Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reflections & Renewal on a Flight to Jakarta

Endless and Thankless

I am tired beyond compare. Not the tiredness that comes from lack of sleep, although I did have only an hour’s rest last night finishing up our 2006 financials. No, the tiredness of the soul which has faced disappointment in others so often ones mind becomes numb. I sit here in this tight seat, economy class, Japan Airlines, en route to Tokyo then on to Jakarta.

It is mid-January 2007 and I am off for training, debriefing with OI staff, and one day alone with my son Mathew. Not that I am counting, but this will be the second day off I have had since August 2005 and I am looking forward to it. Many of my friends receive two days off each week and they call it a “weekend.” I am taking two days off per year and trying to call it “my life.”

In the last month I lost virtually my entire paid staff. In the first year of having paid staff, 2006, I did not think to have contracts. Sounding more and more like my grandmother with each passing year, I can only say that “in my day” we would not have taken a commitment for less than a year. I recruited some great kids to my staff, but cannot pay them enough, nor offer benefits, and one by one they all jumped to larger ships in December. The United Nations. Covenant House. New York Cares. They are all committed to social change, but in institutions where they can survive.

It was my sister Molly, a director with Little Brothers Little Sisters in suburban Chicago, who brought home the point that if I could train staff once I could train staff again. Move on to Year Two, she urged. And move on I did. I have just hired ten new staff members. I am clueless how they will be paid, but I certainly know what they need to do to move us forward. More than that, I have just retained the entire old staff who took real jobs to continue to help us on a volunteer basis.


The Vision Continues

Nathan Byrd, who had served as a Programs Officer and was then promoted as my highly motivated Assistant Executive Director, pulled off the celebration of all celebrations for our fifth annual benefit at the United Nations. He has now joined our advisory board and continues to have much to offer.

Andrys Erawan, who I stole from the United Nations reconstruction effort in Aceh following the Tsunami, has been stolen back. I have to admit that’s fair. He is now volunteering 20 hours per week to us to coordinate Indonesia, where we have OI Sulawesi and OI Sumatera. Andrys is perhaps the finest man I have ever met, and has single-handedly made the word “Islam” so respectable in my mind it has made me question my own cultural Christianity.

Felicity Loome came to me from an orphanage in Guatemala, although she is from Minnesota. Quiet, unassuming, we took a few weeks to begin to work well together. Then she took over editing my book, Riding the Tiger: The Story of Orphans International and showed me how strong she was. Today, as head of our Communications Committee, she is working as hard as she ever did on staff.

I understand that Orphans International is a thankless job that eats staff up and spits them out. My longest working staffer seems to have hit the wall in September and is still not back on board yet. The need is endless, the resources finite, and the entire world seems to hold you responsible for not having adequate funding. Night after night over five years I have laid in bed unable to sleep, worried about how to feed our children. Although our rapid growth has stunned the international community to some extent, our “success” comes with enormous guilt that we simply haven’t done enough. This eats at me and my staff, and coupled with a lack of salary tends to work against retention.

But not being particularly smart, I am particularly stubborn. And as the new year rolled around I rose to my sister’s challenge and began to scour the earth for new staff to train once more – only this time with a one-year contract. Using my own network, made stronger by on-line networking tools such as LinkedIn.com and Plaxo.com, and using the resources of the Net community, specifically idealist.org, we came up with dozens of applicants to train with me in New York then head south to staff our Global Administrative Office in Lima, Peru. It is amazing to me how many young people out there are bi-lingual and yearning to do something important.

Our organizational needs are many. We need to build projects around the world for chidden in need, assure that they are run appropriately, and pay for it all. Thus, I have a need for Programs Officers, Compliance Officers, and Development Officers. One stroke of luck is having been able to retain John Garesché for 2007 as my Senior Development Officer on a part-time basis. John served as our development consultant in 2006. He will remain in New York, but will oversee our Development Officers who will end up in Lima, linked to the world via Internet. The ramifications of Yahoo! instant messaging (IM) and Skype, the Internet free telephone service, are endless; we could not have operated Orphans International ten years ago.


Passion Restored

The first Development Officer is a young woman who worked for the YMCA, first in Thailand, and was about to be posted to the Y’s growing program in Sri Lanka. Her name is Carly and she chose to work for us instead.

Compliance is a trickier role to fill, but Jonathan Torn emerged and we seem set. Jonathan works presently on Wall Street in compliance and is transitioning over to us by the end of the month. He is half-French and speaks Spanish. He seems very wise and intelligent beyond his 22 years. Andrys Erawan was our Compliance Officer in 2006, and Messan Minyanou heads Compliance on our Board of Directors. Both have agreed to work with Jonathan in bringing him up to speed with OI issues, and then he will join our Lima Team.

Programs Officers are deployed around the world as needed. Andrys had been so gifted he had served in two capacities: Compliance and as the Programs Officer for Sri Lanka. There he trained Australian volunteer Melle Patrick, who also rose to the level of Programs Officer. But Melle will not stay long in Sri Lanka as she has already agreed to return to her home in Bahrain where her parents live to begin to build OI Bahrain as a donor nation to raise funds for our Moslem projects, including OI Sumatera. She would need to be replaced by the spring.

Johan Lee Min How was someone I meet on Roosevelt Island in the fall, a student finishing his course work at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) in New York City. He had come to the diamond trade through a cirticuous route of law school and special events at the Ritz Carlton. He is Chinese from Malaysia who lived for years in Singapore and was on his way to Thailand to work with diamonds. He goes by John Lee. Given his eclectic global background, I was delighted to meet him through the Roosevelt Island Toastmasters! He became a good friend very quickly.

When I first knew I was losing Andrys to the U.N. I had lunch with John and asked him to do me a personal favor: would he take a year off from his profession and train and work as an OI Programs Officer. He said he would have the rest of his life for his career and would be delighted to assist me and give back to the world at the same time. It is John that I am meeting in Indonesia to begin to train for his assignment beginning in February in Sri Lanka.

Andrys Erawan will join us for the training in Indonesia as that is where Andrys now lives, home with his mother in Jogyakarta working with the United Nations there. As our first Programs Officer in Sri Lanka, he knows the ins and outs of that project more than anyone. Andrys, as mentioned, is continuing to volunteer with OI in three capacities: to serve as a compliance resource, to train John for OI Sri Lanka, and to coodidinate OI Sulawesi and OI Sumatera, out two projects in Indonesia.

Hernan Gonzalez came to us from an orphanage in Guatemala. An Argentinean, Hernan was recruited to replace Yuri Guanilo in El Salvador. Both Felicity Loome and Nathan Byrd had known Hernan in Guatemala and recommended his work. He arrived in San Salvador last week to find our newly rented home there in bad condition, and along with local coordinator Diana Torres, volunteer Jennifer Le ___, and with the assistance of Miguel Dueñas and his family who are underwriting the project in El Salvador, Hernan set to work to oversee renovations (see the photo essay on this house at our website, www.oiww.org).

Finally, our staff needs a leader, and I don’t have time to wait for someone to move up the ladder. I am completely overwhelmed, although out new XXXX on-line program promises to be the best asset in our history, allowing me to coordinate projects with contacts, all with due dates and tangible deliverables. Enter Nathaniel Foster. Recruited through idealist.org, Nate has a master’s degree in non-profit management and come from Seattle looking for an NGO start-up where his background can be parlayed into dramatic social change, and he can cut his teeth in the real world in ways he could not with textbooks. I believe he may be coming to the right place. When I get back he will fly in to New York for us to meet and see if we have the right chemistry to make it happen.

The challenges, upon reflection, are enormous but not insurmountable. The potential is unparalleled. In Indonesia I will need to grasp my day off with my son Matt and revel in my opportunities to connect and build with John and Andrys.

Orphans International by definition is impossible, and as I enter my eleventh year of dreaming and sixth year of doing, I remind myself that we have changed the lives of children on three continents permanently – of course it is hard. Of course it is thankless. Of curse it is lonely. But I am not acting in a vacuum. Close to 40,000 people have read our website, many downloading my book about our first five years. My goal now is to bring home the next five years, with the best staff I can recruit and retain, with a board that remains unchallenged for its commitment to our kids, for our 226 staff and volunteers in eighteen countries around the world. Yes, I am tired, but knowing that our team – international, interracial, interfaith, and most significantly in terms of global administration, Internet-connected – is behind me fills me with hope and energy to continue onward.

I as one man giving all that have can make a difference. I as one man with literally hundred of people of good will and talent and perseverance can change the world. In the words of Margaret mead, indeed, that is the only thing that ever has. Raising Global Citizens is not easy. But I didn’t leave investment banking to look for ease. Writing this entry between naps on this flight has been cathartic. Alternating between Kirin and o-cha (green tea), munching on o-senbe, and reflecting on where we are today, I feel invigorated. I am about to arrive now in Tokyo, then off to Jakarta, knowing that tomorrow our team grows stronger. And the hope for our children and their bright futures grows stronger as a result. If you are not yet a contributor of time, talent, or assets, I implore you to join us. Thanks to you, we are Raising Global Citizens.