Interview with Monika


–  GWIA is like a dream come true. I’m really very happy the way it’s working. I go to a lot of conferences and am introduced to so many interesting projects but I don’t really get to know them. When people have ten minutes, twenty minutes. I never  get what I really need to understand what it really is, how they work. I could never see what we could really implement from what they’ve done into our own work.

I thought lets do something different. Where we’ll give each group a whole day and the goal of it was really to create peer learning to the point where we actually take what other groups have learned and put it into our words. That was my goal.

You have to give people more time so that you can go into details, show methods. Lets get out of the conference mode, doing presentations, lets say this is a training. That’s why we called it Academy.

Sandy – when you say we, who all was in the conversation about this

Monika –The original idea of GWIA was mine and I took the lead in planning and organising the first GWIAs. I developed it in connection with the Mother Centers and with the grassroots networks we were working together with, GROOTS and the Huairou Commission. I discussed it there. I wanted to get a chance to conduct it in Germany and wanted to do it my way.

Sandy – when did you do the planning

Monika –We chose five groups to present their projects in a whole day. I was really hand picking groups. We had some clear criteria. My definition of grassroots is that it’s womens’ groups who are working from the ground, from the communities, it’s community based. They are really in charge of their organisation. They speak for themselves and they are not clients of some kind of NGO’s. They do their own, they talk with their own mayors, This does not mean that there can not be partnerships. But it has to really be women organising themselves for their own issues and talking for themselves. Women are really the champions of the grassroots work around the World. But then of course while we were planning we got applications from more groups that we thought we are interested in.

We wanted a focus on community issues- we wanted to highlight the whole other part of the women’s movement which are the community women. They work on everyday life issues inside and outside homes.

The groups need to be very clear that they have a leading role of some sort, that grassroots women take more leadership.

The third thing that I was looking for was groups that have really developed some kind of unique strategy. They have found something that really works. I am not interested in groups that have all kinds of problematic stuff and go around demanding things.
It can be small. It’s not that it has to be spectacular. Because every situation is different. Progress is inch wise and many are in very tough situations. But they have a strategy that is moving them forward somehow. They come up with results. I wanted it also to be a methodical strategy, something teachable in a training exchange process. A lot of our groups are doing living learning centres. I could imagine, we’d have a group of say 20 groups that then have trainers that from academy to academy evaluate what has worked well and sort of get more sophisticated in this and then do International training for each other. Developing a training network I would also like to create curricula used on the internet for peer learning. I am a sort of a movement builder and it’s not so often that you have the exquisite chance to meet with movement builders from around the world,, my peers. That’s what is happening here.

I want to also go further and see how can we also train the mainstream and this would come from doing curricula for students, social work students. That they can hear the grassroots voices over internet or also go to the different academies and get training. All the living learning centres, could offer training on grassroots women’s knowledge to social work students

– so you feel that  what has happened is what you expected

Monika –Yes in the sense that I’ve got the right groups. The quality of the groups presenting a GWIA is extremely high. It’s just great. They all have extremely good things to say. I think also the format has worked in the sense that it has an in depth learning and it also has already started creating effects. There has really been, transfers already happening from GWIA. For the first time the German Mother Centers really understood savings and credit from India to the point that they started a savings and credit group now in Stuttgart. We went to the exchange in India. But the more difficult thing was we couldn’t transfer it to our groups. They didn’t understand what we were talking about. We invited a trainer over and she actually did a one day training in the Stuttgart center and then it really started. That’s why I am saying, yes and no. I think it takes even one more step to actually then go and have a one to one training. Another thing that happened we’ve brought over the leadership support trainers from the National Congress and they did the training for our Mother Centres groups and now the leadership support is really implemented in the Mother Centres.

I don’t think GWIA is the magic that can do it all. At least in our case we still need to see how far do we get by something like this and how to refine our learning and our implementing in this whole process. I think what has really been managed is that we’ve really got to talk to each other. It’s really been in-depth listening, in depth learning and in depth strategizing. From here we created a space where we can actually think about how do we proceed.

Day six is what we call harvesting the lesson learned. Sort of reflection. What happened this week, what was meaningful for each group, what do we actually want to take home, what will happen at home. And what do we need as support to make happen what we think we learnt here and what inspired us and what we want to do at home. I’m going to put together a little document on the effects of the GWIA , exchanges at all kinds of levels.

The end of the GWIA, the seventh day is partners day. Grassroots groups need partners to break through what I call the glass ceiling of main stream. To bridge the big huge cultural gap, the power gap and language gap and the gap between public life and grassroots life you need partnerships. It’s not easy to get equitable and strong partnerships. That’s a big area to look at so I thought we would have one day every week where we will just look at that.

We chose a group who has championed in a partnership strategy to present in the morning. So that we have some good examples and then in the afternoon we did a partners dialogue to get into a dialogue with partners so that both sides can say what is needed for us to be good partners.

Sandy – do you feel that GWIA has a policy agenda to helping each other maybe think about how they are going to implement theses strategies or new strategies? Is it also an opportunity for policy makers to be here and learn about the grassroots strategies and how they can support these strategies in the country?

– Getting the groups to think about common policy implications and how they can join together on them is the next step. The way we’ve thought about further GWIAs is that we want to take some select groups – not just have a peer exchange as we have done here but to ask them specifically that each group does their presentation in the sense that they highlight what are the policy implications of our work That we ask them to focus their presentations on that. That helps every group to think about it that way, you present it that way and then it can be incorporated as a strategy to build a peer movement. We also analyse what we see are the policy implications of each of these groups. So that will be a different format. And then to look at what are the requirements of partners to help us in the implementation of these policy implications. We go through this sector by sector – how would this influence the whole education system, the media, the private sector and so on.

Sandy – so in the whole planning of the GWIA and the themes of GWIA are the people taking part in designing what is going on?

– In the lessons learnt section we do sub groups on different issues and one group had the issue to look at the  GWIA format. What can we learn from that and how can we improve it. That sub-group came up with a lot of ideas. That’s where it was discussed.

Sandy – How are the GWIAs funded?

Monika – For this GWIA we asked our German government, the Family Department who have been funding Mother Centres, who we have contacts with. And we said, ‘listen we are part of the Expo now, wouldn’t this be a good opportunity to showcase what women are doing in Germany and to host as a grassroots German women’s group, other women’s groups from around the world.’ The fact that the Mother Centers were an Expo project helped with the fundraising.

Sandy – in the future do you envision more GWIAs in other continents, Africa or…

Monika – Yes there are many plans. In Zimbabwe, they said they would like to use the GWIA format nationally with their groups. Then there have been ideas of doing the GWIA on the Internet, a cyberspace GWIA. Then there is one planned in New York. Then I think what would be interesting is to do like a one issue GWIA, for instance on refugees, housing or peace, gathering groups only on that. I think that would be something where you could focus on a joint action. Any sort of specific topic and do one week on that, with women’s groups that are working on that. That could be a format too.
I dream about having a curriculum in form of a manual. That’s what I really want to get out of that material because I think it’s in there.