May 28, 2013

My Experience Volunteering with CCIC

As a novice volunteer and recent grad, I didn’t know exactly what to expect when it came to volunteering with CCIC.  I have been very focused on studying and working for the last few years but have always wanted to volunteer.  Last spring I volunteered at a Management Development Conference for Women at Carleton University and found the experience to be very rewarding so I jumped at the chance to volunteer at the Forum and AGM.

From the get-go, our volunteer coordinator Amy offered us a choice of meaningful tasks and roles as well as the chance to actively participate in the forum. I joined a workshop for emerging leaders, chatted with those who participated in the public debate and also volunteered as a rapporteur during one of several breakout groups. Other volunteers have been busy tweeting, snapping photos, taking videos and even engaging with parliamentarians.

Although I have no experience in international development, I have worked at Natural Resources Canada through the Federal Student Work Experience Program and was immersed in several international development issues related to sustainable mining in Canada and abroad. During the emerging leaders workshop, I was able to share my experiences and learn from others who were working in their respective fields. This was experiential learning at play, which reminded me so much of the seminars that I had participated in during grad school at Carleton. I was instantly impressed and filled with anticipation of what the next few days would bring.

Later that evening I attended the public debate. After recently participating in some heated classroom debates, I was excited to get the chance to sit back, relax and enjoy. Nevertheless, I found myself taking notes, as if I was still in school anticipating and preparing my rebuttals. During the networking session, the debaters were gracious enough to partake in interviews with volunteers. At times I felt like I was the one being interviewed but was luckily able to integrate some of the issues that were discussed in the emerging leaders workshop. The debaters also took the time to offer young volunteers timely advice to help us in our career ambitions, which I know was greatly appreciated.

Thus far, I would have to say that my role as a rapporteur was the most surprising and rewarding. Our breakout group approached the session in a unique manner by first sharing personal stories and then analyzing these experiences.  Listening to such passionate and open-minded thinking was inspiring. After creating our flip chart, I couldn’t wait to see what other groups had come up with and was proud to see some of the exceptional recommendations that were developed!

The gala awards, dinner and dance capped off day one of the forum. I know that my fellow volunteers were happy to end an eventful day by sitting back and relaxing at the Museum of Nature. What a beautiful setting to enjoy good food, conversation and dance!

I am so happy that I decided to volunteer with CCIC and thoroughly enjoyed participating in the Annual Forum. Initially, my motivation for volunteering was to make some sort of contribution while learning more about pertinent development issues. But this was no ordinary volunteer experience and has far exceeded my expectations! Several voices have been represented with the common aim of working together to improve the human condition. I feel like I’ve developed a better understanding of these perspectives and would have to say that my own perspective has been broadened.

Thank you CICC for an amazing opportunity and congratulations on a successful forum!

Zainab Bekkari

Emerging Leaders’ Initiative a Hopeful Sign for Canadian Development Cooperation

This year’s CCIC Forum, which wrapped up on Friday, focused on envisioning what the future of Canadian international development co-operation could look like, 25 years from now. During his plenary presentation, Michael Edwards of Demos led his audience through an exercise where we were actually asked to close our eyes and picture this future. What did we want it to be? What might it look like?

One of the older participants later noted, “When I did that exercise, at first all I could think of was…in 25 years, I’ll be dead!” Certainly, most of the attendees, including almost all the current NGO leadership, hope to be retired by then. Luckily, one of the most prescient moves by the CCIC was to introduce, for the first time this year, the ‘Emerging Leaders’ category of participant. These are younger professionals, most under 30 years old, who work for, and are nominated by, CCIC member organizations. It is these emerging leaders whom we must count on to carry on the baton in realizing the hopes and the dreams of today’s leadership. And of course, since Canada’s international NGO sector values inclusion, it is only right that these young leaders also add their voices to the collective conversation about the future.

This year, 18 emerging leaders registered for the Forum, and it seems likely that this number will increase in future years. Their participation was a resounding success. Paul Heidebrecht of MCC Canada worked closely with Amy Bartlett, this year’s forum coordinator, to put together a special program for emerging leaders, in addition to the regular forum schedule. This included a pre-forum workshop on “Influencing policy in interesting times”, visits with Liberal and NDP MPs most engaged with international development and foreign affairs portfolios, and a final meeting to determine a vision and next steps for the more immediate future of the emerging leaders’ network.

Having sat in on many of these events, I was struck by how well the key themes from the main conference echoed with those specifically for young leaders. Kathy Vandergrift, the chair of the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, spoke to the young leaders group about the changing Canadian political context. According to her view, the leading public discourse is based on fear, and our challenge is to move it to one of compassion. How, Kathy asked us, can civil society organizations develop an “empathetic imagination” within the Canadian public? And how do we find our own courage in doing so, if CSOs are afraid to take up advocacy roles because doing so may threaten their funding bases?

This theme of moving out of, and towards, a vision of hope and compassion came up again and again throughout the forum. It was raised by Michael Edwards, by many Forum participants, and even by some of the MPs we met with. As the legislation around the recent DFAIT/CIDA merger calls for the restructured development program to reflect ‘Canadian values’, there is a wide sense of optimism that these values really are based on compassion and solidarity. Young Canadians clearly share the desire to look outwards with compassion: international development is the most popular undergraduate degree amongst students, despite the uncertainty of future employment in the sector.

Personally, I have a very hard time imagining where Canadian international development cooperation may be in 25 years, because I am simply not sure what the world will look like in 25 years, given accelerated rates of social, political, ecological and technological change. Will we still be dependent on oil in 25 years? What will the gap between rich and poor be? Who will be the world’s super power? What will our national and international political organisation look like? What will the state of the environment be?

I’m not sure about any of these, but I am sure that the world we will gift to future generations is built on the actions we take today. I vote for a world of love, rather than fear, of open cooperation rather than closed competition. For Canadian CSOs, this starts with revisiting and reinvigorating their links with the Canadian public, as well with the world, reminding ourselves of the values we hold dear, celebrating the good work we have already done, and working collaboratively and creatively as we move forward. More than ever, Canadian CSOs depend directly on the Canadian public to understand and support their work, and they must open themselves to greater exchange. Likewise, while Canada has much to give to the world, we also have much to learn from our friends internationally, now more than ever.

I do not mean to downplay the current challenges, nor those that lay ahead, for CCIC and its members. They’re formidable. But I think we’re up to it. Having spent time in the last three days with the first group of CCIC emerging leaders, I can’t help but walk away with the impression that the future is bright.

Sarah Parkinson

May 24, 2013

Comment s’adapter à un monde en transformation?

Le forum annuel du Conseil canadien pour la Coopération internationale porte cette année sur le thème du développement et de la transformation sociale, une responsabilité partagée. Cette première journée interpelle toutes les organisations de la société civile, car elle aborde leur avenir. Les défis auxquels font face les organisations sont grands dans cet environnement en évolution. 

Le point de départ de cette réflexion débute avec l’essai de Michael Edwards, chercheur principal distingué à Demos et rédacteur en chef de Transformation@openDemocracy. Celui-ci s’intitule « Réflexion axée sur l’avenir : quatre questions qui interpellent les ONG ». Les participants ont pris part en matinée à un exercice de visualisation où ceux-ci étaient invités à imaginer le monde dans lequel ils voudraient vivre dans le futur. Michael Edwards conçoit les relations mondiales en termes local-global et non nord-sud.

Pour Anabel Cruz, directrice fondatrice de l’Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo en Uruguay, le concept d’aide étrangère n’est pas le terme à utiliser, car il implique une idée de supériorité. Selon elle, les organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) devraient plutôt promouvoir la coopération horizontale, par exemple entre les différents pays d’Amérique latine. La situation politique de cette zone a beaucoup évolué depuis une trentaine d’années. Désormais, plusieurs gouvernements sont de tendance progressiste. Cette coopération devient donc possible et souhaitable. Elle réduirait ainsi leur dépendance envers l’influence des puissances occidentales. Nous devons nous interroger sur les capacités qui ont été développées par le passé et construire à partir de ces bases.

La transformation de l’aide étrangère depuis vingt-cinq ans et plus récemment avec la réorientation des priorités de ses bailleurs de fonds publics oblige les organisations à repenser leur structure, leurs pratiques et leur ancrage au sein de la société civile canadienne. Pour certaines, cela signifie qu’elles doivent trouver de nouvelles sources de financement pour continuer leurs activités nationales ou internationales. La transparence de leur financement devient donc un élément essentiel du lien de confiance qui les unit à la société civile. Comme l’indique Anabel Cruz, les organisations doivent accepter les politiques gouvernementales pour survivre. Le financement public de la responsabilité sociale des entreprises, notamment des compagnies minières, semble être à la mode. Par conséquent, l’impact des décisions gouvernementales est très important sur le mandat des organisations. De plus, le financement public oblige maintenant les organisations à obtenir des résultats plus rapidement. L’âge d’or du développement international est révolu.

L’explosion du nombre d’organisations non gouvernementales indique également que les barrières à l’entrée sont très faibles. Barbara Levine, professeure adjointe à l’École de politique publique et d’administration de l’Université Carleton pose la question du besoin d’alliances stratégiques. D’après elle, ces alliances ne doivent pas être forcées, mais plutôt créées dans une perspective de vision commune de l’avenir.

La pertinence de ces organisations est également mise en doute. Anabel Cruz indique qu’il est important de revitaliser les liens des ONG avec les réalités locales. La plupart d’entre elles sont déconnectées des mouvements qui transforment la société (exemple : la place Syntagma ou le mouvement étudiant chilien).
La définition de client est également examinée. Selon Brian Emmett, économiste en chef à Imagine Canada, la dichotomie des donateurs et des États / organisations récipiendaires place les organisations dans une position difficilement soutenable. Les donateurs ne souhaitent plus traiter par un intermédiaire et souhaitent que leur contribution ait des résultats concrets à court terme. De l’autre côté, les récipiendaires ne souhaitent plus être passifs dans l’attente d’une solution deus ex machina. Il existe plusieurs exemples de partenariats avec des organismes locaux qui sont impliqués dans l’élaboration de solutions (exemple : venir au Canada pour travailler de concert avec l’ONG) et qui visent à les rendre autonomes. 

En conclusion, dans un contexte de changement structurel et de crise économique mondiale, la transformation semble inévitable. De nouveaux modèles d’aide internationale, humanitaire ou d’aide au développement doivent être développés. Il semble pour l’instant y avoir plus de questions que de réponses. Cependant, les organismes se devront d’être proactifs s’ils désirent conserver leur influence, mais surtout s’ils désirent renouer avec leurs racines. Les ONG doivent se réinventer et elles devront en payer le prix, au risque de perdre leur identité. 

Emilie Carrier

May 23, 2013

Inspired or deflated? Discussing the future of Canadian development aid

As a fly on the wall, or as my badge has it, a volunteer, at the Annual Forum of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC) I’ve gotten to listen in on discussions and debates on the most pressing issues to Canada’s development CSO (Civil Society Organization) community. It is clear that Canada’s foreign development sector is entering some interesting times, and I do mean interesting in the most attention-grabbing form. Not only is CIDA amalgamating with DFAIT, but also the global development landscape is changing in front of our very eyes. The economic ascension of developing countries is rearranging the traditional relationship between providers and receivers of aid. With this in mind, I have witnessed discussions with an atmosphere of urgency, but also with a lining of optimism. As this forum goes on I hope this urgency will lead to a sense of a common purpose.

One of the more grand ideas behind this year’s gathering is the idea of shared responsibilities, or as Mathias Fiedler (whose paper provides a fundament for some of the discussions) puts it, the “One world approach”. Keynote speaker Michael Edward describes this concept as a bridge. This bridge rests on foundations that are equal at both ends and people are able to cross over in both directions. Development needs to happen in both hemispheres with a global participation and sense of responsibility. This week, over 150 leaders and participants gather here in Ottawa to discuss where Canadian organizations can fit into this picture.

This concept of shared responsibilities got me thinking. How would I feel as a citizen of Canada, if a group from for example China came to Ottawa to influence the development of my surroundings? Obviously, the answer to this question depends on the approach, methods, and area of interest (among many other factors) of the organization in question. If the bridge allows passage both ways, “developing” countries should be allowed to make what might at first be unwelcome demands of “developed” countries. The first of these should probably be to ask developed countries to stop referring to themselves as developed and recognize their own need for change. As Kathy Vandergrift proposed to the forum’s emerging leaders, maybe Canada is at a point where instead of sending aid workers abroad, we need to ask other countries to come here to help us reinvigorate the public discourse on for example sustainable consumption.

Canadians should not be afraid to challenge themselves, particularly in handling some of the more uncomfortable discussions. This means that aid should be an important topic at all levels of society, and also that us in the CSO environment should be open to discussing new development methods. As these ideas are being discussed here at the forum, I hope they do not get caught up in too much idealism (and perhaps a fear of offending), but that they also remain well planted in the reality of things. As Mr. Fiedler warns, the development discussion has a tendency to foster sycophants and self-congratulation. The CCIC has done a good job in seeking to avoid this, particularly through Wednesday’s debate.

A particular point of contention has been Canada’s role in the changing aid landscape. Our government is shaping its policies to try to keep up (or withdraw as some will have it) with these external changes. How can the new combination of strategic interests, trade, and aid be successful? Wednesday’s debate participants seemed to share the opinion that the new structure is functional, but depends on the actors inserted into it (think passionate leaders). Lucien Bradet ceded that the current personnel did not make his job of arguing for the new policy easier. Across the table, John Mckay to some extent in agreement, accepted that a cross party commitment, as seen in Britain, would make the new policy more persuasive.

In agreement or not, the situation remains that the Canadian CSO community will imminently find itself working within this framework. After hearing some of the ideas discussed today, I am left with the image of a turning of the ages. As the extinction of the dinosaurs brought on the ascension of the mammals, I am sure that the restructuring of the Canadian aid policies will see the fall of some outdated ideas, but I am also hopeful that it will see the rise of new innovative methods that will strengthen the plethora of Canadian aid organizations.

After taking in the impressions from the first day of the Annual Forum, I am left, after an influx of ideas, at a point of reserved optimism. Yes Canada’s CSO community is entering uncharted waters, however, from the signs of today’s discussion, it is not doing so without a will to adapt and prepare for a thorough exploration of these new territories.

Peder Soeraas