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Concept for Better Governance of TI

My proposal for rethinking the management structure

It is useful to understand the current governance situation at TI before you consider any potential changes. That way you can make your own assessment as to why or why not make any changes.

1) As has been the case at Tara Institute for the past 30 years or so, The Centre Director is advised/appointed/vetted/checked/selected or however you choose to view it by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

2) In the early days, the CD was at the top of the governance tree at TI but in about 2014 that situation changed. Now the CD only has one vote on the EC (plus a casting vote in the event of a tied vote); the CD now has the same power as every one other member of the EC.

3) Apart from the perceived endorsement of Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the CD has no authority other than that willingly given by the other members of the EC. That has been enough to have the Centre running smoothly, up until 2019.

4) It is worth knowing that the CD is not given any instructions by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche.

5) As at 20th February 2019, the CD has only 1 vote in 9 votes on the EC and as such is reliant on having the support of at least half of the EC members for any changes to go through. If the CD is unable to persuade them, innovation is blocked and the Centre does not move forward.

6) As far as I know, there has never been a single EC member who has been vetted or approved by Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche. So how do members get appointed to the EC? Almost every EC member has been approached to join the EC to fill a role that is either new or is currently vacant. There is no vetting process and no interview. Members do not vote for them nor approve them in any way. They are effectively self-appointed as they are unopposed at the next AGM where their “election” is a formality.

7) This unelected group appoints the next CD based on Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice — according to the Rules. In 2019, the current EC fired the CD and AD (before they had attended even one EC meeting) — which is not in the Rules..

8) The current governance structure has the CD appointed (and fired?) by the very people that the CD is appointed to govern. The 2019 events show that this is an extremely poor situation because the people who should be willingly cooperating with the CD, can (and just did) fire them without warning. 

The most recent EC email to Members said my proposal to improve the governance of our Centre “was unworkable and unacceptable”. As Frank and I were sacked before attending even one EC meeting, perhaps there was a lack of understanding around my proposal.

In our structure, the top committee, the “Executive Committee” has two different functions. It acts as TI’s Board and as its Management Committee. That setup created no problem until a change at FPMT International level required that the EC now would appoint a Centre Director after taking into account Rinpoche’s advice.

Previously, International Office appointed the CD. I won’t bore you with further details but the same entity (the EC) cannot be both the CD’s boss and the CD’s subordinate at the same time. The horse shouldn’t ride the rider.

The fear that this change would invalidate or impact governance in any negative way is totally unfounded. Nothing structural would change. No relationship would change. The structure would not be changed, just the people at the top, most of whom would be elected by Members. This plan would leave our existing rules exactly the same as they are now. I believe we will be stronger if we vote in more experienced people into that top committee. The idea has the following advantages in that it:

  • Does not involve any change to current rules and relationships —legal or otherwise. The Centre Director, Treasurer and Secretary remain on the top committee
  • Is not locked in stone. Members can vote any time to reverse the decision if they don’t like it Makes the Centre Director and Management Committee (currently called “Executive Committee”) more accountable to the Members
  • Allows a small group (the Board) to look at the longer-term Centre issues without being totally consumed by day-to-day running of the Centre which would be handled by the Management Committee
  • Provides an independent watch on matters such as corporate governance, long-term finances, succession and other issues
  • Facilitates our Centre to liaise with authorities, people of influence, potential donors and other religious groups.
  • Taps into the Board members’ personal contacts to further help the Centre, and…
  • FPMT International has a Board, FPMT Centres around the world have Boards, large not-for-profit organisations have Boards, and any number of public companies have Boards. Having a Board and separate management team is not novel, it is normal good practice

A board could have settled our current impasse quickly and quietly.

Of course, my suggested change cannot proceed unless Members vote in favour of it. If Members don’t want it, it will be impossible to implement so safeguards are already inbuilt.