Friday, April 25, 2008

What We're Hoping to "C"

It was very nearly a month ago when I set out to use this space to describe how we've identified our priorities for funding and other support. In the unlikely possibility that you've been checking back looking for the rest of those thoughts I apologize for the delay and hope that what's been posted in the interim has been worth your while.
There are essentially 4 qualities we are looking for in people and projects: Creativity, Commitment, Compatibility, and Compelling.
Creativity: We want to be involved with innovators and people who are doing something that is novel. We appreciate the risk involved in breaking new ground and love to see people explore solutions that bring together ideas from different places. An example would be Courtney Mowat from Imagine Jewellery and her dream of using jewellery design as a tool to help women break free from the sex trade.
Commitment: Leadership requires time, effort, personal sacrifice, and passion. We want to support people who demonstrate these characteristics and help them continue to develop over the long term. This week I was able to spend some time with Myles Sergeant from Shelter Health Network. He is a talented physician who has chosen to spend his career working with the homeless and vulnerable population that many of his professional peers prefer to avoid. He also manages the complex structures and processes of the network. He could have a higher salary and less frustration working in a typical family practice; but he believes meeting these needs is worth the costs.
Compatible: In order for us to become partners we need to be able to agree on the value of the work being done. We are often asked if we are a Christian foundation. We are Christians, but we don't limit our support to people who share our faith. Like our friends at Micah House, we believe our faith calls us to help people without imposing specific spiritual expectations or conditions.
Compelling: Ultimately, with the enormous variety of needs and opportunities around us, we become involved with people and projects that engage us with stories that reach our hearts. We want to know that our involvement makes a meaningful difference in the lives of people, and hearing those reports (in person where possible) is a large part of what makes this satisfying work for us. David and Joanna Morrison's work in Malawi has been particularly inspiring.

Whether it is candidates for our mentoring program, scholarship applicants, or possible funding partnerships; we are always enthusiastic about those that are Creative, Committed, Compatible, and Compelling.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Evaluating Outcomes

One of the challenges for our work is trying to figure out how to evaluate not only the proposals and opportunities we come across, but(even more difficult) evaluating organizations and projects that we are supporting. This is an ongoing challenge in this field, as I've commented on before.
In a couple weeks I'll be attending a conference for grant-making professionals that concludes with an afternoon discussion about "outcome based evaluation" and efforts to develop more consistent and reliable ways to determine value and success in fields that don't lend themselves easily to numeric criteria. I'm very interested to learn how others are working with this.
Last night I had an excellent reminder of this in my own life. Two years ago I left a job as a youth pastor where I'd been for six years. It was a job I loved, although it was demanding. I made my best efforts to help teenagers discover the truth and grace of Jesus and understand how to live out their identities as authentic followers of Jesus, not just good church people. Last night I got together with one of the guys who had been in that group and is now at university. Over the course of an excellent conversation (and some very good chicken wings) we caught up on our lives and I saw clearly in him some of the perspectives and character qualities I'd been trying to pass on for six years. It was extremely gratifying to recognise that in him. When he graduated a lot of that stuff wasn't very apparent.
It seems to me that when working with people the most meaningful changes often take a lot of time. Projects can be evaluated based on specific time bound criteria; but lives changed according to an imposed timeline. Leaders need to develop a long term mentality and understand that results may not be apparent until long after the opportunity for recognition has passed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Time On My Hands

With my plannned trip to Haiti not happening I found myself with an essentially blank schedule this week. I had pretty much complete freedom to fill it because when I did my planning for this quarer I assumed I would be away, so all the other projects were on track without any time right now spent on them. It was an intriguing thing to open Outlook and see so much empty space.

We did our first quarterly review of Catalyst and myself recently and it was clear more than ever that the heart of this endeavour is leadership. We want to be involved in people developing their ability to bring about meaningful change, not just by sending them some funds but also (moreso really) by helping them to lead effectively. One of the responsibilities, and privileges, I have is to spend some of my work hours consuming and processing the best leadership resources we can get our hands on and trying to understand how they can help others. I haven't done as much of that as I would have liked in the last couple months because of the demands of getting things underway.

So, I'm trying to use this week as catch up time. I've got several resources I'm trying to get through and a last minute invitation to the Maximum Impact conference this Friday to give me lots of food for thought. The idea is that if we're to offer any real value beyond finances to our partners and those I'll be mentoring, I have to be well versed in a variety of tools, perspectives, and ideas. That's fundamental to our strategy.

If this week is "found time" I want to use it where it will count most in the long run; not ticking a few minor items off my to do list, but building up the wisdom base that stands behind everything else we do.

(And in the interest of honesty, I'm also getting a little extra time in the sunshine and meeting some of my favourite people for lunches).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Myth of the Alpha Male

I got to spend a very enjoyable lunch eating ribs with an old friend Bruxy Cavey, teaching pastor at The Meeting House, one of the most intriguing and impactful churches in Canada.
As always, the conversation was very thought provoking. Among the topics was the paradox that Bruxy has become one of the premier Christian communicators in Canada (though he denies it) and the one holding responsibility for the ethos of this rapidly growing church, despite having a personal style that tends towards relative passivity and prefers to avoid confrontation. He is the antithesis of the traditional alpha-male leader.
As we were talking he commented that the rest of the inner circle of leadership influencers share his temperament. Others have taken note of this and commmented on how unusual that is. It brings out a remarkably strong sense of team, and requires mutual humility from all the leaders, not only those below the top.
I know another person on staff at The Meeting House who in the past had a much more traditional leadership style. In his early twenties he accomplished some amazing things, but occasionally left a trail of hurt feelings in his wake. I'm very interested in how he is being affected by this atypical environment.

Amidst the Turmoil

I got this message from Tim DeYoung, the Haiti director for MMI: (his blog is insightful about what's really happening there)
I just got a chance to read your blog. Had looked forward to meeting you and having you get to know a bit about what life is like here in Haiti. Based on what i saw today and the talk on the streets, there are protests planned for Monday, but now that the PM resigned an hour or so ago, who knows. At the airport dropping a friend off who was here for a "vacation" I met up with a number of missionary groups who are trying to get their volunteers out. It was a bi t chaotic. I am glad i am not in their shoes.
I spoke with Leanne the other day about trying to run the project later in May. She has some conflicts, but I think by then this will have quieted down. Gas and Diesel are now a shortage and we are all waiting to see what happens next. Embassys continue to send out warnings and travel info. I really feel bad about this whole thing. At times its just out of my hands. This came out of no where. In the past days friends and i have been talking about how rare that this flared up with no warning and how fast things got so bad. It was really a shocker. Every one was caught off guard.
I will keep you informed about future info if you would like.
The struggle i face now is how non-productive i am. This would have been our first project of the year. Things were really planned out well for this one. Partners were all looking forward to our visit and new partnerships were formed only now to be put on hold. Well take care and look forward to reading more about Catalyst F.


Timothy DeYoung
MMI Haiti Director
Visit my blog site for photos and stories:

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Haiti Update

The situation in Haiti continues to be unstable as the government's proclamations and pledges to support further indigenous agriculture are not satifying a populace who are needing food now.
MMI's Haiti director Tim DeYoung has decided against bringing our team in at this point because our security can's be reasonable certain. So we're not going.
I have mixed feelings. After reading Stu's comments on the last post (see below) I was more open and interested in going if Tim said it was okay; but still I am somewhat relieved to have the decision taken out of my hands.
I'll be working with Leanne Graham (MMI Canada director) to figure out if we will arrange another trip later this spring to another location or something else.
Please pray for Haiti. These people are the poorest people in the Americas and their suffering is very real. Pray for the leaders, there are no easy solutions after decades of uncertainty. Pray for Tim DeYoung and his wife who are in the midst of this turmoil.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Brave or Foolish?

I came home from a meeting about 2pm yesterday to have my neighbour tell me their dog had fallen into the creek and been swept over Webster's Falls. Miraculously, the dog has survived the fall (absolutely astonishing!), but was now stranded on an inaccessible ledge just below the falls with the current surging by. After a few hours some bystanders risked their own safety to climb their way to him and eventually got Murphy out. I suppose they were heroes, but from where I watched I was truly fearful that one of them would slip into the creek and be in more danger than the dog was. So were they brave or foolish? It's sometimes a fine line.

How does this relate to the Catalyst Foundation?

This Sunday I'm supposed to be travelling to Haiti to participate in a dental project with MMI. The issue is that the last couple days there have been violent protests there, in the city where we're going to be based. The project director, Tim DeYoung,let us know that things are pretty dangerous right now. He thinks things might very well be settled by the time we're to arrive, but he wants to see what happens in the next day or so. When they called me with the news they asked my thoughts.

Haiti is always somewhat volatile. Being the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and having food prices increase by 40% in less than a year makes that inescapable. Political stability has really never been part of the picture.

So, what should I do? If Tim (who knows Haiti intimately as a resident there) says he thinks it will be safe should I trust that judgment? I'm hesitant. I know that I can reschedule for another trip later this year, to another place where the need is enormous. I don't believe Haiti in particular is somewhere I'm supposed to be. So would going there next week be an act of courageous faith, or one of unnecessary risk? And how do we distinguish the difference?

I'd love to hear thoughts from some who have more international experience than I do...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Prepare for Boarding

This week I’ve been in a couple of discussions about how boards of directors are built and function. Stuart Taylor at IDE-Canada compared boards that are made up primarily of major donors (large scale investments lead to positions of influence), with those who are brought together for their professional credentials (“We need a lawyer, a physician, an educator, a politician, etc.”). Then I was at a board meeting for Compassion Society last night where the board is made up of people who are strongly committed to the cause and are active in a lot of grassroots activity.
What works best? I don’t know yet. I’m sure board members need to be prepared to be more than just figureheads, but in what types of capacity and what types of activity? My hunch is that what is most important is that all involved parties clearly understand the expectations of the board and the structures needed to support and maximize the effectiveness of whatever board is established.
In the next couple weeks I’m looking forward to reading The Imperfect Board Member (first recommended to me by John Latta from Canadian Youth Network) to gain some more insight on this.

New Radicals

I recently read a very interesting book called We Are The New Radicals. The premise is that there are a large number of baby boomers who, still in their working years, have become disillusioned with their careers and are looking to do something more intrinsically fulfilling. This version of a mid-life crisis is leading many 50 year olds to look into moving into social sector and charitable causes. The problem is that there aren’t a lot of nonprofit organizations that are really prepared to welcome, train, and fund these established professionals.
We accept that there is a level of sacrifice that is innate to this kind of wrok. But too often the compensation is so meager it eliminates adults with families from consideration, which seriously limits the potential for benefitting from wisdom and experience that is often in short supply.
I’m a big booster for the enthusiasm of youth and the willingness to go above and beyond the expectations they offer. I’m actually quite biased in favour of young leaders, but this book has me thinking that there is a need to find a way to bring together these two demographics.
I wonder which group would find this more difficult: The young leaders who may well be intimidated by the experience and resume of mature newcomers and feel threatened in their leadership; or the New Radicals who must accept the insight to be gained from the specific experience of committed leaders who are the peers of their children?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Reputation and Serendipity

This afternoon I stopped in at the pharmacy to get the anti-malarial and antibiotic meds I'll need for my trip to Haiti with MMI in a couple weeks. There was some confusion about my new benefits coverage, so I had a conversation with the pharmacist. He asked where I was going and it turns out he had done a project to Haiti with MMI several years ago.
He was very interested in the trip I'm a part of and took my copy of the project calendar to copy so he can consider going again sometime. He also offered a discount on some helpful medications for the people wee're going to serve.

Two reflections:
1. It is very encouraging right before an adventure like this that carries a certain amount of uncertainty to have these kind of "coincidences" happen.
2. People have long and strong memories about things they put some effort into. It says a lot that the people I meet who have interacted with MMI have positive lasting feelings about the organisation. In another industry this might be called brand loyalty; in the non-profit sector it reflects very well on the character and competencies of a largely volunteer based group.

I wonder how positively people who were involved in things I was doing a decade or more ago reflect on those experiences?
I wonder how positive the reputation of Catalyst will be for those we're working with now when another decade has passed?

Mentoring Program

I am very excited to be getting our mentoring program underway in the next several weeks. There are some amazing developing leaders I'll be connecting with as they pursue the things they consider themselves called to do.

For a basic outline of our mentoring program click here.