NSA Elections in North America 2009

Ridvan ushers in not just a great festival for the Baha’i world but also the annual National Conventions where we get a chance to reflect on the year past, accomplishments and future goals. As well as to elect the 9 members of our national governing bodies. Yes, it is springtime and incumbency is in the air.

With the retirement of Dorothy Nelson, the US NSA was given a rare opportunity to welcome a new member: Ms. Valerie Dana from Colorado. She is an attorney at law and until 2004 she was a director of the Mona Foundation.

Except for this new member, the same 8 incumbents were re-elected and not surprisingly, in almost the same order of votes: Jacqueline Left Hand Bull, David F. Young, Kenneth E. Bowers, Juana C. Conrad, William Roberts, Muin Afnani, Erica Toussaint, Robert C. Henderson.

US NSA with new member, Deloria Bighorn

US NSA with new member, Valerie Dana

The national convention in Canada had similar results except that two previous members retired, allowing for two new members to be elected. Elizabeth Wright was elected to the NSA of Canada in January 2009 as a result of a by-election caused by the resignation of Fariborz Sahba. From 2004 onward, Mr. Sahba had been a member of the national governing body and acted as the Treasurer. So although technically Wright was re-elected, I still count her as a new member because of the circumstances.

The second new member is Deloria Bighorn, replacing the retiring Mark Wedge who had been serving on the NSA for 10 consecutive years. Similar to the longstanding member she replaced and Valerie Dana, Ms. Bighorn is a North American native. Previously she acted as the Director of Aboriginal Affairs for the NSA of Canada, as well as working as a counselor at the now closed Maxwell Baha’i School.

Elizabeth Wright, Gerald Filson, Deloria Bighorn

Elizabeth Wright, Gerald Filson, Deloria Bighorn

The 7 re-elected incumbents are: Karen McKye, Todd Smith, Borna Noureddin, Judy Filson, Enayat Rawhani, Gordon Naylor, Elizabeth Wright and Susanne Tamas (in descending order of votes). Deloria Bighorn received the lowest number of votes which is in keeping with the traditional experience for new members.

Because incumbency is so prevalent, it is rare to see 2 new members in one election. Usually we see either no change, with all previous members re-elected or just one new face due to retirement. The last time we saw 2 new members, as is the case this year, was in 1999. The longest serving members of the Canadian NSA are Judy Filson and Enayat Rohani. The average consecutive years in office is 8 – meaning that the average member of the NSA of Canada has been a member for 8 years consecutively. Due to the 2 new members, this represents a slight decrease from last year’s number of 8.6 years.

There is a happy medium between too many years and too few years. If members are changing quickly, then they don’t have time to learn, make connections and to be able to take up the heavy responsibility that comes with being an NSA member. On the other hand, if membership is hardly changing at all, as we are seeing now, the disadvantages are that people get burned out, devolve into group-think, run out of ideas, form cliques and fiefdoms, etc. For this reason, it is difficult to draw the line and give a specific number of years, for example.

But when we are seeing that the only way new blood can be introduced into an NSA by the decision of an incumbent to retire due to old age, then it is safe to suggest that the pendulum has swung to an extreme. Of course, we are talking about a free election here. No one is forcing the Baha’is of the US and Canada to elect the same people over and over again.

And yet they do. There is an inherent flaw in the structure of the elections which needs be addressed. It is at this point that fellow Baha’is usually bristle with affront and close their minds. Which is unfortunate since the administrative processes are an evolving and organic framework. Even a cursory study of them and their history would attest to the fact that they are not set in stone and shouldn’t be – especially if they start to produce harmful results. They are the servants to the community, not the other way around.

To understand the flaw and how it can be remedied, please refer to a previous discussion: Baha’i Elections – How to Improve Them.


Time for Ruhi to Show Us the Money: Part II


This is the second installment asking why the Baha’i Ruhi courses should “show us the money”. If you missed the first part, then click on the previous link to go back and read it. You can skip it but doing so would be like walking into an LSA meeting; it’ll only leave you confused and unsatisfied.

While Ruhi is attuned to the cultural norms of Colombia, either by design or accident, that does not guarantee or prove that it is a success. That is, proving or showing that there was an inherent fit between the structure or style of the course and the country in which it was first implemented is one thing, showing that it was a success in that country is another matter.

hofstede-cultural-constants-colombia-ukBy the way, the culture that Arbab himself was most familiar with and attuned to, Iran, bears a striking resemblance to that of Colombia. And I’m sure that throughout the process of development, the Ruhi course was in turn molded and shaped into what it is by the very fact that the feedback was coming from Colombians (and not, say, from the UK). So although, initially, it may have had a loose shape, over the many iterations and refinements it underwent, Ruhi progressively came to more and more resemble its environment. And to summarize from Part I, these were: a preference for black and white absolutes (rather than greys), group or collective organization (rather than individuals) and hierarchical (rather than egalitarian) structures.

So under such idyllic conditions: having the full support of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Colombia and the Universal House of Justice (along with the ITC), having sufficient financial backing – provided by the institutions – to initiate the project and to refine it iteratively, having a long gestation and maturation to perfect the courses, having a complementary style to the culture of Columbia, was Ruhi successful?

And by this I don’t mean did very many Baha’is in Colombia participate in Ruhi courses, but did Ruhi deliver results? In other words, did Ruhi increase the size of the Colombian Baha’i community? After all, this is why it was created.

If that is news to you, let me pause to explain. The Baha’i community had seen, randomly scattered, large scale conversions before. The challenge was that although a great multitude would enter after a successful teaching campaign, within a short period of time they would drift away or become inactive. Ruhi was created as a systematic method by which human resources could be developed to deepen these new believers and involve them in community life and then, eventually, to engage in another round of teaching campaigns. And so on and so on. This is what “exploiting the framework for action” means. This is what the now common catchphrase “intensive programmes of growth” or IPG means. After all, you can’t have IPG without the G or growth.

But even so, questioning the efficacy of Ruhi at first may seem silly. After all, we all know that Ruhi has expanded beyond Colombia and is now implemented in all Baha’i communities around the world. And yet, the question remains, petulantly tapping its feet, waiting to be answered. It reminds me of the introspection undertaken by Willow Creek Church (thanks to Steve for bringing it to our attention through BahaisOnline):

“Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”

Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research ?the wake-up call? of his adult life.

A qualitative study such as the one Willow Creek undertook is challenging because it measured factors that aren’t easily quantified. But a study of the efficacy of Ruhi in promoting numerical growth would be rather simple. For example, what if we compared the communities in Colombia that were doing Ruhi in the 1970’s and 1980’s to those in surrounding Latin American countries that hadn’t yet done Ruhi? Such a study would, more or less, isolate Ruhi as the only factor while keeping the same time, culture, economic development, etc.

If we feel extra adventurous, why not look at not just quantitative results but also qualitative ones? After all, if Ruhi can and did improve the quality of our communities, then eventually, those communities would be much more attractive to seekers and as a corollary, they would experience numerical expansion.

So where is our very own survey to find out if Ruhi was a success in Colombia?

As far as I know there hasn’t been any. Although we seem to have become enamored with statistics, keeping track of how many people are taking Ruhi 1 vs. Ruhi 2 or how many A or B or C clusters there are, etc. Similar to Willow Creek’s old approach, all the statistical activity is bent on monitoring the uptake of the Ruhi program, not about its efficacy. And that should be alarming to all Baha’is.

But the feedback is there, in the numbers, if you look carefully. After all, positive results can not hide for long.

Think about it: we’re talking about a sequence of courses, implemented with the full backing of the institutions, in the most fertile environment, for over forty years. Read that again. Ruhi is 40 years old. The exact birth date is nebulous but it is most often cited as being started in late 1960’s and early 1970’s. What that means is that teenagers that were in the first, rudimentary, Ruhi study circles organized by Arbab are now well into middle age. Forty years is two generations!

So, what has Ruhi done for the Colombian Baha’i community after more than 40 years of continuous application?

That is, I think everyone will agree, a fair question to ask. Nowhere else is Ruhi so well suited, nowhere else has Ruhi so much continuous experience, nowhere else has Ruhi undergone so much development than in Colombia.

Has Ruhi set Colombia ablaze with the fire of the Baha’i Faith?

Has Ruhi, after 40+ years, instigated and fueled “entry by troops” in Colombia?

Has Ruhi attracted new believers, swelling the rank of Baha’is in Colombia?

Has Ruhi then deepened these new believers, retaining them and propelling the Colombian Baha’i community ever forward?

Has Ruhi cut a swath through the social fabric of Colombia as easily as a Jewish mother through self-esteem?

If anyone can show that after 40+ years there is an avalanche of results that makes Ruhi irrefutably the success that it is trumped up to be to the rest of the world; then all criticism will be swept aside with one fell swoop.

This should be an incredibly easy task. And it would silence, if not all critics of the Ruhi approach, then most certainly this one. Who dare argue with results? Who dare question or criticize the method when it has brought clear success? Who dare suggest cutting down the tree that yields such goodly fruit? Not I.

Extra credits go to those that can not only provide Baha’i sourced data that shows an explosion of growth in the Baha’i community of Colombia but also confirmation through third-party sources such as government census data or university research reports, etc.

I’ve searched high and low but have not found any such data. This is why I’m putting out an All Points Bulletin (APB). This is the intertubes and they wind their way into all sorts of places. If you are reading this and know of such data or where it can be found, then please drop a comment below and enlighten us all. If any Baha’i is reading this from South America or dare I say it? Colombia… then please make gentle inquiries to your NSA or provide letters, year end reports, or whatever official documentation you can to shut up the critics of Ruhi for good.

Please note that I’m being extremely gentle in this regard because had there been such success, all Baha’is would have heard about it in great detail. And yet, I look forward to being proven wrong because then it will afford me the opportunity to learn something.

If, after 40 plus years of gestation and maturation, through continuous implementation and iterative development and perfection; with a program structure incredibly attuned to and complementary to the culture of its host environment; with the full financial, moral and administrative support of the Baha’i institutions; if with all these advantages, Ruhi can not provide significant results that prove its efficacy beyond a doubt in its native country of Colombia… then by what rationale should we expect it to suddenly start to succeed now? and especially in other, much more hostile cultures?

The next step would be clear:

Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire.
– Baha’u’llah (Persian Hidden Words)

Universal House of Justice: Ridvan Message 2009

Happy Ridvan! Here is this year’s (rather concise) Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice:

To the Baha’is of the World

Dearly loved Friends,

A mere three years ago we set before the Baha’i world the challenge of exploiting the framework for action that had emerged with such clarity at the conclusion of the last global Plan. The response, as we had hoped, was immediate. With great vigour the friends everywhere began to pursue the goal of establishing intensive programmes of growth in no less than 1,500 clusters worldwide, and the number of such programmes soon started to climb. But no one could have imagined then how profoundly the Lord of Hosts, in His inscrutable wisdom, intended to transform His community in so short a span of time. What a purposeful and confident community it was that celebrated its accomplishments at the midway point of the current Plan in forty-one regional conferences across the globe! What an extraordinary contrast did its coherence and energy provide to the bewilderment and confusion of a world caught in a spiral of crisis! This, indeed, was the community of the blissful to which the Guardian had referred. This was a community aware of the vast potentialities with which it has been endowed and conscious of the role it is destined to play in rebuilding a broken world. This was a community in the ascendant, subject to severe repression in one part of the globe, yet rising up undeterred and undismayed as a united whole and strengthening its capacity to achieve Baha’u’llah’s purpose to liberate humankind from the yoke of the most grievous oppression. And in the nearly eighty-thousand participants who attended the conferences we saw the emergence on the historical scene of an individual believer supremely confident in the efficacy of the Plan’s methods and instruments and remarkably deft at wielding them. Each and every soul of this mighty sea stood as testimony to the transforming potency of the Faith. Each and every one was evidence of Baha’u’llah’s promise to assist all those who arise with detachment and sincerity to serve Him. Each and every one offered a glimpse of that race of beings, consecrated and courageous, pure and sanctified, destined to evolve over generations under the direct influence of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation. In them we saw the first signs of the fulfilment of our hope expressed at the outset of the Plan that the edifying influence of the Faith would be extended to hundreds of thousands through the institute process. There is every indication that, by the end of the Ridvan period, the number of intensive programmes of growth around the world will have crossed the 1,000 mark. What more can we do at the opening of this most joyous Festival than to bow our heads in humility before God and offer Him thanksgiving for His unbounded generosity to the community of the Greatest Name.

Here is last year’s Ridvan message if you missed it. And if you were ever curious where exactly the original Garden of Ridvan is located, wonder no more: Where is the Garden of Ridvan?

Time for Ruhi to Show Us the Money: Part I


Before I can explain why it is time for Ruhi to “show us the money” (by which, I mean results), allow me a slight digression into the fields of anthropology and sociology. With your indulgence the connection to Ruhi will be shortly obvious.

A few years before Arbab began to work on Ruhi and FUNDAEC, a Dutch gentleman by the name of Geert Hofstede, was working on a large project for IBM. Within the human resource department of IBM, Hofstede’s main task was to travel the world and to gather information on how the different branches of IBM in different countries worked in order to glean lessons of best practices. While engaged in this work, he stumbled onto a framework for assessing culture. In essence, the data staring back at him started to form itself into patterns. Very soon, what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was to individual personalities, Hofstede’s Dimensions were to collective personalities – otherwise called, culture.

Technically there are 5 axes but for our purposes we need only explore 3 of them. If you would like to find out more, you can check out Hofstede’s own website, wikipedia or your friendly, neighborhood sociologist or anthropologist. In any case, the three axes or dimensions relevant to our discussion are:
Continue reading

Predicting the Future of Iran

As a Baha’i, I’m very interested to know the future direction of Iran; not only because it is the Cradle of the Faith, but because the direction that Iran takes has real effect on the lives of all Iranians and especially, the beleaguered and persecuted Baha’i community.

Here is a presentation from Bruce Bueno de Mesquita at TED on applying rational choice theory or game theory to make 3 predictions on the future of Iran. You can watch it fullscreen by clicking on the bottom right icon below:


Bruce Bueno de Mesquita runs, Mesquita & Roundell, a consulting company and he seems to have a knack in predicting very obscure but important turning points in world events:

His first foray into forecasting controversy took place in 1984, when he published an article in PS, the flagship journal of the American Political Science Association, predicting who would succeed Iran’s ruling Ayatollah Khomeini upon his death. He had developed a rudimentary forecasting model that was different from anything anyone had seen before in that it was not designed around one particular foreign-policy problem, but could be applied to any international conflict. ?It was the first attempt at a general mathematical model of international conflict,? he says. His model predicted that upon Khomeini’s death, an ayatollah named Hojatolislam Khamenei and an obscure junior cleric named Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani would emerge to lead the country together. At the time, Rafsanjani was so little known that his name had yet to appear in the New York Times.

Even more improbably, Khomeini had already designated his successor, and it was neither Ayatollah Khamenei nor Rafsanjani. Khomeini’s stature among Iran’s ruling clerics made it inconceivable that they would defy their leader’s choice. At the APSA meeting subsequent to the article’s publication, Bueno de Mesquita was roundly denounced as a quack by the Iran experts—a charlatan peddling voodoo mathematics. ?They said I was an idiot, basically. They said my work was evil, offensive, that it should be suppressed,? he recalls. ?It was a very difficult time in my career.? Five years later, when Khomeini died, lo and behold, Iran’s fractious ruling clerics chose Ayatollah Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani to jointly lead the country. At the next APSA meeting, the man who had been Bueno de Mesquita’s most vocal detractor raised his hand and publicly apologized to him.

Source: The New Nostradamus

The 3 predictions are:

  1. Iran will develop the capability and experiment but won’t develop a bomb
  2. Iran’s theocratic ruling elite will somewhat change with the traditionalist Qom clergy and the bazaari or merchant class strengthening in political power
  3. Ahmadinejad’s star will continue to fade (presumably meaning that he will not be elected – although he didn’t explicitly state this)

Foreseeably, this has several consequences for Baha’is in Iran. The first thing I noticed is that he didn’t predict a downfall or even a weakening of the theocratic government of Iran. Second, the bazaari or merchant class is one of the principal agents behind the establishment and momentum of the Hojatieh Society. Any improvement in their political capital means that Baha’is will be in further peril. Finally, the prediction that Iran will stop short of developing or testing nuclear weapons means that the international community will, for the most part, continue the status quo of tolerating Iran while maintaining a watchful eye and restricting their trade access.

Although the swift reduction in the price of petroleum has severely damaged Iran’s economy, according to this prediction, the theocratic regime will muddle through. Perhaps with the merchant class gaining the upper hand and implementing more market friendly policies. Whatever the details, the danger of remaining in Iran continues for Baha’is. My sincere wish is for the safety of those who are still in peril. The only sure way for them to mitigate this risk is to say farewell to Iran. And to glory not that we love Iran, but that we love all the world and humanity by finding a safe home elsewhere.