Parks and Partnership
This is Linda. Like Jimmy, who I wrote about in an earlier post, she is a Peace Corps volunteer, working with the National Park of the Nevado de Colima. Linda’s mandate, unlike Jimmy’s which was concerned with the natural resource management of the park, is the more difficult (in my opinion) task of working with the human, institutional aspects of the management of the Park. Her brief, in short, is to to strengthen the Patronato – the body which manages the National Park – as an organization. Like Jimmy, Linda is here in Ciudad Guzmán for a two year period, which will end in June this year.
Before becoming a Peace Corps volunteer, (which Linda told me had been a lengthy process of application in her case), she worked for eleven years directing a non-profit organization in Arizona, now called Silver Linings, that works with volunteers to provide help to adults. She has a Masters degree in the Management of Non-Profit organizations from Regis University in Denver, and has previously worked in the fields of literacy, battered women and mental health.
Linda and I talked about the way the park is managed from a human and organizational perspective. Since last December, I have been attending monthly meetings of the Patronato, so I have experienced this organization at first hand. The Patronato was set up in 1997. Its mission is:
“To be a civil society organization, which brings together resources and human effort for the protection, preservation, restoration and management of the National Park of the Nevado de Colima and its surrounding area, contributing to other local initiatives for the benefit of the protection of the environment, an ecological balance and society.”
The National Park of the Nevado de Colima was set up in 1936, and for over sixty years was managed by the national government, most recently, by the Department of the Environment, which is called SEMARNAT in Mexico. In 1997, SEMARNAT handed over the management of the park jointly to a government organization at State level – SEDER – the Jalisco State Department of Rural Development – and the newly created Patronato. There were two principal reasons for involving a civil society organization in the management of the park.
1. As part of a philosophy of decentralising Federal Government power to create more local involvement and leadership in the management of the park.
2. As a way of increasing transparency and combatting potential corruption by having the Patronato be responsible for the financial oversight of the money that comes from SEDER for the management of the park.
The park, therefore, has an unusual management structure in that is is managed jointly by two bodies – SEDER and the Patronato. Each year an agreement is signed between SEDER and the Patronato. The park has an Executive Director, who works for SEDER, with a boss based in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco. He manages a staff comprised of an operational director, a coordinator of environmental education, an office manager – all based in an office in Ciudad Guzmán – and a group of people directly working on the conservation and management of the park, based in the park, 2000 meters higher, and about 20 kilometers away.
The Patronato has its own structure. It is a membership organization with a Consejo Directivo (like an executive group) composed of five members: the President, Secretary, Treasurer, and two other roles called Comisario and Vocal Ejecutivo. In January this year, a new President, Secretary, and Vocal Ejecutivo were elected. Interestingly, not only are all five the members of the Consejo Directivo male, but so are all the 11 remaining members of the Patronato.
The management of the park, therefore, exists as a three-way structure. There is a male Executive Director, from SEDER, who reports directly to his (male) boss in SEDER, who occasionally attends the monthly meetings. Alongside him, there is the Patronato, with its own structure, headed by a President, that is charged with the management of the park. The ambiguity of this structure would be a challenge in any country, but the difficulties are further intensified in a Mexican context. Linda told me she had a mailed a world-wide list-serve of people working with organizational issues in non-profit organizations to ask if anyone was working with a similar structure, and had received only one reply in the affirmative – from another Mexican organization.
For the structure to work well, a relationship of collaboration and a sense of partnership between the executive director, and the President, as the head of the Patronato, is crucial. Neither is organizationally subordinate to the other. Yet, what I have observed here, and in many other contexts in Mexico, is that people do not know how to work in this way. They lack the interest, training, understanding and/or capacity to work in real partnership. The culture is fiercely hierarchical and management styles tend to be authoritarian.
In fact, from Hofstede’s studies in cultural differences, Mexico has the highest score of all the countries studied in one of his five key dimensions, called ‘power distance’. This is defined as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. This dimension is also strongly related to social inequality.
Added to this, all the key players involved are men. In Mexico’s still predominantly macho culture, especially in a traditional, conservative area like the South of Jalisco, the key skills of listening, empathy, being receptive to the other person’s point of view, and being able to build common ground, which are the basis of creating cooperative relationships, are notably absent in organizational settings. Typically, as the boss, you expect to tell others what to do. So, a management structure like that of the park, where there is no clear hierarchically defined relationship between the Executive Director and the President of the Patronato, is going to be problematic – and this relationship is key to the successful management of the park.
The former president, a local businessman, had a notably difficult and contentious relationship with the Executive Director. Rather than being a source of creative tension, it was a destructive tension. In fact, the former President resigned at the beginning of this year, partly because he felt he had failed to make any headway in his relation with the Executive Director. The new elected president is a psychologist by training. It will be interesting to see if he is able to create a more successful partnership with the Executive Director to manage the park well.