Ms Thoko

Challenges of growth and development of an organisation

I want to thank the organisers, African Women Group Aberdeen, for inviting me to this celebration. It is a celebration of the achievements that have come through commitment and a sense of struggles. It is a celebration of a story that needs to be told. It is a story of travellers who have travelled far and wide and of the experiences of being, ‘the other’. I am humbled by what you have achieved in the ten years, of your in existence. This book is being launched as part of that but there are many other parts that we won’t see or know of that have enabled you to reach this far.

Akina Mama wa Afrika, the organisation I am the director of, has some similarities and history that are common to your experiences. AMwA was set up in 1985, in the UK by African women who found themselves here as professionals, students, refugees etc. It was founded to give African women a platform to discuss and research on issues that affect them. Today AMwA has travelled the long road from its foundations. AMwA has now a UK/Europe program and an Africa Program.

The UK program has four projects, The Mental Health and domestic violence, where we do counselling and hearings. The Capacity building project where we do skills training for African women in employment. The Volunteering project where we do training for unemployed women who want to volunteer and we also train them in Personal empowerment to raise their confidence and personal esteem. We have also the Communications and Information Unit which is responsible for sharing the information we produce with our partners and the public.

The Africa program has two offices in Uganda and Senegal and where we run our flagship programmes on the African continent. The African Women’s Leadership Institute started in 1996 with a three-week residential leadership training, which to date we have run four times and have had participants from 30 African countries.

I have been listening and reading the information about the AWGA and the development of the organisation. It has reminded me of the general developmental stages of an organisation. The four stages are Infancy, Growth, Maturity and Regeneration/death.

The Infancy stage is characterised by volunteering, little or no funds, and usually, most of the work is carried out in our kitchens and people in our families are roped in to help.

The stage of growth, which I think your organisation is now at is characterised by the programmes becoming too many and hence the need for employed staff. Funding is coming in and donors demand reports, audits and systems and procedures have to be put in place.

Challenges

The challenges that come in the stage are many. These are the same challenges that I think AWGA is faced with at this time as an organisation. I would like to talk a bit more on five of those challenges.

Focusing

At this stage, the temptation is to be everything to different targets, try, and do everything that you identify as a need for your target group. I know that as women we are socialised to be all to every situation and everyone hence we will find ourselves doing all the chores whether is at Church, School, within the community even at work. But there is a need for relevance and this comes through focusing in case we become Jills of all trades and mistresses of none. Let’s study carefully our community and the needs of African women in Aberdeen and then focus on those areas that we can do best both through resources and knowledge. Let’s also always remember our roots and the needs that are there.

Funding
Funding is a challenge first in getting the right amounts for long periods to enable the work to be done. Secondly to sustain the inflow of funding as sometimes what is fashionable to fund from donors changes with the flavour of the month. The opportunity that is there is that there are currently donors interested in funding women’s organisations. Also, our visibility and track record will help build relationships with donors.

Africa
Linking with Africa and doing projects on the continent is another challenge. What we need to be sensitive to is how we go about identifying those projects. Whose need is it? Is it a felt need for the communities we seek to help?

Making our voices heard
We are here today in the Council Chambers, because of the networking and relationships you have built with the Aberdeen Council, which has created willingness for them to listen to us and to hear our voices. The challenge is for us to make our voices heard and to influence policy that affects African women.

Linkages
The challenge remains for AWGA, to link up with relevant organisations so that you do not become the be-all and end-all. So that you can refer women to other specialised organisations for the help they need and the services they need. This will also help in creating an enabling environment for you to focus your work. There is also a need for a strong linkage with your support base, and linking up with other organisations in Africa and in the UK. There is also a need for involved beyond the organisation in solidarity with others.

Way Forward.

Looking at the objectives of AWGA they are wide-ranging. The danger again is that being women we might want to cover everything that is of concern to our target group. But are we able to do it? There are problems of financial, material, time and human resources.

Where is it we are going, where is it we want to go. These questions might have been answered in the recent strategic planning you had. What you might need is to fine-tune your plans and focus on a short, medium and long term.

Once again I congratulate you sisters for the work you have done and are doing I do hope we can continue to network, as that will strengthen our initiatives both on an individual and collective level.

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