Srila Prabhupada wanted the GBC to lead ISKCON through good governance and to establish global policies. He also wanted ISKCON to expand,thrive, be well rooted, and toserve the needs of its devotees and the public alike.
But like many organizations, ISKCON has spent a fair amount of time over the years reacting to rather than anticipating the demands of its own growth. This has created a cycle of mild to severe crisis management, which has left us, as a global movement, insurvival mode, with little energy to do much more than cope with our daytoday needs and problems. In many areas of the world we have lost the dynamic energy the movement had during the 1970s and much of the ’80s. It’s easy to give reasons for the decline–and they’d likely all be true from one angle or another. But there’s something else that’s true, too: All the ups and downs ISKCON has experienced since Srila Prabhupada’s departure have been pretty much inevitable –normal, even –for organizations, spiritual or otherwise, that are growing up.
For the past eight years, GBC Strategic Planning Network (SPN), facilitated by the GBC Strategic Planning Team (SPT), has been helping the GBC explore the ways in which ISKCON needs to grow-up into the vibrant movement Srila Prabhupada wanted it to be, and then developing strategies to support that growth. Our theme? “More devotees, happier devotees”.
The GBC’s strategic planning focuses on a set of broad initiatives that have been developed with specific goals and action points. These concerns or areas of effort fit together like pieces of a puzzle; assembled they form a powerful and comprehensive plan for the future of the Krishna consciousness movement. While these initiatives are the starting points, other areas soon need to be added, such as initiatives focusing specifically on education. The current broad categories are:
- Strengthening Our Foundations
- Building Capacity for Leadership
- Expanding Outreach
- Devotee Care
- Bringing the Plan into the World of Action
Each of these areas is described below, and each is to be supported by an ISKCON culture that embraces Srila Prabhupada’s focus on results, compassion, enthusiasm, kindness and drive.
Strengthening Our Foundations
As ISKCON has grown, our mettle has been tested in implementing the instructions Srila Prabhupada gave us. To address both the immediate and long-term needs these challenges have raised, the GBC is working to apply the principles in ISKCON’s founding documents and Srila Prabhupada’s other directives, and to enhance ISKCON’s internal culture of cooperative service.
Through global collaboration and discussion with a number of ISKCON members led by GBC committees, several important documents have been or are in the process of being created. Here is a sampling of the ongoing work:
The ISKCON Constitution
Not long after forming ISKCON Srila Prabhupada asked his disciples to begin work on its constitution. This constitution is mentioned as early as 1968. In 1971 he wrote, “We are in the experimental stage, but in the next meeting of the GBC members they should form a constitution how the GBC members manage the whole affair.”
Srila Prabhupada gave us a number of principles on which he wanted the organization and operations of ISKCON based. The ISKCON Constitution is meant to clarify and enshrine these principles in a document that will serve present and future generations of devotees, helping to ensure both the success of our mission and faithfulness to our Founder-Acarya.
Srila Prabhupada’s Position
ISKCON is unified by the paramount position His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada holds as our Founder-Acarya. As we wish to succeed as a society, all ISKCON members must continue to deepen their understanding of and fidelity to their relationship with Srila Prabhupada and his mission, vision, instructions, and the overall guiding principles on which he founded ISKCON.
Parallel Lines of Authority and Economy
One of ISKCON’s unique challenges is to maintain clear lines of organizational authority without unnecessarily inhibiting the spiritual dynamics of the guru-disciple relationship in a society with multiple types of spiritual leaders. It is important to establish policies and standards that will best address this challenge.
In the course of its history, our society has naturally developed its own culture of beliefs, behaviors, norms, priorities, standards and assumptions. On the whole, ISKCON’s culture embodies many spiritually positive elements – a strong dedication to the sadhana Srila Prabhupada assigned us, for example, and a loyalty to what he taught. But there are negative aspects of ISKCON’s developing culture too – aspects that do not support ISKCON’s overall mission, such as a feeling of disempowerment among the devotees and a lessening of participation in the Society’s aims. In addition, some of the cultural elements Srila Prabhupada personally introduced have been de-emphasized, such as his focus on achieving transcendental results both in individual practice and the preaching mission. So part of planning for ISKCON’s future is to explore our culture and identify and manage both its positive and negative elements.
Building Capacity for Leadership
The GBC is responsible for providing effective global leadership to an increasingly diverse and expansive society. Therefore it is vital we strengthen and build ISKCON’s capacity for leadership through team-building, identifying and training future leaders, and refining and enhancing ISKCON’s organizational development.
As the ultimate managerial authority for ISKCON, the GBC needs the leadership and organizational acumen to serve a worldwide movement – and it needs to work as a team. So team-building is one of the most crucial elements of the GBC’s leadership mandates. As the GBC improves the teamwork among its own members, it then needs to create connecting points with the rest of the Society. The GBC cannot operate in a vacuum. As Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter dated October 18, 1973, “Material nature means dissension and disagreement, especially in this Kali-yuga. But for this Krishna consciousness movement, its success will depend on agreement, even though there are varieties of engagements.”
While considering their future, most organizations search out people who appear to have the capacity and dedication to lead the organization forward. Current leaders seek out those who are successful in their particular fields and nurture their growth as leaders by training and encouraging them. Leaders in the fields of itinerant and congregational preaching, project leaders, temple presidents, and devotees whose specific service it is to care for others – all these persons require good Vaishnava association, training, spiritual support, and opportunities to develop their experience. They also need a thorough grounding in the movement’s history and the details of Srila Prabhupada’s legacy so their leadership capacity and integrity as Srila Prabhupada’s followers becomes solid. Some of these devotees, after many years of demonstrating that integrity and a strong record of accomplishment in caring for devotees and outreach, may be ready to serve as members of the GBC. It is vital for the continuity of the GBC body that we identify and help those who will develop the spiritual stature and executive competence required for this responsibility.
Srila Prabhupada designed the GBC’s current leadership model at a time when the movement was smaller and less complex than it is today. The GBC will thoroughly review that model and, while remaining loyal to Srila Prabhupada’s directions, implement any necessary structural developments and enhancements in order to meet the needs of an expanding movement.
This initiative addresses
- GBC members’ duties, responsibilities, performance, and accountability
- Systems – how the GBC functions and how it interfaces with the rest of ISKCON
- The GBC’s financial requirements
Organizational and Environmental Scanning
Local and regional ISKCON projects are often so busy with day-to-day activities that they do not have the time or resources to analyze their own organization or the environment in which they serve. For example, are the systems in place in a project that allow that project to function at its best? Are individual ISKCON projects aware of – and therefore capable of catering to – what’s going on in the preaching field around them? Srila Prabhupada himself conducted an environmental scan when he was still living on the Bowery in New York City by visiting Mukunda Dasa and Janaki Devi Dasi, two of his first disciples, to ask questions about American life and culture. This type of analytical information is helpful when planning for a temple’s (or ISKCON’s) future.
The organizational scan allows the GBC to study ISKCON as a whole. Organizational scanning includes
- Identifying ISKCON’s officers and staff
- Taking a census of initiated devotees
- Identifying ISKCON’s properties and assessing how well they are managed
- Studying how various ISKCON projects perform both qualitatively and quantitatively: How many books are being distributed? How effective is the preaching? Are the devotees being cared for? Are the spiritual standards Srila Prabhupada gave us being followed?
- Examining the work of ISKCON’s leaders, from local authorities to GBC representatives, and assessing their performance
Obviously, it is not possible for the GBC body to study the environment around each ISKCON project. Still, we can preach more effectively in a place when we come to understand the local material and spiritual culture. The GBC will therefore develop methods local and regional leaders in all parts of the world can use to perform this scan.
In recent years the GBC has begun to delegate elements of its authority to Regional Governing Bodies (RGBs) while ensuring that its ultimate authority to manage ISKCON remains intact. The GBC will review and analyze the RGBs’ achievements and challenges in order to define and implement a system for regional or national management in all parts of the world.
During Srila Prabhupada’s time, he personally led us forward by his example and precept into the field of preaching. Preaching thus became one of two core elements that define ISKCON (the other is care for our members, discussed below). This is what ISKCON is all about: more devotees and happier devotees.
The GBC’s strategic planning Outreach Committee is designed to ensure that the service of sharing Krishna consciousness remains at the heart of what it means to belong to ISKCON. The GBC is meant to lead devotees into the preaching field on Srila Prabhupada’s behalf and to inspire us to spread Krishna consciousness.
To do this they need to encourage the devotees under their care to understand the needs and attitudes of their local cultures, to make sure the preaching is relevant to and appropriate for the local society, and to help the devotees measure their preaching success by such things as an increase in people joining the movement.
Srila Prabhupada gave us particular preaching strategies – book distribution, harinam-sankirtan, life membership, and farm projects, to name a few. Yet Srila Prabhupada was ever willing to adjust his methods if they did not yield the best results. Do our traditional preaching strategies require any adjustment according to time, place and circumstance? Asking these questions and brainstorming outreach options will allow the GBC to encourage the most effective styles of preaching in each area.
Equally if not more important than ISKCON’s outreach efforts is the spiritual care and development of our current members. We want more devotees and happier devotees.
Of the seven purposes Srila Prabhupada established for ISKCON, at least two directly refer to services for the members of the society:
To bring the members of the society together with each other and nearer to Krishna, the prime entity, and thus to develop the idea, within the members, and humanity, at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krishna);
To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
It is vital, therefore, that the GBC lead the society in developing and maintaining dynamic programs for the care of its members.
Some of the other Special Initiatives, including but not limited to these:
Temple Development & Systems Administration
Srila Prabhupada wanted ISKCON’s temples to be centers of intensive devotional service, especially in the form of the five main practices essential to bhakti-yoga: chanting the holy name, hearing Srimad-Bhagavatam, worshiping the Deity, serving the Vaishnavas, and living in a holy place. He also wanted the temples to serve as hubs for outreach, where the spiritual lives of our guests could blossom. While some of our temples are meeting these objectives, many are struggling. This initiative examines Srila Prabhupada’s instructions about temples and applies a “best practices” and mentorship approach to helping all ISKCON’s temples better fulfill their purpose.
Service Organizations and Affiliates
When Srila Prabhupada was physically present, ISKCON seemed simpler – everything functioned around the temples, which remained under the greater umbrella of ISKCON. But as ISKCON has expanded and become more congregationally-based, devotees are expressing their service desires in a number of ways not easily accommodated or facilitated by the temples themselves. As a result, we have seen a proliferation of ISKCON-affiliated service organizations and projects. The purpose of this initiative is to understand and manage the relationship these organizations have with ISKCON in a way that serves Srila Prabhupada’s core mission of spreading Krishna consciousness as widely as possible.
Conflicts of Interest
With ISKCON’s expansion has come the need to address possible conflicts of interest in the society’s management. This initiative is working toward a way to address and manage conflicts of interest by delineating unacceptable or untenable conflicts and recommending a reporting procedure for those conflicts of interest that can be permitted.
Romapada Swami, GBC member of over twenty-two years leading ISKCON in New York, New Jersey and the Midwest of the USA, and also a member of the SPN’s Organizational Development Committee, speaks on how strategic planning has helped him in his GBC service and how it can better assist ISKCON’s leadership to respond to what is required of it – to bring the message of Lord Caitanya to the world while ensuring that the devotees’ lives continue to be enriched and invigorated.
Succession – Leadership Training College
Tamohara Prabhu, a GBC member overseeing ISKCONs work in the South East of the United States of America, and serving in the SPN’s Succession Committee, introduces an exciting new project that responds to the growing need to train new leaders for every strata of our Society. As a generation of leaders look toward retirement, the need for new leadership is becoming ever more pressing.
Spiritual World is Strategically Planned
Sivarama Swami, a GBC leader, preacher, and educator in Hungary, Romania and Turkey and a member of the SPN’s Organizational Development Committee and Lines of Authority Committee speaks on strategic planning work helping to insure that ISKCON can become the movement Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya envisioned it to be. After all, he says, everything in the spiritual world is strategically planned and organized to the highest standard, for Krishna’s pleasure. In ISKCON we want to facilitate unity in diversity, however the diversity should be organized and of the highest quality – and truly representative of the perfection of Krishna consciousness that is Goloka life.
Why Do Strategic Planning?
Today, Badrinarayan Swami, a veteran GBC member and a member of the SPN’s Organizational Development Committee and Lines of Authority Committee explains why the GBC is investing so much time and energy in planning for ISKCON’s future.
SPN – Unity in Diversity
Radhanath Swami, GBC member for centers in Italy and India, and serving on the SPN committee for Devotee Care, speaks his appreciation of the dynamic example of Unity in Diversity the SPN exemplifies – so many devotees from diverse backgrounds serving together for the unity of ISKCON’s mission.
Praghosa Prabhu, a GBC member for the UK, Ireland, and parts of Northern Europe, and also serving on the SPN committees GBC Team Building and Organizational Development, speaks on the challenging but rewarding work of building camaraderie and cooperation among members of the GBC body.