Plans to host Nobel Summit in Atlanta face new challenges

By Maria Saporta

Atlanta’s prospects of hosting the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit in November have become even more challenging as the deadline to present a solution to the international body has been extended until May 13.

Further complicating an already messy situation, three members resigned Friday from the board of Yunus Creative Labs – the entity that has been in charge of putting on the Summit. The three board members were Laura Turner Seydel, who had been chairing the host committee for the Nobel Peace Laureate Summit; Jason Carter, the grandson of 2002 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jimmy Carter; and Willis Potts, former chairman of the Georgia Board of Regents.

Yunus Creative Lab has not convened a board meeting since its namesake – 2006 Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus – resigned as chairman on April 9.

At the time, he cited problems with YCL’s management. Although he didn’t mention anyone by name, the management of YCL is Mohammad Bhuiyan, who serves as CEO; and his wife – Shamima Amin, who serves as its chief operating officer. They both serve on what had been YCL’s seven-member board, which became a four member board after Friday.

Already, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had withdrawn the city’s support of the Nobel Summit in mid-March – explaining that he was not comfortable with several aspects of how the international event was being organized. He elaborated later that the only way he would get re-engaged with the Summit would be if Bhuiyan were no longer in control.

The situation has came to a head on May 2nd and 3rd when the 2015 Working Meeting of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates met in Rome to decide whether to hold the 2015 Summit in Atlanta.

The decision was made to give local leaders one week – until May 9 – to come up with a solution that included the City of Atlanta.

Jason Carter, Muhammad Yunus and Mohammad Bhuiyan during happier times (Special: City of Atlanta)

Jason Carter, Muhammad Yunus and Mohammad Bhuiyan during happier times (Special: City of Atlanta)

During the past week, members of the community have been trying to broker a deal to turn over the management of the Summit to an organization other than YCL. Rotary International – specifically the Rotary Club of Atlanta – was open to stepping into that role. Negotiations were held with Bhuiyan, and the hope had been that YCL’s board would meet to vote on a possible solution.

When a board meeting was scheduled for May 12, a request was made to the World Summit to extend the deadline until May 13 so YCL’s board would have an opportunity to meet. The extension was granted.

But on May 8, Bhuiyan sent out an email canceling the YCL board meeting. Shortly after, Carter and Seydel sent a joint letter of resignation – expressing frustration that YCL board’s had been unable to convene during this time of “crisis.”

Potts sent a separate email to Bhuiyan submitting his resignation.

“You have seen my opinion that YCL should transfer management of the Summit to Atlanta Rotary,” Potts wrote in his email. “I arrived at that decision independently, based on my personal analysis of the situation and offering what I thought was the best outcome for YCL, the Nobel Laureates, and the city of Atlanta. My position has not changed.”

Potts then went on to say:

This e-mail is my notice of resignation from the YCL Board, effective immediately. My resignation is without malice toward anyone. People with different points of view may certainly disagree. So be it

I do not want to be a part of any discussion that involves the interpersonal difficulties between certain board members. I did my best to serve with independent thought, and decided I could no longer, in clear conscience, be a part of YCL.

In another bizarre twist, after Carter and Seydel had turned in their resignation, Bhuiyan responded by saying that their terms on the YCL board had expired a day earlier.

Andrew Young, Muhammad Yunus, Laura Turner Seydel, Shamima Amin and Mohammad Bhuiyan at gala last fall (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Andrew Young, Muhammad Yunus, Laura Turner Seydel, Shamima Amin and Mohammad Bhuiyan at gala last fall (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Meanwhile, Bob Hope, who had been one of the people trying to broker a deal, was in Chicago Friday meeting with Rotary International, which he said continued to express interest in organizing the Atlanta Summit.

But Hope acknowledged that the possibility to reach a resolution by Wednesday without Bhuiyan’s acceptance of an agreement to turn over the management of the Summit made the situation more difficult.

Bhuiyan sent out the following statement on Saturday morning:

Yunus Creative Labs announces the expiration of the one year terms of board members Jason Carter, Laura Seydel and Willis Potts. (who took Jim Winestock’s seat). Their terms as directors expired on May 7. It should be mentioned that Jason Carter never attended any board meeting or responded to any e-mails related to the board matters until after the resignation of Prof. Yunus. Laura Seydel attended every board meeting and voted with all members of the board unanimously to reject Mayor’s proposal on March 10, 2015 meeting. It seems both of them are trying to negotiate matters on their own outside the board.

The YCL board is assessing the options for the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates and will make a statement once a conclusion is reached. Our only goal is to do what is best for our city, the donors, and the Laureates. This is a very complex and sensitive situation. We remain open to any reasonable approach.

Furthermore, the Secretariat, attributed Laura Seydel and Mayor Reed as their source in their letter on January 10, 2015 and outlined a series of false and reckless allegations and decided to terminate its relationship with YCL. Mayor has repeatedly quoted in Atlanta Business Journal (on April 1, 2015) and at WABE Radio (May 7th) that if the Secretariat were to decide to move to another city, he would accept that.If Secretariat and the Mayor want to do their summit, they can certainly move forward on their own with any organization. They do not need YCL. YCL Board will meet as soon as possible to discuss the current situation.

Here is the letter of resignation from Jason Carter and Laura Turner Seydel, which outlines what happened from their point of view.

May 8, 2015

Dear Dr. Bhuiyan,

For months, we have worked alongside you and many others to hold a successful World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates here in our hometown.  Over the last few weeks, however, it has become clear that holding a successful Summit is no longer your priority. 

We have been on the Board of Yunus Creative Labs (YCL) since its inception.  And the story of the last few weeks is a painful one for us.  When Professor Mohammad Yunus resigned from the board on April 9, 2015, it was obvious to everyone that YCL had reached a crisis point.  Not only had the City of Atlanta and the Secretariat of the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates issued statements of no confidence in your leadership, but now the organization was without its namesake. 

As a Board, we found ourselves in a position where the Mayor of Atlanta, the Secretariat, and Mohammad Yunus himself had all indicated that they would not participate in a summit where you played an organizing role.  It thus became clear that YCL could not carry out the Summit on its own.  

We know that you believe this is unfair.  But as a board, we were confronted with the reality that in order to hold successful Summit in Atlanta, YCL needed to transfer the organizational responsibility for the Summit to another group. 

In response to this crisis, over the past month, a number of people in the City began seeking out partners for YCL so that we could continue with the mission of holding a successful Summit in Atlanta.  Again, this was—and is—the only way for YCL to achieve its essential purpose. 

Despite the hours of work that we and others have put into this project, you have personally rejected every proposal that we have placed before you.  You have also refused to articulate any alternative plan for how YCL can hold the event or gracefully step aside as the sponsor.  And what’s more, as the Chair of the YCL Board, you have sole responsibility for calling meetings absent a vote by two-thirds of the Board.  It is apparent that you control four of the seven Board votes, and thus you have complete control over the meetings.  You have used this power to manipulate the meeting schedule and to prevent the Board from either meeting or taking a vote. 

Specifically, you knew that the Secretariat was meeting on May 2, 2015 to decide whether to keep the Summit in Atlanta.  You also knew that any potential partner would only agree to join in the effort to hold a Summit if the Secretariat agreed to keep the Summit in Atlanta.  Despite numerous pleas from board members that we should have a board meeting prior to the May 2 date, you refused.  In fact, you scheduled the meeting for May 12—evidencing your intention to disregard the Secretariat and its deadline.

On Friday May 1, you met for several hours with Jason Carter and a group of others to discuss a proposal from a prominent Atlanta group, of which you are a member.  The proposal would have transferred responsibility for the Summit to the group.  But it would have also allowed you and your wife to have significant titles, and to dremain involved in (though not in control of) the management of the Summit.  You not only rejected the proposal, but you left in the middle of the meeting and did not return. 

You did this despite knowing that the Secretariat meeting the very next day could eliminate YCL’s ability to hold the Summit in Atlanta.  With no alternative in sight, your refusal to carry this proposal to the Board, and your refusal to entertain it before the Secretariat’s meeting recklessly placed YCL’s interest in jeopardy.

The Secretariat met on May 2, 2015.  As a result of your actions, the Secretariat issued a statement indicating that YCL would need to transfer responsibility for the Summit to another organization or the Summit would be moved to a different city.  Again, it was clear that if the official Summit was moved to a different City, this would be a horrible result.  It would not only harm Atlanta, but it would make it impossible for YCL to achieve the purpose for which it existed and for which it raised money from its donors.  Because two board members intervened with the Secretariat and asked for more time, the Secretariat extended the deadline for agreeing to this transfer to May 9, 2015.

Two days after the Secretariat meeting, on Monday May 4, 2015, the same prominent Atlanta group made a new proposal in writing to take over the Summit and keep it in Atlanta.  Again, YCL was confronted with the opportunity to salvage the Summit in Atlanta.  The proposal would have allowed YCL to transfer responsibility for the Summit, and the funds raised for that purpose, to the other group.  This would have kept the Summit in Atlanta, given it a great chance to succeed, and it would have satisfied the donors who have given money for just that cause.  At the same time, there was no other viable plan for YCL to achieve its purpose of holding the Summit in Atlanta. 

Again, despite your obligation to act in the best interest of YCL and to ensure that YCL fulfilled its purpose and its promises to its donors, and despite numerous pleas from Board Members, you refused even to call a board meeting to consider the proposal.  And you refused to allow the Board to vote on it. 

Because we had a Board meeting scheduled for May 12, a board member asked the Secretariat to extend the deadline to May 13, 2015, and the Secretariat agreed.  Again, for YCL and its mission of having a Summit in Atlanta, this staved off catastrophe and gave you a third chance to save the Summit. 

Today, May 8, 2015, you cancelled the May 12 board meeting.  This is the last straw.  Clearly, it is impossible for us to have any impact on the direction of YCL and you have no interest in conducting a successful Summit in Atlanta.  We cannot stand by as powerless board members while you repeatedly raise roadblocks to the community’s efforts.

Since Professor Yunus’s resignation, we have specifically requested a board meeting in writing more than a dozen times.  Yet, you have refused to call a meeting at any appropriate date.  And you have refused to allow the board to vote on any proposal that has been put forward.  There is absolutely no excuse for refusing to meet in the midst of a crisis like this. 

Further, it has become clear that you have a deep and impenetrable conflict of interest that has compromised your ability to act in the interest of YCL.  At this point, there are proposals that would allow YCL to ensure that a Summit occurs in Atlanta.  But you have rejected them because they would require you and your wife to step down as organizers of the Summit. 

We understand that you have been hurt personally by many of the things that have been said about you, and we have worked hard to ensure that the good work that you have done over the last several months did not go unrecognized.  For the record, you and your wife have done a remarkable job of winning the Summit for Atlanta, building an organization, raising money and establishing a profile for the Summit.  And we have seen no evidence of any financial impropriety or fiscal mismanagement by YCL during your time there. 

However, you have also alienated many of the relevant leaders in this community and abroad.  At long last, that list includes us. 

With this letter, we hereby resign from the Board of YCL.  We will continue to work with community leaders in hopes of having the Summit here, but it is clear that under your leadership YCL only serves to get in the way of this effort. 

                                                          Sincerely,

                                                          Jason Carter and Laura Seydel

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    Yawn.
    Whether this event happens or not is of no consequence to anyone except those wanting media coverage.
    The Nobel Prizes are also of no consequence since they award prizes to someone they hope will do noteworthy things, instead of awarding to people who actually do noteworthy things.Report

    Reply

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