His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada established the Governing Body Commission (GBC) to be the ultimate managing authority of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). The GBC’s primary responsibility is to preserve, disseminate and carry out the instructions of Srila Prabhupada, and is entrusted with the task of overseeing the management and spiritual standards of all ISKCON centers, affiliated projects and members. Working under the GBC are additional managerial authorities such as regional governing bodies (RGBs) and temple presidents. An executive director, ISKCON ministers and GBC deputies further support the GBC in their duties.
During the first annual general meeting (AGM) of ISKCON’s GBC in 1975, ISKCON’s Founder-Acarya Srila Prabhupada personally guided the proceedings, showing how the GBC should strictly follow parliamentary procedure. As per Srila Prabhupada’s instructions during the AGM, issues are to be discussed and all points of view voiced, followed by a vote whereby the majority determines the resolution or plan of action. At this first official meeting, Srila Prabhupada himself raised his hand in vote to set the example.
Such proceedings continue today. At present, there are thirty-five GBC members, each member elected to the position by the GBC body itself. The majority of GBC members are also zonal secretaries—GBC members who supervise the management and spiritual standards in specific geographic regions, and who regularly submit reports to the governing body. Srila Prabhupada wrote that “The GBC member is supposed to know everything and anything about the condition and situation of all matters within his jurisdiction,” however “GBC does not mean to control a center. GBC means to see that the activities of a center go on nicely…” In this way, a GBC member does not micromanage, but instead oversees the activities of particular ISKCON centers and projects.
The governing body is administered through a GBC executive committee (EC) that consists of a chairman, vice chairman and secretary. These executive posts are held for one-year rotating assignments after which time the chairman’s term of office expires, the vice chairman succeeds the chairman, and the secretary succeeds the vice chairman. The governing body then elects a new secretary to join the executive committee each year. Duties of the GBC executive committee include managing issues with global consequence, attending to emergency situations, implementing resolutions, and facilitating the annual general meeting.
Often working under the GBC are regional governing bodies (RGBs) comprised of GBC zonal secretaries and additional leaders within the region. RGBs undertake the supervision of ISKCON centers and projects on a region-specific level, such as Europe, South America and India. RGBs have varying levels of responsibility and authority as delegated by the GBC body, however all RGBs are minimally responsible for: coordinating a region’s preaching strategies; implementing GBC guidelines in the region; resolving regional conflicts; and making recommendations to their zonal secretaries and the GBC body. All RGBs work under the authority of the GBC. Although every geographic area has an assigned GBC zonal secretary, not all areas function under an RGB.
According to Srila Prabhupada’s directions, all ISKCON temples are financially independent; yet function under the ecclesiastical management of the GBC. A temple president, who is responsible for carrying out the mission, locally manages each ISKCON temple and goals of ISKCON as outlined by Srila Prabhupada. While working under the supervision of their assigned GBC zonal secretary, temple presidents are encouraged to act with local initiative and are responsible for overseeing all functions of a temple, including educational programs, Deity worship, congregational development, ISKCON events within the community, care of temple residents, building maintenance, and financial stability. Moreover, temple presidents have the responsibility of maintaining in their local center ISKCON’s spiritual standards as outlined by Srila Prabhupada.
To increase the productivity of the GBC are additional positions—namely the executive director, ISKCON ministers and GBC deputies. The executive director is responsible for developing and implementing GBC initiatives that effect ISKCON on a global scale, and for providing accountability and quality control amongst GBC management efforts and individual GBC members. Nine divisional directors, covering areas such as administrative/systems development, devotee care, legal, accounting, regulatory compliance and community relations, assist the executive director in carrying out these tasks. The executive director and divisional directors all function under the direction and authority of the GBC.
ISKCON ministers are individuals appointed by the GBC to become expert in their field and oversee a specific mission such as educational development, book distribution, communications and congregational development. Ministers advise, assist and promote their assigned ministries, and educate zonal secretaries and ISKCON leaders in how to take practical steps towards achieving their statement of mission. All ISKCON ministers submit an annual report to the GBC and are invited to attend the GBC’s annual general meeting.
Additionally, GBC deputies are individuals elected by the GBC to assist in reviewing and refining proposals submitted to the GBC, to consider the previous year’s GBC meeting minutes and report on the status of action items, and to aid in additional tasks as requested by the GBC. All GBC deputies serve for a three-year renewable term and are required to attend the GBC’s annual general meeting.
Concisely, in accordance with the direction of Srila Prabhupada, all managerial posts and bodies in ISKCON function under the authority of the GBC. Temple presidents manage activities on a local level and are accountable to their assigned GBC zonal secretary. Regional governing bodies made up of GBC zonal secretaries and leaders within the region, assist in overseeing matters specific to their area and work under the direction of the GBC. Furthermore, GBC zonal secretaries supervise their assigned zones and report to the GBC. The GBC body functions as the ultimate managing authority and is assisted by an executive director, ISKCON ministers and GBC deputies. With the GBC body as its head, the primary function of ISKCON governance is to educate, follow and maintain the directions of Srila Prabhupada throughout ISKCON through organization and cooperation.