November 2010 Archives

Portable Document Format.

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I think CISV should make it a policy that the only file format we use internally is the PDF format. Adobe Reader is available for free and there are a ton of free "print-as-pdf" plugins available as well. So, to make life easier for everybody, everytime you attach a file to an e-mail, every document uploaded to the resources website should be a .pdf document. This should apply to documents (Word), tables (Excel) as well as in most cases presentations (PowerPoint).

Unless, of course, you are still in the process of collective editing or creating of a new document, then I guess PDF won't do the trick.

(The other day, I went through the trouble of trying to print a .docx file - only old MS Office versions around here - and only  Google Docs saved my day: If you "save a copy" first it let's you download the same file as .doc or even, you guessed it, .pdf.)

Instant creativity.

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On olive seeds, lame shows and bread bets during AIM.

If AIMs were purely a business meeting full of work, meetings, voting and elections and took place in the same country, maybe even in the same hotel every year, hardly anybody could be convinced to take part more than once or twice. Luckily we have a rotation scheme (criticized by some people) that brings us to different places around the world, so there are people that have taken part in AIMs 10 times or more, like myself. What also makes AIMs special, is some sort of entertainment that happens without much planning and is the result of common creativity. Here are my favourite ones:

- In Brazil 1999 two committee chairs collected money from everybody, bought liquors and hosted what was probably one of the best inofficial room parties ever held at an AIM. Some people tried to make it a tradition and coined it the "End of the World Party", but as it goes with many things, as soon as it becomes commonplace, it loses its appeal. When talking about room parties at least it should be mentioned that in the USA 2001 one particular room was visited almost every night by many many people  to enjoy a nice cup of Caipirinha. The IJBC staff brought AIM's party culture to another level, by hosting an exquisitely curated Party called "greyscale" with pixel art on the walls and super-mario movies running next to the DJ.

- During the AIM in Israel 2004 there was an abundance of Olives, and for whatever reason an olive-seed spitting contest evolved. It all developed into an organized competition including referees who measures the distances and a website that tracked results. Besides long-distance spitting there was also a height and an artistic discipline.

- In Thailand 2005 people suddenly started betting on different things during the day. People had to guess, for example, where the bread basket would be placed during the dinner buffet or how many things Jiro/THA the AIM co-ordinator was going to announce during his daily speeches. If the winner of the bet wasn't obvious, Ryan/CAN who had already starred as a referee for the olive spitting contest set up silly instant competitions (organized in semi-finals and finals) that took place on the terrace by the river. Whoever lost the bet had to make sure some kind of weird word had to be mentioned in the plenary, which ended up in Tita/Brazil (trustee) asking the Seminar Camp chair whether "Robin Hood" could ever become a staff (Answer: "yes, with some training"), and Omar/EGY publicly referring to a conversation on "Pakistan" during the budget discussion.

- One evening during AIM in Sweden 2006 Bebe/SWE was wondering whether there could be any worse Superpower than turning yourself into plancton (irreversibly). We had great laughs and sooner or later almost every AIM participant came up with his or her own useless superpower (noted on the nametag together with a funny logo). It even turned into a game, where people swapped their superpowers (using "Swapoman"'s power) but had to avoid becoming the obviously undesirable Captain Plancton. It all ended with a public swap in the plenary during the last day, when one of our executive trustees ended up being the superhero who could turn himself into a single-cell organism.


- Finally in 2010, we had the L'AIM NIGHT SHOW, which was a little more planned, because Karo and I had the idea before the AIM started, but the result was still once again the product of spontaneous, synergiistic creativity at its best. Every night at different venues we ran a mix of different games stolen from public TV shows and invited prominent CISVers as candidates who had to compete in things such as peanut eating or a daily dancing contest between IEC candidates.

Even if all these events were mostly about having fun and nothing really about education in the ASK sense whatsoever, it exemplifies the instantaneous creativity and willingness to make something happen (and not just talk about it) that's exceptional. Similar things happen at camps in various ways, and it may be part of the CISV culture to open up spaces to do things outside the norm that no other place in life (work, school, family) has room for. It's also typical CISVish that such things are acknowledged and very much appreciated. If we manage to continue to make use of this unique talent of many of our members and also channel this power into real and meaningful stuff, I'm sure a great future for CISV lies ahead..

McKinsey may not do the trick.

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CISV structures won't easily be analyzed by consultant magic.

During AIM 2010 Laura/GBR gave a fantastic presentation on the AIM structure. A topic, I personally had worked on 4 years earlier, but in fact failed to take it all apart the way Laura finally did: Like a surgeon she and her team including the fabulous Thiago/BRA (who apparently does this stuff professionally)  analyzed all the elements of the meeting and brought up different suggestions on how to restructure AIMs into a more efficient meeting.

In the course of the AIM the board also approved a gigantic budget for an "organizational study" that will among other things, integrate this AIM-study. The basic idea is, to hire an experienced consultancy to look into our structures and procedures, and see if we can achieve more efficiency by doing things better differently. 

As much as I was impressed by the presentation and the thorough AIM analysis, the more I think about it, the more I'm worried that this methodology won't work for CISV: In a for-profit organisation, saving money automatically translates into higher proifts. A non-profit organisation it's more complicated: It's easy to use analytical tools to decipher cost for a meeting like AIMs - but how to you measure the outcome, which is much more than money. How do you measure innovation? How do you count motivation? How do you calculate for communication - all three elements are a key to an AIM's success. 

I guess the organizational study will not only look at AIM, but also at IO, committees, NA-structures, etc. But here the problem will remain the same: CISVs core output is education and personal development. The goal of the study will have to be to maximize educational output for the least amount of money. The basic formula will have to be: To send the biggest amount of individuals to the highest quality of programmes for as little cost as possible. Once again, the cost part is easy, but what about the rest?

Furthermore, we haven't even looked at the volunteers yet. Volunteers don't even cost much money, except for travel and sometimes accommodation. They're output is highly dependent on motivation and inspiration.

I once suggested a professional analysis of our structure on CISV Devils (with a slightly different tweak) and I still very much welcome an outside view - but I'm a little pessimistic on the outcomes. Not only I'm afraid that the suggestions won't be any good - even if they are, can we convince our members, who often are quite reluctant to change? Especially since a usual recommendation is to focus on core competence. Imagine if the report would suggest to get rid of Mosaic, IPP, Interchange since what we're best at is kids, camps and international? (Maybe a bit far-fetched, I agree, but do think about it!)

CISV is a terribly complicated beast - good luck to whoever ging to have a run on it!

18 months ILTC chair.

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An outgoing interview with Moni/CRC, former chair of ILTC.

Several chairs of the the so-called "service-" or "development-committees" stepped back from their positions in the last 2 years, mostly the official explanation was "personal reasons". One of them, is Moni/CRC, who chaired the now extinct ILTC (international leadership training committee) for more or less one and a half years. I was more curious about her experiences with the position so I was happy that she agreed to answer a few questions in the second edition of FTB's outgoing interview series.


Not everybody may be familiar with your professional background and "CISV career" before you became the chair of international leadership training last year. Can you fill us in?

Moni: I became acting chair of ILTC in January 2009, during IEC MWM, right after Mark Flores and Jane Van Fleet resigned as leaders of the team. They put my name forward as their suggestion for acting chair. My original commitment was until AIM 2009. Prior to that, I worked in ILTC as TTT Coordinator, overseeing applications, enrollment and overall coordination of the 7 TTTs in 2008-2009. I had also participated in the TTT in Brazil and AIM in Italy, both in 2008. At a national level, I have been a leader for Village and for Interchange, I did a lot of leadership training in my NA as part of the National Leadership Training Committee and participated in a big project with Colombian refugees which was one of my favorite CISV experiences ever. I studied psychology at the Universidad de Costa Rica and I worked in clinical research until July 2009, prior to AIM, since late August I left for my graduate degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Professionally is where I've done most training. Teacher professional development, conflict management for imprisoned women, community level training for senior leaders, youth training to avoid childhood labor and prostitution... I used to love that a lot.

FTB: When you started as the ILTC chair, did you have specific goals that you wanted to reach during your term in mind?

Moni: Yes. Aside from the shared goal of building a strong Education Department, I wanted to: 1) Become a useful resource of trainers throughout every level of CISV. The committee should offer resources that allow people to create and deliver stronger trainings, to innovate, be creative and more effective. All this ensuring consistency and quality throughout training in the organization. I did not want to be a committee that would add more work and forms to fill to every trainer, but rather encourage and empower trainers by offering good, high-quality support. 2) Create a communication strategy that would not only link the international level (committee) to the national level but also between trainers themselves. The committee should make sure that there is a community of trainers throughout the organization. Ex-trainers can serve as mentors through a mentorship program, new media can serve to create distance training and exchanges of ideas and information amongst chapters, and the Department should have a network to successfully have two-way communication with the grassroots level. ILTC should focus on learning from the grassroots level, where the "best stuff", I believe, actually happens. Some NAs and Chapters have developed impressive strategies and material that have only stayed within them. Why not learn from them and allow the ideas to spread? The "policy" at the international level should be informed by the practice at the ground level, and not the other way around. This is the only way that the committee will create useful resources and establish an exchange of best practices and ideas amongst all trainers.

FTB: ...and what were you able to achieve during those 18 months in office?

Moni: The first 6 months in office, where I was acting chair, my energy was focused on completing Mark and Jane's (previous Chair and Alternate Chair) plans for the year. We accomplished the successful completion of the second round of TTTs, including TTTs in Canada, Sweden, Colombia, Thailand, Germany and France. 130+ people were trained. We also completed the application process to be a member of the IPT Jane and Mark had started. Two candidates were selected to join the team. While Chair, the biggest accomplishment, which was a major collaborative effort with excellent volunteers from other committees and the IO, was the Writeshop held in January. During this event, we developed four training goals for every level of the organization with general indicators. These are now used as guides for committee-specific training goals and indicators, a major breakthrough for the entire organization. By having strong overarching goals and indicators across all programs, you ensure consistency and quality across training in CISV, as well as offer a good guiding framework for trainers in the design phrase of their trainings. Some other projects were developed during the Writeshop and the months after it, considering that we had limited time and a lot was spent on agreeing on future plans. These included an Activity Template and a Training Template, an Education Terms Glossary and group and individual training evaluation forms. I leave bitter not to have been able to do more, but I trust Cathy Knoop, the new Chair, will be able to continue with the Writeshop productions and spreading the work to every level of the organization.

FTB: Now we have to get to the more delicate issues: ILTC and EDR were the first committees fused into the new "department" structure. How did that work out for you?

This was a very big change, since: 1) ILTC and EDR not only fused together but actually split into four (LTC, IPT, EDC, EVR) 2) a Department was created, implying that these committees would be interconnected and would intrinsically work together 3) an IO staff member, the Education and Training Officer, became an integral part of the committee The intentions behind this were quite good, and this structure, in my opinion, can have a lot of potential, but it needs improvement. The things that worked well for me were: - The increased communication between committees (before, ILTC and EDR did not really relate to each other) - The increased collaboration for joint projects, such as the Writeshop, in which the other committees played an important role - The involvement of an education and training expert in the work of the committee The things that needed improvement, in my opinion, were: - The definition of roles (the role of the typical CISV volunteer changes once there is IO involvement in the daily details of committee work) - The definition of responsibilities (committee responsibilities and IO staff responsibilities were still unclear, such as who would do administrative and operational tasks, who would do strategic planning, who would do technical work, etc.) In general, the biggest challenge was the fact that committee work as we know it would be redefined, with the involvement of IO staff as a key part of the Department. At the same time, this could also be the biggest opportunity since a technical expert has a lot to offer to committees made up of passionate volunteers, many times experts in the inner workings of CISV at every level, but with few or no professional experience as an educator or trainer.

FTB: Thank you for your time! 

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