Tag Archives: Expectations

On Seeing Solutions

If you have read many of the offerings at this site, you will know that my background includes a long and in-depth relationship with employee ownership.  I served both The ESOP Association and The National Center for Employee Ownership, the national associations which promote employee ownership, was President of the Minnesota Chapter of the ESOP Association for two terms and in 1998, our employee owned company, Foldcraft, was recognized as the Outstanding Employee Owned Company in the Country.  Yes, I was immersed in ESOP.

As a result, I continue to receive newsletters and employee ownership-related materials, usually nodding in affirmation of the great performances that are featured therein.  Shared ownership worked then as it does now.  So I was not at all surprised to read the latest results of the annual Economic Performance Survey (EPS), summarized in the November 2018 issue of The ESOP Report.  Once again, employee owned companies performed exceedingly well and, in many cases, significantly outperformed their non-employee-owned peer companies.  Since the EPS was launched in 2000, the majority of responding companies have recorded increases in profits for every year but two (2002 and 2010) and increases in revenues for every year but one (2010).  The exceptions noted above reflect the nationwide economic downturns of the prior years (2001 and 2009).  Even in those challenging economic times, 29% or more of ESOP companies responding to the survey reported that profits and/or revenue increased.  And there’s the lesson for our cooperative partners in Nicaragua.

We have chosen to work within the cooperative sector by design.  For the essence of cooperativism- shared ownership- is the same motivator as in employee owned endeavors.  We have always believed in the power of collective wisdom and work; the employee ownership model simply brought some new tools and direction to the coops with whom we work.  Notions of shared benefits, transparency, broad participation, financial literacy and the importance of a cohesive cooperative culture are not natural outcomes with ownership: they each need understanding and practice.  And maybe especially that last item, culture.

As is true in the most successful employee-owned companies, the participants of a coop have an essential need to fully understand the collaborative nature of their organization.  It’s not enough to join a coop in hopes of benefitting from market presence or volume buyers.  Every coop member must understand the machinery of the coop, and the cog that each represents to keep that machinery running.  Without that individualized participation, it’s like trying to win a baseball game with a first baseman who won’t field the position, when every position is vital.  It’s what makes up a team.

But an individual’s impact on organizational culture is more than just fielding a position.  It’s the absolute knowledge that one is part of something bigger than self, that there is strength and security and a sense of “we can do anything together” that inspires and drives the group to thrive.  The strength of collaborative work fashions a safety net that is nearly impossible to replicate individually.  For organizational success, cooperative members must embrace the idea that “we are in this together.”

For Winds of Peace Foundation, that message has remained unchanged over the past dozen years of our focus on coops.  It has been the mantra of the most successful employee-owned companies in the U.S. since ESOPs came into being in the 1970’s.   If the collective efforts of a cooperative are truly in synch, and the rewards of the collective work are truly shared, stability ensues.  Members begin to recognize the rhythm of success.  Momentum builds.  The mindset of the organization transforms to one of expected progress, rather than hoped-for survival.

Cooperatives are not the mirror image of employee-owned companies.  Nicaragua is not the U.S.  But the reality of ownership is universal.  It engenders a characteristic that transcends most of the lines which separate us.  That’s why the truth of shared ownership is as real in Nica as in Nebraska.

And that, in turn, is what makes cooperatives so exceedingly important in Nicaragua today.  Challenging economic times?  With threads in the fabric of the country literally unwinding every day, the nation is in desperate need of institutions that are grounded.  Cooperatives have the ability to be just that.  They can create economic hope.  They can provide a shield of security against dangerous moments.  They can maintain a strong sense of structure when other  forms become distressed.  The coops can represent deep roots against tides that threaten to wash away the groundwork of community.  (For a deeper look into this truth, take a look at Rene Mendoza’s posting in his Articles and Research portion of our website.)

I loved the concept of employee-ownership from the first moment I heard of it.  I was amazed at the power of its best tools, broad participation, open books and financial teaching.  Thirteen years ago I became astonished to learn that the coops of Nicaragua were so similar to U.S. ESOPs in both their difficulties and their needs.

The universal nature of the power in ownership continues to this day.  I never imagined, however, that its importance and potential might figure into stabilizing an entire nation.  But a dream and a reality sometimes are one in the same….




Four Days in November

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the United States, which means that we have moved into late November and early Winter.  It’s always a transition time, with the reds and golds of Autumn giving way to dormant brown and, eventually, snow white.  Lots of people don’t care for November here in the upper Midwest of the country, but I love it.  It’s another promise of change and of time moving on, hallmarks of getting out of the “comfort zone,”  and that’s a good place for us to be.  But this month has already presented a series of “moments” for me, three significant days in a row, even before the promise of turkey.

The first day of note was the U.S election.  To my knowledge, and certainly in my experience, there has never been a contest as coarse, demeaning, undignified and as utterly devoid of fact as the election of 2016.  Much has been written about the candidates’ behaviors by others (nearly everyone), but from the perspective of one rather ordinary citizen, I characterize the fiasco as an event which oozed disgrace and lack of civility at every turn.  If this is, in fact, democracy in action, then my own sensitivities suggest that we search for an alternative form of government altogether.

Yet the discouragement and even despair that I felt during this election season is ironically what made the second day of my November journey stand out so brightly.  On the  day following the election, I met with both the Managing Director and the Program Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.  We convened to meet one another for the first time, to talk about some of the new aspirations for the Forum and to discuss a potential presentation by Winds of Peace at next year’s assembly.  The conversation was a stimulating and hopeful one.

I mean, how could it NOT have been, when elements of the discourse included the names of past laureates, the efforts being made around the world to convene peaceful resolution of conflict. Yes, members of the Tunisian Quartet, the 2015 recipients of the Peace Prize, would be in attendance.  President Obama has been invited, in addition to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is among the faculty at peace and conflict resolution institute in Hawaii.  Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be in attendance, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.  And many others, less celebrated and completely anonymous, will be present over those days to talk about their own initiatives and experiences with peace-building.  Against the glow of enthusiasm and commitment of my hosts, a feeling of hope seemed to lift me a bit straighter in my chair.  I walked back to my car with a little more bounce in my step, I think.

On the third day of this sequence, I was to speak to a University of St. Thomas class about the work being done by the Foundation, and how it mirrors, in many ways, the strategies and attitudes brought into play in my former for-profit organization, Foldcraft Co.  I arrived on campus a little early, so I took advantage of the beautiful morning and walked around for a while, taking in the surroundings and feeling the promise that only a university campus can provide.  Quickly I noticed the scores of banners hung around every sidewalk and building, which read, “All for the common good.”  I was struck by the rightness and optimistic promise of that phrase and truly moved to see its presence everywhere.  It was an advent to the class experience to follow.

The presentation went well ( I was told).  The class participants were engaged and curious and full of outward excitement at ideas of organizational wealth-sharing, broad participation and transparency, collaborative work and rewards, and the practice of capitalism without distinction of class, the sanctity of human worth. The questions penetrated the essence of broad ownership and widespread involvement.  The students were intrigued and enthused.  I was pumped and energized.  Together, we had a good time.  After the class period, several students asked for my business card so that we might talk further about the marriage of business and social responsibility.  On this day, I did not notice a bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; I rather had the sense of floating

Within the span of three days, I experienced the lows and the highs that I know are inevitably a part of our human existence.  The outcome to all of it was simply this: I am reminded that the lows are to be found wherever we choose to see them.  There are enough to bring the entirety of mankind to its knees and complete dysfunction.  But just as assuredly, the highs are at least as numerous, and carry the potential to raise us above the mire of surrender.  It’s a matter of where one’s gaze seeks direction.  With heads down, we see the world as a dark place, indeed, and its paths lead to seemingly endless disappointment and loss.  But there is a great deal more to seen with heads up,  absorbing the brighter prospect, allowing us to see and draw strength from the hope that still does surround us.

All of which leads me to the fourth important day of this month, the one during which we are encouraged to be thankful for every blessing of our lives.  What a great idea, gratitude.  What a terrific posture for looking up, noticing the uplift that surrounds us, for acknowledging and embracing it, and for choosing to be the very engine for change, “all for the common good.”

Wow, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed….



Happy Birthday

I spent this weekend with my grandson, Noah, in celebration of his upcoming first birthday.  Naturally, I think Noah is one of the cutest, most remarkable little people ever, and I relish every chance I get to be with him and to see him grow.  What a difference a year has made, as his actions and verbalizations come to have deeper content!  Soon he will be philosophizing.

The birthday party arranged for Noah turned out to be a stellar combination of family and friends, enough to fill the living room of Noah’s proud parents.  I took a few pictures.  Well, truth be told, I clicked no fewer than 87 photos during just the 2-hour party, in addition to many others before and after.  In fact, cameras were flashing and clicking all afternoon, as each of us sought to capture a precious instant in young Noah’s life, a split second in time which might provide a pleasant moment in each of our lives.  This gathering was truly a happy event for both the honoree and his guests.

As I later reviewed the scenes of gifting and birthday cake squishing and young adults in full expression of true joy,  I started thinking  about the context of something as simple and commonplace as a birthday party such as this.

Noah does not understand nor can he appreciate the wealth of feelings that surround him in these early months of his life.  But on this Saturday afternoon, more than a dozen admirers came together in a statement of generosity, commitment, support and love for this little boy.  Likely, he will be embraced by the presence of their care for his entire life.  And there will be many others, as yet unknown, who will enter this circle of presence in Noah’s life.

For the moment, he has been blessed with an array of gifts that teach and entertain and prompt his curiosity, that will provide companionship to him as he learns to stand and to walk, to develop and to talk, in the fullness of his immense capacities. And for his reflexes we got him best nerf gun of course! He has every advantage that a child’s doting parents could ever imagine.  The playthings most certainly will be matched by nurturing, encouragement, opportunities, enduring friendships, deepening love. And Noah will absorb all of it in becoming the boy, the young man, the adult he is destined to become.  It’s what all of us in the living room want and expect for him.  It’s an awesome picture to behold, and it is there among the stills in my camera.

The vision of it ignites my entire being.  I am uplifted and encouraged and hopeful at the trajectory of Noah’s young life and future.  I am warmed by the gladness that he has already engendered in his family’s circle of acquaintances and the prospect of joy that he will spread throughout his life, in reciprocation of the blessings he receives.  It’s a beautiful notion, and even if I admit to a certain dreaminess about it, I love its texture and storyline.

Inevitably, such dreaming leads me straight back to life’s realities, many of which are very different for little one-year-olds elsewhere.  As I visit the rural outreaches in Nicaraguan countrysides, I have met parents with tiny babies in arms, loving mothers who are my daughters, determined fathers who could be my sons, extended families who intensely seek the promise of fulfilled lives for their children.  In the eyes of the Nicaraguan child I see Noah and all of his potentiality, everything that he might become, every good thing that he might bring to our world.  But too often I have walked away from a village or barrio saddened by the realization that the possibilities which reside deep within that precious child face tremendous obstacles to release.  There may be too little food or home life, not enough chances to learn, insufficient dreaming, a minimum of adult support for high aspirations.  To the same extent that I soar with the image of Noah in unfettered ascent, I also sense the grief of elemental lives incomplete.  There’s nothing new in this reality, just a stark affirmation of it.

By the end of the afternoon I had experienced at least three other affirmations of truth.   I was struck by the recognition of how even relative strangers can so easily come together over something as common as a little boy’s birthday.  I noted the mirrored feelings of guests- despite their disparate circumstances and different ages- in how they absorbed in love and expectation the promise of a child’s growth.  And I felt again both the privilege and the obligation to be part of a child’s well-being.

If Noah’s life and welfare are that important to the people who attended his birthday party, then I can only conclude that every child’s circumstance carries the same importance, the same need, and the same potential.  In a world that is broken and hurting in nearly every way, we are desperate for the health, wisdom and love of every one-year-old boy and girl….







Looking for An Answer

I read the October issue of Envio, “the monthly magazine of analysis in Central America.”  The lead story in it takes the Nicaraguan government to task for a litany of wrongs ranging from lack of transparency to outright fabrication of untruths, including the official release of a report which sought to convince the public that no less than a meteorite had been the cause of an enormous explosion in the capitol city of Managua.  (This, despite lack of any corroboration by any scientific entity in the world.)  In the view of the writers at Envio, what the government lacks in the way of transparency and public interest is more than made up by audacity and creativity.  In the end, their plea is for the government to simply be honest and open about its actions and motives.  Sound familiar?

Our own U.S. elections are now history (thankfully my phone will stop ringing quite so often) and in the latest edition the Republican party has attained a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The cheers among the party faithful are loud and long, as their expectations for a country headed in the “right direction” have been fueled once again.    Now, they say, if we can just elect a Republican to the White House in two years, true peace and prosperity will finally be permitted to take hold in our country and we can all get on with the business of the pursuit of happiness.

I presume that we are to forget the anger and outright hostility directed toward the most recent Republican president as he left office a mere six years ago.  Time apparently heals all wounds, even the ones that bring us to our economic knees.

Of course, the outgoing Democrats have proven little during their time in majority, even with a party member in the White House.  They were able to pass a universal health insurance law which has become despised or mistrusted by over half the entire population, but they did pass the legislation.

Together, the Republican and Democrat legislators have forged a dysfunctional government in the U.S. that frustrates and sickens most of the electorate.  What passes for governance today is little more than ideological warfare between the parties, and the good of the nation falls way down the list of priorities for both parties.  Their number one objective is solely to be in authority, just as the Ortega family has practiced its own form of “power lust.”

In reality, perhaps it was ever thus.  Maybe what the people of Nicaragua and the U.S. experience today is pretty close to what their respective governments have provided over the years (or in the case of Nica, at least since the demise of the Somoza regime).  Our reliance upon our governments to significantly address the important issues of our day is misdirected, with little evidence to support the notion that any political party can effectively represent an ever-widening range of divergent interests and demands.

Well, if such is the case, where do we turn for hope in making our countries and our world better places?  At the risk of over- simplification, I suggest that the answer may lie within us.   We have the capacity to give in ways that governments cannot or will not.  A starving person may respect the power and reach of The World Food Program, but he treasures even more the loaf of bread that he has just received.  We all possess the power to strongly influence the niches of our lives, and in ways that we might never even recognize.  Waiting for and relying upon the vagaries of institutional wisdom is often an exercise in disappointment and injustice.   It is far more likely that the endowments that lie within each of us- compassion, generosity, healing and equity- are better suited for the task of remaking our world.  Taking the government and its bureaucracies out of the equation leaves… just people.  And I’d take my chances with each of them one-to-one any day.

I’m reminded of a cartoon which was given to me years ago, to help me put into perspective both the power and obligation I have as a steward of this world.  In it, two creatures of the forest are having a conversation about the global state of affairs.  One poses the idea that plagues us all from time to time.  “Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering and injustice when He could do something about it.”

The companion responds with a challenge.  “Well, why don’t you ask Him?”

“Because,” sighs the first, “I’m afraid that He would ask me the same question.”

I think it’s a bit the same when it comes to asking the question of our elected bodies.

We are perpetually torn in our earthly journey, it seems, between recognizing the wisdom and goodness of the human heart versus the easier pathway of allowing others to speak and act for us in ways that defy our better natures.  My own search for answers has circled me back to myself, and a growing inclination to self-sufficiency in responding to the cries of the night….





Worlds Apart

Whenever I begin to prepare for the next visit to Nicaragua, in this case next week, thoughts about the vast differences between home and there inevitably come alive.  I suppose it’s due, in part, to some protective mechanism which serves to blunt the culture shock that I always feel, both coming and going.  It’s difficult to not reflect on the differences.  After all, when I leave the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, the temperature could well be minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, as it has been over the past week.  That will stand in stark contrast to the 80 degree temperature I’ll likely encounter when getting off the plane in Managua.  It truly does feel like a different world!

But my thoughts in preparation for leaving have little to do with the weather.  I am always struck by and need to prepare for the reality of how the two countries are supposedly worlds apart, and how I feel about that. Continue reading Worlds Apart


This has been a particularly busy season, as WPF finds its way forward without either of its founders for the first time ever.  The holiday season imposes its usual demands upon us even as we seek to find ways to slow down and live in the moments that make it up.  We have anticipated, reveled in, and now reminisced about the presence of family, delighted that many could be together and wistful about the absence of those who could not.  And through it all, I have been feeling a bit restless thinking about gifts.

Now, I’m not referring to the presents under the tree that I received this year; they have long ago become more a cause of guilt than of giddy entitlement.  The gifts that I’ve been contemplating are the ones that take the form of everyday joys and wonders, the ones that we might take for granted if we allow ourselves to do so, the ones that are easy to miss simply because they are so commonplace, so seemingly mundane.  I’ve been thinking about the gifts that make up our everyday lives. Continue reading Restlessness

Great Expectations

I’m preparing for another visit to Nicaragua next week.  The staging for each trip usually begins a week or two before I actually travel, as I contemplate our itinerary, the partners with whom we might visit, what I think I can learn, what opportunities for impact we might have, and why I never learned to speak Spanish.  There is not only the physical readiness of packing, but also the mental preparation for being in a very different place from where most of my life is lived.  And the weeks leading up to every visit are always filled with an internal excitement, an uncertainty, a familiarity, and an anxiety about leaving my comfort zone- if only for a week.  I’m looking forward to all of that and more next week.

If someone asked me what, exactly, I expected to accomplish or to experience during the week, I’d likely have to look at our intended partner visits in order to respond with any detail.  We haven’t completed that roadmap quite yet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t carry with me certain hopes and wished-for outcomes for my time there.  And lately I’ve speculated about how our partners might anticipate our visits during the week.  Do they feel excitement?  Hope?   Anxiety? A sense of necessary obligation?  I’ve decided that my visits are only half-complete if I haven’t thought about expectations from both sides, so that I  do whatever I can to help attain those outcomes.

For my part, I’m always hoping to come away from every visit in Nicaragua with a better understanding of the elements that conspire to keep poor Nicaraguans in deep poverty.  The causes range widely (take your pick from issues such as politics, natural resources, history, education, economics and culture) and there are complex connections between all of these factors and more which make a complete comprehension very unlikely.  But each time we’re immersed in the life issues of rural Nicaraguans, we inch closer to a true understanding of life’s realities for them.  If Winds of Peace can acquire an authentic  understanding of those circumstances and their root causes, there’s a better chance for us to make an impact.

I don’t travel with many preconceived notions.  (I’d like to claim “none,” but I’d be inaccurate.)  But I do hope to meet Nicaraguans who are focused on exploring their realities with objectivity and passion, so that best possible solutions become more clear.  My expectations are not that we hear presentations from organizations who have become good at saying what they think we, as funding partners, will want to hear.  My expectations are that we connect with potential partners who possess at least an emerging sense  that there are certain universal truths about successful organizations and leadership and sustainability, and that those partners intend to seek the keys to those truths if given the opportunity.  Those keys are pretty well stated in the “Cornerstone” considerations from Winds of Peace:

1.  Sustainability

2.  Participation of people in projects based on local analysis and plans

3.  Social Change

4.  Accompaniment of oppressed people

5.  Community-based and self-directed development

6.  Transformational education and training

7.  Relationships and partnerships in grantmaking/microlending

8.  Accountability and responsibility

If these Cornerstones resonate with the organizations with whom we meet, then my expectations are that Winds of Peace can be a resource for strong development.

No matter what my expectations might be, they will always be tempered by whatever our Nicaraguan partners might be expecting.  Their perceptions of Winds of Peace, Mark, me, our funding criteria, or our Cornerstones will impact their real expectations.  As they anticipate a meeting with us, I know there exists a hope that financial assistance is possible; I suppose it’s technically their bottom line.  I know that they expect to make a representation of themselves and their needs as humbly and sincerely as they can.  They hope to “make a case” for consideration, citing whatever important words or concepts they think might capture our attention favorably.  Maybe they even have goals that are well-aligned with our Cornerstones.

What do our partners anticipate from our visits?  Do they wonder why we’re in Nicaragua?  Are they frustrated by our criteria and demands for information?     (I recall hearing feedback from one organization which characterized us as “easy.”  If they were referring to our openness to taking risks with unknown or unproven organizations, then I might agree with the label.  If they were thinking about a long-term partnership with us, they might have been in for a surprise.)  Whether their expectation is that we are truly seeking a partnership of development, or that we are simply another global organization looking for opportunities to place funds, I am certain that we have funded partners that fit both descriptions.  It’s true regardless of the sincerity or the insincerity which may be written in the pages of a proposal.  But naivete is not a characteristic of the Foundation.  My curiosity about their curiosity stems from a strong belief that if the expectations on both sides of the development equation are in synch, if the desire for reciprocal teaching and learning is real, then the expectations of both of us can be met and exceeded.  That’s not easy, but it’s worth doing.

I look forward to an interesting week, and I remain full of great expectations….