The 2020 annual WINGS forum was meant to happen in Nairobi, a celebration of the organisation’s 20th anniversary with their first conference in Africa. Of course, this year made other plans – so this week the WINGS seminar launched online, with an introductory session attended by participants from all over the world contemplating the theme ‘imagine’.
The international virtual gathering was yet another sign of our connection with one another, said WINGS Executive Director Benjamin Bellegy in his opening remarks: ‘The Covid-19 crisis has shown us that there is not a single challenge that is local or regional or even national.’
And the speakers participating in the forum did represent this idea of global collaboration. Maurice Makoloo, the Ford Foundation’s representative in Eastern Africa, joined from Nairobi, sharing a short film highlighting the diversity and breadth of WINGS’ work to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
CEO for the Arab Foundations Forum (AFF) and Chair of the WINGS Board of Directors Naila Farouky spoke next, breaking down the theme of ‘imagine’ into three components, saying that she felt we needed to consider imagining the way forward, imagine what needs to change, and imagine how the change that’s needed can be accomplished.
‘If we can imagine the ways we can reach out to our global network of peers, we may be able to create a new and better normal’, Farouky said.
She was followed by philanthropy professional and rights and peace advocate Akwasi Aidoo who reflected on the idea of redistributing power by sharing a poem: ‘Imagine, They Plead/Grantees and Equalantees/Not as Recipients’ it began.
After the opening remarks, the forum turned to a panel on power moderated by Jessica Horn, Chair of the Program Committee on the Fund for Global Human Rights board and Commissioner on the Lancet Commission on Gender and Global Health. The panellists included Vidya Shah in India, the Chairperson and CEO of EdelGive Foundation; Ambika Satkunanathan in Sri Lanka, the Chairperson of the Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust; Moukhtar Kocache, the co-founder of Rawa, a participatory grantmaking fund for Palestinians; and Henry Timms, the co-founder of #GivingTuesday.
The importance of shifting power was one that was highlighted by all of the panellists. Kocache shared from his experience of working with Rawa: ‘Clearly, the mechanisms we have are not working All the funding has stripped away the agency of people and turned them into recipients.’
Timms echoed this idea, saying that philanthropy has relied on old power – a top-down, leader-driven type of influence that elevated a ‘superstar’.
‘New power is led by super conductors,’ Timms said. ‘Not a superstar.’
Satkunanathan, sharing from her experience in Sri Lanka, spoke about the necessity of courage for organisations working at home on the ground: ‘When you don’t have social movements and people working at the community level, you need to be doing your work in the places where the majority of the community thinks differently – not preaching to the converted,’ she said. ‘Courage for an organisation like ours needs to be at the core of our being, the courage to keep soldiering on.’
Shah spoke about the importance and sustainability of giving the decision-making power to the grassroots communities: ‘When the Ford Foundation came to India, the culture was deeply West oriented. It was not home grown, and it did not take into account the realities of the country at the time.’
The session ended on a note of hope, with all the panellists highlighting the spirit of service that had spring up in the wake of the pandemic, along with more attention being given to social movements this year.
‘Our challenge is how do we connect and harness these to our collective power’ Satkunanathan said.
At the end of the discussion, Bellegy took over to share with the audience a preview of the new WINGS logo, which will be unveiled next week.
The WINGS forum will continue online. For a full schedule, visit their website. To watch a recording of the Wings Forum, click here.