Sunday, November 8, 2015

United Religions Initiative, Global Council meeting, Salt Lake City, October 2015

United Religions Initiative, Global Council meeting, Salt Lake City, October 2015

(Just so you can put faces to names...)

* Sitting on Floor, L to R: Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines), Ros Sam An (Buddhist / Cambodia)

* Seated in Chairs, L to R: Kiran Bali (Hindu / United Kingdom - GC Chair), Dr. Kazi Nurul Islam (Muslim / Bangladesh), Rt. Rev. William "Bill" Swing (Episcopal / USA - President & founder), Alejandrino Mejia Quispe (indigenous Quechua / Peru), Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India), Ciro Gabriel Avruj ("Spiritual" / Argentina)

* Standing, L to R: Prof. John Kurakar Christian / India), Petar Gramatikov (Bulgarian Orthodox / Bulgaria), Swamini Adityananda Saraswati (Hindu / India), Rev. Victor Kazanjian (Episcopal / USA - Exec. Director), Prof. Genivada Cravo (Spiritualist Christian / Brazil), Elder Don Frew (Wiccan / USA), Rattan Channa (Sikh / Kenya), Audri Scott Williams (Christian & Indigenous / USA), Chief Phil Lane Jr. (Yankton Dakota & Chickasaw / USA), Bart ten Broek (Protestant / the Netherlands), Sherif Awad Rizk (Christian / Egypt), Ravindra Kandage (Buddhist / Sri Lanka), Ed Bastian (Buddhist / USA), Elisabeth Lheure (Baha'i / Spain), Peter Mousaferiadis (Greek Orthodox / Australia), Marianne Horling (Humanist / Germany), Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Traditional / Nigeria), Becky Burad (Christian / USA)

* Not in Photo: Sam Wazan (Muslim / USA)

* Not Present: Tareq Al-Tamimi (Muslim / Palestine), Most Rev. John Baptist Odama (Catholic / Uganda), Ashraf Samir (Muslim / United Arab Emirates), Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / Canada),

I am sure that there is not a more diverse or global Board of Directors in the world today!

(And 27 present out of 31.  Not bad.)

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Friday, November 6, 2015

United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 5 (last day)

United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 5 (last day)
October 14, 2015
(Note: When a person is mentioned for the first time, their name is in boldface.  More information about each person can be found on the URI web site at:

Wednesday started with a blessing from the Africa Region.  Rattan read something from the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth, and Elisha told a story about being a tribal chieftain in Nigeria.

I sat next to Swamini, who asked if I was doing better and suggested Reiki.  When I told that Reiki and other magical approaches were the only ones that had helped, she said "Oh!  Of course.  You're a Wiccan.  You're open to good things."  I smiled and thought that would make a good slogan: "We're Wiccan; we're open to good things!"

After singing "Happy Birthday!" to Sue Martin (Christian / USA - Director of Development), Sally asked us to do something for the CBS Christmas Eve special.  Apparently a song will feature in the special.  It's sole lines are : "I will be your standing stone.  I will stand by you."  (No one seemed to notice how Pagan this was.)

Sue, Becky Burad (Christian / USA - Treasurer), and Bill led a session on long-term sustainability.  Bill told a story about another major, global interfaith organization that was already almost 70 years old when the URI got started.  They didn't think that the URI would amount to much.  Now, while they have a lot of global connections, they don't do very much because their funding can only support a staff of two.  "Whatever we do," Bill said, "we'll need staff to support it, and funding to support the staff.  If we don't have a President's Council to secure the funding, we could be in the same shape in the future."  Bill talked more about the President's Council and its role in the URI.

Bill said that he had two and a half goals in his retirement:
            1) Write a book about the beginnings of the URI (or else someone else would write it).  That's just been accomplished.  A Bishop's Quest: Founding a United Religions is available on Amazon.
            2) Create an endowment to fund the basic operating costs of the URI.  That probably needs to be ~$50-60 million and it's in the works.
            2 1/2) Write a book called The Sacred and the Silly, collecting some of the ridiculous stories from his years as Bishop and URI founder.  He has about 150 pages done.

Bill asked us to consider the support of the URI in three large categories:
            1) The "URI budget" really means the Global Support Office, the Global Staff, the costs of Global Council meetings, and underwriting Regional Assemblies.  But there's also...
            2) The money being raised by the CCs themselves to support their activities.  We did an assessment of this in 2000.  If we excluded the handful of CCs whose own budgets were in the $100k to $1 million range, then the CCs were raising about 5 million on their own.
            3) With a Staff of 26 people serving over 700,000 members, it was obvious that 90% of the work in the URI was being done by volunteers.

Bill said that, with the growth of the URI since 2000, if we did an assessment today (which needs to be done!) of funds and in-kind donations circulating in the totality of the URI it could well reach half a billion dollars!

Bill asked how the URI network does this:
            1) Self-sufficiency.  The 745 CCs raise their own funds.  This makes the URI unlike every other global interfaith organization.
            2) Circulation.  Now, it mostly moves from the center outwards.  He suggested the creation of a Global Council Assembly fund.  If everyone contributed a little bit towards getting the Trustees together once a year, that would take a large burden off of the Global Budget.  He also said that we need to encourage more CC to CC giving.  (I volunteered that the Spirituality & the Earth CC has been doing that since the founding of the URI; paying for English lessons for Latin American Trustees, travel costs for indigenous representation at interfaith events, and more.  I also explained about the use of to raise money to bring Raul to the Parliament of the World's Religions.)
            3) Equity.  We need to balance the value of money and labor so that everyone's contribution is honored.  We also need to understand the relative value of a dollar in different parts of the world.  I suggested that, rather than try to track currency exchange rates, we think in terms of the cost of something like a loaf of bread in different parts of the world.

In the discussion of all of this, several people brought up the need to more clearly explain to prospective CCs the benefits of membership.  I brought up our "What CoG Already Does for You" pamphlet and suggested that we include among the benefits of membership the opportunity to share in the vision of the URI and the opportunity to make a difference in the world at a larger scale through supporting the work of other CCs.  When I interviewed 14 CCs in 2002 at the URI's Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, each of them explained how they raised money in very different ways in 14 countries around the world.  In addition to their direct fund-raising activities, every single CC added how important it was to be part of a larger, global network - to be able to speak to donors with the gravitas lent by such a network and to know that they had the intangible support of hundreds of thousands of people who believed in and encouraged their work.

When we had to cut short this discussion to move on in the agenda, Sally mentioned to me that in an open discussion, the white men always speak up first, giving them more input into the meeting before we have to cut it short.  I added that it's always the white, native-English-speaking men.  This is a cultural problem that we need to address.  The fact is that we do have limited time to spend on a number of topics, so how can we make sure that voices that are not inclined to just jump in will always be included and heard?

Becky said that all of the Trustees were very generous and that we should be proud.  She reminded us of the traditions of giving in our various faith traditions.

Sam An said that Interfaith Youth of Cambodia CC is not registered with the government, so it is illegal for it to receive donations.  This is a problem in most of the world.  It's not just an issue of being a non-profit and giving donors a tax-deduction, its that it is illegal for an organization to receive money from outside unless it is registered with the government, and registration can be a long and difficult process.  Many countries' government are very suspicious of non-business organizations.

Kiran agreed that the dynamics of giving are very different from place to place.  In most of Europe, individuals do not give money to charities - governments do that.  Currently, in the UK, there is a lot of concern re: violent extremism.  If a group can sow that it is doing something to address that, then there is government funding available.

Elisha talked about how CCs were able to work together to create a Christian / Muslim Tolerance Project that brought peace to an area of northern Uganda.

I said that it's great that we can share stories of successful fundraising efforts here, but we need to share them across the URI network.  Can we create a section of the global website dedicated to sharing information between CCs about successful fundraising, perhaps sorted by Region?  There was interest in pursuing this when we are back home.

Sue reminded us that the global organization does not receive support from corporations or religious groups.  This has been a policy since the beginning, to avoid the appearance of undue influence.  She, like many of us, believes that there are interested donors around the world; we just need to find them.

For the next phase of the discussion, Becky directed our attention to the Essential URI Handbook, pages 6-7 - Global Council Roles & Responsibilities.  There was an effort to make the wording of the Handbook as simple as possible, to ease translation into many languages, but some needs to be looked at and understood clearly.  Under the section on "Leadership, Governance, & Oversight":

2. Accepting accountability for both the financial stability and the financial future of URI.
3. Approving URI’s annual budget, audit reports, and material business decisions; being informed of, and meeting all legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

Becky explained that this was all about accountability.  The Global Council is responsible for all resources and assets, management, insurance, employee benefits, outside audits, etc.

11. Collectively, GC Trustees will play an active role in fundraising for URI.  Individually, Trustees will consider URI a giving priority and make annual gifts commensurate with their capacity. So that URI can credibly solicit contributions from donors, URI expects 100% of the Global Council to make some annual financial contribution.

Sue explained that it's always very important to be able to say to a prospective donor that 100% of our Board contributes to the organization (whatever the individual amount).  She said that the main reason that people don't give to a good cause is that they haven't been asked.  She explained "planned giving".

When Sue started to talk about the URI endowment, Sam asked for an explanation of "endowment" for the group.  Victor did so, and Swamini added that this is often called a "corpus fund" in other parts of the world.

Genivalda brought up an idea she had mentioned before called "$1 for URI".  We should ask each CC for $1 - "although you can give more" - so everyone feels that they are participating in supporting the global URI.  Also, imagine going to donors and being able to say "Do all of our Trustees give?  Not only do they, all of our Cooperation Circles do as well!"

Our discussion on funding identified four broad sources:
            1) Corporations - We should approach those with a mandate to address social obligations.
            2) Individuals - We should identify and approach those with a personal interest in using their money to support social good.
            3) Earned Income / Goods - We should consider how the URI could become a global marketplace.
            4) Government - We should identify sources of governmental funding.

We broke into four groups to look at these, one group for each source this.  My group looked at Individuals and included Vrajapati, John, Biff Barnard (Christian / USA - President's Council), Kazi, Peter, and me.  Highlights from our group...
* Reach through our CCs to find people with funds.
* Establish a Fundraising Resource CC in the Multiregion to investigate the different "cultures of giving" around the world and collect advisors knowledgeable in local fundraising to assist CCs.
* Approach existing members better.
* Get clarity re: who are we asking for?  Global Operations?  The Endowment?  The Regions?  Specific CCs?
* Perhaps we should try to establish Regional Endowments?
* Investigate the laws from country to country to ensure that the fundraising methods we recommend are in fact legal.  What's legal in one country may not be in another.
* Establish guidelines for building a case-by-case fundraising strategy.
* Revive and circulate some of our earlier guidelines restricting funding from corporations or single-faith religious groups.

Highlights from the other groups...

* Develop a "message" of what the URI is and how it benefits corporations through the activities of its CCs and through creating a more stable social environment of goodwill and cooperation between religions.  Let's face it - religions being at peace is good for business (well, most businesses).
* Some sort of "stamp of approval" from the URI would help local groups approach corporations.

Earned Income
* The URI could host a Global Marketplace where goods produced by CCs around the world could be sold.
* We should encourage the CCs in the telling of stories.  Almost all CCs have compelling stories of their founding, their challenges and successes, and more.  Perhaps we could assist with getting such material published.
* We could investigate employing our expertise to provide interfaith education in schools.
* We could look into how goods could be exchanged between CCs.

* It was noted that government grants are usually for particular projects.  Concern was expressed that such funds may come with strings attached.
* Some Trustees already work with USAID and have advice on writing grant requests.
* Someone pointed out that, in explaining the amount of work put in by URI members, if each person's in kind work was valued at just $20 a year, that adds up to $14,000,000!

Someone suggested that the Global Council should become self-funding.  Another, that the CCs could participate hosting educational trips for donors.

All of this just took us to lunch!  Over lunch, I sat with Sherif, Elisha, Bart, Petar, and Elisabeth.  We talked about the refugee problems coming from the Near East and the effect on Sherif's & Petar's countries (Egypt & Bulgaria).  We also talked about the state of interest in secession in Elisabeth's Catalonia.

After lunch, Liam had a short time to finish his presentation from the day before.  I was both sorry I had missed it and sorry he only had a short time today, as it was one of the most interesting and useful.  He was addressing how we can tell if the network is working - how well the organization is serving its constituent parts and how much the whole & the parts are having an impact on the world in relation to the three "interrelated & mutually reinforcing"  goals of the URI:
            * to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation;
            * to end religiously motivated violence;
            * to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

(It was way more comprehensive and densely packed than I could get down in my notes, but afterwards he agreed to send me his notes.)

Some of the measurable indicators that the organizational network is working:

* Number of new CCs generated each year and geographic coverage of CCs.
* Number & % increase in youth & women leading and participating in CCs.
* % of CCs that partner with other CCs to carry out joint initiatives / activities.
* % of CCs receiving support such as CC exchanges, trainings, participation in URI events to raise the CCs' profile.
* Total number and % of CCs / people who have been trained in peacebuilding.
* % of CCs sharing resources and information with one another.
* Numbers of CCs linked to funders or resources.
* Number and quality (scale of 1-5) of URI partnerships with institutions such as police, military, schools / universities.

I've listed the above at some length for a reason.  Early in the history of the URI, I pointed out - often and to anyone who would listen - that the structure of the URI and the structure of CoG were extremely similar.  (So much so that, to this day, I keep slipping up and call their Global Assembly "Grand Council" or our National Board "the Global Council".)  This should come as no surprise since the URI was trying to create a structure that would "allow for the maximum autonomy in the local unit, while providing for networking at the global level)".  Where have we heard that before?  This is why I chair the URI's Bylaws Committee - I am very familiar with these structures.

Early on, they had a lot to learn from us.  We'd tried the same things already and had discovered the pitfalls.  After 15 years of experimenting at a global level with 745 local units, I sometimes think we can learn from them.

Some things obviously don't apply, of course, and others have to be scaled down, but try reading the list above substituting "coven" for CCs and "CoG" for URI.  Is there insight here for CoG's future?  Could we be the URI of the Craft?  Just food for thought.

Where the analogy really breaks down, however, is in the activities of the CCs in their communities.  The URI CCs are promoting interfaith in a way that covens usually do not.

Some of the measurable indicators that Cooperation Circles are (not could be, are) having an impact:

* Communities celebrate each other's religious and/or cultural holidays and events (through CC events).
* Religious leaders engaged in dialogue (through CC events/activities).
* Establishment of CC-sponsored interreligious councils to solve disputes.
* Reduction of interreligious/intercultural violence (in community of a CC).
* Number of children in schools with curricula and activities promoting interfaith harmony (CC-School initiatives).
* Tolerance for building of religious shrines of minority religions (in CC community).
* Media promotion of interfaith harmony (positive stories of interreligious cooperation, reduced use of stereotypes, voices of minority heard, etc.).
* Children from different faiths/cultures play together.
* Cleaner environment (through CC activities).

Some of this still applies to covens, but would have to be re-interpreted intro a Craft / Pagan context.

There's more, but this gets the idea across, I think.  Maria added that w do a comprehensive interview with a CC when it joins, and another a year later, so we at least can see how much impact belonging to the network has had on a CC over the course of its first year.

There was a LOT of discussion of this information - other indicators to consider, how to collect info about them, how to verify the perceived impact, etc.  Liam reminded us to go look at the CC profiles on the URI website to learn more about what our CCs are doing around the world.

I URGE everyone to go read a few of these.  The work of CCs in Africa in particular is truly inspiring:  I am very proud to be making whatever small contribution I am to facilitate the work of such CCs.

During a short break, Bill said that he would be giving out and signing copies of his new book - A Bishop's Quest - at the back of the room.  The book tells the story of the founding of the URI from Bill's point of view.  Many of you may remember the struggle we had over the inclusion of "Earth" in the URI's purpose statement back at the founding of the organization.  Bill's comments on the Preamble, Purpose, and Principles of the URI on pages 225-234 of this book shed some light on his understanding of these events and make interesting reading for Pagans.  Whatever its history, the URI is completely supportive of environmental issues now and the Environmental Resources CC - founded by Bill Swing - was the first Resources CC to be created.

When we reconvened, we opened with a blessing from the Southeast Asia & the Pacific Trustees - Musa, Peter, and Sam An.  We then started the actual business meeting of the Global Council. 

Last year, when we first were given copies of the Essential URI Handbook, I noted that one of the "Key Principles of Good Practice for Individual Trustees" was #7 - "A Trustee keeps GC deliberations confidential."  I asked how that applied to my reports and the ensuing discussion reached no conclusion.  As a result, I errored on the side of caution and asked folks to look at my existing reports and see if they were okay.

No one voiced objections to me, which means either they didn't object or didn't look.  Either way, I'll continue to proceed with caution, which has the added advantage of reducing what might be too much detail in my reports anyway.  :-)

Kiran opened with a moment of silence.  She then went around the room and asked each Trustee for their thoughts on the material covered so far.  Items of greater and lesser import came up:

* Questions about how we would be proceeding with finalizing the Strategic Plan for the next few years.
* A recommendation that, in the future, we have our meetings at the same place as our hotel rooms, to make it easier to grab catnaps.
* Will there be a press release about this meeting?  Yes.  (Note: Hasn't happened yet.)
* We have a challenge in working on long-range tasks that will take several years when half of our Global Council is new every two years.  We always have to start over to some degree.  Staggered terms may have helped with continuity, but it has created other problems.
* It's very difficult to find times for Global Council conference calls when we have folks in 13 time zones!  Some of us are always having difficulty staying awake.
* Several people talked about the miracles of getting us all together at all and of the work that we do in such a short time.

* Victor talked about how we create powerful bonds when we come together and then try to maintain them over long distances.  The tech we have is helpful, but inadequate and we need to keep exploring new tech and new ways to not only maintain, but empower, community.  (I couldn't help but think much more true this is of the Multiregion.)
* Bill noted that, in addition to our one face-to-face meeting each year, we have three conference calls.  What if, for each of those calls, one Trustee from each Region was brought to San Francisco for a mini-face2face as well as the call?  It could be a different set of Trustees each time, rotating through the Trustees from each Region. 
* Is there a way that the CCs could participate more in the work of the Global Council?
* One of the non-English-speakers pointed out that they really need the face to face communication, as seeing the facial expressions is a big help in understanding the English.  Victor said that he has been in very effective video conferencing and that this was something we could look into.
* We will be going into elections in 2016 for four Regions: Latin America & the Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, Multiregion, and North America.
* Biff, on behalf of the President's Council who were with us, thanked the Global Council for the experience and for the work we do.

We took a 10 minute break and took a group photo.

After the break, we studied and passed a draft budget that will go back to the Finance & Operations Committee for tweaking as the year comes to an end, then come back to the GC for final approval at the end of the year.  The projected 2016 budget at this point is a little over $3.4 million.  Given the size of the organization, that's fairly lean and trim.  Phil said that, based on his experience with other large non-profits, he was stunned that we were doing so much with so little. Victor said that he expected our budget to grow to around $4.5 million by 2020, given our current growth in CC membership.

Phil asked how many of the Trustees do not have internet access?  Just one.  How many are on Skype?  Almost all.  How many are on facebook?  Almost all.

After this (and aware that our time was getting short), Victor and I gave a brief report on the status of our Bylaws Committee.  We have partnered with the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School, which is taking on our Bylaws, pro bono, as a seminar project.  They have all the reports from the Bylaws Committee so far and will go over our existing Bylaws - mindful of our needs and intentions, California non-profit law, and precedents of best-practices - and come back to us with a binder full of recommendations.  Our Bylaws Committee will then go over those recommendations and report back to the Legal Clinic, which will then prepare a final report for our Global Council.  Our existing Bylaws Committee includes: Kiran, Victor, John Weiser, John Kurakar, Genivalda, Vrajapati, and me as Chair.

This concluded our business session and the official 2015 annual meeting of the Global Council.  We had about an hour to relax and chat with munchies before the evening program.  At 7pm a bus arrived full of members of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World's Religions, many of who I recognized from previous interfaith events.  Andras was there, but not Phyllis.  She was busy preparing the Womens' Assembly that was starting the next day.  Andras stood out as the only representative from a "non-Big 5" religion.

We went around the room and everyone introduced themselves.  In my opinion, the Parliament Trustees were surprised at the diversity - of both religion and nationality - of our Trustees.  Later, over dinner, I think they were also surprised at the scope of the actions in the field of our Cooperation Circles - in conflict transformation, economic development, education, health care, nuclear disarmament, refugee and displacement issues, women’s empowerment., etc., etc.  I think they thought we were just a bunch of dialogue groups.  Just my impression.

One of the conversations I had over dinner was with Suzanne Morgan (  Back in 2004, I was one of the organizers of the first Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition (  The Parliament was one of the sponsors of the competition.  Suzanne was the representative they sent to be one of the Jurors of the competition.

The other conversation I had dinner was with Dr. Kusumita Pederson (  We talked about the Spirituality & the Earth CC and the Lost & Endangered Religions Project (  She was interested in the work we do in south India.

Eventually, they caught their bus back and we caught our shuttles back to the hotel.  And so ended a very long day of interfaith... and the Parliament would start the next morning!

More to come…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Sunday, October 25, 2015

United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 3 & 4

United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 3 & 4
October 12-13, 2015

(Note: When a person is mentioned for the first time, their name is in boldface.  More information about each person can be found on the URI web site at:

Monday started early.  We were up, ready to go, and on the shuttles to the Episcopal Center by 7:15 am.  Breakfast was soon ready for us there.  I sat with Sam Wazan and Sherif Rizk and talked about the differences in Arabic from place to place, especially the idiosyncrasies of Egyptian Arabic.  We also discussed the pre-Qur'anic fragments found inside the walls of the Great Mosque at Sana'a in Yemen and the difficulties that scholars who tried to study and write about them experienced, since they include earlier versions of Qur'anic texts.  One author in Cairo was declared apostate and had is marriage annulled by the courts.

Later, Ardey Turner, a long-time URI volunteer, joined us.  She coordinates the Circle of Healers CC and does Reiki.  She offered to give me Reiki during the meetings, to help with my arm.  I said that I would gratefully accept what was offered.  After some more discussion of healing techniques, Victor directed us all outside for the opening blessing.

The Multiregion was giving the blessing.  Each of the three Multiregion Trustees - plus me as a sort of ad hoc Multiregion Trustee - offered something.  Audri opened by acknowledging the First Peoples of this place and asking their permission and blessing for our work.  She continued with a reading from one of her books, Awakening the Heart of the Beloved Community, an anthology of writings on diversity and community.  I explained that since we would be meeting in a box for four days, the Multiregion felt that we should spend some time outdoors.  I led a tree - roots - branches - Four Elements meditation.  Vrajapati chanted Hare Krishna and read a passage from the Gita.  Ed recited something from Theravada Buddhism.  I believe that it was all well-received, as we got many compliments throughout the day.

We went upstairs to our meeting room and formed a circle.  As always, we opened with a group reading of the URI Charter - the Preamble, Purpose, and Principles or PPP - line by line, going around the circle.  The PPP is the heart of the URI ( and I recommend checking them out.  they guide all we do in the Global Council.  For some reasons, interfaith groups almost always for widdershins around a circle.  The Pagans and the Indigenous folks always shake our heads.  Each of the 27 Trustees present (out of 31 total), half dozen Staff, handful of President's Council members, and single member of the Board of the URI Foundation were asked to say something about what in the PPP.  (I have to say that while most folks were waxing poetic and speaking from the heart, I was busily considering how one of the Principles might create a feedback loop with a part of the Bylaws.  This is what I get for Chairing the Bylaws Committee.)

Then Sally Mahe (Interfaith Christian / USA - Co-Director of Global Programs & Organizational Development) and I led a session of Appreciative Interviews.  I explained the history of this practice while Sally gave the specific directions.  Sally and I (mostly Sally) had crafted the questions for the interviews last week.  In the past, Appreciative Interviews have been used at the start of many interfaith conferences.  I can truthfully say that every person with whom I did such an interview became a good friend.  Each person was to find someone they didn't know well and from another Region.  They were to sit down together and respond to a set of questions.  Each person would have 20 minutes to answer the questions.

1) Introduction:  Please tell me a little about yourself.  What  brought  you to URI?  What role do you have?

2) Working in Organizations – Sharing Stories:  Most of us have had different kinds of  experiences working with others in organizations. Please reflect on an experience that you had working with others in a group or organization that led to an exceptionally  positive result.  Tell me the story of what happened.  How did the group work together?  What made the work effective? Without being too humble, what was it about you that contributed to the success of this work?

3) Building URI’s Future Together:  Imagine that it is 2025 and that URI has continued to grow strong and vibrant.  Other international organizations look to URI’s  Global Council as an outstanding  model of Board governance and  global organizational leadership.  What is the Global Council doing that contributes to its success and effectiveness?  What values and practices stand out as most important?

4) Next Steps:  We hold high vision that URI’s network  is making a better world,  a world  that is fit for our children and grandchildren.  As the governing board for URI,  how might  the  Global  Council empower URI’s global network  to achieve its mission and purpose?  What steps can we take now to inspire and shape the work ahead?

This was the first time that I did not participate in the interviews.  With Sally I made sure folks were on track, rang a bell when necessary, etc.  Usually, when the time is up and the group reconvenes.  Each person introduced their partner to the group, based on what they learned in the interview.  We did not have time for this.  Instead, Sally asked for folks to shout out one word that was their response to the Interview.  Words like "Exciting", "Inspiring", "Informative", etc. filled the room.  I asked them to remember what they learned and if, over the course of our meetings, some insight from the Interview applied, to share it then.

We had a short break, during which I had a brief conversation with Peter and Bill about the absence of conservative Christian and Muslims from our work, and my experience doing dialog with such people.  I know that there are ways that we can be dialogue, to the benefit of everyone.  We'll have to talk more later.

When we reconvened, Victor told us to form our pairs into groups of six.  Since I hadn't been in a pair, I attached myself to a group of Peter, Bill, Sherif, Presidnet's Council member Jill Kramer (Christian / USA), Maria Eugenia Crespo de Mafia (Catholic / Argentina - Director of Cooperation Circle Support), and Pamela Banks (Christian / USA - Director of Finance & Administration).  These groups were asked to share, discuss, and draw on some large sheets of paper what one thing is necessary for us to succeed.  We came up with "building trust", "innovation", "establishing a global identity", "balancing democracy and control", and more.  Jill drew a Mother Fern, growing and seeding off other plants. 

One of the things we discussed is how the President's Council raises most of our $3.2 million global budget (not 3.5, I was incorrect), the CC's themselves raise 5 to 10 times that much to support their own efforts, and the volunteer effort is worth 5 to 10 times that.  We need to do another assessment of the funding raised by the CCs and the worth of the volunteer support.  Jill mentioned that Bill's dream had been to have 1 million people in 1000 CCs in 100 countries by 2025.  Maria pointed out that, as of Wednesday, we will have over 700,000 members in 745 CCs in 92 countries, so we are already almost there.  Bill added that those 700,000 people are being served by a paid Global Staff of only 36 people.  Something will have to change soon.

When we all shared the fruits of our discussions, many groups had drawn something like a tree or other plant.  The idea of organic growth had came up a lot.  One group brought up the idea of a "Rapid Conflict Resolution Mobile Team CC", bringing together the multi-cultural conflict resolution skills throughout the URI network to be of service to the world.  A light bulb went off in my head... Just as we are developing Resource CCs - CC that exist to harness the skills & resources of the URI network to serve the other CCs - perhaps we could also create Service CCs that could harness the skills & resources of the URI network to serve the world.  The already mentioned Conflict Resolution came to mind as a Service CC.  I thought of Sustainable Economic Development as another.  And in discussing the idea with Peter, Bill, Victor, and Liam Chinn (Earth Spirituality / USA - Co-Director of Global Programs, Evaluation & Learning), Refugee Assistance came up as another.  I don't know if this will go anywhere, but the URI has always been about serving the world, not just our CCs, and this might be a method.

We broke for lunch and I sat with Liam, Ed, and Peter Carpenter (Christian / USA) of the President's Council.  I had not met Peter before and this was a chance to get to know him.  After lunch, Liam, Ed, and I ventured further a field to find a coffee shop.  We talked about the "indigenous radio" idea that had come up with Alejandrino.  Liam grew up in an indigenous community in far Northwest Alaska and shared my enthusiasm for the project.  We talked about Service CCs.  We talked about the materials Liam and others were preparing to help CCs explain the URI to new people.  I told him about the "What CoG Already Does for You" pamphlet I had written for CoG and how the same principle applied to the URI.  Being a CC is not about what you "get" out of being a member.  Or, at least, that's a small part of it.  It's about being inspired by the PPPs and wanting to share in that vision of a better world.  It's about helping others just by being a member CC.  You may get some "credibility" by being a CC, but you also lend credibility to others.  In parts of the world where interfaith work is much harder, where it can literally be a matter or life a death, being able to say that you part of a larger global network doing the same things you are can help immeasurably, but the other members of that network have to exist as well.  Liam said that he hadn't considered these aspects and that we should talk further.

When we got back and reconvened, the Asia Region did the opening blessing.  I was a little concerned when Swamini ended her blessing by saying "May all the darkness be banished from the world!"  As I understand us, we kind of like the darkness.  I think this is one of those deep differences between some faith traditions.  Some think that things are best when everything is Light, and some want there to be both Light and Dark and take pleasure in the balance.

John Weiser then led us through an exercise on the Roles & Responsibilities of Trustees and the Global Council, since people from around the world can have very different preconceptions about this.  He started with looking at the pertinent Bylaws.

4.1.A) The purpose of the Global Council is to support the Members in making real the vision and values of the Preamble, Purpose and Principles.  The Global Council’s central spirit is not one of control, but rather one of service informed by deep listening to the hopes and aspirations of the whole URI community.  The Global Council will inspire and support the URI worldwide community in cooperative global action.  It is envisioned that their deliberations will be tempered by tenderness for one another and for the Earth community.  It is envisioned that their actions will reflect a yearning to help the people of the URI fulfill their aspirations to be a positive force for peace, justice and healing in the  world.
4.1.B) The Global Council is responsible to develop financial and other resources to meet the needs of URI, Inc.  The Global Council will accept eligible applications for Membership in the URI and will manage the affairs of the Core Trust and URI, Inc.
5.1) The Core Trust shall be comprised of a Chair, President, Executive Director, Treasurer, Secretary, such additional officers as may be appointed pursuant to Section 5.2 and such staff as it shall require and it shall operate under the direction of the Global Council and serve the needs of the Members.

We looked at an article on Management recommended by John and then returned to our groups of six for discussion based on that article, especially to answer the questions:
            * What do we see as the key roles for Trustees?
            * What do we need to be more effective as a Trustee?

When we re-gathered to compare notes, there was a general agreement that, based on the Mission / PPP of the URI, the Global Council should set Goals for realizing that purpose in the form of direction given to the Staff.  The Staff should then work with the GC to create a Strategic Plan for achieving those goals.

As far as what we need to be better Trustees, the number one thing was that we need better electronic communication!  The Trustees feel swamped by emails (often from folks who don't know how to use email correctly, IMHO) and the Global Support Office feels like no one answers their emails, so they send more, so the Trustees feel swamped and don't get to them, etc., etc.

John also talked to us about how Trustees normally don't get involved in directing Staff, but that the participation of Trustees in Regional Leadership Teams - which seems unique to the URI - put a different spin on this.  We'll talk about this later.

John then shifted the group around a bit to discuss and come up with 5 Goals for the coming year.  Our group lost Bill and Peter, and gained Audri and Vrajapati.  We ended up with 6 Goals:

            * Improve internal electronic communication, both vertically (between the Global Council, the Staff, and the CCs) and horizontally (between Trustees and between CCs).  Vraj said that we should "improve the quality of our communication and reduce the burden of it".
            * Improve our communication to the URI, so more folks understand who we are and what we do.
            (In both of these, we need to learn from other organizations and from our CCs.)
            * Explore relationships & partnerships with related groups, other than them becoming a CC.
            Engage in innovative development of our Regional Leadership Teams that is geographically and culturally appropriate.
            * Increase Regional fundraising capacity.
            * Translate all our basic documents into several languages and put translation buttons on our web pages, to communicate globally as easily as possible.

As each group shared their Goals, Becky wrote them down on large sheets of paper to post on the walls.  Inevitably, there was a great deal of overlap and these will be collapsed don for us to consider later in the meeting.

After a break, we heard from three Regions of comparable size who had very different ways of organizing themselves. 
            * Europe with 49 Cooperation Circles, is registered with the EU as an NGO in Belgium and is very structured with a tiered democratic administration.
            * Latin America & the Caribbean with 39 Cooperation Circles, has a Regional Leadership Team consisting of its three Trustees, its Regional Coordinator, and her two Assistants.  They meet online once a month and in person as often as possible, and work by consensus.  Maria said that the key to their effectiveness is "consultation, collaboration, and consensus".
            * South East Asia & the Pacific (called "SEAPac") with 41 Cooperation Circles, has to contend with being very spread out in an archipelago in which travel is difficult.  They divided their Region into three Zones, each administer by one Trustee and a Staff person: Western (9 CCs in Cambodia & Malaysia - Sam An), Central (22 CCs in the Philippines, itself over 7,000 islands - Musa), and Pacific (10 CCs in Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand - Peter).

Each Region also told us a LOT about what they were doing in their Regions, their challenges and their success.  SEAPac is contending with natural disasters from tsunamis to volcanoes and so has CCs involved in disaster relief.  It also has serious ethnic conflicts, and so has CCs involved in peace negotiations between governments and rebels.

After this, Ed reported on the work of the new Environmental Resource CC, the first of the Resource CCs.  Inspired by the extent to which "Earth" is prominent in our Charter and PPPs, and shocked by environmental depredation and climate change, they had come together to help the URI as a network address the many serious related issues.  Over 150 CCs are focused on something having to do with the environment and they could work more effectively if someone connected them with each other and helped them connect with resources and funding outside the URI.  That's what the Environmental Resource CC will do.

Ed handed out copies of their Strategic Plan and Executive Summary.  Everyone agreed that this sounded great!  Phil spoke at length about how much these issues affected Native Americans and how happy he was to see the URI coke to this point.  I said that I agreed with Phil, but that for documents that were all about nature, I didn't hear the voice of the nature religions anywhere in them.  "The environment" was always in the third person and equated with "the creation".  The nature religions felt that this kind of separation between humanity and nature was part of what got us into this mess.  There are many nature religions - Shinto, Taoism, Indigenous traditions, Wicca, and others - who should be included.  Ed said that they would welcome input on this.

As we broke for dinner, I spoke with Bill, who had founded the Environmental Resources CC, and apologized for inserting a negative comment into the rollout of his CC.  He said that the plans presented weren't meant to be a theological statement.  I said that I understood, but that it would be good to find more inclusive language that would be more welcoming of all traditions.  He agreed, but pointed out that those traditions weren't in the meetings.  I said that we usually weren't, because few of us had the time or money to take time out for them.  That's why I often felt that I was the one person present who had to speak up for all those others.  We'll talk more about this as the ERCC goes forward.

I was late for a dinner meeting of the Trustees who are part of the Multiregion Leadership Team Ed, Vrajapati, Audri, and me) with Sally.  We talked about the future of the Multiregion and how it was apparent that this Region was on the cusp of coming into its own as the dream we had at the founding of the URI; a place where CCs in the other Regions could come together in shared interests to share skills & resources globally.

We finally got back to the hotel a little before 8 pm.  I found Gaea Denker (Interspiritual / USA - Communications Manager) waiting for me in the lobby.  We had been trying to find a time when she could interview me.  CBS, the TV network, invited URI to produce it annual Christmas Eve special.  Our office has been collecting footage from CCs around the world and interviews with Trustees and others, and these will be combined with footage shot at an interfaith service in San Francisco this November.  Gaea wanted to interview me in the robes I wear sometimes in interfaith work.  Since others are appearing in ceremonial garb, I agreed and ran upstairs to change.  Along the way, I sent a text to Peter.  Since he had been so fascinated with meeting real Witches, I thought he might like to see one in ritual attire.

Gaea (pronounced "Gia") interviewed me in one of the hotel's ballrooms, the only place with enough light at night.  I assume the interview went well, since she was brought to tears by some of my answers.  Just as we finished, Peter arrived.  Gaea interviewed him, and then took the opportunity to shoot us together as an example of interfaith friendship.  All in all, it was a lot of fun and enjoyed the opportunity to "sell" the URI to the world. (or at least, the nation).  Once again, these days most of my interfaith work is not about telling people about Witchcraft, it's  about working side-by-side with people of other faith traditions to do good together - as a Witch.

I got back to my room about 9:30 and started writing.  We could sleep in a little bit on Tuesday as the busses wouldn't pick us up until 8 am.

As it turned out, sleeping in was the least of my worries, as my arm started taking badly shortly after waking - after several days of being "on" in very hot weather, without a break and with little sleep.  I had to text Victor and let him know that I would be taking a day off.  Today was devoted to working on a Strategic Plan.  I didn't think that I would have input that would radically shift what others would be saying, so I thought I could safely miss this session.  I spent the day resting and finishing this report.

Tomorrow, when we finish our work, we''' meet with representative from the Parliament of the World's Religions and discuss joint programming.

That's all for now...

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative