Behind the Scenes with our Board Chairs (Part One!)

Did you know that Sustainable Harvest International is supported and led by an incredibly active and engaged board of directors? This group of professionals donates their time to connecting ideas to action in Central America under the leadership of a courageous board chair. This summer, Stephen Richards is finishing his term as chair after nearly four busy and productive years. In this two-part series, Steve and his successor, Charlotte Dougherty, shine a light on the past and future of the board. In Part One, Steve illustrates defining moments and landmark initiatives from his tenure as chair. When you're done, be sure to check out Part Two, in which Charlotte fills us in on where we’re headed next!

Board Chair Steve Richards with Founder and President Florence Reed in Panama in 2013. 

Board Chair Steve Richards with Founder and President Florence Reed in Panama in 2013. 

I first became aware of Sustainable Harvest International in the spring of 2012 when I received a phone call from Florence Reed. In Flo’s networking, she had learned that I had extensive leadership experience in international non-profit organizations like the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee.

Through my involvement with those organizations, I had visited and worked in over 60 countries and enjoyed learning about other parts of the world. Most importantly, I was in a position to have an impact on people in desperate situations.

In that first phone call, Flo asked for an appointment to tell me about a wonderful organization she had founded. Flo’s visit was timely. When my wife and I decided to move to the coast of Maine on a year-round basis, my biggest disappointment had been not having any involvement in an international non-profit organization.

I was moved by Flo’s passion for her work, and after a second meeting, I agreed to join the strategic planning committee. The next thing I knew, I had been elected to the board of directors and would be attending my first board meeting in June 2012 in New Hampshire.

The board meeting in June 2012 was, I believe, a defining moment in the organization’s history. It was a very difficult time for us; donations had dropped precipitously, funding for Central American programs had to be substantially reduced, and several staff members had been released.

At Flo’s recommendation, Renée Johnson, who had been serving as Communications Director, became Executive Director, freeing up Flo for more fundraising. We were simultaneously experiencing a shift in board leadership. The board chair had resigned and a former board member, David Borden, had agreed to provide leadership as chair with the understanding that I would take over on January 1, 2013.

I believed a sound and relevant strategic plan was necessary for the future of the organization. I had recruited Deb Burwell, a skilled facilitator, with whom I had worked in the past, to lead us through a new strategic planning process called Real-Time Strategic Planning at that first meeting.

Former board chair Stephen Richards and incoming chair Charlotte Dougherty in Panama.

Former board chair Stephen Richards and incoming chair Charlotte Dougherty in Panama.

The traditional strategic plan frequently takes a year to develop, often fails to address critical needs, and is out of date by the time it is approved.

Real-Time Strategic Planning helped us prioritize issues by identifying “Big Questions” that had to be addressed to move forward. We have continued to identify Big Questions at each June board meeting as part of our strategic planning process, and continued to rely on Deb for support as the organization has grown and restructured.

Charlotte and I are the only board members remaining from my first meeting in June 2012. We now have an excellent, diverse board of fourteen members who bring a variety of skills and experiences that strengthen the organization and its decision-making.

We have learned how to make excellent use of technology enabling us to operate efficiently. But most importantly, we are having a huge impact with the farmers we support.

In January 2013, I visited our program in Panama along with other board members. There, I met Demetrio Martinez, Jr. To say that I was blown away by what he had accomplished on his organic farm would be an understatement!

Demetrio Martinez harvests green onions on his organic farm in Panama.

Demetrio Martinez harvests green onions on his organic farm in Panama.

Demetrio had an amazing variety of crops on terraced land and a pond in which he raised tilapia. He had also installed a composting toilet and a wood-conserving stove. 

He had been so successful that he was selling surplus produce at a local farmers market. He was rightfully proud of what he had accomplished!

Each time I visit one of our country programs, I always come home with an amazing warm feeling. I see pride and a sense of accomplishment in the families who partner with us.  It’s very personal and inspires me to work harder for the families we support.

I will be continuing as a member of the SHI board until my second term ends in 2019. I know that Charlotte will do an outstanding job as the new board chair. She has served as vice chair and has led the important Program Committee for several years. I am confident there will be a smooth and seamless transition in our volunteer leadership. 


Want to know more about where our board is focusing next, and the volunteer leader who's taking us there? Check out Part Two!