The first World Congress of NGOs and fifth WANGO Annual Conference was convened in Toronto, Canada from November 8-11 on the theme Ethics and Global Peace: NGO Perspectives.
From the surprise “fire-alarm mixer” that opened the event, until the heartfelt goodbyes and the unveiling of the Toronto Declaration of NGO Core Values, the World Congress of NGOs was a memorable experience. During the four days, attendees had the opportunity to participate in many diverse activities: 3 plenary sessions, 7 special symposiums, 10 practical workshops, 3 panel sessions, and the 2007 Awards Reception and Program. Including the various roundtables, dinner programs, mixers, and committee meetings (Declaration Committee, Code of Ethics Committee), there were 35 unique sessions on the agenda.
In all, 155 select leaders of non-governmental organizations from 30 nations, representing a broad spectrum of the global nonprofit community, converged on Canada’s largest and most culturally diverse city of Toronto for this World Congress. Representatives attended from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Africa, North America, and Latin America, as well as various island nations. These NGOs spanned the vast spectrum of the non-governmental community, from small, local NGOs to major international bodies, and encompassed the diversity of human activity, from humanitarian NGOs, to environmental NGOs, to those involved in education, health care, human rights, conflict prevention, and development activities. Joining them were prominent international and national leaders from the governmental and for-profit sectors. They gathered not only for the sake of how to be more effective in their missions, but also for the larger purpose of examining issues related to bringing about a world of peace and co-prosperity and the central role of ethics in the NGO sector.
The event was graced by 56 invited speakers, as well as leaders of 12 member organizations who utilized the panel sessions to present on their NGOs or a topic of interest to them. The fact that so many of the presenters also were participants – from the Rt. Honorable Edward Schreyer, former Manitoba Premier and Governor General of Canada, to Jean-Guy Bigeau, Executive Director of Katimavik, to Marshall Wallace, Director of CDA Do No Harm Project, to Mary McCormack, President of Information Services – meant that the opportunities for networking, so integral to WANGO meetings, preceded at a high level throughout.
And for the first time ever, a Panel of Excellence was convened, where the 2007 WANGO Award leaders offered landmark and riveting presentations on their visions of the future and their daily quests to bring that future to reality.
However, one sobering realization for the participants was the many WANGO colleagues from developing nations that found it difficult to get visas to enter Canada, including many good friends and tireless community leaders who had attended previous WANGO conferences in Washington, D.C., Bangkok, Budapest, and Santo Domingo. In all, about 90 registrants were unexpectedly denied visas, including many that held US and UK visas, and others who were part of large NGOs, but NGOs in the developing world. This was unprecedented for a WANGO conference and some attributed this development to an unrelated NGO event, held just one year earlier in Canada, when many of the NGO participants claimed refugee status and stayed in Canada. Whether that was a factor or not, and although applicants for WANGO conferences are among the most select, the inability of many to gain access highlighted the importance of NGO leaders everywhere maintaining the highest standards of integrity for the sake of the reputation of the entire sector.