The President's Message, Fall 2018
I once remarked at a LAFF meeting that for me the acronym referred to a “lifetime association with the Ford Foundation”.
I referenced the direct and indirect Ford Fellowships that saw me through graduate school, post-doctoral studies and field research in Brazil, my 18 years employed at the Foundation, subsequent Ford support for the Center on International Cooperation that I founded at New York University, and then the presidency of LAFF.
I even joked to Darren Walker that the only thing that remained for me was eventual burial in the atrium.
Truth be told, though, the capstone of this lifetime association with the Ford Foundation has been LAFF. The society has provided me continuity and connection, just as the tagline proclaims. But LAFF for me is more than its tagline. It is an identifier. LAFF has kept me tied to an institution that played an enormous role in my formative and professional life, and to admired colleagues through multiple channels that social media simply do not provide.
The question that leads me now to turn the LAFF presidency over to Betsy Campbell and Suzanne Siskel stems precisely from the social equation that has bound me to the Foundation and held LAFFers together for more than a quarter century: How can current members’ interests be met and new members recruited in the face of the changed philanthropic and social landscape and so many alternative allegiances? John LaHoud’s lead article in this issue describes the transition now under way as Betsy and Suzanne, currently LAFF’s vice-presidents, prepare to assume their co-presidency on January 1.
As I thought about what I might say in this, my last message as LAFF President, I turned to Nellie Toma’s invaluable Newsletter index to recall LAFF’s recent history, my participation as a member since my retirement from the Foundation in 1996, my inauguration as President upon Peter Geithner’s stepping down in November 2009 and the plans we developed to build on the very healthy society that we inherited from Peter.
LAFF has come a long way over the past 27 years, from a small group of founding members whose strong identification with and service to the Foundation left them somewhat aggrieved at their departure. The institutional rift outlasted the society’s growth and diversification, and only began to be overcome with Peter’s thoughtful husbandry.
My inauguration was celebrated at the Foundation where, as reported in the February 2010 newsletter, many of the 150 LAFF members present spontaneously spoke of their experiences at the Foundation and what the reunion meant for them. By then, LAFF had nearly 500 members, anchored in New York but with regional chapters in Boston, Washington, D.C., Bangkok, Jakarta, Cairo, New Delhi, Beijing and Manila, and one affinity group on reproductive health.
I was able to build on Peter’s accomplishments only with the help of some extraordinary and dedicated members. Sheila Gordon chaired a governance committee that laid the basis for an expanded and active Executive Committee and a plan for future transitions that resulted in Betsy’s and Suzanne’s appointments as Vice Presidents. A communications committee, ably led by Thea Lurie redesigned the Newsletter with its new logo and tagline and reimagined the website. Janice Molnar, Janet Maughan and Michael Seltzer developed an excellent series of New York City-based meetings and programs.
A high-point for me occurred at our twenty-fifth anniversary gathering in 2016 when we brought together, under Darren’s warm and welcoming embrace, LAFF’s founding members, represented by Dick Magat, with our membership and the Foundation’s active staff (and future LAFF members). Together, we ushered in a new chapter in the LAFF-Foundation relationship, joining past and present in a celebration, as Darren noted, of the importance for the Foundation’s grantmaking of the history the LAFF membership embodies.
None of this would have happened without the devotion of three people who are the mainstays of LAFF: our Secretary-Treasurer, Nellie Toma, who literally keeps the society afloat, managing our membership rolls and dues and our finances (such as they are!), facilitating our meetings and events, and fully embodying the spirit of camaraderie and volunteerism that are the very stuff of LAFF; Michael Seltzer, our New York City program chair, who thoughtfully plans our New York events and liaises with the Foundation to ensure their success; and John LaHoud, our editor-in-chief who labors untiringly, and brilliantly, to ensure the timely publication of the newsletter that continues to be LAFF’s beating heart.
I am entirely grateful to each of them, as well as to Aaron Levine, who played a large part in developing our website, and to Dorothy Nixon, Susan Huyser and Peter Ford for their work with the newsletter and website, making my job so pleasurable and providing the membership the best our Society has to offer.
It remains for me to say how privileged I feel to have served as your president over these past nine years and how very pleased I am that Betsy and Suzanne, with your help, have agreed to lead LAFF into a new era.
I say “with your help”, certain that my first comments to the Newsletter as LAFF president still hold true: “When all is said and done… LAFF is a membership organization and the membership is its fundamental strength. I urge each of you to reach out to colleagues who are not yet members and encourage them to join. And I ask each of you to please give us your feedback. LAFF is yours, and it is incumbent on each of us to make it the best that it can be.”
In his introduction of me as LAFF’s new president in the November 2009 Newsletter, then editor and founding LAFF member Will Hertz wrote: “Shep…serves on the boards of the International Peace Institute, Peace Dividend Trust and Global Fairness Initiative, among other pro bono activities. He is writing a book about his lifelong engagement with East Timor, managing his retractable bed company in Brazil, Camaflage-brazil.com.br
On each of those boards, I introduced a self-imposed ten-year exit rule in the interest of revitalization. Coming on ten years as president of LAFF, it is time to recognize the extreme privilege and honor it has been to serve, to welcome Betsy and Suzanne and wish them well, and to return to active membership. I am simultaneously passing my retractable bed company to new ownership so that I can finally finish the book on East Timor and continue to revel in my now 51-year marriage to Leona.
As the Makassae people in East Timor say as they are setting off, Uru-uato ta guba e’e! (May Moon-Sun remain with you!). I look forward to joining you for the next LAFF meeting in New York City on March 21.