The South African National Council (SANC), which has served as the overarching management structure for ISKCON in South Africa since the late 1980s, is undergoing sweeping changes in its structure and approach. The aim of the transformation is to “more fully realize Srila Prabhupada’s vision for Krishna Consciousness in South Africa and to present Krishna Consciousness in a very dynamic and relevant way to all people of our country.”
The effort began about a year ago when the GBC National Secretaries for South Africa put together the “transformation committee,” a group of six devotees from different backgrounds, and asked them to help make SANC more inclusive and representative of the demographics of the country across both race and gender.
With the support of the GBCs, the transformation committee expanded the scope to consider other possible improvements as well. After a careful, comprehensive and deliberate consultation process that took over a year, the team proposed a new management system for ISKCON South Africa, with a clear set of principles for structure and organization. Within it there’s a deliberate focus on cultivating a positive culture and value system based on Vaishnava etiquette, that engenders inclusion and belonging. It also proposes an exceptional ISKCON experience for anyone coming into contact with the society.
SANC also wants to ensure that the priorities of ISKCON South Africa take into account the needs of all constituent groups. And the Council hopes to train and develop as many devotees as possible to take up leadership.
“We have so many amazing, talented devotees from diverse backgrounds, who are so skilled, experienced, and spiritually mature,” says Anuradha Dasi, who is a member of the transformation committee and co-chair of SANC along with Radhe Shyam Das. “We felt strongly the need to create opportunity for a new, younger generation of leaders to come to the fore.”
In addition, women, who are the majority of the South African congregation, make up over 50% of the new SANC leadership. And there is significant representation – over 40% — of local African devotees.
“We also acknowledged the need to access the support and guidance of the experienced leaders who have given so much over the years, and who can provide inspiration and example,” explains Radhe Shyam. “So we formed the Advisory Committee.”
The spirit of all the change is “effective decentralization,” a top light, bottom-heavy approach, with leaders serving in a facilitative, enabling mood, rather than in a directive manner. “We want to encourage thoughtfulness, innovation and creativity, while providing support through a flexible, responsive structure,” says Anuradha.
This is evident in the fact that the 18 members of the SANC are called leads, rather than heads or any other authoritarian word – implying that they are leading a team of devotees in service. They come from diverse backgrounds and include engineers, accountants, educators, lawyers, business, government and corporate managers, and temple presidents.
“They have a lot of experience managing our centers and temples in the country — we’ve been able to harness the best of both worlds with all of these devotees,” says Radhe Shyam Das.
Each lead takes care of a different “management portfolio.” First, there are co-chairs Anuradha and Radhe Shyam, who facilitate, empower and support the portolio teams. There are also regional leads for different South African provinces, and representative chairs for the National Temple Leaders’ Forum, Advisory Committee, and Food For Life.
Next there are leads for finance and planning, legal, communications, community relations, digitalization, inreach, outreach, education and training, and sustainability.
The new structure has a specific focus on strategic planning and culture, lead by Navina Radhika Dasi; digitalization and using technology more effectively, lead by Bhaktin Bontle; sustainability and the environment, lead by Mukundanghri Das; and community relations, lead by Lila Shakti Dasi.
Teams serve collaboratively with each other and with ISKCON centers across the country. For instance, Lila Shakti’s team will work on interfacing more with government, community leaders, other religious groups, academics and influencers. Jalangi Dasi with her inreach team will work on caring for the internal devotee community, including vaishnavis, children, and youth; community services such as counseling and mentorship, and health needs. And Rukmini Dasi, heading up outreach, will oversee university and youth group programs, Namahatta and Bhakti Vriksha groups, national festivals, online outreach, and more.
“We are a preaching movement,” Radhe Shyam explains. “So everything we do is to facilitate our ability to preach internally and externally, and also to take care of everybody inside ISKCON.”
The new structure includes half as many leads as SANC had prior to the transformation, making for more streamlined decision-making. In addition, an ever-evolving “playbook” describing the structure’s policies, workflows and procedures will be made available in order to train new leaders and ensure efficient succession into the future.
Meanwhile the whole transformation effort supports psychological redesign. “This means breaking down barriers, creating representative leadership, and engaging in a new chapter,” Anuradha says. “Of course, this concept of psychological redesign has to be an ongoing priority, because we want to build and maintain trust and faith in what we are doing. And we know that the road to success is always under construction.”
According to Anuradha and Radhe Shyam, leads have stepped into their service by now, although the new system is still in the process of being fleshed out. Already, however, there’s a positive buzz in the air.
“Change can be disorientating,” Anuradha says. “Setting up and supporting a new system requires time, effort and flexibility. We have to keep a bird’s eye view to sustain our perspective at all times. But, we feel excited and hopeful about the possibilities that this change can bring. Others have expressed excitement too – especially devotee women, who feel that this is a breakthrough in creating service opportunities for them.”
Anuradha and Radhe Shyam say they’ve received positive feedback from many devotees. “There’s an appreciation for the intent and the thought processes that have gone into where we are now,” Anuradha says. “And there’s so much hope for this new management system and culture that we’re trying to develop.”
The Co GBCs for South Africa, Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Govardhana Das, have worked alongside the team in arriving at its current format. Bhakti Chaitanya Swami comments: “Particularly by engaging local African devotees in leadership more, we are hoping to make greater inroads in the African community, who are by far the main community in South Africa.”
Govardhana Das adds, “This is a major shift from the conventional management structure, in that younger trained professionals are charged with driving the change they want to see. And for the first time, and perhaps unheard of anywhere else in the ISKCON world, Vaishnavis now make up more than half the leadership team. We are thrilled and confident.”
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies