and that’s what we do.”

In summary, the CCF Poverty Study found that children understand poverty as a deeply physical, emotional and social experience.  This experience is felt acutely and minutely from an early age.  And, for them, poverty is more about experience than about resources.

The final output from Jo’s team was a summary document that sought to integrate the literature review with the voices of children: CHILDRENANDPOVERTY3 – COPY.

*

Early in 2003, the Poverty Study Steering Committee met in London to try to make sense of it all.  I felt fortunate that, by then, I was a member of the Committee.  Our aim was to formulate a poverty framework, using what we were hearing from children about their lived experience, that could be used by CCF staff as a key input for program design.

Those three days in London were fantastic – collaborative, creative and mutual team-work that produced a framework that would stand the test of time for CCF.  We agreed that:

  • For children, poverty is a deeply relational and relative, dynamic, and multi-dimensional experience.
  • Poor children are deprived of essential material conditions and services; they are excluded on the basis of their age, gender, class, caste, etc.; and they are vulnerable to the increasing array of threats in their environments.

We came to call this the “DEV” framework: like adults, children and youth experience poverty as Deprivation – the typical “lack” of basic needs.  But, from a surprisingly early age, children living in poverty also feel Excluded from their communities, and Vulnerable to risks and threats around them.

The Poverty Study was very valuable in encouraging CCF staff to recognise that poverty, for children was much more than a “lack” of basic needs.  This way of thinking about child poverty, from the lived experience of children themselves, would be a fundamental foundation for Bright Futures.

*

The OCA and the CCF Poverty Study were very impressive examples of rigorous, evidence-based research.  But, in a very real sense, they were just studies, on paper.  The next, and most important step, would be to integrate insights from these studies into what CCF actually did, on the ground, in poor communities.

It would be up to Daniel and me to create, test, and document CCF’s new program approach, Bright Futures.

I’ll begin to describe how we did that, next time.

*

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.

Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed

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

Bob Dylan, “Things Have Changed”

*

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

But, unlike Bob Dylan, I still cared.

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Summit Of Middle Carter

 

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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Mount Washington From Wildcat “C”

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Looking East, the Atlantic Ocean (Right Side Background)

 

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

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

 

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

What is a ‘cycle’?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Stay tuned for descriptions of those climbs!

*

Plan Struggles To Increase Grants

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

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

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

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

A Regional Meeting in Plan Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Large Grants Implementation Unit” – Conceptual Drafts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My response was three-fold:

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Foresight, hindsight and the LGIU becoming the new norm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks to Ary for his recollections!

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

*

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

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

So, stay tuned!

*

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

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