Eleventh Meeting of
VINN (Vermont International Nonprofit Network)
Thursday November 18th, 2004
Robert A. Jones 59 House, Rohatyn Center, Middlebury College. 4:00 – 6:00 pm
Animals Asia - Andi Mowrer
ECOLOGIA – Randy Kritkausky, Carolyn Schmidt
Green Across the Pacific – Peter Lynch
Institute for Sustainable Communities – Justin Johnson
Peter Ames Non-Profit Consulting – Peter Ames
Rohatyn Center – Charlotte Tate (host)
Salzburg Seminar – Meg Harris, Scott Atherton
August Burns - Grounds for Health (Burlington)
Ann Jones-Weinstock, Middlebury College
Aaron Murray-Nellis, Good Point Recycling (Middlebury)
Absent with notification
Institute for Sustainable Communities - Barbara Felitti
Population Media Center –Bill Ryerson
Project Harmony – Colleen Thomas
Vermont Teacher Diversity Scholarship Program - Phyl Newbeck
Thank you to Charlotte Tate of Middlebury College's Rohatyn Center for hosting this meeting.
1. Networking / Introductions
Animals Asia – Andi Mowrer, US Director – Andi continues to be active throughout Vermont, explaining Animals Asia’s on-going programs in China, where they are currently rescuing another 90 bears from ‘bear farms’. Another issue concerns Vermont laws on trading in bear parts, which are some of the most lenient in the US. Andi recently presented at Goddard Collage (through the Vermont Campus Compact), has been publicizing Animals Asia at the Williston Welcome Center, and will be at the International Fair at Essex Fairground, December 4 – 6.
ECOLOGIA –Randy Kritkausky, Carolyn Schmidt– ECOLOGIA’s plans for the upcoming year include increased work through the International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility, and an emphasis on involving China and other transition countries in this international consensus negotiating process.
Green Across the Pacific – Peter Lynch, Executive Director –
GATP has been seeking to bring its programs into a residential educational institution, to ensure continuity and long-term impact for its Asian – US exchange programs. Kimball Union Academy in Meridan New Hampshire is planning a model environmental summer program for 7th to 12th graders and educators to develop environmental leadership with an awareness of local, region and international scale in environmental science. GATP can strengthen the international component of this program significantly through GATP’s existing strong ties with schools and scientists in the Guangdong region of southern China and in Vermont.
Institute for Sustainable Communities - Justin Johnson, Communications Manager -
ISC is reorganizing due to cutbacks in US AID funding for their projects in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Demand is rising for ISC’s expertise to be applied closer to home; their New England project is moving along well. Justin is leaving ISC and moving to the job of Publicity Coordinator for Vermont Department of Conservation. Justin will remain a VINN participant, and will continue as Chair of VINN’s Publicity and Outreach Committee
Peter Ames Non-Profit Consulting - Peter Ames - Peter noted that opportunities for international consultants are quite fluid and diverse. He mentioned among others that the United Arab Emirates is planning to bring together all of its museum collections, and a Peace Corps consulting program has been established to provide assistance for non-profits in Eastern Europe.
Rohatyn Center - Charlotte TateThe Rohatyn Center has organized a wide variety of programs this fall, including an address by Philip Zelikow, former executive director of the 9-11 Commission. Charlotte chaired a panel on internationally focused nonprofits at Middlebury College’s annual Student Symposium on Careers in the Common Good in October, and acknowledged the participation of VINN members Project Harmony, Population Media Center, and Institute for Sustainable Communities. She noted that many Middlebury College students continue to seek internship experience with international non-profits.
Salzburg Seminar –Meg Harris, Special Projects Coordinator, and Scott Atherton, International Study Program Administrative Director -
Olin Robison, President of the Salzburg Seminar since 1992 and a familiar voice to many as a commentator on Vermont Public Radio, will be leaving the Seminar at the end of June. The Board is organizing a search for his successor. The office is awaiting more news and preparing for the transition to new leadership. The program schedule for 2005 is finalized.
August Burns, President, Grounds for Health
– Grounds for Health works in Mexico and Central America, providing cervical cancer screening and referrals for women working in the coffee-growing communities of Oaxaca and Vera Cruz. Grounds for Health started as a response to health problems of women workers - the very high rate of cervical cancer deaths - by the Vermont coffee purchasers who trade with the region.
Ann Jones-Weinstock, Middlebury College – Ann’s specialty is fundraising and philanthropy; she believes that many donors are increasingly interested in contributing to international causes and that local institutions should work to be responsive to these interests. The challenge is to identify and create programs and organizations which combine local and international impacts.
Aaron Murray-Nellis, Good Point Recycling – This is a Middlebury-based company which does electronics recycling. They are using their own initiatives to develop environmentally sound practices, and to deal with the problem of ‘dumping’ hazardous parts in countries such as China. Good Point has a program to get used American computer equipment to Third World countries, and is starting a non-profit arm.
II. Discussion Topic: Downsizing and Contracting.
Since many organizations represented at the meeting are coping with reduced funding streams and pressures to downsize, participants decided it would be useful to share ideas and experiences on these issues. Following are summaries of main points made during this discussion:
- Unlike businesses which are run for profit, non-profits can’t as easily lay off workers or close programs in response to temporary economic downturns. Trust and working relationships, which are crucial for international work, take time to build up, and cannot be turned off and then on again without great losses.
- The demand for the services of non-profits doesn’t drop during times of funding shortfalls – indeed, it is likely to increase at the very time that the non-profit providers are themselves strained financially.
- Substituting capable specialized volunteers, who are self-supporting financially, can be one way to compensate for loss of salaried staff.
- NGOs should avoid becoming ‘overhead driven’ – pursuing funding in order to pay expenses – and should concentrate on being ‘mission driven’ and adjusting expenses accordingly.
- Coping strategies include:
- Prevention (diversify funding sources, making clear who in the organization (Board, Executive Director, etc.) is making the strategic decisions;
deciding on what level (program manager, regional managers, Executive Director, etc.) decisions on programs and staffing will be made, and
developing a reserve fund which is up to 1/3 the annual budget);
- Tough Calls (deciding whether to cut by program or by people, how far in advance to announce cuts, centralizing or decentralizing decisions on what and whom to cut, and the amount of transparency);
- Solutions (vote on which functions or programs are most dispensible, avoid blatant opportunism (grasping at straws regardless of their appropriateness to the organization and its mission) but focus on strategic opportunism (locating/ defining and using chances to build on the organization’s strengths)
- Good techniques for dealing with downsizing include:
- Seeking support from staff –consider voluntary pay cuts rather than dropping staff or positions;
- Asking what people would be prepared to give up
- Meeting with each staff member involved in downsizing (those remaining and those leaving) individually first and then as a group.
III. WORKING COMMITTEE on Publicity and Outreach: Report from Justin Johnson, Chair. Members are Randy Kritkausky and Erin Gooch.
At the last VINN meeting (August) we decided to gather information about VINN members’ connections to Vermont as a starting point for developing a series of articles, press releases, etc. to make VINN and its members’ international engagement interesting and relevant to a broader audience. Members received a questionnaire, circulated along with the August meeting minutes, and responded to Justin. Justin compiled the answers.
11/17/04: Summary of the responses received from VINN members to questions from the Outreach Committee.
Question 1: "Why are we here - in Vermont?"
Question 2: "How does being in Vermont inform and sustain our work?"
- Vermont has less congestion;
- the mountains, unique forest and less expensive land than in Massachusetts where we spent our earlier years;
- US based offices are here because appointed president was here and didn’t want to relocate
- Founded by former Vermont Governor, Vermont was the logical place.
Question 3: Is your organization still headed by its original founder?
- Vermont has one of the largest concentrations of non-profit organizations pr capita in the country; the state provides a supportive community for such activities.
- Vermont is known for its strong local communities, with local populations that are deeply involved in local politics and social issues.
Because Vermont is relatively small it is easy to build relationships with people from all across the state.
Vermont has a very positive image internationally, in my view. The natural The beauty of our state fosters peace of mind in our otherwise troubled world.
- Intellectual resources are plentiful here
- there is a strong community spirit as well as a down home Yankee ethic of hard work and self-reliance.
- Relatively easy to access state and federal representatives. Vermont’s congressional delegation is both responsive and has significant seniority and influence on committees in Congress
- Rural landscape and small urban centers attract people interested in quality of life. This tends to draw committed, intelligent people who don’t necessarily want to be a part of the mainstream corporate mode (more adventurous?)
- Vermont offers quality of life but is still within easy traveling distance of major urban centers such as Boston, New York, Montreal, and Washington, D.C.
- Vermont is rich in important thought and idea centers, such as universities.
- Vermont provides reliable communications and information technology.
- Office costs are lower, allows us to keep our indirect rate competitive.
- Vermont communities are small like those in many of the places we work. Being close to our own communities helps us to always look at our work from a ‘community level’ perspective.
4. Other Comments
- VFP: yes. We grew out of the "nuclear freeze" movement of the early 80's. Our original goals were to maximize the exchange of students across the "iron curtain". We were quite successful with that despite many obstacles. Sen. Jeffords was instrumental in helping us to secure a US government grant during the Reagan years. A small state provides easier access to our elected representatives.
- Salzburg Seminar: no, founded by two Harvard students and young faculty, original US base was Cambridge, MA.
- ISC: Yes, President has remained the same and founder is currently Board Chair, but has not been on the board for all of ISC’s history. Madeleine Kunin left, and then came back.
- ECOLOGIA: Yes. When Founder decided to move to Vermont, the organization moved its US headquarters also.
ACTION NEEDED:If your organization is not represented here, send your comments to Justin Johnson, email@example.com to be included in the updated version. Members at this meeting requested that Justin indicate which answers had been given by more than one organization. Justin will update and information before the January meeting.
Charlotte Tate will get comments from Carol Casey (Vermont Council on World Affairs) and quotations/ feedback from international visitors whom Carol has hosted. She will e-mail this to Justin.
- There are actually two "lenses" for viewing Vermont. One lens is the perspective of the VINN members. The other lens is the perspective of foreign visitors or colleagues. VINN members should strive for quotations and documentation to show how their foreign colleagues respond to Vermont as a unique part of the United States.
- Much of VINN members’ work shows that the grassroots works, identifies local impacts of international activities, and can fill a need for good news and a sense of hope about global issues. The coming year should be a time that we focus, explain and publicize our work.
IV. Report from The WORKING COMMITTEE on Event Planning – Meg Harris, Chair.
A) Meg reported that she arranged for VINN to be an in kind sponsor of the Global Symposium organized by Vermont Council on World Affairs. This year’s event featured Robert Reich speaking on “The World Economy and Vermont”, at St. Michael’s College.
B) We continue to plan to hold an event to focus Vermonters’ attention on international issues and the role of VINN. Already agreed upon are the following:
C) Peter Ames volunteered to join Peter Lynch, Andi Mowrer, and Carolyn Schmidt as members of this committee.
- Aim for an audience of 200, including people who are not currently active or interested in international issues.
- A Sunday in February or March , 4 - 6 pm, is a good time slot.
- The Event would involve a panel discussion (no-cost or low-cost to encourage attendance), followed by dinner.
- The dinner would enable the most interested audience participants to talk with the speakers in an informal setting.
- Once speakers, date and location have been chosen, we will divide up responsibility among VINN members to publicize the event locally, and invite their friends and neighbors.
- Comment: We should be sure to invite Vermont legislators to this event.
D) ACTION REQUEST: Meg requests that a representative of each VINN member organization send her a list of 3 suggested topics, 3 suggested speakers and 3 suggested locations. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 15. This committee will meet to discuss replies, before the January VINN meeting.
V. Next VINN Meeting: Wednesday January 5th, 2005, 4:00 – 6:00 pm.
Institute for Sustainable Communities – Barbara Felitti, host.
535 Stone Cutters Way, Montpelier VT 05602
AGENDA for January 05 Meeting
- Networking /Introductions
- Report from the Publicity and Outreach Committee - Justin Johnson, Chair
- Report from the Event Planning Committee – Meg Harris, Chair
- Suggested Discussion topics: downsizing/contracting; promoting international concerns; diversifying funding bases; what Americans can learn from contacts with people of other nationalities (“reverse exchange” idea)
- Other issues, on request and as time permits
- Schedule next meeting time/place