Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean

 

Prepared from the report of Jorge Guldenzolph, Co-Chair of the Conference Organizing Committee, Montevideo, Uruguay

 

 

The First WANGO Regional Conference for Latin America and the Caribbean was held in Montevideo, Uruguay from March 13-14, 2004. Representatives of sixty-four non-governmental organizations, as well as select political, corporate, and media leaders, from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Spain, Uruguay and the United States participated in the conference.

Opening Session

With the theme, “The Role of NGOS in the Development of Latin America and the Caribbean,” the Conference commenced on S a t u rd a y, March 13, with a midday luncheon. Dr. Leonard Guzmán, the Minister of Education and Culture in Uruguay, welcomed the guests. He spoke to the audience of the character of the civil society as a spontaneous society that moves by goodwill to tackle problems that the government many times cannot effectively address. The conference chair, Ambassador Phillip V. Sánchez, a former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras and Colombia, and currently serving as the Publisher of Tiempos del Mundo, a weekly hemispheric newspaper, elaborated on the theme and objectives of the regional conference.

The Secretary General of WANGO, Taj Hamad, warmly greeted everyone to the Regional Conference. Mr. Hamad p rovided an informative and extensive overview of the current NGO revolution and the importance of the NGO sector to address the challenges encountered within the communities and nations worldwide. The Secre t a r y General explained the origin, principles and activities of WANGO, emphasizing the potential of this organization to bring direction, vision and effectiveness to the NGO revolution. He also quoted from the keynote address given by Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of WANGO’s International Council, at the Annual Conference 2003 held in Bangkok, Thailand. At the conclusion of his address, Mr. Hamad launched the “International Code of Ethics for NGOs.”

Plenary Sessions

“Global Vision Concerning the Objectives of NGOs” was the theme of Saturday’s Plenary Session. The renowned speakers on the panel were Professor Nelson Pilosof, President of the World Trade Center Montevideo and Chairman, WTCA R e g i o n a l Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean; Dr. Manuel Bernales-Alvarado, from the UNESCO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean; and Ms. Mirtha Marin Garat, Secretary General of the Uruguayan Commission of UNESCO and the Director of RAIKATU, a bi-national NGO.

The three speakers each presented a different perspective on the session’s theme. Dr. Bernales-Alvarado emphasized the importance of the relations between NGOs and governments, while Ms. Marin offered a vision of development in the region and the role that NGOs fill in the process. Professor Pilosof, in a very inspiring presentation, spoke of the fundamental role of the spirit and conscience in the work of NGOs. He said that, without the values of truth and love, we will not have NGOs because there will not be any volunteers ready to live for the sake of others.

Dr. Héctor Gros Espiell, former Ministry of Foreign Relations of Uruguay and former Undersecretary General of the United Nations, was the guest speaker at the evening banquet. Dr. Gros Espiell spoke of the “right to development,” referring to an integral development that not only includes civil, political, economic and social rights, but also moral and spiritual rights.

The second day of the conference, Sunday, March 14, opened with the plenary session on the theme “NGOs and Ethics - To w a rd an Ethical Culture in the Corporate, Civil Society and Government Sectors.” The esteemed panel of speakers included Dr. Enrique Martínez Larre c h e a , Executive Director of the Civil Association “Educational Services of the Southern Cone” and Former National Director of Education, Ministry of Education and Culture , U ruguay; Marcos Fuchs, Executive D i rector of the Pro Bono Institute of Brazil; Professor Helena Constábile de Amorín, Director of Education, Ministry of Education and Culture of Uruguay; and Dr. Gregorio Rivero Iturralde, former Vi c e - P resident of the Catholic University and Chief Editorialist of Ultimas Noticias.

Each panelist presented distinct perspectives on social ethics and individual morals in the governmental, corporate, nonprofit and media sectors. The role of ethics and morality was emphasized as the core element for personal and group behavior in order to build a culture of service, and bring progress and mutual benefits to society.

Workshops

On Saturday afternoon, participants chose between two of the training workshops offered - ”How to Obtain Funds and Manage Finances,” presented by Maria Elena Del Valle, Senior Staff of Support Center for Non-Profit Management (USA), and “New Technologies for Non-Profits,” presented by Merrill Black, President of Active Voice (USA).

Facilitating interactive role playing with the workshop participants, Ms. Del Valle challenged the audience to demonstrate how to effectively express their NGO’s need for resources to a potential donor. After observing the participants’ role-playing, she presented several effective ways to obtain funds to her audience. Notably, the very next day, one of the participants from her workshop actually utilized the technique to secure a US $1,000 donation.

In the second workshop, Ms. Merrill Black emphasized that many NGOs lack knowledge of the new telecommunication technologies, and because of that, many are not reaching their potential.

In both workshops, Ms. Del Valle and Ms. Black clearly communicated the need for the participants to change their perspectives and develop and apply new procedures for the growth and success of their NGOs.

Two training workshops were also given on Sunday - ”Improving NGO Media Coverage and Publicity” and “Strategic Thinking for NGOs”. The workshop on media and publicity had a panel of presenters - Federico Solé, Victor Bjorgan and Osvaldo Silva with Ms. Marian Barnes, Executive Director of an NGO in Spain, moderating the session. Throughout the workshop, practical tools were offered to help the NGOs improve their presence in the media.

Mr. Federico Solé, Editorial Chief of Ultimas Noticias, pointed out that the mistake that some NGOs make is that they often keep important information private about their activities for fear of being copied by someone else. He emphasized that this is a serious obstacle that deters dissemination of valuable information on both the NGO and its activities. In this regard, Mr. Solé, as a journalist, called for NGOs to always communicate the best of each organization and to look for ways to establish a good relationship with the media.

Mr. Victor Bjorgan, Director of Marketing of Tiempos del Mundo in Uruguay, gave a presentation concerning the most important elements to take into consideration regarding the relationship between the mass media and institutions. He expressed the importance for an NGO to adopt a strategic plan for marketing and to have a clear understanding about the areas that the organization wants to communicate to the public.

The way to obtain media attention to the NGO’s activities, and the most common mistakes made by NGOs in this area, were the central ideas of Mr. Osvaldo Silva’s presentation. He is a consultant for media and public relations in Chile. Mr. Silva gave a list of the common NGO mistakes regarding media and also the tasks that every NGO must consider if they want to gain presence in the mass media. He also demonstrated some practical ways to generate activities that get the attention and interest of journalists, adding a creative aspect to the most common efforts of the NGO.

In conclusion, the three presenters agreed on the need for each NGO to have a staff person, or to create a communications department, to relay information about their NGO to the media.

In the second workshop, “Strategic Thinking for NGOs,” trainer Ms. Maria Elena Del Valle opened her presentation engaging the participants to express the objectives of their NGO. Based on the participants’ comments, Ms. Del Valle then highlighted key strategies for the NGOs to follow in order to generate positive results from their efforts. Following the session, a brief video of the work of the WANGO National Representative of Guatemala, Mr. Ricardo Morales, was shown as an example of a strategic initiative resulting in positive achievements, involving the participation of all sectors of the population in a project to fight corruption in Guatemala.

Closing of the Conference

The guest speaker at the closing luncheon was Mrs. Graciela Rompani de Pacheco, Vice-President of INAME (National Institute for Minors in Uruguay), and President of Ventura-Grammen Association, which provides micro loans for productive activities. Mrs. Rompani de Pacheco, former First Lady of Uruguay, spoke on how the NGOs in Uruguay collaborate with INAME in assisting poor or marginal children in their country. Touching the hearts of her audience, she emphasized the need for more participation on the part of society in solving the nation’s problems, especially with regards to children.

After two informative and enriching days, the Secretary General of WANGO, Mr. Taj Hamad appreciated everyone’s contribution during the conference. Mr. Hamad expressed gratitude to all the attendees gathered and emphasized that the future of WANGO is not determined in the international headquarters, but by each organization and individual that is a member of WANGO. WANGO increases depending on both the vision and contribution of each member, and the tools and inspiration that are provided to them. He encouraged the participants to work together, to reach out to other NGO leaders, and to establish a national chapter of WANGO in each country.

Mr. Hamad announced that, on behalf of all the conference participants, a letter of condolence and condemnation of all terrorist actions will be sent to the Mission of Spain regarding the train station tragedy in Madrid that had occurred just as the conference was beginning. He led the gathering in a “moment of silence” in commemoration for the victims of the attack.

The First WANGO Regional Conference in Latin America and the Caribbean was a success. Serious and dedicated NGO leaders and representatives gathered to consider and discuss their critical role in the development in their nations and region. Friends met, new relationships and partnerships were formed, and both the presenters and the participants were re-energized and uplifted through the sessions and conversations.

The NGO leaders and representatives expressed great interest and enthusiasm in becoming a WANGO member and in the potential for collaboration and partnerships among them in their specific areas, both in Uruguay and among other countries. Mr. Sergio Cedrés, the President for the Latin America Association for Public Relations, Uruguay, offered his assistance to the participating NGOs, free of charge, to help them better understand how to present their NGO and its activities to the public, to communicate with the media, and to influence public opinion.

There were several different meetings of the NGOs leaders immediately following the conference. The process began for the creation of a national WANGO chapter in several countries. Clarity and strong impetus was given to the WANGO activities in both Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.