Lofa Federation Urged to renew Focus


The Federation of Lofa Associations in the Americas
25th National Convention held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Theme: Facing the Future Together; Integrating our Strengths
Through Participation and Collaboration
Keynote Address Presented by
Tamba D. Aghailas

Delivered on May 23, 2015

 

Mr. Chairman of the Board of Directors;  Mr. National President of the Federation of Lofa Associations in the Americas; Mr. Chairman of the National Convention Organizing Committee; Distinguished Chapter Officials here present; Honorable Ambassador and other Representatives of the Government of Liberia; Members of Other Diaspora Organizations here represented, Traditional Elders; Fellow Lofa Citizens, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:   

 

I would first of all like to thank the Almighty God for his Blessings and Mercy, which has allowed us to gather here today at the summit of the 25th National Convention of the Federation of Lofa Associations in the Americas.   


Let me also seize this opportunity to pay tribute to all humanitarian frontline workers of Liberia, including medical doctors and nurses, who stood together, united in our resolve to defeat the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, which has ravaged the West African sub-region over the last one year. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC Ebola Stats), the epidemic has claimed the lives of more than 4,800 of our fellow Liberian citizens.  Let us take a moment of silence to pay our respects to those who have died as a result of this deadly disease, most especially the medical professionals who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.


Please stand up (for moment of silence) …. I thank you all, please be seated.
On April 28th of this year, after having been approached by the National President several weeks earlier, I received a formal correspondence through the Secretary General of FLAA, Mr. Chris F. Konneh, Sr. informing me that the Federation of Lofa Associations, through and by its Board of Directors and Executive Leadership have selected me to serve as a Guest Speaker at this year’s National Convention. I was moved and excited to have been conferred such an honor by one of the Diaspora’s Venerable Organizations to speak at its National Convention and to bring you a "message of inspiration and motivation.”  I hope that my own personal story which I have shared with you (see bio) will serve as an inspiration to you all.


I extend my deepest thanks and appreciation to the Leadership of FLAA for the honor and confidence repose in me.


I have come not to compete with the many eloquent speakers who have preceded me during this convention, but to share with you my humble thoughts and experience on some of the challenges facing grassroots nonprofit organizations, like FLAA and to make a few recommendations on the way forward in our collective efforts and desire to make FLAA a viable Diaspora organization.


Today, I would like to speak on the convention theme, “FACING THE FUTURE TOGETHER - INTEGRATING OUR STRNGTHS” through participation and collaboration.

 

As it is customary, every year members of the Federation gather in a designated location under the canopy of the “Annual National Convention” to review the organization’s activities, progress and challenges it has faced over the last year. It is also an opportunity for the leadership team, with the participation of its members, to set new objectives and goals, in an effort to chart a new course of future progress. 


As per its founding charter, “The Federation of Lofa Associations was established in 1991 in the United States to forge and foster a sense of community among its members and to contribute to the socio-economic development of Lofa County.” For the last twenty-five years, the Federation’s mission achievement has been met with mixed results, despite a gradual growth over the years that has resulted in the formation of some new chapters.
However noble such an endeavor, ladies and gentlemen, without the active participation and collaboration of members, the Federation shall continue to be challenged both in terms of human resources and financial resources, which are the two key ingredients needed for the success of any organization.


In order to seize on the theme of this year’s convention – Facing the Future Together; Integrating our Strengths; honorable colleagues and participants, allow me to delve a little bit deeper into what I have learned to be some of the challenges facing the Federation and also to make some recommendations that are both strategic and operational. Key points of my speech will focus on Leadership, the importance of strategy planning in organizations, the role of the Board, participation of members, and bringing young people on-board into the Federation. I will also briefly touch on the need for Advocacy in our collective desire to see the Federation succeed, both in the short-term and long-term:

 

Leadership and Vision: The good old book teaches us in Proverb 29:18, that “where there is no vision, the people shall perish.” A vision is a picture of the future or an aspiration for a cause and Leadership is usually a calling from a Higher Source to be a change maker and to positively impact the lives of others. Leadership, most especially in the nonprofit setting is about passion and cause; it is not about riches or titles.

 

Good leaders take responsibility for their action and strive to give credit where credit is due. They are not afraid to admit their mistakes; but also they are not timid in heaping praise on others for their good deeds.   


The great statesman, Nelson Mandela said that “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the frontline when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” So I would like to admonish our leaders to not be afraid; to make bold strides in your efforts in building an organization that meets the needs of its beneficiaries, as envisioned in the organization’s founding principles.

 

Strategy Planning Leads to SMART Goals Setting: One of my mentors and professor once told me that when you have a vision or an idea to do something, you must write it in black and white.  That way, you can always go back to make changes as the idea evolves.  For organizations, this is called a Strategy Planning process: Organizations are created for a purpose: - in the private sector a corporation is formed with the purpose of making profits for its shareholders. In the nonprofits sector, the end result is to accomplish a charitable service that alleviates human suffering and relieves government of some of its burden, because as we all know, Government cannot be the solution to all of our problems. There is where originations like FLAA are most needed to fill the gap in our various communities.

 

This organization has been created for and by the citizens of Lofa County in the Diaspora.  The Federation Founding Preamble reads as follows:


We, the citizens and descendants of Lofa County, Republic of Liberia residing in the Americas, recognizing the need to form ourselves into a legal entity to pursue development goals and objectives for the economic, political and social advancement of our common patrimony, Liberia, in general and Lofa County in particular; as well as to foster closer relations amongst ourselves and concerns for the well-being and happiness of one another in the Americas, sitting in National Convention, do hereby establish this constitution.”

 

The preamble is the mission statement of the Federation. Can we then say that we are close to accomplishing the goals set forth by the Federation?  We must be reminded that many organizations falter along the way in the pursuit of their goals due to poor planning and leadership failure. The leadership in public organizations, including nonprofits has changed over the years and the traditional "top-down" approach of leadership is outdated.  In the book, “Leadership in Public Organizations,” the authors cautioned leaders about understanding our modern society and what is required to succeed. "Today's society has been described as (a) highly turbulent, subject to sudden and dramatic shifts; (b) highly interdependent, requiring cooperation across many sectors; and (c) greatly in need of creative and imaginative solutions to the problems facing us" (Denhardt,  Denhardt, & Aristigueta, 2009, p. 167). This is why the need for strategy planning is critical for organizational success.  The process would enable FLAA to formally take stock of the organization's current state, the challenges faced in today’s fast-paced multi-cultural environment and to craft a future course (for programs, activities, funding considerations, staffing needs, location, stakeholder issues, etc). A strategic plan is a blueprint that sets the mission of the organization and how it can be achieved with short-term objectives and goals.

 

However, the process in itself is more important than a well-written document.
During the strategy planning process, the Executive Leadership must share relevant information with the Board and other stakeholders, which, according to Axelrod on “Board Leadership and Development” (Herman, R. 2005, p. 143), "will do more to affect the quality of management than any ironclad agreement on proper boundaries." When undertaking a strategy planning process, the Federation should address governance and compliance issues as well as its advocacy role. The use of an outside consultant/volunteer would dilute mistrust among internal stakeholders. If FLAA is to become a twenty-first century organization that understands how to meet the needs of its constituencies, it must undertake a strategy planning process that will invigorate a new set of principles and culture.  And this must be done with the full commitment of the Board and Executive Leadership.


The strategy planning process in itself should not become a one-time offshoot event, but rather a continuous process taking place within the organization. The process must take into consideration the mission and vision of the Federation in order to better frame strategies that will help move the organization in the right direction, while ensuring that all stakeholders (members, board members, etc.) are an integral part of the process.


The strategy planning process will result in what we termed in management as SMART Goals:–

  • Specific (i.e. what programs/projects do we intend to undertake?)
  • Measurable (program objectives must be quantifiable. For example, if we’re providing scholarships; how many in a year and who will benefit?)
  • Attainable (the goals must be reasonable  and manageable to accomplish)
  • Realistic (don’t set goals that cannot be done; ask: is it realistic?)
  • Time-bound (what is our project cycle? Is it 6 months or 12 months or two years?).


The role of the Board and its relationship with the Executive

A Board of Directors (BOD/boards/directors) of a nonprofit has several important responsibilities, but mainly the duty of care and loyalty. In the wake of scandals both in the private and public sectors, and the collapse of many prominent institutions, government has pushed for a whole new set of management controls and check-and-balances of Executive Management and Board of Directors.


Nonprofits like FLAA and their Boards are under much increasing scrutiny to ensure ethical integrity in their dealings. When donors suspect a lack of transparency and accountability, they can punish an organization in several ways: by openly expressing their frustrations; lodging complaints with the Charity Bureau; by withholding their donations; and some may even sever their relationship with the association. When an organization is faced with any of these realities, Government Agencies can also intervene to protect the public’s interest, either by revoking an organization's tax exempt status or placing it under the guardianship of a court-appointed manager.


The primary role of a Board of Directors of nonprofits is to make sure that the organization lives up to its mission. Boards are charged with oversight responsibilities, including accountability, transparency and organizational governance. In “The Board Book, An Insider’s Guide for Directors and Trustees,” which I highly recommend for FLAA Board and Executive, William Bowen writes that "a properly functioning Board provides checks and balances by adding layers of judgment and protections against abuse of power, self-dealing, favoritism, and just plain foolishness," (Coffee, J. 2006, p. 20).  This is a part of its duty of care.

 

The Board is a partner to the Executive Leadership. The BOARD should also seek information from management about the running of the organization, including, action plans, budgets, financial statements, and audit reports, to allow it to make effective contribution to the organization’s strategic plan and oversight. The body must ensure that the organization is in compliance with government regulations, including the IRS (Internal Revenue Service), the Attorney General's office, the Charity Bureau, and/or any other licensing and regulatory agencies with oversight responsibilities. In doing this, the Board is making sure that nothing falls through the cracks as it exercises its duty of care. To ensure that FLAA's Board of Directors fully understands this responsibility, the association must draft clear management policies for the Executive Leadership and for the Board: election process, functions, committees, and undertake a board education campaign to better prepare both current and new Board members. FLAA should also consider redefining the selection criteria of its Board of Directors: internal members and independent (outsiders) may be a good mix to ensure diversity and independence of the Board.


In order for a board to perform exceptionally, members must first understand that their work, as Professor Peter Dobkin Hall explains, is both "a form of spiritual discipline and a source of spiritual growth." FLAA's Board of Directors must understand their roles, their responsibilities to the organization and to one another, and the interdependent relationship with Executive Management. Moreover, when Executive Management recognizes "their leadership as Board-centered," as Herman and Heimovic argue (2005, p. 157), facilitating board interactions, showing respect toward members, bringing innovation and change to the board, providing the Board with useful information, and promoting Board productivity and its success, then organizations are able to evaluate the performance of its stakeholders.

 

Managing Boards performance may not be a simple task, however, some key recommendations may prove helpful in this endeavor:-

  • The Board must meet regularly in executive sessions without any management presence to discuss pending issues and to review organizational goals. This will allow the Board to make independent assessment and recommendations to Executive Leadership.
  • The Board has responsibility for hiring executives (or in the case FLAA approving appointments made by the President and his Team). They have a mandate to periodically evaluate the organization’s Executive Director (or President) and other top executives based on agreed-upon objectives.
  • In preparing the meeting agendas, Board members should be consulted for their input, to avoid any surprises and dissention at general meetings.
  • The Board should require an annual self-evaluation process of its members based on pre-established criteria and benchmarks. This way, it does not lose sight of its own performance goals.
  • Committee members should be briefed by executives of the organization prior to committees and Board meetings. This will encourage information sharing and empower Board members in their decision-making responsibilities.
  • Board members who do not meet Board requirements at the conclusion of yearly self-evaluation should be given a one year grace period to meet these requirements for Board membership.
  • And last, but not the least, Boards Directors are a source of fundraising and financial support to nonprofits. A Board must play a central role, working along with the Executive Team to raise monies for programs.
  • Board members should continuously "sharpen the saw" through seminars, research, sharing best practices, and through networking.

Participation and Collaboration: as members and friends of the Federation of Lofa Associations in the Americas, we must all make a commitment to actively engage with the Leadership as it seek volunteers and members who can help in the collective mission of the organization.  We must graduate from the mentality that holds us hostage in that when we elect people to positions of leadership, we then take a step back and watch from a distance as they struggle to deliver on their campaign promises. President Obama said that “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”  

 

So each of us present here today must challenge ourselves – to make a personal commitment to increase our level of participation and collaboration in FLAA if we want to see the change that we desire.


The Federation must also extend its collaboration beyond the current structure and membership. Taking an inspiration from its name “The Federation of Lofa Associations in the Americas,” FLAA must reach out to other smaller ethnic and/or tribal diaspora organizations representing various districts of Lofa County. This would enhance the “Federation” membership and its standing as an umbrella organization, giving it greater access to Lofans in the Diaspora.  

 

Getting the next Generation Involved and Engaged should be more about action than talk.  It is good to have these ideals on paper, but without any concrete action; the idea will never see the light of day. However, by my invitation here today, you have taken a giant step in that direction. I must also remind you that the youths are a source of Human Resource Talent Pipeline; a key demographic that will ensure that your legacy lives on years after you would have exited life’s stage. If there is a constant struggle to bring new leaders on-board, especially the young people, then we shall continue to struggle in achieving the goals and mission of the Federation due to the lack of skilled human resources to ensue continuity.

 

The Federation’s future depends on its ability to get young people involved and engaged in its activities and programs. This would allow opportunities for learning, coaching and mentoring by elders and former officials, where each person can contribute his/her strengths to help groom the next corps of leaders, ready to step up to the challenge and to inherit the leadership mantle when needed.

 

Advocacy: FLAA must embrace its role as an ADVOCATE for those less fortunate in Liberia and outside of Liberia, who continue to linger below the poverty ladder. The Federation must speak against injustice in our society.  Albert Einstein once said that "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." Would you rather be a bystander watching on the sidelines, while your people are subjected to all forms of human suffering; or would you rather take a stand?

 

If you choose to be the latter, then you must make concerted effort to take a stand regarding the Wologisi Mountain and present a clear position on this national treasure of ours; to voice your concerns regarding the issue of “Jungle Justice” that have plagued our nation in general and Lofa County in particular; and to speak up against the many ills of corruption and impunity; ills that continue to hamper the development agenda of Liberia. You must constructively engaged our Government counterparts, without antagonizing to be a “voice for the voiceless” and a help to those in need.


In conclusion, I must concede that the suggestions I have so far emphasized are not an exhaustive list of efforts that must be exerted in dealing with the challenges that FLAA is faced with since its founding. Leadership must continue to play a central role in uniting and fostering an atmosphere of collaboration that engenders inclusion of all. Participation by members of the Federation must NOT be limited to due payments or to attending a National Convention every now and then. Officers, Board Members and ordinary members must engage the Federation and its Leadership at all times – through volunteering to serve on committees, to lead project initiatives, and regular financial support. The Board must understand its role and use it to foster collaboration and partnership with the Executive Leadership in driving the organization’s mission and fundraising efforts. The Board is a partner to the Executive; not an adversary.


The Executive Leadership Team must set a clear direction for the Federation through a strategy planning process that culminates into SMART goals and objectives.
Finally, I would like to once again congratulate the Leadership of the Federation for organizing a successful National Convention. I salute you, Mr. Richard B. Zayzay, National President and your entire leadership for a job well done and I wish you all God’s abundant blessings as you embark on a new path of renewed hope in making FLAA a viable Diaspora organization that strives for the wellbeing of its citizens, both in the Diaspora and at home in Liberia.


God bless you all and God bless the Republic of Liberia!

 

I thank you!

 

****************************************************************

Works Cited
Robert D. Herman & Associates, 2nd Ed.(2005). "The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership & Management," Chapter 6: Axelrod - Axelrod, Board Leadership and Development and Chapt. 7: Robert D. Herman &  Heimovics, Executive Leadership; John Wiley       & Sons.
John C. Coffee, Jr. (2006).  "Gatekeepers, The Profession and Corporate Governance," Oxford University Press.
William G. Bowen (2008). "The Board Book, An Insider's Guide for Directors and Trustees,"
W.W. Norton & Co.
ABA Coordinating Committee on Nonprofit Governance (2005). "Guide to Nonprofit Corporate   Governance in the Wake of Sarbanes-Oxley, American Bar Association."
Paul B. Firstenberg, August 16, 2007. "How to Prepare Your Board for the Coming Reforms," OnPhilanthrophy, http://www.onphilanthropy.com.

Denhardt, R., Denhardt, J., & and Aristigueta, M. (2009). Leadership in Public Organizations (ch. 7). In R. Denhardt, J. Denhardt, & M. Aristigueta, Managing Human Behavior in Public and    Nonprofit Organizations, 2nd ed. (p. 167-169). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.
 

…..xx……
*************************************************************************
To contribute, please contact thevoiceofliberia@gmail.com