By Godwin Aidenagbon - Head, Research & Development, Yakubu Gowon Centre, Abuja, Nigeria
The 2008 WANGO Africa Conference was held in Accra, Ghana from April 24 to 27, 2008, with the theme NGOs as Agents of Positive Change. Over one hundred delegates gathered at the Earlbeam Hotel for this event, drawn from the civil society organization, business, and the government sectors across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the America.
As the first regional conference of the Africa contingent of WANGO, it provided an opportunity for interaction and experience among African NGO leaders. There were paper presentations as well as discussions on issues centered around the third sector in Africa and beyond. The conference program included three plenary sessions, eight roundtables, seven workshops, four special symposia, and ten panels sessions
The high point of the conference was the formal launch of the Zero Illiteracy Project (ZIP), which is a prescription for the rapid development and advancement of good governance and transparency on the African continent.
NGOs also had an opportunity to explore historical sites in Ghana through a well packaged tour put together by the WANGO Africa Secretariat. There likewise were poster and material exhibitions by participating NGOs and corporate organizations.
The 2008 Conference officially commenced with an opening ceremony on the evening of Thursday ,April 24 with Mrs. Jennifer Brock as Master of Ceremony. In his opening address, WANGO Africa Regional Coordinator Mr. Mohammed Attah noted the landmark achievements in the NGO sector, indicating that when weighed against the challenges that NGOs face, there is still much to be done. He implored participants to see the conference as an opportunity to network among themselves for effective performance.
Professor Oumar Ndongo, General Secretary of the West Africa Civil Society Forum, offered the keynote address, with the presentation made on his behalf by Barrister U. D. Ikoni. In the address, Mr. Ikoni identified the challenges to the development of society, including poverty, human rights issues, refugee and inter border issues, citizen participation, health care, water, sanitation, and so forth. He sees the NGOs as filling the gap to effect positive social change in society. He dwelt extensively on the nature of NGOs from various platforms. He was able to bring out the localized nature of NGOs and the fact that some appeared to be transient, responding to specific issues. He further stated that NGOs have carved a niche for themselves in responding to development issues owing to their efficiency, prudent resource management, and result-based approaches to their activities. He noted that NGOs had done little in designing a rural based strategy since most of the underserved people live in rural areas and that NGOs are slow to develop alternative survival strategies.
In offering a solution to the challenges that NGOs face in Africa, Mr. Ikoni recommended that NGOs should be more pragmatic in dealing with society’s problems. There should be strong commitment to networking between and among themselves and to establish good relationship with the donor community. He further advocated for NGO solidarity and ended by reiterating the fact that diversity is NGOs' greatest strength.
The Membership Director at the WANGO International Headquarters, Ms. Jean Rondon, in her remarks said she was at the Africa conference to listen and hear good suggestions that will help African NGOs grow and prosper. In concluding her remarks, she posed a challenge to Africa NGOs’; stating that it is only natural to love one’s nation, but why should it not cross the border? She charged NGO leaders to invest in their programs to demonstrate responsibility and commitment.
The Future of NGOs in Africa
The presentation was made by Mr. Alvan George Quamina, Executive Director of the AIDS Project of the East Bay, in Oakland, California (USA). Mr. Quamina indicated that his intention in the presentation was, firstly, to communicate some trends observed in Africa NGOs with the hope that this will guide the future development of NGOs, and, secondly, to demonstrate the role that NGOs can play in the development of societies.
Conceptual Definition of NGO. Mr. Quamina acknowledged the existence of formal and informal NGOs and that his discussion will dwell on both of them. He defines NGOs as those organizations that occupy the space between government and private entities in the public arena. A feature that distinguishes NGO from other organizations should be the fact that they are mission-driven. He insisted that NGOs are not just service organizations, but that NGOs are expected to make statements and express viewpoints and advocate for others. The end point of such a process would be the empowerment of society. Another feature that stands NGOs out is the fact that they are highly relational.
African NGOs. Mr. Quamina noted that NGOs predate colonialism in Africa, unlike in the advanced countries where NGOs have been driven by religious institutions. He, however, acknowledged the presence of religious NGOs in Africa and that there is a rich history of NGO formation in Africa. He noted that NGOs in Africa are propelled by "associationalism" to fill gaps in government and private sector. He further noted that NGOs in Africa are under-resourced and in some cases have a hard time with government. He also isolated the role that the legal environment plays to support NGO activities in Africa.
On a note of caution, he warned that the "elite capture" of NGOs will further only the cause of the elite. He did not, however, fail to appreciate the fact that the elite can also drive positive change depending on who is on the saddle. He identified some of the challenges of NGO development in Africa to include cultural and language barriers and the fact that majority of NGOs are not positive in their mission.
NGO Trends and Future. Over the years there has been increase in commitment by multilaterals to deliver on their social responsibility mandate. Most of the activities emerging from this trend will help to jumpstart and consolidate NGO actively in Africa.
There has been increased professionalism of NGO work. This has the advantage of improving capacity in the sector. There have also been increased accountability requirements for NGO activities and increased networking among NGOs.
In concluding, Mr. Quamina implored NGOs not to carry out service to the exclusion of empowerment through expression and advocacy. He pointed out that there was danger in insularity, isolationism, and excessive competition among NGOs.
How do we solve the problem of funding NGOs? Is it not ripe to advocate for an International funding mechanism for NGOs? What role can NGOs play to make government do their work? How do we escape from elite capture? All these formed the questions and answers session after the presentation.
It was noted that NGOs should try to improve on what government and business are doing. There is also now the growing preponderance of "Third Party Government" where government actually uses NGOs to improve service delivery.
Review of WANGO Conferences: 2002-2007
WANGO Secretary General, Mr. Taj Hamad took participants on a discussion into WANGO conferences/congresses beginning with the last one held in Toronto, Canada. The African attendees of the Accra conference expressed displeasure over difficulties encountered in securing necessary permits to enter Canada. The WANGO Secretary General acknowledged the difficulties encountered by participants and resolved to put lessons learned into the planning of future congresses. He also informed participants that WANGO International conferences are now to be held every two years.
Discussions. Participants expressed some of the following opinions:
Towards NGO Self Certification
This presentation also was made by Mr. Taj Hamad WANGO Secretary General, utilizing a powerpoint for his analysis of NGO programs to improve the accountability of NGOs, with emphasis on NGO self-certification programs. The session was chaired by Mr. N. G. Vaghese of the Indian Red Cross Society with Hajia Sadia Muazu Magana of the Court of Appeal, Abuja as supporting chair.
A program for self certification is designed to enhance credibility. Donors are our life line and we require trust to access funds. NGOs feel the pulse of the community and an international survey has revealed that NGOs rank higher in general in the the area of trust than business, media, or government. NGOs also ranked highest in integrity in the specific areas of the environment and human rights. However, unethical and irresponsible NGOs are eroding the good faith that ethical NGOs have built up by being mission driven as opposed to profit driven. A certification program is necessary in the face of those less reputable NGOs that erode the trust of donors, beneficiaries, partners, and the public at large./p>
Government provides some safeguards, but generally these a minimal requirements to be considered an NGO (nonprofit, charity, civil society organization) or to be considered eligible for tax benefits. There is a need for NGOs to police themselves and establish meaningful measures related to NGO conduct. Authentication can be achieved through the following:
Interaction Breakout Sessions
The part of the program featured four interactive breakout sessions on:
Governance and Leadership. Mr. Mutanda Alexis (WANGO –Congo) chaired the session on Governance and Leadership. The participants agreed that leadership and human development is influenced by genetic environment and human capacity. An ideal leader should have 4 faces:
The group concluded by recommending value orientation as antidote to foster good governance and leadership.
Education and Human Development. The group concurred that education goes beyond just reading and writing but includes the acquisition of a distinct culture characterized by tolerance, respect for the human person, and so forth. Education involves changing the mindset of people and it is a process that continues throughout one's life. As an instrument for human development, education should make people to be self reliant and to be able to contribute to the development of society.
Family and Health. The group identified the family as those involved in one's life biologically, socially, and morally. Families have grown beyond biological boundaries. The family has a role to play in molding the character of children. The NGOs have a role to play with respect to counseling young people and providing for the poor.
Environment. The group laid emphasis on the physical environment and how it affects development. Major challenges were identified to include natural causes like desertification, erosion, and landslides as well as human induced causes like pollution and waste generation. The group recommended effective environmental management as panacea for environmental degradation.
Noon sessions. Three papers were presented at the noon session workshops:
Essential Fund Raising Skills by Dr. Precious Emelue.Fundraising is the power of soliciting and gathering money or other gifts in kind, by requesting donations from individuals, businesses, charitable foundations ,or government agencies. Although fundraising typically refers to efforts to gather funds for non-profit organizations, it is sometimes used to refer to the identification and solicitation of investors or other sources of capital. There are basic two sources of fundraising for NGOs
The paper gives essential fundraising tips to include:
Trends In Community Driven Development By Alvan George Quamina.Community driven development is targeted at communities in a bottom-top fashion. It has the benefit of inclusiveness and participation by stakeholders. Communities are able to assume ownership, contributing to project implementation and monitoring of the project.
Internet As Strategic Advantage For NGOs By Mr. Godwin Aidenagbon. The internet is no doubt a tool that has greatly enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of NGOs as they carry out such activities such as Information Access and Management, Networking, Collaboration and Partnerships, Participation and exchange, Communication as well as capacity building. The internet has helped greatly to reduce cost of services like postage, fax, courier and training. The internet has also greatly improved information gathering by NGOs as well as providing on-line training resources. The internet is also a tool for organizing fundraising activities and executing mass mailing activities.
Afternoon sessions. The afternoon sessions featured workshops as follows:
Sustaining NGOs for Positive Development. Barrister Ikoni examined the role of NGOs in development and the need to sustain their existence. He advocates low profile operation, collaboration, diplomacy, and advocacy as strategies for sustaining NGOs for development.
Framework for NGO Best Practices. Mr. Desmond Appiah highlighted the importance of NGOs and noted the phenomenal growth of NGOs around the world. The growth of NGOs is in response to various changes around the world like climate change, globalization, terrorism, poverty, and so forth. NGOs currently face a lot of challenges especially with regards to public trust, societal accountability, integrity and overall effectiveness. It is in the light of the following that there is need to establish a framework for NGO best practice. He proposed a peer review concept as a framework for establishing best practices among NGOs
NGO commitment to Public Needs.Professor Raheem examined various public issues like poverty, diseases, and unemployment and asks how committed NGOs are to public needs. NGOs should commit themselves to public needs and not their personal aspirations.
The 2008 WANGO Award for Education, selected by the WANGO Awards committee under Dr. Noel Brown (President, Friends of the United Nations) and presented by WANGO's International Council, went to Challenging Heights, an NGO based in Accra, Ghana and whose founder and Executive Director is Mr. James Kofi Annan. Established in 2003, Challenging Height provides support to indigent students in Ghana. Mr. Kofi Annan, who himself was a victim of child labor, uses his resources to address the problems that confront Ghanaian youth by giving them access to education.
The award was personally presented to Mr. Kofi Annan by the WANGO Secretary General, Mr. Taj Hamad.
WANGO Africa also appreciated Mrs. Jennifer D. Brock, WANGO Ghana Chapter President through the presentation of certificate for effective hosting of the first WANGO Africa Conference.
Launch of the Zero Illiteracy Project
The Zero Illiteracy Project (ZIP) is a novel service program directed at improving the level of literacy (including ICT education) to the barest minimum in Africa. It is an initiative designed to use a new approach and methodology that make everyone a stakeholder, with a goal of substantially reducing the level of illiteracy, particularly at the grassroots level, using non-profit organizations (NGOs, charity organizations, civil society organizations) as drivers of the change. It is a project of WANGO International, administered by the WANGO Africa Regional Secretariat under the auspices of the WANGO Africa Regional Coordinator, Mr. Mohammed Attah.
After introductory remarks by WANGO International's Membership Director, Ms Jean Rondon, Mr. Mohammed Attah spoke. Mr. Attah began by acknowledging Kenya Airways and MTN Foundation and other corporate organizations that have agreed to partner with WANGO on the Zero Illiteracy Project, ZIP and have demonstrated their commitments by sending representative to the event.
Mr. Attah explained that ZIP is about how we can help to promote literacy. With increasing literacy levels there will be an end to poverty, diseases, unemployment, and bad governance. The target beneficiaries of ZIP are school dropouts, adults ,and the less privileged. In implementing the ZIP, Extremely Disadvantaged Areas (EDAs) are to be identified and volunteers as well as local mentors used to reach out to the target audience.
The ZIP is to be piloted in 15 African countries (3 from each region). Mr Attah further highlighted the administrative framework of ZIP and provided an activity calendar for its country level launch and implementation.
Funding for ZIP is to be sourced locally. The WANGO Secretary General Mr. Taj Hamad in his remarks said that ZIP was initiated by Mr. Attah and that the International Secretariat will give full support to the project.
Three presentations were made as follows:
These presentations were made by NGOs to reflect the work they do and their contributions to development generally.
Human Service Trust, Cape Coast, Ghana. A paper titled Running and Managing an Effective NGO was presented by Emmanuel Ayifah. He identified the key ingredients for running an NGO to include:
Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV/AIDS. Mr. Ayifah gave an insight into HIV/AIDS situation in Ghana and set out to identify gaps in respondent knowledge of HIV/AIDS issues as well as respondent willingness to pay(WTP) for PMTCT services in Ghana. The result of the survey showed that out of 234 respondents who presented themselves for testing, 80 were found to be HIV positive. Respondent’s knowledge of PMTCT was also found to be high. 76% of respondents were willing to pay some amount of money for PMTCT services.
Karaban Support Foundation, Ghana. Nana Opara Djan who is Executive Director of Karaban support Foundation gave the thematic focus of the organization to include Education and public awareness, micro credits and entrepreneurship. Some of their accomplishments include:
Petadist Community Organization. A presentation was made by Mr. D.O Nweze, Secretary of the organization.
The philosophy of petadism is centered on the finding that Patience (P), Education(E), Talent (T) Altruism (A), and Internationalism (I) are values and virtues that must be embedded in a society before meaningful development can take place. The core value of the Pedadist philosophy is achieved through sensitization and mobilization of society
MTN Foundation, Nigeria. MTN Foundation gave an overview of its development projects in Nigeria spanning the provision of low cost houses to agricultural projects across Nigeria rural population.
Chapter meetings were held as follows: DR. Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and other nations
WANGO Business Meeting (NGO General Assembly)
The General Assembly was chaired by the WANGO Secretary General, Mr. Taj Hamad. Members who have not subscribed to the WANGO Code of Ethics and Conduct for NGOs were requested to visit the WANGO website to sign on. Issues relating to membership were explained and clarified by Jean Rondon, Membership Director at the WANGO Headquarters.
Chapter Formation. In the face of large participation from countries without formal chapters, a formal consideration for the inauguration of new country chapters or national representatives was discussed. It was resolved that NGOs in such countries should continue to associate as WANGO members until the criteria for national representative was unveiled by the WANGO headquarters.
WANGO E-news. Ms. Jean Rondon was excited that members were familiar with the WANGO website. It was resolved that owing to the problem of several returned WANGO newsletters by surface mail, only the WANGO e-news would serve as the organizations news bulletin for now.
Chapter Project Endowment Fund. The chapter project endowment fund was raised for the first time at the meeting. Members agreed that it should be discussed further at country chapters.
2009 WANGO Biennial Congress. The new biennial nature of the congress was re-emphasized by the Secretary General. Two host countries are presently been considered – New York City and Washington, D.C. in the United States and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Members felt that since the last event was held in Canada it was better to move to another continent. It was also observed that Dubai is an expensive location. The WANGO Secretary General informed members that several factors would be considered in making a final choice and that members should feel free to forward their suggestions to the secretariat.
Zero Illiteracy Project. Plans and procedure are to be sent to pilot country chapters for deliberation and implementation.
The Conference Rapporteur General, Mr. Godwin Aidenagbon of the Yakubu Gowon Centre, Abuja, Nigeria presented the summary report of conference proceedings. It was stated that the detailed report would be made available to participants in due course.
Mr. Taj Hamad, in his closing remarks, applauded the efforts of WANGO Ghana for an excellent hosting and indeed to WANGO Africa for the initiative of a regional conference, which will alternate with the biennial world congress. He thanked members for participating and wished everyone safe departure to their countries.