Archive for December, 2008

What leadership crisis?


Working Across Generations by Kunreuther, Kim, and Rodriguez

I recently finished reading Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership for our January Page to Practice™, and one of the points in the book has stuck with me: The leadership “crisis” that the sector has been anticipating since CompassPoint’s Daring to Lead study came out in 2001 hasn’t really occurred. Instead, Daring to Lead 2006 reiterated the same daunting statistic: 75 percent of executive directors planned to leave their jobs within the next five years. But five years had elapsed between the two reports, and the much-anticipated turnover still hasn’t happened! (Like many others, I wrote about how nonprofits can prepare for the coming leadership transition back in 2007.)

So, what did happen? It appears that a closer look at the findings reveal that, while 75 percent of EDs planned to leave their jobs within the next five years, only 17 percent said they were planning to retire. Instead, the vast majority said they wanted to keep working in nonprofits. Turns out the real issue is not that EDs want to retire or leave the sector; they just want to leave their jobs because they are so stressful.

That’s a scary thought, especially considering that, eventually, Boomers will have to leave their positions—and what message does this unhappiness in their current positions send to the younger generations who will replace them? More and more I read about younger generations who really want to make a difference in the world (just look at the participation of young people in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign), but many of them, I’m sure, see this malaise among their older colleagues as discouraging—and not very appealing, to say the least. Who would want to take on a job that is so stressful that over half of those who hold it want to leave?

I’m wondering what leaders who are getting ready to depart have to say about their work, their jobs, their frustrations, joys, etc.? What words of wisdom do they have for the younger generations who are waiting to fill their shoes? And what about the Gen Xers and Millenials—how do they feel about taking on this immense responsibility of leading our social change organizations into the future? It would be interesting to hear from both sides.

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How Ken Burnett helped me remember not-so-good times in Nepal


Nanda talking at a public meeting in her village in Jamunia, Nepal.

Reading Ken Burnett’s article, “How Nanda found her voice in Nepal,” brought to mind so many thoughts and feelings about the time I spent in Katmandu 10 years ago. I had the pleasure of teaching at an extension campus of the University of Colorado at Denver in Katmandu during the winter and spring of 1998. I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about some aspect of my brief four months there. The smell of burning leaves has the power to put me right back on a Katmandu street, passing a weathered-looking Nepali man tending a small fire on the side of the road, probably making himself or his friends some chai tea.

When people ask me what I liked best about Nepal, I immediately respond “the people.” The Nepalis I encountered on a day-to-day basis were kind and warm, and would go out of their way to help you, especially in the small villages. One time I was hiking (or “trekking,” as they call it in Nepal) between two small villages. It was getting dark, and we were walking downhill. My group was way ahead of me and the two other young American women who were with me, because we were having a hard time walking downhill on snow and ice. As we slowly made our way down the trail, slipping and sliding all the way, having a hard time finding our footing, a Nepali man came scurrying down the trail behind us, in flip-flops! He was obviously in a hurry, but smiled and nodded as he flew past us. But when he got farther down the trail, he looked up and saw how much trouble we were having. He retraced his steps, then helped each of us down individually, before going back up to help the next woman. It’s small instances like this that I think about when I think of the Nepali people.

So, it was with great sadness that I read about Ken’s time in Jamunia, a small village in southern Nepal, and the physical and sexual abuse that the women there endure. Although I was always treated with kindness wherever I went, the subservience of women was something I saw everyday, even in the home where I lived. I lived with a well-to-do Nepali family, which consisted of the father, mother, their college-aged son, their high-school-aged son, their daughter-in-law, Bina, and her three-year-old son. Bina’s husband was living in Denver at the time, working and sending money home.

It was clear from the first day of my visit that Baba, the mother, and Bina were second-class citizens in their own home. For starters, when Bina and her husband got married, they moved in with her husband’s family, which is the tradition in Nepal. But then her husband left her to move to the United States. Bina was, in effect, a servant in her in-laws’ home. She cleaned and helped cook, even though the family had a hired cook, who also cleaned. She had no friends, no social life to speak of. She took care of her son and her in-laws’ home. Although Baba ate dinner with us every night, Bina ate earlier with her son in the kitchen. We never saw her in the evening. When we had visitors, both Baba and Bina ate in the kitchen, sitting on small stools with plates on their laps. I was allowed to eat with the rest of the family, however, because I was American. I do remember, though, being passed over for seconds when meat was served at dinner, although all the men/boys at the table were offered meat once, then twice. It was a rude awakening to how women in Nepal are treated as “less than.”

So, it was heartening to read about ActionAid and the work they are doing in Nepal and elsewhere to empower women and other disenfranchised people. There are so many nonprofits doing such great, humanitarian work out there that I am always grateful when a new organization is called to my attention—especially one that works with people who are dear to my heart.

See also:

Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising

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