Something that was very apparent at this WINGS Forum, held in Bangkok 16-18 November, is how much the WINGS members have in common and what a lot they can learn from each other. While the plenary sessions introduced loftier themes relating to the role of grantmakers in today’s world – and to the conference title, ‘Making a Difference in Philanthropy’ – the breakout sessions were real working and learning sessions.
The most challenging of the keynote speakers was Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute. She took foundations to task for leaving the policy-making field in the US to right-wing foundations, and criticized US foreign aid to the developing world for harming local farmers. The ‘new’ Green Revolution that the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations are bringing to Africa fails to acknowledge either the causes of hunger and poverty in Africa or the failure of the first Green Revolution, she said.
WINGS seems to be a thriving organization. Membership has grown from 85 to 135 in four years. A special plenary session called ‘WINGS: Looking back and looking forward’ gave members time to think about the organization and its future and how they would like it to develop. One delegate expressed a hope that it would transform from hub and spokes to a network where members communicate among themselves. Several people expressed the wish for more frequent meetings than the four-yearly forums.
There are of course questions – about the difficulties of maintaining a global infrastructure organization, about remaining relevant to a broad range of members, about continuing the four-yearly rotation of the Secretariat. Six weeks after the Bangkok Forum, the Secretariat had moved to the Philippines and Marissa Camacho-Reyes had taken on the role of director. At this stage, the only reasonable answer to these and many other questions seems to be ‘wait and see’.