On March 1 Steve Sheppard retired as CEO of the Winds of Peace Foundation, but will remain as President of the Board. Words are inadequate for expressing my deep appreciation for Steve´s leadership in these 13 years, and how grateful I am that he is continuing on as President of the Board.
He has significantly moved the Foundation forward on the path that Harold charted. For that I think Harold would feel very proud – and to tell you the truth, lucky – that a person like Steve took up what Harold had started and moved it ahead under very challenging circumstances.
Harold was very much a “hands on” kind of person, and so was very involved in the direction of the foundation. A lot of the places we work today Harold himself visited on one of his many trips – from Jalapa, near the border with Honduras, all the way to Waslala, just into the Northern Autonomous Atlantic Region, and many places in between. The focus on small scale farmers, the lending we are doing, the focus on women and education all come from Harold and Louise.
But Harold had a lot of irons in the fire at the same time. Yes, he was getting older, but that was not so much a factor until near the very end. Well into his 80s he was still traveling here, involved in making the thrift shop financially self-sustaining, working on similar issues with the Children´s Home in Mexico and income generating initiatives with the Quixote Center. He was on Foldcraft´s Board. He was supporting a group called ISLA that was doing health work in Nicaragua. I am sure there were more, but these are only the things I remember hearing him talk about during my occasional trips to Kenyon for meetings.
But when Harold asked Steve to be the CEO, there was no temporary hesitation in the progress of the foundation, waiting for the new CEO to get up to speed. Steve´s experience as Director of Foldcraft, and involvement in the ESOP movement, meant he immediately perceived the organizational challenges the cooperatives were facing. With insight accrued from the Foldcraft experience, he was able to add completely new elements of analysis and tools to the work.
Steve has always been very conscious of the differences between the realities Foldcraft faced in the US context, and the realities small farmers face in Nicaragua. His blog posts provide an eloquent record of his reflections on this topic. His way of communicating about these “new” concepts and tools is a unique combination of a patience born of that reflection, and a profound respect for the cumulative experiences of the cooperatives and the WPF team. The result is a message that is able to take root in the soil in which it is planted, understandable to men and women peasants in rural Nicaragua, some who cannot read and write, and others with some university training. But all of whom nod in understanding.
But as important as the concepts are – and in spite of a language barrier- Steve communicates a real interest in each person, respect for their work, and confidence and enthusiasm in their ability to be a force for change in their cooperatives and communities. This more important message is one that cannot effectively be expressed by words, and therefore has never needed any translation.
That same message Steve communicates to us the team in Nicaragua. It is a message that motivates, imbues hope. Perfect remedy for trying times. Thanks, Steve, these are big shoes to fill (and I am glad you are not going anywhere).