What follows is a narrative of efforts to obtain a $35,166 Global Grant in support of one phase of this on going and, by all accounts, highly successful project. Names and identifying information of individuals have been removed as they have not formally granted permission for their use in a public forum. Nevertheless, none of the communications were made in confidence; and I certify that the referenced messages were written by individuals holding the positions cited.
Early in 2011, the Honduras Project team made me aware that they, in partnership with Rotarians from a neighboring district, were working on a Global Grant to support their ongoing efforts around the city of Choluteca. Their plan was to partner with TRF to develop a Bigger, Better, and Bolder project in accordance the requirements imposed under Future Vision. Our district and the neighboring district had pledged District Designated Funds (DDF) towards the effort, and the neighboring District had agreed to become the Sponsoring Club under Future Vision Guidelines. I was informed that Future Vision had introduced rule changes that were hindering the process, but that during a face to face meeting in New Orleans with high ranking Rotary officials (including the RI General Secretary), our team had been assured that an exception could be made that would enable the project to apply for a Global Grant. An Invitation to Apply came as promised and our team members were confident that they, with the help of the neighboring district’s Future Vision Grant Coordinator, could develop a successful application. They were proven wrong when their application was rejected even though they had discussed requirements and received advice from the Future Vision Staff. The rejection cited a failure to address any of Future Vision’s Six Areas of Focus and the absence of elements to ensure sustainability. The actual text may be viewed in Appendix A.
Our team was surprised and disappointed. Numerous conversations within the team ensued and our team leader, a Past District Governor and TRF Major Donor, sent an emotional response to the Grant Coordinator.
(FV Staff Member--Name Omitted),
I thought the new proposal had covered all that you asked for in the conference call on November 21st. I really don't know what more you want or what more we can add. You, and (two names omitted) gave us such hope that with a new application the grant could be approved, only to have the rug jerked out from under us. I feel that we should be looking for reasons to approve the grant rather than looking microscopically for reasons to turn it down. Last February I took 25 Rotarians to Jayacayan to wire 66 homes in the community at a cost close to $40,000 dollars that I raised by visiting Rotary Clubs in my district of 6760, presenting programs on our projects in Honduras in order to raise the funds. Another cost of over $25,000 in airline tickets, hotel and meals that came out of the pockets of the volunteers. We now have a community wired and ready for electrical power. For a project of $64,000 we are only asking for $17,000 from MY Foundation to fund this Phase 2. I have personally contributed nearly that much to the Foundation as a Major Donor. Our Honduras Project has, in the past 4 years, produced 4 RI Service Above Self recipients, several major donors, and my club of 100 members became a 100% PHF club because we believed so strongly in our Foundation. I'm now having thoughts of terrible disappointment.
I disagree strongly with all the reasons that you have listed to reject the proposal. It addresses everything that we discussed in our conference call and everything that you have listed in your rejection letter. It covers the focus on Economic and Community Development, sustainability and we have discussed in the proposal the outcome that would result in providing electrical power. I don't think there is anything more that we can add. I think someone else should look at the proposal with new eyes and a different attitude.
I can carry on our commitments and obligations to the people of Honduras without your help. I have donated my last dollar to the Foundation and hope that all that are involved in our Honduras projects will, in the future, give their money directly to our projects rather than to the Foundation.
I'm sorry if I sound negative toward TRF at the moment, but it’s because I really am disappointed. Several people have put in a tremendous amount of hours in getting this grant proposal and application filed only to have it rejected for reasons that don't fit the situation. I know you can do better. I will continue to make life better for the good people of Honduras with or without your help.
James L. Johnston
Past District Governor, District 6760
Honduras Project Manager
The rejection not only surprised our project team, but also surprised our trained Future Vision mentor and at least two of the high ranking officials who had voted to grant the original exception. It was apparent from their comments that there was a significant disconnect between these officials and the Future Vision Staff about what should be required under the Community Development Area of Focus.
Two such comments:
"I do not understand why the proposed electrification project does not fall within the economic and community development area of focus. One of the goals of this area of focus presented to the Trustees in October 2008 is: "Building the capacity of local organizations and community networks to support economic development." This goal was tentatively approved again by the Future Vision Committee at its meeting last week. I do not understand how providing electrification to a community does not build the capacity of a community network to support economic development...... Furthermore, I do not understand how this project is not sustainable. If the electrification project is to be turned over to the national electrical authority, it seems that the highest degree of sustainability available in the country will be achieved".
"Jim: I am confused. The Trustees voted to make this grant an exception in New Orleans for the electrical power.I do not understand if providing electricity to homes to provide lights, cooking, etc is not an improvement throughout the community, what is? ..."
Each of these high level Rotarians asked the Future Vision Staff to explain the rejection. The staff responded with an explanation stating that simply providing electricity to a remote village was not sufficient to qualify under an area of focus (see Appendix B.). While acknowledging that electricity is crucial for the development of certain businesses, our project would have to include additional elements to ensure that businesses would indeed develop. The response mentioned business plans and purchase of equipment such as refrigerators. In a nutshell, our team was being asked to further expand the scope of our project.
By this time, our project team was totally disheartened and had resolved that it would be necessary to self fund the project. To his credit, our trained Mentor was not ready to give up. He made the following appeal to the project team and the FV Staff:
As a facilitator for this project, I feel caught between two Rotary factions, both of which are at loggerheads; I want to break the impasse. To my Rotary colleagues, do not give up on our Foundation. You know it to be a quality institution that has made profound differences, for the good, in raising the level of quality of life around the globe. That said, to the TRF staff, we are going to have to find a more efficient process for resolving the kind of differences this particular grant has struggled with. Any process that leads to frustration, anger, and rejection of the Foundation is simply counterproductive and not acceptable. As a Future Vision coordinator, I feel we have to work toward resolving this issue, and clarifying guidelines for future grant proposals/applications. If we do not do this, I sense that launching this process worldwide to the remaining 433 districts is going to be a global train wreck of epic proportions. No district should have to fight for a year to get a $17,000 funding request; $200,000 I can understand; $17,000 I cannot.
(Name Omitted), help me/us better understand specifically what action(s) needs to be taken; please don't respond theoretically - give me practical guidance in how I can bring these disparate groups back together. If there is a specific action we need to take in Jayacayan, then spell it out. Maybe I am just misinterpreting TRF guidelines, and I have been through and managed Grant Management training in our district. If I am not "getting it," help me know how to do just that. It is a simple reality that many clubs, particularly small ones, find the entire process absolutely daunting; that is not a good thing. Rotarians, do not abandon me at this point. All of us need to step back, take a deep breath, and calmly step back to the plate. I look forward to hearing from you.
In response, our team did take a deep breath and resolved to try again. Our friends in Honduras identified an NGO that could provide business training and we increased the project budget to cover this expense. We tried to develop practical metrics for measurement and evaluation. We submitted yet another proposal and hoped to receive an Invitation to Apply for a Global Grant.
Our project team did in fact receive an Invitation to Apply. Under the guidance of our trained mentor we worked to flesh out the information needed for the application including the added training element and development of metrics. Development of metrics with a practical collection scheme that could be managed by our colleagues in Honduras was a major struggle. Due to the distances and multiple districts that were involved, the effort required approximately five months. We eventually reached a consensus on what we could reasonably measure, but recognized that this might not satisfy the grant coordinators in Evanston.
There is an old saying in project management, “There comes a time in every project when one must shoot the engineers and begin production”. With the clock running out, our team elected to submit the available information and hope for the best.
TRF responded with a two page request for additional information (see Appendix C). The Grant Coordinator asked for clarification of our implementation schedule and for a narrative on how we would publicize the project (we had provided photos of how we had publicized previous projects and had assumed that TRF would understand that we intended to do the same for this effort, we were incorrect). The Coordinator asked how we would inventory materials to be used even though these would be purchased through, installed by, and maintained by the local power authority. We were asked for mountains of information on the organization and individuals we would employ to provide business training, what the curriculum would be, and how we would measure the training program’s success. We were asked for information on the Community Board that would provide long term oversight of the project; how it would be organized, and what activities it would organize to ensure the creation and expansion of businesses. How would we collect statistics to prove the fact? The coordinator also asked for additional MOU’s from partnering organizations. While on their surface, these would seem to be reasonable requests, they clearly demonstrate how the Global Grant Application is a difficult and burdensome process. Many of us wonder what the process would have been like if it had not been “streamlined”.
I have since come to believe the monitoring and evaluation pillar of sustainability is the Achilles Heel of the FV Global Grant program. This requirement adds an enormous amount of work to host clubs (who often have limited resources and administrative capability), and provides no direct benefit to the project participants or to the targeted beneficiaries.
Although we had not received an outright rejection, it was all too apparent that the FV Grant Coordinator would not approve our project without a more focused effort on the training. This was a major disconnect between our project team and TRF. We had fallen into the trap of trying to qualify under Community Development when our boots on the ground idea of community development was not in tune with the expectations of the grant coordinators. What had been a relatively minor element to enable our application to qualify for a Global Grant would now have to become an inordinately large part of our electrification project. Our project would have to become an exercise in social engineering that would be unrecognizable from its original intent.
We asked our colleagues in Honduras whether they were willing and able to administratively support the increased requirements. After numerous conversations, we decided that we should abandon the Global Grant and fund the project through our own resources. We decided that after two years, it was time to move on.
By cancelling the project, our team not only lost the requested match, but also the DDF Funding that had been pledged to the project; a total loss of $35,166. As of this writing, the resulting shortfall has been made up by contributions from other clubs and a generous increase in budget from our home club. After many months of delay, the villagers of Jayacayan will be getting their electricity. [Update, the power was turned on in the village on or about February 4, 2013.]
The Rotarians who spent nearly two years working within the system have learned a hard lesson and are understandably disillusioned with Future Vision. Since TRF Rules (unrelated to the implementation of Future Vision) prohibit funding of projects already completed, we could not proceed with Phase 2 of the project until we had a formal grant approval, or knew for certain that we would not be receiving a Global Grant. Therefore, our project team’s effort to participate in Future Vision resulted in a significant delay in providing a badly needed service to the people of Jayacayan. This resulted in significant personal embarrassment for the Rotarians who have worked directly with the villagers, and may have created irreparable harm to Rotary’s image within this small community. Our project leader has stated that it will be years before he makes another attempt to apply for a Global Grant, probably never. As of this writing, it is unclear how this experience will affect my club’s longstanding support of The Rotary Foundation. The following is a wrap up letter from myself to project leader Jim Johnston:
Congratulations on your successful effort to arrange funding for the Jayacayan electrification project following the withdrawal of our Global Grant application. Through your effort, you have shown that Rotary Clubs can in fact come together to support worthwhile projects with or without support from The Rotary Foundation. Considering the hurdles that TRF placed in your path, your success is all the more impressive. When TRF denied your Global Grant application for a third time, and began their all too familiar "ask for more information" tactic on the fourth, lesser men would have simply given up. You, on the other hand, turned away from the Foundation and recruited financial commitment from at least fifteen sister clubs to augment our own club's substantial contribution and the small DSG awarded by our District.
I am happy that the Lawrenceburg Board of Directors stepped up with an additional $10K for the effort. Combined with the $15K already committed, our club has shown that it is in fact a District Leader in International Service. Making up a $34,000 shortfall is a truly remarkable achievement for a bunch of Bubba's from a small Tennessee community. This would not have been possible without your personal commitment to the good people of Honduras.
It is unfortunate that TRF, under the policies of its Future Vision initiative, chose to turn its back on our project. It is ironic that your effort to develop a Bigger, Better, and Bolder project was stifled and nearly killed by the very program that is trying to promote such initiatives. Nevertheless, the success of your effort demonstrates that there is in fact life after Future Vision.
Yours in Rotary;
PP, RC of Lawrenceburg (TN, USA)
PHF+8, TRF Major Donor
PS: I have taken the liberty of copying many who supported our effort and who otherwise are interested in the future of TRF. I know that you will join me in thanking them for their support.
December 9, 2011 Rejection Letter
From: Name Omitted (Future Vision Grant Coordinator)
Email Addresses Omitted
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2011 10:01:34 -0600
Subject: Global Grant proposal: Jayacayan electrical distribution system
Dear (Project Team Leaders),
On 1 December 2011, The Rotary Foundation (TRF) received your new global grant proposal entitled Jayacayan electrical distribution system.
On our conference call of 21 November, Candace and I discussed with you the requirements that projects have to meet in order to be funded with global grants. As you know, they have to align with an area of focus (and meet one or several of its goals), they have to incorporate activities that make the project sustainable, and finally they have to have outcomes that can be measured.
Projects funded with global grants have to provide a comprehensive strategy for building the capacity of the local community and better ensure that the benefits of the project are sustained over time. The best time to put together that strategy is in the planning phase, when you are designing a project.
I have thoroughly reviewed your new proposal but unfortunately, it does not appear to be eligible for a global grant due to issues concerning the area of focus and the sustainability of the project. In our phone conversation, we explained that the construction of an electrical distribution system does not align with any area of focus and is not sustainable. In order for your project to fit in the Economic and Community Development area of focus and be sustainable, we suggested that you incorporated activities that will enable the Jayacayan community to develop / enhance income generating opportunities. Those activities had to become part of the new project design and we expected that probably they would require the use of some grant funds to finance them.
We agree that electricity is an essential need in any community but unless the access to electricity is accompanied by activities that support its use in a productive way,electricity by itself does not have any economic value. Though you mention the "cottage industries and small businesses" that may start once Jayacayan has electricity, the development/ enhancement/ support of those small businesses and cottage industries is not part of your project design, and may not be realized without additional support.
When reviewing your new proposal, we are left with the same initial project that will provide the electricity system and that once complete will be turned over to the Honduran Electricity Company.
I regret that I am not writing with better news. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me.
Senior Grants Coordinator
Future Vision Staff
December 15, 2011 Staff Response To Senior Officials Concerning the Reason for the 2011 Rejection
From: (High Ranking FV Staff Member)
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 5:15 PM
To: (High Ranking Rotary Official)
Cc: (Project Team, High Ranking Rotary Officials, High Ranking TRF Officials, RI Future Vision Steering Committee)
Subject: RE: Global Grant proposal: Jayacayan electrical distribution system
As the Program Officer for Global Grants, I wanted to respond to the concerns that have been raised over the third denial of this project to expand the reach of the Honduran electrical utility to the community of Jayacayan.
The basic concerns around the project center on its alignment with the economic and community development area of focus, which supports activities that improve the economic livelihood of communities. No one questions that electricity is an absolute essential for many businesses, but electricity by itself does not make a business. One must be able to access/afford the electricity; one must have a business plan; one must have any equipment that is needed to start the business (e.g. refrigerators to store produce). If these elements are not in place, it is possible that a business could result but it is by no means assured. Many good outcomes are hoped for in this project, but the steps necessary to see that they occur are missing from the project design. That is why the proposal for funding continues to be denied.
Multiple members of the Pilot Operations staff have worked extensively with the project designers to explain the concepts and recommend elements that would lead to approval. At least one key designer is from a nonpilot district and has not had the benefit of Future Vision training, which would of course makes this whole process more challenging.
It is no pleasure for the Foundation to deny a project for which so much work has been done with the best intentions for the community. However, to really improve the economic capacity in the community, the clubs and districts have been asked to include other components to the project beyond the provision of electricity that will tangibly result in improving the economic standing of the beneficiaries.
I know that this decision is keenly disappointing, but the Foundation cannot approve projects that do not have the elements in place to ensure that they ultimately accomplish their intended goal.
Manager, Future Vision Pilot Operations Department
Program Officer, Global Grants & District Grants
The Rotary Foundation
June 18, 2012 Request for Additional Information (The Final Straw)
Dear Rotarians (District Project Coordinators—Names Omitted):
On 18 June 2012, The Rotary Foundation (TRF) received your global grant application entitled Jayacayan Electrical Distribution System, sponsored by D-6860 and RC Choluteca (D-4250).
I have thoroughly reviewed your application and in order to meet the global grants requirements please revised it in Member Access to provide the following information:
• Humanitarian application – Section A- Question 2: Please delete the wiring of homes, churches, etc because that has already been completed and is not a project objective.
• Humanitarian application – Section A- Questions 5 and 6: You say that you will implement your project in 1 month (May 2012- June 2012). Evidently that is not realistic because you are not giving your project enough time for the training, the use of that training by entrepreneurs to start or grow businesses, the monitoring of the businesses, and the collection of statistics to demonstrate the training success and its impact in the households’ income. Therefore, please correct the length of the project implementation.
• Humanitarian application – Section B - Question 5: Your answer is mostly about how you publicized in the past. What you have to answer is how Rotarians from RC Choluteca and D-6860 will publicize this project that will have two activities: 1) the supply of the electrical distribution system and street lights, and 2) the training of entrepreneurs that will grow existing businesses or start new businesses that require electricity as an input.
• Humanitarian application – Section C – Question 1: There are two more cooperating organization that you have to enter. They are CERTEC and Semillero Empresarial which will cooperate on the second and very important activity of this project: the training. So please enter these organizations.
• Humanitarian application – Section C – Question 2: Please add the background information for CERTEC and Semillero Empresarial and their roles to your answer.
• Humanitarian application – Section D – Question 3: The answer you have provided shows that the question has been misunderstood. According to the MOU that qualified RC Choluteca, this club (as all FV clubs) has to maintain a centralized inventory of all the goods purchased with grant funds, their location, the grant they belong to, and copies of invoices for audit purposes. Therefore, please respond accordingly.
In addition, please provide the following information by e-mail:
• Description of the community board: Please describe in detail the Jayacayan community board: what its responsibilities are, how it makes decisions, and what activities it will organize that will be conducive to the generation/ expansion of businesses where electricity is an indispensable input.
• Description of the business training provided by CERTEC: Please list all the subjects that will be taught, where the training will take place, the number of hours that will be taught, the number of people that will be trained, the materials that will be used for the training, how the trainers will assess the success of the training, if this training will be general business training or specific to the type of businesses that will be started/ expanded in Jayacayan and that require electricity, how this training will be funded, etc. Please provide copies of the training materials that will be used.
• Description of leadership training provided by Semillero Empresarial: Please clarify if Semillero Empresarial will still be providing the leadership training or in any case, who Uzias Zuniga works for. Please clarify if this leadership training is in addition to the business training that will be provided by CERTEC. List the subjects that will be taught, where the training will take place, the number of hours that will be taught, the number of people that will be trained, the materials that will be used for the training, how the trainers will assess the success of the training. Please provide copies of the training materials that will be used
• MOUs: Make sure to upload four Memorandum of Understanding. The first one has to be signed by Semillero Empresarial (or by the company Uzias Zuniga works for), D-6860, and RC Choluteca. The second one has to be signed by CERTEC, D-6860, and RC Choluteca. The third one has to be signed by Jayacayan community board, D-6860, and RC Choluteca. The fourth one needs to be signed by the city of San Marcos, D-6860, and RC Choluteca. In all cases, please list the responsibilities each party will be responsible for in the project implementation. Please use the following form:
• Grant Monitoring Plan: Please fill out and return to us the Global Grant Monitoring Plan that I am attaching:
I will put your application in “information requested” status so that you can address all the above mentioned issues. If you have any questions, please let me know.
Senior Grants Coordinator
Future Vision Staff