The world has changed so fast in the last 7 months that we didn’t know what was coming. Suddenly we need to think faster and figure out what needs to be done. Yet, at the same time we also don’t know how to move forward…this pandemic is something that has never happened in our lifetime unless you are 110 years old or older. As we try to grapple with this pandemic situation, we ask ourselves what kind governance structures can function best in this kind of environment? Our whole approach and discernment started with who we are and defining 3 values based on our Lasallian story and charism: Faith,
Service, and Communion in Mission.
We further on realized that when the pandemic broke loose in March, our immediate concern focused on 3 priority areas:
1. the health and well-being of the
Brothers and Partners
2. connectivity and continuing the mission
during the lockdown period and beyond
3. addressing the needs of the most
vulnerable and needy sectors of society
These three values and three priority areas have guided our efforts at the Generalate of the De La Salle Brothers and the Lasallian family, offering a roadmap to how we might position ourselves for the quality of mission continuity that we wish to provide during and even beyond this pandemic. These three
priority areas have spurred us to pursue bold new initiatives. We wanted to make sure they also reflect our three core and enduring values: in, first and foremost – a faith in a God who continues to make himself known in our missionary journey; second, a belief in being called to service by providing education wherever we are, and; third, a conviction that we are all in this together, as Brothers and Partners, we are in communion, in pursuing pioneering ideas that shape the practice of education today and in the future as a response to what God wants us to be and to do.
Then we moved to identifying what we have been doing all along whether there is a pandemic or no pandemic – we asked ourselves what were those enduring values that have allowed us to continue the work of the Church and building the Reign of God. These four pillars are: philanthropy, advocacy, social services, and shared stewardship that continues to shaped our new ways of doing and being. Then, we proceeded with gathering information electronically to create different country profiles across the world. The data we gathered was used to draw up the Lasallian Mission Moving Forward Planwith 7 key themes and its desired outcomes.
We wanted a platform that cuts across all countries at the same time without dealing too much with local operational matters:
1. Communicating the Core Message of the Lasallian Mission in the new context
2. Embracing the future of the Educational Mission
3. Envisioning Education and Evangelization Beyond the Classroom
4. Ensuring a Strong Operational and Financial Future
5. Reimagining the Life of the Brothers
6. Refocusing Association for Mission
7. Rethinking the Organization of the Institute
There are 4 things we have learnt so far:
1. Taking Care of Your People/Your Family
2. Embracing “Technology is for the Person”
3. Learning to Learn the Mission
4. Be on the lookout for the unexpected ways God might be working in the crisis.
Today, I will only focus on a small part of the whole approach and discernment process that we had and still ongoing…re-thinking the organization of the Institute. It’s only a small part because we believe the structures are not the be all and end all of our mission. I will specifically give focus on some changes we went through at different levels (personal to regional to institutional). The structures may have not changed at all but the way we work and relate to one another have changed a lot. The way we manage our time have changed a lot but the mission outcomes we want are more or less the same. The Center of the Institute or the Generalate is no longer dependent on physical offices but on a virtual space. Practically, we had a virtual Generalate. To give you an example, my role requires traveling: 40% of that is being in Rome where I meet with Brother Superior and the General Council. We meet for 4-6 weeks for 3x a year to discuss and reflect on common issues across 80 countries. In between, I try to visit at least 16 countries under my mandate, depending on how the Visitors or Provincial of Pacific Asia want me to assist them. That’s another 40% Far north is Japan, far south is PNG, Australia and New
Zealand, far southwest are India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka…and the rest are within
Southeast Asia. Manila is another home base but I stay here only 20% of the year. Since the COVID 19 came, I am stuck in Manila. 100% in Manila and no traveling at all. I have to do everything electronically and in the cloud. But even in pre-Covid times, I do a lot of things in the cloud – literally like when I am in the plane or in the airport. As a regional conference,- I meet the
Visitors face to face or in person only once a year. We meet for 2-3 days and discuss common programs, concerns or projects. We rotate the venue. For example, we would meet in India, then Japan, then Pakistan or Malaysia. etc. Now we meet once a month thru Zoom meetings without spending anything on travel and reduce carbon footprint.. I have to say that we get things done more efficiently as before. We get to collaborate on some common projects in a more efficient and effective manner.
Indo-Lanka – we are in the process of merging two administrative units. We used to meet face to face or in person in the last 18 months. But now we have been doing things synchronously and asynchronously. Instead of having a 3 day assembly….we prolonged the process by three months. We
meet once a month by zoom….and all the discussions were done asynchronously, while the reading and voting is done thru google forms. We did this three times in order to simulate first, second, and third
readings as well as voting processes. Association for Mission Assembly – we were supposed to have a 3 day assembly with our lay partners and this turned into a 3 months of data gathering; and one zoom meeting for two hours. All data gatherings were done asynchronously and final discussion and
analysis was done in zoom for feedback giving. Virtual Canonical Visits – Our Provincials
across different countries do zoom one-onone conference’s with the Brothers. They also do zoom community meetings. Young Brothers Forum – there used to be gatherings of all Young Brothers in one
place every 5-6 years….now we can meet almost every other month virtually…dealing with specific topics or concerns common to all. The zoom meetings are for an hour and a half, with simultaneous translation to Vietnamese, and using different digital tools for sharing and chatting. But these are Young Brothers who are more comfortable with such digital tools. I have given you how it has changed the way
I work on a personal and regional level. And just to give you an idea of the region by the numbers. We have 200 educational ministries with more or less 16K Partners
and 192K students. Most of our ministries have gone online. In the last 7 months, we have practically gone online…some countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and in some
areas in Australia and New Zealand have opened schools and there are in person classes. However, full online learning and blended learning has been fast tracked or adopted easily. Last January, who would have thought of going full online – I am sure no one. By going full online, the work from home arrangements as well as remote work had to be put in place within 48 hours for many countries in Pacific Asia. I am sharing many of these changes because for us Brothers we learn a lot from how our ministries adapt and make sure that as an Institute or as an international organization
we also try to adapt and become more agile and resilient. I have to say I was impressed by how our
Brothers and Partners kept the mission
going. But my experience in PACIFIC ASIA varies from the experience of other regional
conferences in Europe, Latin America, North America and Africa. However we have the same common platform that has been outlined in our document known as the Lasallian Mission Moving Forward Plan. We didn’t talk much about structures as much as the desired outcomes and goals that we wish to accomplish. These desired outcomes and goals are nothing new….it was based on our
2014 General Chapter. It was also based on our regular reflections as a General Council on our leadership priorities in the last 5 years. Again we didn’t focus on structures – when I say “re-thinking”, it is more on how we approach and discern what is happening to us; it is more on how we relate with one another, how we work towards a common goal, how we view the current issues and concerns, how do we make sure that remote working or work from home will actually work? It’s about how we can make use of technology, digital tools, and tech talent to stay mission ready, and expect that these changes to outlast the pandemic. Let us take a look at General Chapters. Normally, most congregations get their mandate from the General Chapter and this mandate flows to the local chapters. If there is a Regional Conference, it acts as a way of coordinating and collaborating between local major religious superiors and other administrative units. This is the template of
many religious congregations. After the General Chapter, we come up with an organizational chart….this organizational chart has helped us navigate in the pre-Covid 19. Since the beginning of Covid 19 – we
have learnt to know more about the “office in the cloud” We been doing this pre-Covid times but not more often. The only thing we added was Zoom to replace google meet at the Generalate. Since the physical face to face or in person meetings have been drastically reduced by more than 50% or even 90-100% – we have to rely on work from home and remote working practices at different levels of the Institute. We were learning from our own ministries how they do remote work, remote teaching, and remote learning, remote meetings etc. … If we look at the percentages of time allotted for such kind of work and communication styles between pre-Covid to Covid times…these are estimates and not exact. There are big changes especially on in person meetings. These change also meant different ways of relating to one another and adapting our working styles to what best fits what we want to accomplish. At the Generalate, we had to re-configure the way we set the agenda and how we would structure our reflections and discussions. Since not all of us are in Rome and we have to deal with 5 different time zones…so we
need to accommodate those changes in the way we want to use email, zoom, google drive…etc. So far this is what helped us. Pre Covid – we were meeting 3 x a year for 4-6 weeks and meet in person every day in Rome. Now we meet in zoom once a week only in the months of February, June, and September. We meet less but get more things done. The reason we spent more time asynchronously is because we all have different rhythms and work styles in different time zones. Some are more technologically adept than others, some work better in the morning or evening…some can write better and some can be more verbal, so on and. so forth. Having said that, to do things asynchronously have all these benefits. At least from what I have found out from our schools – there are costs and benefits to online way of doing things. These are some of our findings in our ministries which applies to the Generalate also. If we look at the benefits, I believe it will outweigh the costs in the long run…or what’s hurts in the short term can help us in the long run.
Again – virtual or online is not that all good. So we asked our lay partners or those working in mission, what could be their biggest struggle?
**collaboration – since this is a new environment for all of us, we need to learn how to do things differently and this takes time, discipline and effort in the beginning as we learn to navigate the digital world..
**loneliness – the kind of in person interaction is no longer possible as much as before which has been the primary way of relating for many of our teachers and administrators ….and of course us, as religious. We will have to deal with loneliness with greater intensity…
**not being able to unplug —- this is dangerous because if we don’t put a discipline into the way we work, we find ourselves in front of our devices 24/7; there are a lot of studies why certain social media platforms are addicting because do a lot of research of consumer behaviors and the only
way the platforms can monetize their business model is to hook their customers to a social media platform; Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok are good examples of these platforms. If these are the things we are finding out, what then? From time to time, from chapter to chapter – we tinker with organizational structures and processes; if we are going to trace the organizational changes that have
happened since 1930s – it would tell us how we have evolved as an organization; it would tell us how we have adapted throughout the years. I am sure some were good structures and some structures have outlived its purpose. Some structures were dependent on the skills set of the personnel; some structures were dependent on the conditions at a given time…nonetheless we try to
evolve and adapt as much as possible. Some 4 practical things to remember: First, based on our discernment and approach, we realize we need to stay focused. Focused on what? We focused on what outcomes and impacts do we want for our mission as a religious congregation? If this is clear to us, only then can we think of persons, structures and what are the best digital tools that we can use for the benefit of the mission. Second, once we know the end in mind, once we have a good grasp of the desired mission outcomes, then we can look at out pool of talents, our human resources…. we have to ask ourselves how can we best promote our mission, given our human resources. I think the human capital of religious organizations may be scarce and limited but it has always been like that since the time of Jesus. We just need go figure out how to optimize our human resources at any given time and condition because we know that structures, processes, and digital tools will only be as good as the people who run the organization. Third, what will our dashboard look like? what are our gospel metrics? what is our bottom line? Regardless of our charism, what is common to all of us is how we treat our neighbor how we treat the most vulnerable and poor? How will our human resources, structures, processes and digital tools have an impact in our mission of reaching out to our neighbors?
At the end of the day – we go back to basics; we go back to what the Gospel tells us….I call them the gospel metric of loving God and loving our neighbor….that is our basic mission.
Lastly – a very practical diagnostic tool which I would like to share with you on how to re-think the organization of an Institute based on two questions:
1) How geographically clustered or dispersed are the skills, capabilities and resources needed for the Mission to operate effectively and efficiently?
2) How competent are the human resources in the Institute at working effectively across geographies?
By looking at these two basic questions, we can begin to re-think the organization of the
If we develop a matrix based on those two questions and two factors – predominantly location/geography based and predominantly skills based…this is the matrix of strategies that we can think of:
1. Home Base Strategy
High centralized- command and control
structure is clear; every authority, expertise,
and influence emanates from the Generalate
– secretariats and services based in Rome or
2. De-centralized Strategy
Highly Loose- operate in cells or network of cells; there is no center; no command and control structure; autonomy is defined according what needs to be done and accomplished based on the mission goals – to each his own with predetermined mission goals and outcomes – our local communities operate like this, we spread them out and each of them has some mission or ministry to do.
3. Platform Strategy
– the authority and mandate comes from a particular organizational unit/Generalate and you want to build programs that are universal and common enough to all, yet allows for customization and adaptation; many of our international documents…Declaration and Identity
Criteria – educational principles and philosophy based our charism and translated into some kind of a scorecard that can be adapted according to the local conditions and culture.
4. Federation strategy Networking strategy- different expertise, and levels of authority and influence but you want to confined this into a location or several locations – Alumni networks, University networks usually has a secretariat that does not necessarily reside in Rome but can be in several places.
5. Hub Strategy
– like home base strategy but on a limited scale and scope; communication service in Rome works as a center but they don’t do all the work; content is provided for by all different districts or provinces ; they also help provinces that don’t have
6. Portfolio Strategy
– locating a particular expertise, service, authority or influence outside the Generalate
– usually Provincialates and their leadership team have a specific portfolio to achieve based on their local Chapters aligned with the General Chapters.
7. Regional Strategy
– locating a particular expertise, service, authority or influence outside the Generalate
– and ask regional conferences to figure out what are the needs for the Region that is unique to them – regional novitiate or formation houses where different provinces / districts participate.
8. Mandate Strategy
– locating a particular expertise, authority or influence on a particular administrative unit or office such as secretariats and services located in Rome or outside Rome and they have a specific function that they can scale across borders Solidarity and Development projects. *However in reality we all have a mixture of all strategies and the structures we put in place….any of this strategy can be local, regional, or global. You can add another layer and figure out if you want to focus on animation, or governance, or formation, or mission, or spirituality….it can be anything under the sun, and in any combination, depending on what can best serve the
mission….. Again there are no right or wrong answers, …this is all about how we optimize and allocate assets, resources, and diverse people into operating units around the world? It is also about to what extent we are sharing ideas and talents across boundaries and looking at economies of scale that can make our mission more effective and adapt to the signs of the times. There are no easy answers. There are no hard and fast rules. That’s why if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!