Category Archives: Servanthood

Body of Knowledge

I’ve been making entries in this space since the Winds of Peace website came into being; my earliest entry dates back to January of 2007.  I don’t often go back in time to read what was on my mind back then, partly because I’m prone to wince at some of the inexperience and naivete reflected in those early days, but mostly because my views are different today than they were eight years ago.  In fact, the context of the country has changed.  Our partners have changed.   It’s a different world than it was.  The Foundation has evolved.

One of the most significant changes has been the work we have undertaken with Dr. Rene Mendoza Vidaurre.  I have referenced him here many times in recent years, describing the one-on-one work that he has done with our partner cooperatives, Indigenous groups and others.  Rene is a tireless pursuer of healthy development for Nicaraguans.  He is a co-founder and former director of NITLAPAN, the University of Central America entity which is the leading research organization in the country.   He has worked extensively in the rural sectors of Nicaragua, where development efforts are particularly difficult and few resources are available.  He has created and conducted scores of workshops to help strengthen organizational effectiveness and sustainability of the coops.  This year he created and conducted The Cooperative Certificate Program, a six-day holistic, intensive, residential workshop designed primarily for rural producers.  Earlier this month, Rene completed a week-long visit to the U.S. to study organizational strengthening techniques in venues including Springfield, MO, Minneapolis, MN and Boston, MA.

The significance of Rene’s involvement with WPF is that he has brought an intensive research focus to our work.  With more than 30 years of experiences in the Foundation’s history, Rene is synthesizing those experiences with current realities to generate perhaps the most extensive, research-based thinking and writing about Nicaraguan rural development.  In an age of global economic interdependence and enormous economic uncertainties, access to fact and successful practice are more important than ever to aid organizations operating anywhere in the world.  It might be said that, at one time we were primarily placing funds.  Today, we are acting with perspectives of knowledge and specific purpose that are true to the Nicaraguan context.

Many of the recent findings and observations about current context in Nicaragua can be found in Rene’s many weblog entries, featured at this website.  If you’ve entertained a curiosity about the Nicaraguan realities with which Winds of Peace has operated over the past 30 years, you will find Rene’s writings insightful, candid revelations about the challenges and importance of financial aid.  If you work with a foundation or other agency tasked with providing such aid, you will find Rene’s discernments and conclusions to be perceptive resources for consideration in your grantmaking or lending practices, because they reflect the entirety of Nicaraguan realities: financial, historical, political, social, religious.

From time to time I receive feedback on some of my entries here.  I’d be equally interested to hear of reactions to the in-depth work that Rene has undertaken in the name of compassionate research….

 

Ten Years After, Part 2

There’s no question but that the modest beginning undertaken by Harold and Louise Nielsen has evolved into something broader and deeper than a funding mechanism for poor Nicaraguan peasants.  Yes, the grants and loans have been exceedingly important to those rural recipients who received them.  But the lessons embedded in those transactions and the fruits which have blossomed from them may hold a much greater value than the strictly financial one.  The impacts can be transformational, and that has the potential to change not only lives, but ways of life.

Looking forward to the next ten years has both precedence and importance.  Years ago, Harold and Louise envisioned a foundation that would somehow help to alleviate poverty and marginalization of rural Nicaraguans.  WPF has likely evolved in ways far different from that initial vision, but the shape of that initial dream has been the base upon which any good results stand.  Nonetheless, it can be dangerous to attempt prognostications.  (I cannot even make a fair prediction about my day tomorrow, let alone a look into the future of a people and their country.)  No one can ever say for certain what the future will hold, whether in terms of natural evolution or human interventions.  But not to dream is a missed opportunity, a failure to imagine better circumstances for the rural poor in Nicaragua and perhaps elsewhere.

What lies ahead?  Our dreams and discussions continue  around the idea of a Synergy Center in Nicaragua, a site in Managua which is the intersection among WPF, Nicaraguan development and an education entity from the U.S.  The Synergy Center concept presents a progressive opportunity for a U.S.-based education institution to become the owner and administrator of a facility that can utilize data and experiences for the real-life learning of its students, as well as for other international visitors seeking to understand and bridge the immense gaps between the Global North and South, for mutual global benefit.  It’s a notion that is bold in light of the frequent tendency of education entities to “pull back” in times of global and economic unrest, the very times when this very sort of personal education presents perhaps the only realistic means of addressing such gaps.  It’s a big initiative for a little foundation, but that is not likely to have stopped Harold and Louise.

The creation of the Synergy Center would represent  a significant boost to education development within Nicaragua, as well.  While the Foundation has funded scholarships for elementary to university-aged students, we will continue to seek additional bridges between opportunity and learning.  The path for rural Nicaraguans to move from poverty is located squarely within education.  The Foundation’s commitment to growing such opportunities was born of Louise Nielsen’s determination that young women, in particular, could become key resources to Nicaraguan society through their education; our continuation will be based on objective data that confirms the essential nature of improved education opportunities at all levels of society.  The Synergy Center can serve as one education “pivot” between Global North and South, an intersection of research and education between the regions.

Concurrent with the establishment of the Synergy Center, the Foundation dreams of collaborations which could bridge the gaps that exist among the various funding agencies which still operate in Nicaragua.  We are all still victims of our own thinking in terms of what Nicaraguans can accomplish and how they will accomplish it.  As a result, there are many development resources which operate in total independence from one another, and sometimes even at cross-purposes.  As is true for any organization, there is greater strength in numbers and collaboration, a truth which still represents a major hurdle for those of us who operate in Nicaragua.  In a curious conundrum, it’s another potential value of a Synergy Center, but only if WPF and other organizations would be willing to abandon a “not invented here” mindset and choose to collaborate and learn with one another.

My own background includes experiences with some of the most important tools for transforming organizations into higher-performing enterprises.  Cultivation of organizational transparency (Open Book Management) in the cooperative’s function and adoption of methodologies which cultivate continuing improvement (Lean Methodologies) are two concepts that will generate transcendent, positive change in both the businesses and the lives of their practitioners.  It’s a movement whose seeds have been planted, and whose harvest needn’t wait for ten more years.  And I can readily imagine rural Nicaraguan cooperatives embracing and applying the tools for themselves as a means to retain the ownership and value of the lands they tend.

Finally, the future must hold one additional achievement, this one perhaps more essential, more transformative, more vital to development of the rural poor (and therefore to the success of WPF) than any of the others.  It’s the awakening of the global conscience to the circumstances of the poor and the terrible costs that we all pay for their plight.  Even if we collectively have no empathy for those who struggle (a terrible supposition by itself), we are inextricably tied to their outcomes.  It’s a sobering prospect to consider.  Those who know and feel it have an exclusive obligation to educate, to touch, to move others who have had no personal connection to draw upon.  That work, too, will continue to be mission and vision of WPF.

The next ten years will pass by like the flash of lightning in a summer storm.  We know this, given the passage of the past ten years.  It is a short term in which to create truly transformative movement in any environment, even shorter when working abroad.  Our aim will continue to be improvement in Nicaraguan and North American lives, by helping people in both lands become more globally literate.

These are visions for WPF, not roadmaps.  Our fuel for change continues to be made up of capital and accompaniment.  But  we will also continue to remind ourselves that better circumstances do not imply greater monetary wealth only.   Indeed, as the adage goes, some people are so poor that all they have is money, and we know that we can aim higher than that….

 

Bridging A Gap

It’s an exciting time for many in this country, with the first visit of Pope Francis to the U.S.  Some 70 million U.S. Catholics notwithstanding, it’s remarkable to see and to feel the excitement generated by this pope.  Catholics and non-Catholics alike have been mesmerized by the rock star quality of this man and, more notably, of his message about taking care of each other and the planet.  It’s a moment to savor, this feel-good visit from someone who has the capacity to generate an upbeat and hopeful message; not many could do it.  But it also creates a disconnect for us, as we cheer the messenger while simultaneously spurning the message.

Like many, I have watched copious news coverage of the papal visit, out of interest and curiosity.  I’m both interested in hearing the topics that Francis has chosen to highlight and curious about our collective and positive reaction to him and “the higher Chief” to whom Francis reports.  But I wonder about the gap that exists there, one that Francis has referenced on several occasions in his talks here.  That distance between the emotional uplift of this man’s visit and  the reality of our daily actions is wide, and I am confounded by that space.

How is it possible that we can be so emotionally and spiritually attuned to the lessons Francis brings, while at the same time living our lives deaf to our own opportunities to respond?  Matters of climate and environment, poverty and hunger, stewardship and servanthood have seemingly captivated the pope’s audiences around the world- now including the U.S.- at a time when the debate rhetoric around such issues has never been more polarized and heated.  And we are all the same in this spiritual conundrum that afflicts us between our feeling and our doing.

Catholics from Latin America are especially in love with Francis, for he is “of them” and speaks to Latin Americans in their own language, a connection which is treasured.  From country to country Francis is welcomed by heads of state who cherish the moments of being in the presence of the pope and his hopeful message, only to return all-too-frequently to their autocratic regimes of favoritism, exclusion and oppression.  Even in the rural reaches, professors of the faith who hold a very proprietary view of Francis and his humble servanthood will too often seek to take advantage of opportunities for gain over good character.  We are seemingly infected with the virus of selfhood.

In Europe, the pontiff is received upon red carpets and with gifts of expressive love by leaders who, in some cases, have slammed shut the doors of receptive love on the very homeless about whom the pope continually reminds us.  Particularly on the European continent, we are afflicted with the disease of short memory about dispossession and relocation.

In the U.S., political leaders have clamored to be among those in audience with the pope; few were absent as Francis addressed Congress.  Yet some of these eager faces will reflect a far different countenance in the days to come as the country weighs national interests of short-term corporate health against interests of long-term personal, national and global well-being, of political postures versus strength of character, of support for military revolutions in contrast to Francis’ “revolution of tenderness and love.”  Here, we are seemingly diseased through our affluence and power.

The observations and questions posed here are not intended to be accusatory or pejorative to anyone other than perhaps myself.  To be sure, we are complex beings with internally competing motives that shape us day by day, even hour-by-hour.  We are human, imperfect by definition.  We cannot be perfectly consistent because we live in dynamic surroundings, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual.  We are subject to awesome and unexpected changes to our lives, alterations which can be both unanticipated and unexplainable.    Our world is transforming every day, in ways seen and unseen to most of us.

But almost despite those realities, Pope Francis has been able to reach out to the world with a message that has caught us off-guard but which is full of possibilities.  The receptivity to that message does not depend entirely in the voice of the deliverer, but in the hearts and minds of the rest of us.  Francis has asked us to be our best selves. Consistency between that ideal and our daily actions is entirely within our command.  Deep down, that’s why we’re so glad the pope is here, sharing his universal words of humility and hope, and why we long to embrace both him and his message….