I’ve written here in the past about the Winds of Peace vision of a “Synergy Center” in Nicaragua. I’ve described a facility owned and operated by a U.S. college or university but partnered with the Foundation to access its research and experiences with rural development, its connections with grassroots Nicaraguan organizations, its history with the University of Central America (UCA) and its activities as a funder within the country. We continue to refine the vision and search for the right education partner in the U.S.
In the process, we’ve shared the concept with lots of folks, both in the U.S. and Nicaragua, seeking to fully consider all of the cultural, social, national and financial aspects of such an initiative: the undertaking requires us to do a great deal more than simply provide funding for a building. To be done effectively, the Synergy Center demands careful and comprehensive thinking about the needs and the expectations of all parties, with special reflection about Nicaraguan context. Upon hearing the Synergy Center concept, interested parties have been intrigued and energized by the idea, recognizing intuitively the benefits of such a collaboration, whether in Nicaragua or anywhere else in this very complex and conflicted world. The Synergy Center is seen as a bridge among people; there are never too many bridges.
Given the Foundation’s interest in sharing the vision and spurring thought and comment about its intentions, the Foundation’s Nicaragua Director Mark Lester focused on it during a breakout session on November 8 at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in Washington, D.C. The topic of Mark’s presentation consisted of the rationale behind the Synergy Center concept and how it fits intricately with the call for all of us to be seekers and creators of justice in the world. The forum is an ambitious one, and Mark’s contribution is a clear statement of the Synergy Center’s keystone ideas and purposes.
Due to our periodic mentions here about the Center and its possibilities, I’ve included a YouTube link to Mark’s presentation. It takes about 45 minutes to watch, but maybe it’ll give you a sense of a new bridge being built just as so many others seem to be crumbling around us….
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….