Saturday, March 12, 2011

A planning session that worked!

A very interesting planning session might be an oxymoron and yet this week I attended one.

The Andrews Charitable Trust (www.andrewscharitabletrust.org.uk) has twice had me as its director and twice as a trustee. In fact, I had to smile when the chairman included me in his introduction as a 'trustee board of new blood'!

The trust was a practitioner of 'venture philanthropy' before the term was invented: how to enable, through engaged giving that is more than money, an opportunity for creative social entrepreneurs to establish an organization to address either a new human need (we developed one of the first set of AIDS education responses, both in the UK and Africa) or address an established need in new ways (www.basicneeds.org in mental health and development was an example of this).

It demonstrates that with relatively small amounts of money (no investment has been over £1 million stretched across up to 7 years), you can lever significant, global change. This is partly due to picking the right causes with the right entrepreneurs (often pre-popular), the flexibility of how the money is spent (often on unpopular things like desks and salaries); and, the passion and skills of trustees (who have often provided 'off the shelf' trustee boards - instance governance from a group who know each other proving invaluable and time-saving)!

What made the session so interesting was the clarity with which these ways of working were reaffirmed and elaborated - some being made explicitly conscious for the first time. This was coupled with the recognition that straying from our model had produced very interesting and valuable work but had made our lives harder than it needed to be! If it ain't broke do not fix it and too much 'having of strategies' destroys the simplicity of what we want to do and how are we going to do it!

But most of all was the fact that this old/new group (some of whom I have known for a long time) both blended so well and combined such graceful honesty and kindness.  As one completely new arrival noticed what was so striking was how incorporated she felt in the course of just one meeting. This in a group that had completely eschewed any 'ice-breakers' 'getting to know you sessions' etc. We simply arrived, had lunch, and set to work, recognizing I think that we had a generosity of spirit that should simply manifest.

I was reminded of a saying of Lao Tzu that when people talk of the good, it is because it is absent! We simply recognized its presence and that it would spread to all! I could happily tell the facilitator (who was excellent) that I fundamentally disagreed with his summing up (at one point) without it causing a ruffle of discomfort (on any one's part) but a renewal of engaged interest (and a lively and friendly debate over dinner)!

A meeting that undoubtedly 'hit the zone'!

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