Michael Troutman has fallen in love with Nicaragua - its people, its culture and, especially, its birds.
For most of the year, Mr. Troutman is vice president-investments for the $4.4 billion defined contribution plan of the Board of Pensions, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Minneapolis. But for two weeks in March, he and the Rev. Keith Olstad, an avid bird-watcher, lead a travel seminar to Nicaragua called "Our Fragile Relationship: Birds, People and Tropical Environment."
The trip, organized through the Center for Global Education of Augsburg College, Minneapolis, visits communities and wilderness areas in Nicaragua to emphasize the links between conservation, sustainability, economic development and the role of religious communities. The trip moves from lowland forest to the very highest cloud forest, down wild rivers, through tropical marshes and Solentiname, an archipelago of 36 islands in Lake Nicaragua.
Birds are a special focus of the trip, partly because of Pastor Olstad's passion for birds and his realization that birds are a symbolic connection between distant people. The migrant birds seen in Nicaragua make their way up through the United States to Canada. The goal of the trip is to highlight such connections between people and places, said Mr. Troutman. "And it's really hard not to be a birder in Nicaragua. The birds are plentiful and the forest, beautiful," he added.
He got the idea for the travel seminar from his work as a microenterprise loan officer in Nicaragua during a two-year sabbatical, which began in 1994, from the pension fund. Mr. Troutman and his family were lay missionaries in Nicaragua, living and working in local communities. He said he found a fascinating contrast between the $10 million and $20 million investments he made for the pension fund and the $50 loans he made as a loan officer to women's groups and cooperatives in Nicaragua.
Not many pension fund sponsors are able to combine the tenets of their private and professional lives so smoothly as Mr. Troutman. His daily work permits him to oversee investment options for church plan participants that reflect strong social and social and environmental values.
The next trip is planned for March 2003. Details are available at www.augsburg.edu/global/birdtrip.