Friday, August 21, 2009

Dave - International Stuttering Association - Time for Change?

Interview with Suzana Jelčić Jakšić, board member of the International Stuttering Association

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Let’s start by asking why you wanted to do this interview and have your views made public.

I don’t think that at the moment ISA is being run as a democratic organisation. It seems that anyone who disagrees with the Chair ends up either being forced to leave or being sidelined, like me. This is my last attempt to get my democratic rights back and be treated equally.

The ISA symposium was a bit of an embarrassment. It looked like there hadn’t been any planning about who was doing what. Is that right?

Yes, that’s very much right. Benny asked me about seven months ago if I'd be a part of it - the title was “ISA and its Role in the Community”. I was to speak on the last World Congress in Cavtat and I obviously agreed. Claudia from Argentina was asked to speak about the next World Congress. I asked for an abstract from Benny in February so I had better insight into what was required but never got it. Never heard from him about it again, despite asking for this information. Until it was published on the IFA web site I did not even know how long the session was. Because there was no communication for several months I was not sure Benny really wanted me to be a part of it.

You seemed to know nothing about the specific plans for an ISA/IFA joint congress?

I knew of previous talks between Chairs of ISA and IFA, but no other discussions. Benny said nothing about such ideas. As far as I know it’s not been discussed anywhere, but Benny presented it there at the workshop as if it was something that was agreed. It was disappointing to me that Benny said nothing about my keynote speech at any time during the Congress despite the fact I was talking about the importance of strong national associations and the ISA and the role of self-help groups. He did not even acknowledge that I had given a keynote speech.

What was that comment Benny made about “I’m at the top and you’re at the bottom” when he put up the list of Board members. It sounded quite insulting. Do you think that was intended?

I noticed that I was at the bottom of the list on the ISA web site, but it did not seem important. But I couldn’t believe my ears and eyes when he commented on the slide like that, particularly since he did it turning to me with a smirk and pointing out personally to me that I should notice that he was at the top and I was at the bottom. And this was translated into Portuguese too. Fortunately there were hardly any people there to hear it, but obviously it wouldn’t have mattered to Benny how many people there were present.

Since the last World Congress it doesn’t look like ISA is a very happy family. Am I right in thinking that Keith Boss resigned and John Steggles was expelled?

Yes. There was the problem with two members, Keith and John. Keith had a lot of ideas that Benny could not follow and both Keith and John had some strong views on what the board should be doing. If they were representing their national associations I don’t understand why they couldn’t be replaced by someone else nominated by their associations. But this didn’t happen. If they were not representing their national associations then the national associations shouldn’t interfere to try to get people removed from the board as was the case presented to the board about John.

According to the ISA web site you have a Chair and Secretary on the ISA board. You also have a Co-ordinator. What does the Co-ordinator do?

Apparently the co-ordinator takes over the discussions when Benny is not ready to answer some questions. But Thomas does not do this in a very concrete way, so often we get no answers to our questions which is very frustrating.

What has ISA done in the last two years? From the point of view of an outsider it looks quite inactive. Apart from publishing three issues of ‘One Voice’, what has it done.?

It’s certainly not good if it’s not obvious to people what ISA has been doing. There’s been the 2nd African Conference, but these conferences were started by the previous Board and people from Africa were responsible for the second conference. There’s the ISP-S project which was started by Mark Irwin and the previous board but to my knowledge the current board did not seem to want to act on any of Mark’s further suggestions for this. ISA supported this with a limited amount of funds. We also spent a lot of time changing the venue of the next World Congress. This is ok, but the work is done very slowly and it is not enough. In my view ISA should be making links with WHO, UNICEF, and other global organisations to further the cause of PWS.

You might not want to answer this, but how does the ISA make any money to run itself? I can’t see any mention of fund-raising activity on its web site.

I’m not aware of any fund-raising activities so I can’t say much more, but I do know there is a fund-raising committee.

It really looks like you and Benny don’t get on. It also looks like he has a sexist approach to women, judging by the way he relates to you. Do you think that’s true?

It’s hard for me to believe because I was not raised in such a society and I never felt any discrimination being a woman, but now I have to admit that might be the case. I can’t imagine Benny treating a man as he’s treated me. I am a board member and I should be treated equally and that’s what we ask for the rest of the world when it comes to stuttering. At the moment I’m not granted access to the ISA forum, where some important discussions about board matters took place, and despite asking for an explanation and access several times Benny refuses to do either. I don’t know what you can do if you ask questions numerous times by email, even go on strike, but the Chair won’t answer the questions. It was suggested by some other board members that we have a drink in Rio to find the way to communicate better, but then you have Benny who pretends he can’t hear me, doesn’t understand me, says it’s not important and treats me in a sexist manner. He says when the time comes I’ll be allowed access to the forum, which seems an odd word to use since as a board member I have the right to have access. So what I should do now? The easiest thing would be to resign, but I don’t want to stand aside because of someone like Benny.

Finally, do you think Benny has done a good job as Chair?

I think I was really generous to Benny, I had a really good opinion and he was really dear to me and when he asked me to stand for election to the Board, I said yes only because of him. I had many urgent jobs to finish and I was exhausted from organising the World Congress and had no interest in being a part of the board. So he asked me to be there. Some time after that, several board members said they were unhappy with the way Benny ran things and wanted me to join them in showing their lack of support for the Chair. But I said no and defended Benny, saying he needed time to grow into the job and they should give him a chance. But the first time I disagreed with him, didn’t say what he expected, I was sidelined. I think with Benny he thinks you are either with him or against him, nothing in-between. Now, especially after meeting him in Rio, I am sure he sees me as his enemy. I don’t think those are the qualities of a good chair. If we are not all in agreement with him, he sees us all as people he is fighting a war against who should be removed. I want to say here that now I don’t think he’s capable of running the ISA. If the Chair can’t communicate well with board members then I don’t see how this board lead by this chair can create a world that understands stuttering. So, Benny does not have my support and I don’t think someone who behaves in public as he behaves whilst representing the ISA is a fit person to be chair. I think he should resign, but I don’t believe he will, he’s taken the role of a general who must prevail against all who disobey.

Thank you for your time and frank thoughts.


Anonymous said...


Are you offering Benny Ravid a response?


Dave Rowley said...

I'll leave Tom to decide on exactly what to do, but of course Benny is free to add a comment here.

Tom Weidig said...

Benny is free to comment or has the right to an interview with me.

The content is Dave's responsibility. He is a guest blogger, and can write what he wants.


Norbert @ BSA said...

Suzanna says that "If they [John and Keith, (N @ BSA)] were representing their national associations I don’t understand why they couldn’t be replaced by someone else nominated by their associations. But this didn’t happen.. "

According to the ISA constitution, BSA would not have been able to nominate a replacement representative for Keith - the ISA would be able to appoint anyone as a replacement.

This issue of ISA was discussed at a BSA board meeting in February this year. Keith stressed his view that ISA is potentially a worthwhile organisation - however, under current circumstances he felt he could achieve more outside ISA than within its structures. We wrote formally to the ISA Board and Chair to express our concern and stated that, for the moment, we would not wish BSA deleted as a member organisation from the ISA website. However, we were keeping this under review. As to the situation re ISA Vice-Chair John Steggles, we have no information and cannot comment.

Anonymous said...

Benny's doing a good job. If he hadn't brought ISA members to Rio, the event probably would not have been solvent (like Dublin). As for JJ's keynote speech, it was amateurish like several of the other keynotes.

I don't know why Dave has singled out this issue to raise about the IFA conference. There was no mention of Maguire's flying visit to give his own talk and move on, the Italian man who created a scene about not being a keynote speaker (who also left after his talk), almost complete absence of key US researchers and people involved in editorial work in the arae of stutteirng. We just saw a selection of photographs from some of his nonentity Brit mates.

The guest blogging idea did not work for me. I'd leave the blogging to Tom (the idea of inviting Conture that was raised is ridiculous given the messes he has got himself into with his statements about temperament).


Dave Rowley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave Rowley said...

Hi Hector, do you have evidence Benny is doing a good job? What members of ISA did Benny "bring" with him?

In what sense were several of the keynotes amateurish?

I mentioned Maguire and Ratner's talk during my summary and also had a discussion with Jerry in the comments of another blog post, you clearly haven't read them carefully.

I did miss the Italian guy, but I can't be everywhere!

Do you mean I didn't comment on the lack of key US researchers or that I didn't report on the ones who were there? Your sentence is ambiguous. Overall, as I commented, little new was presented.I don't see any need to single out the Americans. I guess you must be American! People elsewhere in the World don't necessarily have a world view with America at its centre!

What precisely is "editorial work"?

Yes, some of the photos were of British people I know. But more were not!

If you don't like what I wrote that's fine, but as Tom would say: "Give us some evidence to go with the opinions!"

Dave Rowley said...

Hi Hector. Someone has misinformed you. I've just checked with the Congress organiser for Dublin - it made a profit.

Anonymous said...

can someone say more about:

"I'd leave the blogging to Tom (the idea of inviting Conture that was raised is ridiculous given the messes he has got himself into with his statements about temperament)."

What mess, he is publishing.

Anonymous said...

When I read this interview, it was simply a confirmation that these stuttering organizations (ISA, BSA etc.) are totally irrelevant, redundant and (dare I say it) corrupt. If we want to make any improvements, we need to clean out these organizations and start from the beginning.

Norbert @ BSA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith Boss said...

To Anonymous,
If you think these organisations (you quote ISA,BSA) are really corrupt, why not attend their AGM's (three yearly for the ISA) and make your criticisms known. I am sure they will be pleased to address constructive criticism. Useful comments and ideas are valuable.


Anonymous said...

Are they really corrupt?

Say something...don't be afraid.

The greatest tragedy is staying silent.

Anonymous said...

I am a regular reader of this blog and I cannot believe that the Stuttering Brain blog has gone off onto such a tangent to talk about such rubbish. It sounds like a whole lot of miscommunication to me. People who stutter tend to have communication problems at all levels and are highly sensitive. It sounds like a poor communicator doing battle with an over sensitive team mate. I was in Cavtat and could never understand why Benny Ravid was made chair of the ISA. It should be someone with good communication skills at all levels. I think both of the Australian, John Steggles and Mark Irwin would be much better suited to such an important role and they are both well known and respected by the stuttering community. Both, particularly John have been involved at an international level for a very, very long time and I think he has a good understanding of stuttering treatment and support group stuctures. Michael Sugarman has also proven himself as an ideal candidate. If a mistake has been made don't leave it to the other board members (who are probably afraid for their own position) to make the necessary changes. A vote by member nations is what is needed and that can be organised by anyone. In the mean time I think Mr Ravid should be given more respect in public debate while ever he is the Chair of the ISA. He is clearly out of his depth but deserves the understanding that all of us would like if we found ourselves in this situation.


Anonymous said...

Thank you