One of the key responsibilities of a board member is to be the keeper of the Vision, Mission and Core Values of an organization. Last week I was in Zambia for a VisionFund field visit and board meetings. VisionFund is World Vision’s global microfinance division, providing small loans to individuals in developing countries who do not have access to traditional banking options. As a board member it gave me the opportunity to assess whether the end results could be traced back to our original intentions.
I will use Ephriam as an example. Ephriam is part of a dairy cooperative in a rural area outside of the capital city of Lusaka that was started in the 1990’s through a partnership with a large dairy producer and an NGO. They gave each farmer a dairy cow and provided the infrastructure to combine their small-scale production and create a market for their milk. The cooperative was moderately successful but most of the 40 farmers never moved beyond having just a few cows so their incomes did not improve enough to change their lifestyle. Ephriam’s father was one of the founders of the dairy cooperative but by the time Ephriam took over the family farm they still had only four cows, they were living in a mud home and Ephriam was making less than $100/month. In 2010 VisionFund began working in the community and Ephriam decided to take out a loan for a new dairy cow. VisionFund worked with Ephriam, his neighbors and the cooperative to look for new ways to increase their incomes. Now, after just six years Ephriam has twenty cows and he has diversified into pigs. A few weeks ago he sold 50 pigs and his income is now almost $2000/month through his livestock and crops. He provides employment for three people in his community. He has invested in a well for a safe and consistent source of water, he owns a generator and he just finished building a lovely new concrete home. Ephriam can now afford to send his six children to university and no longer worries about his sons becoming thieves like some of the other local boys. The transformation isn’t finished because Ephriam hopes to double the number of dairy cows he has and he is working with the cooperative to increase everyone’s income through yogurt production. This is a great story and we witnessed many more like it but were the Vision, Mission and Core Values of VisionFund reflected in what I saw?
“Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness; our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so” is the Vision of VisionFund. Since Ephriam’s children progressed from surviving to thriving in all aspects of life and there were donors that made the investment possible, it was easy to determine that the Vision is being accomplished. We may not have reached every child and every heart but we are heading in the right direction.
What about the Mission? “We believe in brighter futures for children. Empowering families to create incomes and jobs. Unlocking economic potential for communities to thrive.” Since Ephriam and his neighbors now have a sustainable way to support their families, the Mission is also on track.
The Core Values take a bit more digging to assess because they are not as easy to see on the surface. At VisionFund, we have six stated Core Values:
- We are Christian. It is no coincidence that this value is first – it is fundamental to our identity and frames our work. It transcends any kind of human altruistic motivation. By definition it means we love and serve everyone regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. I was able to see this clearly in Zambia in the words and actions of the staff and volunteers we met and their dedication to the people they serve.
- We are committed to the poor. It is only through bumping down roads that no other NGO bothers with that I can see the commitment of VisionFund to reach the most vulnerable in society. There is a desire and determination to continue the work until every last child is reached.
- We value people. I asked a new loan officer why she applied for over a year to work for VisionFund when she was well qualified to get a job with any bank or microfinance institution. She replied with enthusiasm that it is because VisionFund cares about the clients and wants to help them find ways to improve the lives of their families. In the words of a “newbie” I had my answer.
- We are stewards. Every time I visit the field I am reminded of how the funds raised are leveraged to multiply the work that can be done. It is humbling to see the work of the staff and volunteers in the light of the little they have to work with. This was also reflected in our review of the financial statements and operational/sustainability metrics.
- We are partners. While the spirit of this value is that we work together well inside the global organization, this core value was also reflected in the external partnerships that we saw with community groups, government, corporations and other NGOs. Synergies happen when each partner excels in their area of expertise and the partners work together to leverage each other’s results.
- We are responsive. This value usually speaks to emergency situations however it was evident in the creativity and ingenuity reflected in the products being offered and the listening spirit of the staff on the ground.
Being a board member can sometimes feel like a never-ending cycle of agenda items and board meetings. It is important for board members to engage with staff, volunteers and clients to determine whether the Mission, Vision and Core Values decided around the boardroom table are reflected in the end results.