‘Wings is about building bridges and not walls…’ This is one thing that resonated with me throughout the three days of the recently concluded WINGSForum in Mexico. Coming from the Chair of the WINGS Board, Maria Chertok, at the opening ceremony, this was an important message. Obviously, this rang a special bell with me because I was in Mexico, and I had heard about the new President of America having a plan to build a wall between the United States and Mexico!
Coming from Kenya in Africa, this was a hard thought to imagine. Taking the ride from the airport to the conference venue, I remember commenting to the person who sat next to me, how I could not see any obvious differences between the peoples from the two countries which appeared to me ‘roughly’ the same people just like the way Kenya and any of its neighbouring countries border each other, with the ‘usual’ neighbour movements across each other’s spaces, hence making the idea of a wall look a little ridiculous.
And so as the week went by, I started thinking or was it wondering… about the different ways that WINGS could be a bridge builder. Words like, a ‘strong negotiator’ – one who helps people not normally talking begin to talk with each other, who explores common grounds between ‘warring’ people to begin to entertain conversation with each other – came to mind.
I could see WINGS brokering conversations with other global alliances or networks over some of the issues that influence the work of members. For me, it meant that WINGS may be the connector to some groups that we need to be talking to that operate in regions like Africa where we too operate in.
There are those who may be known to WINGS who have skills we are struggling with or which we need to develop. These connections were already happening in Mexico, right before our eyes!
The rich conversations after plenary sessions or even in the parallel workshops, clearly had no boundaries….no cultural barriers kept us from being ourselves and sharing our experiences. WINGS was already creating this platform for building connections with some we did not quite know before attending this platform!
On reflecting further on the bridge building analogy, I found it applicable not only to my work at KCDF, but to the other many networks that we are part of, that need to apply the same principles of bridge building, such as the East African Association of Grant Makers (EAAG), The African Philanthropy Network (APN), the CSO Reference Group in Kenya etc. In Kenya like in several other parts of the world, where we are experiencing shrinking space, there is a great need to enlarge our networks and conversations around creating a more open legal environment for the work of different diverse civic groups.
We could for example keep the different jurisdictions where we each belong, e.g. INGOs, local NGOs, foundations and Trusts, corporate foundations etc. Each group has its own convening’s where they discuss their own issues. Its cosy to stick with these groupings, but we will not make a strong impact in working to push boundaries with the government, unless we can forge stronger alliances with others who may be different from us, hence the need to begin to build our skills to be better bridge builders.
And so, as the week went on, I felt a renewed strength to get back to Nairobi and begin to check: whom have I not been talking to? Who else should I book for a coffee to discuss my frustrations around how we need to strategize around the PBO Act not yet implemented four years later? Who else can we include in the next networking meeting?
I hope to be a better bridge builder even at a personal level, as I know for sure, I don’t want to be a builder of walls! It’s too costly, and not a legacy worth leaving behind, when all is said and done!
Janet Mawiyoo is Executive Director at the Kenya Community Development Foundation.
Read more reports from the 2017 WINGSForum attendees here.