To the editors:
We are writing in response to the recent article published by Western Friend on Friday, December 18, which outlined concerns about the American Friends Service Committee’s restructuring process. [See: https://westernfriend.org/media/afsc-perilous-crossroads ]
We believe that all members of the AFSC community are motivated by deep love for and commitment to AFSC and the communities with whom we work. That said, there are many diverse voices to attend to within the AFSC community. The fundamental question is about how best to organize ourselves to advance our recently established strategic goals—and a passionate discussion is alive at AFSC on just those issues. Disagreements are to be expected, and good faith dialogue on the substance is welcome.
We want to take this opportunity to set the record straight on some of the issues raised in the article and to encourage continued dialogue on how AFSC can participate in building a more just and peaceful world.
The leadership team of AFSC has decades of experience working toward social justice and peacebuilding. We are diverse in terms of race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic origin, and life experiences. We ourselves are engaged in deep and reflective conversations about power, privilege, and inclusion; and committed to ever greater engagement with staff on these issues. AFSC stands apart from many organizations in that the majority of its leadership team are people of color. Many of us are from impacted communities that we seek to accompany, and while our experiences of privilege are real, they are also diverse and wide- ranging.
AFSC will always operate based on Quaker principles, and all aspects of our work are informed by and rooted in Quaker practice. We also acknowledge that no one group has a monopoly on the Quaker experience or the experiences of marginalized people, and that AFSC, in its work in communities worldwide, embraces loving inclusivity based in the Quaker value of recognizing the divine in all of us.
It is difficult for us to summarize briefly the inaccuracies and omissions in the original article, but we do want to provide some important context for understanding our process and decisions.
In 2020, the AFSC Board approved a ten-year Strategic Plan following two years of a widely inclusive process. The plan both affirms our historic commitment to listen closely to, and be led by, communities impacted by systemic injustice, and challenges us to be even more faithful and intentional in this important aspect of our work. The plan includes vital commitments to anti-racism, feminism, and incorporating youth in programs and organizational life. It also challenges us to think intersectionally and globally and affirms AFSC as an organization focused on systems change. The full Strategic Plan can be found online at afsc.org/strategicplan.
Over the course of the following year, staff and governance groups engaged in efforts to determine how best to implement the plan. That includes having thoughtful and robust conversations about how we might align our organizational structures with the plan’s ambitious goals. In modifying structures, we aim to strengthen AFSC’s ability to transform systems of oppression and injustice, while maintaining what makes our work effective and unique.
In June 2021, we shared an initial set of proposals for AFSC’s structure with the Board. The Board provided additional time for these proposals to be further developed with staff and governance, including the Corporation. This work is ongoing, and several working groups have been organized, including one with U.S. unions. We are encouraged by these active co-design processes. We feel confident that all staff and governance members are committed to processes and concrete outcomes that affirm our Quaker values—and that all members of the AFSC community are in unity regarding our commitments to achieving systemic change that builds a better world.
The AFSC Board dedicated some organizational resources to strategic planning. We see this as an investment in our future and a necessity to make sure that our work is both strategic and aligned with our values. These funds were spent over a three-year period, and the project was in part supported with restricted donations from supporters. We held dozens of in-person meetings of staff and community members—a request that was made by staff and was widely agreed-upon by all. In each year, strategic planning never exceeded 1% of our budget. The strategic plan was unanimously approved by our board of directors and shares broad buy-in by staff because it was done purposefully and well.
The article raises concerns that AFSC might become a “top down” organization because there is a proposal to hire additional staff in the coming years. The article insinuates that we will hire staff who have no understanding of grassroots organizing or are somehow allergic to this approach. This is not accurate. We are not seeking to hire additional “middle managers,” but to create new positions that provide solid support to all our programs, build learning and cohesion across programs globally, and ensure we can live up to our commitments for climate justice, youth work, racial justice, and gender justice. Our Quaker traditions are affirmed not only by organizational structure, but by how power is shared and decisions made within the structure. We will continue to bolster shared and consultative decision-making processes that will engage program and management staff on collaborative strategy development, implementation, and resource allocation. This is part of what makes us distinct from other non-profits. Our programs have for decades been led by community priorities and aspirations, and they will continue to do so.
The article also states that efforts of the management team and board will “systematically dismantle the locally focused and accountable way AFSC has worked.” In fact, all our initial proposals include strengthening local advisory boards and community input in local programs and activities. We hope also to generate more streamlined ways for volunteers at the local level to get more involved with AFSC. There are no plans to turn away from grassroots organizing at the local level as one of our principal strategies for work. In the coming years, we hope to grow our budgets for locally-led work, and also to bring additional capacity to strengthen our collective impact. Over the past five years, AFSC has dedicated millions of dollars to locally-led efforts. This will not change, and our plan is to grow in ways that are in keeping with the special character of AFSC.
Finally, we are committed to the consultative decision-making processes grounded in our Quaker tradition. We also take to heart our peacebuilding approaches of building bridges, encouraging trust, and convening safe space for dialogue. We advocate for these approaches externally and extend them internally within our wider AFSC community. We express them through our individual relationships and seeing “that of God” in each other. We take seriously the notion of continuous revelation and will actively seek to learn from a wide range of perspectives, listening carefully for how best AFSC should move forward. We therefore urge those with concerns to engage with us through dialogue via the many vehicles that are available to do so.
We welcome any member of the community of Friends to be in touch with members of the Leadership Team or contact Hector Cortez, deputy general secretary, with specific questions that they would like addressed. Hector can be reached at [email protected].
AFSC Leadership Team