New Executive Director Speaks Out on Major Changes in GBC Structure

The Governing Body Commission (GBC), ISKCON’s top management authority, has recently introduced a completely new Executive Structure to increase its productivity and transparency.

Key to this overhaul is the appointment of Tamohara Dasa, a GBC member from the Southeast United States, as Executive Director—a position in which he will ensure accountability and quality control amongst management efforts and individual GBC members. Meanwhile, he will himself be accountable to the GBC body.

Unanimously chosen for the position, Tamohara has been a GBC member for five years, and previously served as a temple president, Gurukula (school) Director, and Director of the ISKCON Child Protection Office. He also holds a doctorate in Educational Psychology and served as Dean of the Illinois School of Professional Psychology.

Still preparing for his new position, Tamohara will officially be made GBC Executive Director at the 2012 GBC Meetings in Mayapur, India this February. He explains the reasoning for the new Executive Structure:

“The GBC has always been very active on local levels within their zones, overseeing projects, temples, and book distribution,” he says. “Yet on the international level, we’ve had to deal with problems and disciplinary issues, usually in a reactive rather than a proactive way. We realized that instead, we should be planning ISKCON’s future and instituting processes that will ensure our success in Srila Prabhupada’s mission.”

Taking action, the GBC, headed by Gopal Bhatta Dasa, began five years ago to hold week-long Strategic Planning Meetings every October in Mumbai, as well as its regular February meetings in Mayapur. To help with the process, other talented devotees outside of the GBC were brought in, with as many as 75 to 100 people attending some meetings.

Many excellent initiatives were developed to carry out two primary mandates—expanding ISKCON, and taking better care of devotees. However, a first-class structure had to be created for them to be effectively implemented.

“The GBC had been trying to be a legislative, judicial, and executive body all at once, without any good systems for either,” Tamohara says. “We especially hadn’t had a very good system for implementing resolutions, apart from each GBC member taking them and trying to institute them in every temple in their zone. But that’s an overwhelming job for one person, and so the Executive Structure was created, with divisions created for each initiative, and divisional heads who all report to me. And I, in turn, report to the GBC Body.”

One prominent division is Devotee Care, headed by director Gauranga Dasa. Hailing from Chowpatty, India, he and his team have plenty of experience in the area, and have compiled a best practices manual for temples on devotee care, which include resource lists of counselors and caregivers, and advice on spiritual, emotional, and health care.

Also headed up by Gauranga Dasa, along with a team of systems experts and web designers, is the Systems and Administration Division. This division is focused on building resources for ISKCON projects, such as sophisticated devotee databases. They’re also developing a complete resource website, scheduled to arrive in January, that will provide detailed information on how to do anything—start a restaurant, do college outreach, put on a festival—written by experienced predecessors, so that temple leaders don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Next, there’s the Legal, Accounting and Regulatory Compliance Division, led by Kuladri Dasa, a seasoned manager from New Vrindaban, West Virginia. Kuladri focuses on legal issues such as trademarks, making sure ISKCON properties are secured, and accounting practices.

“It’s a huge job,” says Tamohara. “Even covering just America is challenging, what to speak of 100 to 150 different countries around the world, all with different laws! He’ll also help with consistency, as we’ve found that ISKCON has dealt with things differently country to country, and even temple to temple. We’re not trying to impose a uniform way of doing things, but we want to give help and assistance.”

Another major division is Community Relations, directed by Anuradha Dasi from South Africa. While ISKCON has long had a communications department, it’s a first for the GBC.

“We realize that this has been a real problem—people often learn what they know about the GBC by rumor or from the Internet,” says Tamohara. “They don’t know what we’re doing, and so they assume the worst. Or they’ve had bad experiences in the past, so they think it’s still more of the same. But the fact is that ISKCON leadership has changed dramatically. Leaders were always very dedicated to Prabhupada and the preaching mission, but now they are also both more professional in their management approach, and dedicated to devotee care, something we didn’t really talk about much when I joined in the 1970s. But devotees don’t know this.”

Tamohara feels that the GBC could improve its communication both by communicating its activities better to the rank and file devotees, and by better hearing issues the devotees would like to bring to their attention.

“We’re confident that this new Community Relations division will go a long way to help,” he says. “One major thing they are launching is a GBC website that will include essential information like ‘Who is the GBC for my part of the world and how do I contact them?’ It will also include biographies of all the GBC members, because most devotees don’t know who they are or what they do. We need to put a face on the GBC.”

The Community Relations Division will also communicate resolutions, strategic plans, and ideas to devotees around the world and ask for their feedback through polls, surveys and focus groups. In addition, email addresses and phone numbers will be provided so that devotees can call in and express their concerns.

“We need to hear from the devotees to be able to make better decisions,” Tamohara says.

Other divisions include one focused on developing a constitution for ISKCON, and another on ensuring Srila Prabhupada’s prominent position in future generations, as the Acharya whose instructions and books will always be the unifying centerpoint of the society.

Future divisional director positions still to be filled include Divisional Director for Succession Planning, who will help temples identify needs and find and train new leaders; as well as Divisional Directors for outreach, education, and organizational development.

“The already-existing GBC organizational development committee is working on how ISKCON should be best structured as an effective organization,” Tamohara says. “There are a lot of interesting questions about the future they are aiming to answer, for instance: As we continue to grow and expand, with about 400 temples right now, will we one day have 1,000 temples? If so, how many GBC members should there be? Will there be 100? Will they all meet in one room? Or will we develop hierarchical structures, with other devotees working under GBC members?”

The Organizational Development Division is also working on how to best structure global representation—with some GBC members now overseeing temples in four different continents, they’re attempting to work away from this to a more compact, efficient system.

And Tamohara, who has committed to the Executive Director position for at least two or three years, will be working with all these divisions, staffing them, setting priorities, and making sure things happen on a practical, local level.

“I’m expecting my new job to be challenging,” he says. “But it’s also a very exciting opportunity to be on the ground floor as we develop new systems that I think will be very effective for spreading Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna consciousness movement.”

Tamohara realizes that this can only be achieved with help from others, and so his focus is communication, cooperation, and relationship-building, both with Divisional Directors and with the GBC members.

Personal goals of his as the first Executive Director include getting the new Executive Structure up and running in a healthy way, and increasing knowledge and awareness of the GBC amongst devotees in general, which he feels strongly about.

“I also feel a personal commitment to making sure that the GBC body and individual GBC members are accountable to the devotees and to the ISKCON society—that we’re performing at the level that we need to be for Srila Prabhupada,” he concludes.