AFSC Restructure Update: Hurry Up — And Wait

AFSC & Restructuring, Cont.:

A quick recap: In early January 2022, we posted a report on an attempted uprising at AFSC, led by former staffer Lucy Duncan, intended to torpedo a proposed 2021 restructuring. The restructure  was meant to carry out a strategic plan adopted in October 2020, and a draft had been debated and stalled for over a year. We were told the restructure was set to be presented for final approval to the national AFSC Board in April 2022.

There was much apocalyptic talk about the restructuring scheme as portending widespread layoffs, the imposition of an iron fist top-down corporate style of governance, etc. The wringing of hands produced some long Zoom calls, and Duncan was fired.

As a delaying tactic, though, the kerfuffle succeeded: April passed with no action by the Board.  We reported then that the updated target for Board consideration was its meeting scheduled for June 10-12 2022.

Late in June,  AFSC senior staffer Hector Cortez advised us that the June Board meeting did happen on schedule, and the Board did approve an initial piece of the latest revised Restructure plan.

But the Board action was a rather small bite out of a big restructuring apple. It approved creation of a single, grandiloquently titled new executive post, that of an Associate General Secretary to head a new Division for Global Cohesion. Here’s the official ask:

A proposal for the creation of a new Global Cohesion Division [revolving around several specialized “hubs,” was to be presented] to the Board of Directors in June, as well as the framework for its leadership. We are proposing the creation of an Associate General Secretary role to head the Division for Global Cohesion. This will be the only item requiring Board approval. This proposal was developed by the Working Group on Global Collaboration – a diverse group of twenty-one staff from across the organization who have met weekly since November 2021.

The new executive will deal with the international work. The rest of the restructuring plan — involving the U.S.-based offices and programs, the bulk of AFSC’s labors and most of its staff, remains very much “under discussion.”

And when AFSC talks about discussion, they mean discussion. A twenty-page Leadership Team update about it is full of such jargon, e.g. (emphasis added):

–We are particularly grateful to the many working groups that convened throughout winter and spring 2022, and their tireless efforts to ensure that the proposals and recommendations contained here and below reflect the best ideas from the full spectrum of staff perspectives.

–On Wednesday, June 1st, the General Secretary met with the US W[orking] G[roup] to begin exploring a path forward for continued work on the US Proposal. [T]he group looked at holding regular consultations between the USWG, General Secretary, and additional members of the Leadership Team. The central theme of the meeting was to come to agreement on next steps for discussion, so the opportunity to substantively discuss specific elements of the US restructure will occur in upcoming conversations.

— It is important that these [new] hubs not be perceived as “Philadelphia”, but be seen as global AFSC structures that are in place to give equal voice and support to all parts of the organization and to build connections/provide support across divisions. . . .

— Organizing and facilitating regular conferences, issue-based convenings, and other events (both internal and external) to enhance learning and shared impact.

— Supporting and encouraging staff and program exchanges/learning, site visits, delegations, etc. to build understanding, cross program fertilization, and shared identity.

— These hubs should be built through a participatory process led by collaborative teams of key stakeholders including program staff from across the organization, rooted in their needs and experience. At least six months should be allowed for the hub building process.

And so forth. Further, this is focused only on the international programs.

As for the U. S.-based projects, the leadership memo is very vague, except for a repeated emphasis on more discussion/consultation. Here’s one summary chart:

 

This chart is already outdated; the calendar of discussion is now pushed out to October, and the track record suggests it could well extend beyond that. What the 20-page outline quaintly calls the “new Strategic Plan” will be two years old by then, with most of it still waiting to be unwrapped. The initial phase of the new Global Cohesion “hub-building,” is expected to take at least “six months.” (Six months from, when?)

Will the new Associate General Secretary for Global Coherence (whose salary, by the way, is set at $135,000) be named by October? And will any revamp of the U.S. programs and structures be yet in sight? The memo is equivocal, except about the need for discussion:

— As proposal development advances, there are elements of the US structure that require more and deeper consultation, to ensure the proposal results in a truly collaborative co-design. . . .

— [Leadership supports] The creation of a US Programs Council (composed of thematic group leads, regional leadership, AGS US, US Programs Director, and representatives from OPPA, PMEL and administrative staff) that serves as a decision-making, consultative and information-sharing body focused on the integration, support and resourcing of work within the US Programs Portfolio.

— Over the next several weeks, the group will continue to refine and further develop the proposal, and begin deeper exploration and discernment around issues related to program-based (thematic) planning and budgeting, budget sustainability, roles and responsibilities of thematic and regional leadership, reporting relationships and decision making. . . .

–We recognize the importance of ensuring that essential voices are at the table to participate in decision-making. It is likely that new leadership groups and subgroups will need to be created to inform and support organizational functions. . . . Restructuring conversations are never without their difficulties, and we recognize that this process has not been easy. At the same time, we recognize this moment as one rich with opportunity . . . .

Difficulties? Which to my ears, means more plainly that any hard decisions have yet to be made. Are they any closer? Further, the restructuring “moment” described here seems to be most richly endowed with opportunities for more conversation, consultation, convenings, discernment, exploration, feedback, and yada yada, all of which equal more delay. The January uprising raised the specter that internal AFSC practices could be shaken up and maybe even –good grief — changed, and Duncan’s appeal was determined to squash that. It said

We call on other Quakers to call for a cessation of the planned restructure, an external evaluation of the Senior Leadership Team and a searching, well facilitated internal conversation about how this process proceeded so far despite widespread opposition and how the organization can heal and move forward collectively, honoring all voices especially those most impacted by the issues upon which AFSC focuses.

So the January uprising has succeeded in delaying any actual major changes for half year, with many more months of the same on the horizon. Lucy Duncan lost her personal battle, but she and her supporters appear to be winning the war.

By contrast, one section of the June  leadership memo, which seemed to ring with the voice of General Secretary Joyce Aljouny, talked turkey about money:

COSTING TOWARD SUSTAINABILITY: . . . For the past four years we have worked diligently to break the cycle of deficit spending and depleting our reserves. We have not only produced balanced budgets, but have achieved surpluses that have rebuilt our reserves to a healthy level. . . .

The Leadership Team remains committed to all of the above, and to collaboration with the Board Treasurer and the Stewardship Committee to ensure sustainability. The costs of additional positions due to restructuring will be slowly incorporated as we continue the careful budgeting process that ensures our strategic vision is implemented and programs are strengthened. . . .

As we build budgets, we are committed to implementing multi-year budgets with realistic assumptions and projections, and monitoring strategies for economic conditions, including downturns in the economy, and monitoring program, organizational and staff spending to ensure continued sustainability. . . .

Here I detect echoes of the hard years of AFSC, when it was forced into several rounds of painful layoffs, which appear to have been due in part to sloppy and improvident financial management. Maintaining such no-nonsense fiscal discipline is likely AFSC’s best chance for long-term survival. The memo even promises no layoffs, and continued COLA raises.

But while these job and pay pledges are doubtless sincere, one hopes the staff realizes they are also unavoidably contingent. For instance, however much of AFSC’s surpluses were invested in stocks, their value has likely diminished by more than 20 per cent this spring, with no end in sight to the market turmoil. Such deep declines could eventually make a hash of leadership promises to avoid layoffs or salary freezes, no matter how fervently made. Just sayin’.

Finally, two other items went almost entirely unmentioned in the 20 page leadership memo: the first was the war in Ukraine. One would not  know from this 20-page document whether AFSC had even noticed that since its little uprising in January, and the subsequent marathon of internal parleys and rigmarole, the biggest war in Europe since 1945 had made refugees of 14 million Ukrainians, pushed the U. S. and Russia to the edge of nuclear confrontation, ballooned the Pentagon war budget, expanded NATO and resurrected the Cold War. The Ukraine war was referred to only in a brief passing reference to its possible impact on AFSC’s fundraising from European sources.

The other missing item was Quakerism. The Leadership Team would doubtless object, pointing out that it was indeed included in their June Memo. Yes; and here is the nub of what was said:

Finally, we are committed to bolstering AFSC’s relationship with the Quaker community explicitly in many places of this structure; but all our initiatives are encouraged to keep Quaker engagement in mind. . . .

There was a bit more to it; but placement, and the word “Finally” were giveaways: this was the very last specific item mentioned in the 17 pages of the memo’s main text; it made clear that “Quaker relations” will continue to dangle at the very bottom of the priority list, tucked into AFSC’s work for “Advancement,” which deals with promotion and fundraising. That may sound like “engagement” to the authors; but it looks like more empty hype from outside.

Indeed, much the same can be said of this whole interminable restructuring enterprise. What difference will it make to the world? What difference will it make to actual Quakers? My answer: very little.

In fact, those are questions on which there’s very little interest remaining for even superficial discussion/consultation/feedback, etc.

And maybe that’s just as well.

5 thoughts on “AFSC Restructure Update: Hurry Up — And Wait”

  1. My 2022-06-06 response to the 2022-04-22 post, “AFSC Restructure Update: Staff Uprising? What Happened?” remains apropos.
    I’m interested in a Quaker advocacy organization that addresses all human rights issues fairly, without excess ideological bias. AFSC hasn’t been that organization for a long time.
    I don’t know whether this situation is salvageable or not. I know that I am led to work elsewhere, but it seems possible that my story might still be helpful to others.
    Thanks, Chuck, for keeping us informed!

  2. Seems I heard somewhere, some years ago, that American Friends Service Committee is no longer Quaker affiliated. That is, no Friends on the Board, or in upper management and no longer connected to “the Quaker Way”

    Is this so, Chuck Fager?

    1. Hi Kate, the answers to your questions are a bit complex: the AFSC has always been an autonomous corporation. Its board once was 100% Quakers; it isn’t that today, but I don’t know what the percentage is now. It also has a body called the “Corporation,” which is largely but not all selected by some yearly meetings. But the corporation is mainly for show and plays no real role in governance. Also, “once upon a time,” AFSC employed many Quakers as staff and volunteers. That ended pretty much with the early seventies. The last number I saw, in the AFSC’s centennial book, said the staff was less than one percent Quakers a couple of years ago — and this “deQuakerization” (my term) is a matter of policy. If you want to look more into this and related issues, there is available free online an issue of the journal “Quaker Theology” devoted only to this. You can find an introductory piece, here: https://quakertheology.org/can-the-afsc-get-its-quaker-groove-back/
      The full issue is here: https://quakertheology.org/category/issues/issue-32-summer-2018/
      Hope you find this useful.

  3. That AFSC isn’t a Quaker organization is demonstrated by its selective support of the peace testimony, depending on who’s doing the violence. And it took them far too long to get out of Myanmar when the Rohingya Genocide started.

  4. I just turned 93. I’ve been a Quaker for 35 of them. One of my sorows is the mess at AFSC. If our famous conflict resolution by silent contemplation and search for Light can’t work in one of our arms out into the world, what a sad failure! But so goes the idealism of our forebearers. I fear I am watching the decline and fall of humankind on Planet Earth. Can anyone give me a reason to be more optimistic? Maybe FCNL, Quaker Center, and Pendle Hill?

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