01. November 30, 2011

Potential US El Sistema Association Conference Call
(Wednesday November 30, 2011 – 11am EST)

Call Participants
Stanford Thompson: Play On, Philly (Philadelphia, PA)
Bob Fielder: People’s Music School; Yours Project (Chicago, IL)
Anne Henry: Soundscapes (Newport News, VA)
Rey Ramirez: Soundscapes (Newport News, VA)
Sheila Walker: San Diego Youth Symphony  (San Diego, CA)
Dan Berkowitz: LA Philharmonic; YOLA (Los Angeles, CA)
Loiuse Ghandi: Verdugo Young Musicians Association (Pasadena, CA)
Eric Holmgren: New England Conservatory: Director of the Abreu Fellows Program;(Boston, MA)
Mark Churchill: El Sistema USA (Boston, MA)
Dan Trahey: Orchkids (Baltimore, MD)
Katie Wyatt: KidzNotes (Durham, NC)
Elisabeth Babcock: Crittenton Women’s Union (Boston, MA)

Introductory Remarks
Stanford: This call was organized for Elisabeth Babcock, President and CEO of the Crittenton Women’s Union, to explain and answer questions concerning her “Developing an Association Briefing Paper” and describe the opportunities that programs working with “high at-risk youth” have. This was not a discussion about details of forming an association, rather a chance to gauge the interest of forming an association.

Elisabeth Babcock (Beth):
– Introduced herself: nonprofit strategist, volunteer with Abreu Fellows
– Voluntarily wrote the “Developing an Association Briefing Paper” as a contribution of ideas she wants to share with the “field” of programs working with “high at-risk” youth – especially the “El Sistema-inspired (derived)” programs in the United States.
– Worked on nonprofit association boards, had a chance to see them go up and running
– “It’s common for organizations to realize that if they work together, there might be opportunities if they band together that they can’t do alone—benefits: mutual learning, mutual advocacy, mutual garnering of funds, mutual development and growth.”
– “Opportunities for music programs for high risk youth to gather and gain national attention, funding, expertise, shared learning, if we come together… the association will speak on behalf of everyone”
– Governed by, led by, policies set by organizations themselves
– Document: how developed, how governed, how structured, kinds of benefits that accrue when it’s set up

Questions/Comments During the Call

Katie Wyatt: The document mentioned music programs for high risk youth, not specifying that it’s an association of el sistema-inspired program… would people use El Sistema as their models be reaching out to those who do similar work?


  • We need to decide what characteristics we are looking for in a member of the association.
  • Members have more in common than they have differences from each other.
  • Also need to leave the description of a member inclusive enough to include as many as you can—power in numbers; for example, if you want Gates Foundation funds, the more children, the more programs, the more power the association has.
  • This is one of the core things the group has to decide, decide the nature of what the group will be; you might decide el sistema inspired/derived, but might also decide similar programs that came before.

Louise Ghandi: Documents and comments suggest that members need to decide who the members are… but we need leadership as well—executive director, steering committee? I am interested in dedicated leadership, but I am too busy with her own work.


  • A “drafting committee” would draft an outline for further discussion: membership? Primary purpose?  Who is on the board?  How would the board be elected?
  • A set of by-laws would be voted by individuals who are committed to being members of the association, then the bylaws dictate how board is selected, who the board employs as an executive director and the board essentially takes the form of the working groups, employs staff, etc.
  • Initially, people would be needed on a volunteer basis, but once the association is created, it has the right to act on behalf of the organization in a way that the bylaws stipulate. The workload depends on the ambition, directly related to how many members, and the willingness to make them work.

Rey Ramirez: What is the usual model of sustainability of these associations?  Do they go after big grants?


  • Depends on priorities that the members set; if they want the association to be providing education and/or opportunities for shared learning, often the cost of that is not very high. However, if the agenda is to bring new revenue into all the members, the amount of work that takes is higher and more costly.
  • Different funding strategies are based on the nature of work; in some cases members pay small dues, if you’re growing a powerful association, member dues and portion of funds raised, what also happens is that if the work of the association provides very powerful capacity building, educational opportunities, certification process, then government actually funds the cost of membership for programs who are participating in that funding.  Example: As a CEO of a community health center that was/is part of national and state association, the quality was so great that the federal government stepped in. So it is conceivable that the members can advocate for government funding—show that it’s keeping kids in school, etc., you can tap into government resources.

Anne Henry: [Asked a question about coming up with standard evaluation criteria]

Beth: The opportunities for different sites to come together to agree on certain types of data/measurement tools, aggregating that info so you can learn from each other but also to have a large body of proof that you can use to leverage for more funds—it’s a main reason to have an association like this.

Stanford Thompson: Check out Wolfbrown.com, they have committed to help us develop evaluative tools, write reports, etc., on behalf of the entire movement for free.

Beth: This is an example of what would happen and what would be offered to an association of this type. Instead of building a tower of babble, the association could mediate differences so that there’s uniformity in evaluation.

Beth (not in response to a question): I recognize that this sounds daunting, however it’s not daunting in the way that we can’t see what steps are: 1- taking a conversation like this, determining whether the people in this conversation feel like it’s worth discussing further, then would try to enlarge conversation next week 2- develop group of individuals who volunteer to design a ‘skeleton-like’ membership, like a board and draft concept documents 3- documents circulated to large group who processes them face-to-face, talks over issues 4- ideas are taken back, put into more formal set of documents to start up organization 5- share those docs with potential donors for startup funding, might have volunteer or paid staff to get this going 6- documents are brought to potential members, ask them to sign on 7- when they sign, they vote on the bylaws 8- board takes over

This is enormously important work and I have HUGE belief in your ability to do this—You don’t need an outside power, we can do this ourselves.

Rey Ramirez: Thanks for bringing us together—wants to have an association with and for at-risk youth through the study of music (not just el sistema); do we want specifically el sistema or just at-risk youth?

Katie Wyatt: There is no national body of music programs that work with high at-risk youth and thinks that joining forces with specifically music and specifically high risk kids will be very powerful.

Louise Ghandi: I agree and think next steps should be to enlarge discussion.  Language needs to be looked at carefully: how do you define at-risk?  (Parents didn’t like wording at-risk)

Stanford Thompson: I will send out notes from this discussion; for anybody that wants to be more involved can directly reply with their interest to move forward (please reply all to let this group know) on the larger call, we can say we have a handful of people that want to volunteer, but we could use more help. Next step is to reach out to everyone we would like to invite to the next call. My overall hope is that when we’re in LA we can carve out time to speak face-to-face – not necessarily during the Symposium.

Katie Wyatt: Is it appropriate to ask non el sistema folks to be on this call, or not yet? (Interested in inviting Kiff)

Beth: as many members as possible is good—in the beginning, big umbrella as long as the groups have similar priorities and goals, good to get them involved early, be transparent. We should invite potential members to the next phone call.  Language should be fairly neutral—don’t bias or stigmatize, also careful to use broader and more inclusive language.

Mark Churchill: Echoed confidence in this group and offered his support in future talks.


Meeting called to an end at 11:58am EST

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