September 3, 2003 - PCOL Exclusive: Interview with Kevin Quigley
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September 3, 2003 - PCOL Exclusive: Interview with Kevin Quigley
Interview with Kevin Quigley
"If we can become a leading organization in our sector, the NPCA will be an organization that attracts a lot more participants. It will be reflected in our programs, it will be reflected in our membership, it will be reflected in our reputation, it will be reflected in our profile, and it will be reflected in the role that we play in terms of advancing our mission."
Read and comment on the exclusive interview that we had with Kevin Quigley, the new President of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), at the annual NPCA meeting in Portland on August 3 where he talked about his vision for the future of the NPCA, what he wants to do right away, the role he sees for himself in the organization, his meeting with Sargent Shriver, and how long he plans to stay at:
Interview with Kevin Quigley*
* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.
Interview with Kevin Quigley
PCOL: What is your vision for the future of the NPCA?
KQ: I think that the vision of the NPCA that has been articulated of a world in peace shaped by understanding and tolerance is a very good one and one that makes a great deal of sense to the Peace Corps community.
When we talk about the Peace Corps community, I think that term has to be understood very broadly. It's not just volunteers and staff but it is also family, friends, students, and people who have had comparable experience or have been touched by these kinds of deep engagements with other societies or with other parts of the world.
I think that the vision and mission are compelling, they are apt, and they are timely. The challenge is really to take the vision and mission and come up with an effective plan that allows you to identify the priorities, then to allocate resources, and to find ways to effectively implement the plan and have appropriate milestones that are clear, understandable, and communicated broadly within our community, so that the community and everyone who is interested can gauge our progress in reaching those milestones.
PCOL: What would you like people to say about the NPCA five years from now? What would you like people to think of the NPCA as being, or accomplishing, or representing?
KQ: I'd like a much wider circle to say that this is an organization of committed and engaged activists who are advancing peace and making a difference in their home communities, nationally and internationally.
PCOL: You spoke at the President's Forum yesterday and talked about a strategic vision and you mentioned several things that you wanted to do right away. I wonder if you would mind elaborating?
KQ: The first thing is to come up with a plan that advances the organization. I talked a little bit about the process for coming up with the plan; it's really a process of listening and learning, of engaging and having conversations with people in the community and outside the community.
We need to do market research in effect. We need to ask those inside the community what is it we are doing well, and how can we improve. We also need to ask people on the outside what should we be doing, how can we be more effective, and how can we re-engage you.
This process is going to bring back to the NPCA community and the broader community a clear articulation of some priorities and timelines and measurable objectives.
I think everybody in the community knows that we have very big aspirations, but we don't have the resources to realize those aspirations. So, a critical challenge is to mobilize resources. To mobilize resources doesn't just mean money, although money is critical, but it's also energy, time and talent of people who share our vision and mission and engaging them in the work that we are going to be doing.
So those are the plans. Then the plan has to get operationalized, which will require investments in a couple of different things. Investments have to be made in our systems. Our systems need to be much better than they are.
First our database. I don't know much about our database but I have heard that there are lots of concerns about it. I think that the database, even if it has half our records is insufficient. We need to find ways to capture the experiences, to capture the narratives of the entire Peace Corps community.
We need to have to have a more robust web presence that communicates more clearly, more deeply, and that is more accessible, something that is much more like "Peace Corps Online" than our current web pages.
So those are two critical systems. Next we need investment in our programs. We have a lot of programs that have significant potential to be impactful, to advance the mission that we have been talking about, but they have been underinvested in. So, there is a big gap between our aspirations and our results.
Another thing I mentioned is investment in staff. At NPCA we have a very talented and committed staff but they are overworked. They are also underpaid. I think when you look at the staff it is emblematic of a larger challenge for the NPCA. That is, we are an organization that has an incredibly compelling and timely vision and mission but as I mentioned there is this gap between our aspirations and our resources. I think we need an organization that has the resources that enables us to meet our aspirations.
I think we have best of class vision and mission and one of my goals will be to see that we attract the resources and that we invest in our systems, and programs and staff so that we are not just best in class in vision, but we are best in class in practice.
We, like many organizations, have benefited from the development in the NGO sector, but that sector has moved very dramatically in the last decade or so to become more and more effective and I think NPCA has been lagging behind the field.
If we can become a leading organization in our sector the NPCA will be an organization that attracts a lot more participants. It will be reflected in our programs, it will be reflected in our membership, it will be reflected in our reputation, it will be reflected in our profile, and it will be reflected in the role that we play in terms of advancing our mission.
PCOL: Can you talk a little bit about the fact the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps is coming up in a few years and how the NPCA can focus on that event to further their mission?
KQ: I talked a little bit yesterday about this "perfect weather," this "perfect Storm" of events coming together, saying that there is an alignment in who we are as a community and where the community is. The fact that we now have members who include volunteers and staff from many service eras from the pioneer generation to the current 7,000 volunteers in the field, their families and friends, and associates, people who share the same aspirations, the same vision, as well as people whose lives were touched by us - our students and colleagues who could potentially be engaged in this work.
Peace Corps Volunteers learn to expect the unexpected. I was reminded of this lesson when Dane Smith and I had a very interesting conversation with Sargent Shriver. I have to say that when I walked into Sargent Shriver's office, and you see the mementos of a rich accomplished life in every sphere from the personal to the familial to the institutional and to the fact that there is all this evidence of how he has changed thousands and thousands of lives - to see that, my expectation was that a lot of our conversation would be about the past.
And it was anything but. Our conversation was all about the future. It was all about the Peace Corps vision of a world in peace shaped by understanding and tolerance. Mr. Shriver was very clear with me. He said he had read my bio and he said he thought I had good sets of skills and experience. He had marked it all up. But he wanted to know what was I going to do to build that better world that is reflected in our vision and who was I going to do it with, and how was I going to do it?
Director Shriver was looking way out. He was looking out the next 50 years to 2053. So, that is a great reminder that NPCA as an organization can't just look back.
We need to be rooted in our past but we have to look forward to the milestones that we have - the 25th anniversary of the founding of the NPCA this coming year and then in less than eight years, the 50th anniversary of founding of the Peace Corps and the establishment of the Peace Corps community. The fiftieth year is really the evidence of maturation. I think that we as a community need an event, we need a goal that is closely tied to the 50th anniversary that will galvanize our membership, provide them with a sense that the Peace Corps community is revitalized, and that it is engaged in making significant contributions to making this world a better place which is the one vision that everybody in the Peace Corps community has.
PCOL: You know that one thing that Peace Corps Volunteers like to say is that one person can make a difference. How do you see yourself as the President of the NPCA - as a cheerleader, as an organizer, as an activist?
KQ: That is a great question. I don't know if I have a clear one word description of the role I play. I think as a leader you have to play many roles.
Part is the keeper of the flame and part is having that clear vision, and part of the role is trying to make sure that you can execute that clear vision. Part is cheerleader, part is connector, part is organizer. Part is maybe like the train engineer trying to make sure that things are happening when they are supposed to happen, that things are getting done and getting communicated. So, it is my hope that I can play multiple roles. I am not sure that my strength is in any one individual role but I believe that I have the potential to play lots of those different roles.
PCOL: And you plan to stay until the vision is realized?
KQ: My goal is to see that we are a re-energized effective organization at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps community.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; NPCA; COS - Thailand
I wish the NPCA well but, I also wish it did not use the name Peace Corps in its title. Peace Corps stands for people who serve as volunteers in underdeveloped countries at the invitation of those countries. Mission and vision should be based on that unique experience. But, anyone can join the NPCA. Membership is not limited to RPCVs and staff. The uniqueness of the peace corps experience and effort is obscured.