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Strength through Diversity

Mary Roache
Dunedin New Zealand
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 2, April-May 2002, pp. 36-37.

Leaders—Do you imagine Leaders and LLL members around the world reading Leaven as their primary source of information about LLLI? Leaders from the US who are working on the Review Network for LLLI’s Chaordic Initiative were surprised to learn that this is not the case. Being part of an international working committee has enlightened many of us about the implications of the “I” at the end of LLLI. New Zealand’s Mary Roache shares her perspective.

Isn’t it wonderful to go to an LLL gathering and return feeling inspired, valued, and amazed by all the wise women you have met? Much to your surprise, you find some women who read the same books, have a similar approach to life, and could be termed soul mates. Many of us find a group of like-minded women within LLL more readily than we do in our work, church, or community. Some women who have moved have commented on the similarity of LLL members even in another country or culture.

Such a sense of familiarity disguises some of the variations that exist between LLL entities, whether they are Areas, countries, regions, or Affiliates. In the era before the instant world of fax and email contact, distance created many obstacles. Local coordination of LLL activities became pivotal to provide the required ongoing support and information to Leaders. As a consequence, local solutions were developed. Even now it is impractical and expensive in many parts of LLL to provide for face-to-face interactions.

Many LLL organizations have their own official periodical(s); Leaven is described as the LLLI Journal for Leaders (Leader’s Handbook p. 220). However many Leaders do not receive it in the same format and time frame as you do. For some areas, the cost of receiving Leaven is prohibitive because of shipping costs, and unfavorable exchange rates, sometimes combined with much lower wages. The first copy of Leaven that I had the opportunity to read cover to cover in a leisurely manner was the complimentary copy I received when I had an article published, after I had been a Leader for about seven years!

Different entities of LLL have met the challenge for ongoing Leader education in a variety of ways. Some entities produce their own Leader publication in their own language. Such Leader publications, which may include some translated or adapted articles from Leaven or other LLL Leader publications, also rely heavily on contributions from Leaders in the originating entity.

For many Leaders a highlight of their LLL career would be to attend an LLLI Conference. Such a goal is basically unattainable for some Leaders. To travel to an LLLI Conference in the USA, a Leader from New Zealand would need to add an airfare of $1,500 US to the basic registration and accommodation costs. Currently, multiply that total by 2.5 and you have the amount in New Zealand dollars, remembering a NZ dollar within NZ has about the same value as a US dollar within the US. However LLLNZ has its own biennial Conferences, with NZ speakers talking about issues that are important to NZ Leaders. No, they are not as big as the LLLI Conferences, but the camaraderie, good fun, and learning are still there. We have been very fortunate, on occasion, to have someone from LLL elsewhere as a speaker and guest.

In New Zealand, when Leaders refer to “the office,” it is not Schaumburg, Illinois, USA that springs to mind, but a comfortable, weatherproof (a critical adjective if you knew the previous premises) room within the Betty Campbell Centre in Wellington, New Zealand. Here, the Office Administrator, LLLNZ Treasurer, and Order Department are based. LLLI is the main source of items for sale. LLLNZ’s list of approved books differs from LLLI’s. Occasionally NZ reviewers turn down LLLI-approved books and occasionally local books make it onto the list. The Office Administrator is LLLNZ’s main link with the LLLI Office in Schaumburg. The provision of a part-time administrative base is an ongoing financial commitment for the LLLNZ Board; in recent years we have been grateful for a Lotteries Board grant, which contributes to the remuneration of the staff. The benefits of the Office, however, continue to outweigh any negatives. It ensures the production of local publications are well coordinated and timely, our database of Leaders and members stays current, we meet all New Zealand legal requirements, and most importantly, LLLNZ Leaders are well supported through the prompt availability of up-to-date materials and information.

LLLNZ is an Affiliate of LLLI, as are Canada, French-speaking Canada, Germany, Switzerland, and Great Britain. Affiliation is an LLL system of governance developed in the 1980s. Overall affiliation has been a successful style of self-governance and self-organization which has given us the autonomy and support to become a nationally recognized grass-roots agency. In New Zealand, aspects that define LLL, such as the philosophy, mission, and name, are identical to those of LLLI. However, we have our own Board to make administrative decisions; we have developed some of our own procedures such as Grievance, Strategic Plan, and Appointment and Titles of Officers; we adapted parts of the LLLI Leader’s Handbook to make it relevant to NZ and we have our own Constitution.

The Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) is structured differently because the LAD stays international. They are accountable to both the LLLNZ Board and the LLLI LAD. The dual accountability has been helpful in ensuring universal standards for Leader accreditation. New Zealand Leaders are passionate about breastfeeding and all the benefits that can ensue, including the development of a child-centered approach to mothering. New Zealand Leaders fulfill the same obligations as Leaders elsewhere; they are accountable to both the mothers they help and LLL. However, when most Leaders in New Zealand think of LLL, it is LLLNZ that springs to mind; LLLI is a far-away entity “out there.” Yes, they know LLL was started in a suburb of Chicago, that somewhere in the US there is an International Office and that there are LLL Groups throughout the world, but their La Leche League is a local organization. They know most of the decisions that will impact upon them in their roles as LLL Leaders are made in New Zealand.

Throughout the nearly 40-year history of LLL within New Zealand there have been some very wise women who have given much time and energy to enable the organization to survive and develop on the other side of the world from Franklin Park. The Founders offered all of us the foundation and the philosophy; a similar debt of gratitude is owed to women throughout the world who have been able to incorporate LLL philosophy in different cultures and societies, using many different languages. Such women have become instrumental in the development of LLL as an international, respected organization in the forefront of breastfeeding.

Although this article has been written using LLL of NZ as an example, the same elements can be translated into an article for many other LLL regions. How many other parallel yet different articles are there and in how many languages?

Mary Roache, a member of the LLLI Review Network for the Chaordic Initiative, has been a Leader since 1988. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand, with her husband and five children.

For more information, contact any member of the Review Network or visit the Chaordic Initiative Web pages on the LLLI Web site at:

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