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LLLUSA: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

LLLUSA Steering Committee
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 37 No. 2, April-May 2001, p. 45

Many of us are familiar with the story of the founding of La Leche League in 1956 at a church picnic in Franklin Park, IL USA. Once past these early days, however, few of us are clear on the details of what happened next. La Leche League of Franklin Park soon became incorporated in 1958 with its first Group outside of Illinois being established in Ohio. In 1961, the first Group outside the US started in Canada. By 1964, La Leche League of Franklin Park changed its name and its incorporation to La Leche League International in recognition of the fact that there were 115 LLL Groups across the USA and 6 Groups in other countries. Little thought was given to the impact or consequences of becoming an international organization; the primary concern was to recognize the presence of those Leaders who wanted to take the philosophy of mothering through breastfeeding to women all over the world. The time was ripe for the message of La Leche League. The opportunity was not to be missed.

As time marched on, various international LLL entities took on more responsibility for the day-to-day management of supporting the organization in their countries. Difficulty communicating with LLLI in Franklin Park (before email!), as well as cultural and language differences made local autonomy an attractive option. Some of these entities became Affiliates, bound by legal agreements to LLLI. Other parts of the world developed individualized ways of working, both internally and in cooperation with LLLI, in response to the challenges of distance and language. In each arrangement, the local entity accepted some degree of responsibility for the support of Leaders and at least some of the business operations in their part of LLL.

Meanwhile, in the USA, most of these responsibilities continued to be coordinated through the office at Franklin Park (and later at Schaumburg) Illinois USA. Leader administrative support, including Leader department activities, such as Area Conferences, PL support, and HRE, were eventually delegated to two administrative units - the Eastern United States and United States Western Divisions. The Executive Director of LLLI supervised the Directors of the US Divisions. Over the years, this has worked well in most instances.

The idea that LLL in the USA should take more responsibility for its own affairs has been suggested for many years. The task seemed so large and complicated that nothing was done. The topic again surfaced at an August 2000 meeting of the US Division Directors and the LLLI Executive Director. This time, the idea of creating a national identity for LLL of the USA seems to be in line with other current developments within LLLI.

As LLLI embarks on an exploration of new ways of working together through a chaordic process, this seems to be an ideal time to consider the impact of a national identity for LLL in the USA. How would the presence of an LLLUSA entity affect the work Leaders do in their community and on the promotion of breastfeeding in the USA overall? We recognize that there are gaps in breastfeeding support in the USA that LLLI, because of its international scope, cannot appropriately fill. Some examples that come to mind are coordination with WIC on a national or state level, more direct involvement with the US Surgeon General on breastfeeding issues, participating in the US Breastfeeding Committee, and lobbying at the federal and state level. It is time Leaders in the USA take responsibility for these and other activities related to breastfeeding in the US and release LLLI to focus more energy on the international breastfeeding community.

In previous discussions about LLLUSA, the US Division Directors, the Executive Director, and the LLLI Board have been enthusiastic, but unable to move the process along. At the August meeting, a steering committee was proposed as a means to get the idea moving. Possible members were suggested and invitations were issued. The Leaders invited have broad experience and long-term knowledge of the organization, and are also at a place in their LLL careers to be able to devote time to the project. These Leaders were charged with thinking beyond what LLL in the US is today and to think ahead to what it could be. Nine people met together over the weekend of January 19-20, 2001 to discuss why LLLUSA is needed and how it might be created. Some ideas discussed for the purpose of LLLUSA were:

  • to create a national identity for La Leche League in the USA
  • to seek additional ways to fulfill the mission of La Leche League in the USA beyond the current basic traditional responsibilities of Group Leaders (e.g. political advocacy, breastfeeding education, public relations)
  • to respond to national or culture-specific issues related to breastfeeding in the USA (i.e., health care system, legislation and legal system, corporate climate, etc.)
  • to create an entity charged with responding to opportunities to promote breastfeeding within the USA
  • to create expanded opportunities to use the range of experience and resources US Leaders and members represent
  • to better serve the needs of breastfeeding mothers and babies in the USA

How are we going to go about creating this entity? While we believe this idea has great merit, before we proceed we want to hear from a broad spectrum of LLL Leaders and members in the USA. Any decisions will be made only after an open dialogue that is as inclusive of Leaders and members as possible. We began by posting an input form at www.Illusa.org/lllusa/survey.html that we encourage all US Leaders and members to fill out. Information gathered from this source will be available for sharing well beyond the committee. We are open to ideas about how to create and support ongoing, open avenues of communication to promote a free exchange of information and ideas about the development of LLLUSA.

We do not see LLLUSA as an additional administrative structure for US Leaders, but rather as an additional road to provide support, resources, and services for the promotion of breastfeeding in the United States. The intent is not to burden Leaders with additional responsibilities or reporting, but to open up the possibilities for Leaders (active, reserve, and retired), as well as members who are interested, to take on new roles. The structure of LLLUSA will exist only to support the functions it serves. The activities of LLLUSA will always be designed with the LLLI mission in mind.

This seems an idea whose time has come. Give it some thought; talk with other Leaders in your Group, Chapter, or Area; ask questions and gather information. We want to hear from you!

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