Why the Mother Centers International: mine?

Why we created the Mother Centers International Network:  mine
(article written by Monika Jaeckel for the Magazine of the Network of Slovak Mother Centers)

1. What was our vision when we founded mine in 2000?

The year 2000 was shaped for me by three major events, which I now see were interconnected:

  • the Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA), which we pioneered in Germany during the Expo 2000 (more about GWIA) and for which I spent the major part of my energy that year,
  • getting together with Marieke, who participated in one of the GWIA events with the explicit intent of “checking me out”, and who became the love of my life,
  • and founding mine, the Mother Centers International Network, which was sparked off by the experiences of the GWIA.

2000 was indeed a historical year!

The Grassroots Women’s International Academy brought together grassroots women’s groups from around the world. It was held at the Mother Center Salzgitter, which was an exponent of the Expo 2000. For several years already a group of women from the German Mother Centers had been actively involved in international networking.

It was during the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 that we began to understand that the Mother Center concept resonated with women far beyond the frontiers of Germany and indeed Europe. A delegation of 20 women from German centers participated in the UN conference, equipped with a quilt that many more women from many more centers had put together as “Greetings from the German Mother Centers to the women of the world.” At the conference we experienced an enormous enthusiasm from women’s groups from different parts of the world for the Mother Centers. Wherever we presented the concept we were swamped with questions of how to start up Mother Centers. We had hung up white sheets next to our quilt with the opportunity for women to write greetings for us to take back to the women back home. At the end of the conference our sheets were  filled with a multitude of comments from women from countries from around the globe, portraying a strong interest and sympathy for Mother Centers. A report was broadcasted on the local Chinese TV and repeated every night for a week which highlighted the Mother Centers. We did not expect nor immediately understand this strong response. Neither did we forget it. We formed a “working group international” in the German Mother Center movement.

When the Expo 2000 was designated to be held in Germany, we saw another chance to portray the Mother Centers in an international context. This time the world would be coming to Germany. We persuaded the Federal Department for Family Policy to fund the Grassroots Women’s International Academy on the basis that Mother Centers were of international interest and that it was important to have grassroots presence at the Expo. A World Fair should not only be a place of exchange of the latest high tech developments, but should also portray the “software” of society, the ways communities are coping and developing creative solutions on the ground.

The over 50 or so grassroots groups that came to the 4 GWIA weeks held during the summer of Expo 2000 again showed an overwhelmingly positive response and enthusiasm for the Mother Centers, which they now experienced at the Mother Center Salzgitter in practice.

During the last week a group of MC GWIA participants, who had experienced this enthusiasm first hand, spent some time in informal discussions trying to understand the implications. We realised that Mother Centers were an answer to conditions and situations in many different parts of the world and that there was great international potential in the Mother Center concept and idea. The idea of mine was born. We were eager to explore this international potential.

Mine was founded towards the end of the year in Munich as a German NGO by a group of 7 women, the number required by German law to found an association. Its headquarters have since been transferred to Stuttgart. The vision was to create an organisational structure allowing us to react to the many requests we had received from groups from countries around the globe to help start up Mother Centers in their home towns and communities. The idea was also to create an umbrella under which the Mother Centers that already had spread to many neighbouring European countries could share experiences, learn from each other and build a network. We envisioned creating a platform for a world wide maternal voice.

2. What have been the main successes and failures of mine so far?

The first success was winning the Dubai International Award for Best Practices. That gave us seed money to start operating. We could hold yearly mine networking meetings in a different country each year, we started a newsletter and created our website. We negotiated several international Mother Center start up projects: in Central and Eastern Europe, (Bosnia and in Roma communities, especially in Bulgaria) and latest in Turkey (Gaziantep).

A huge success of course was the international campaign: How do we want to raise our children? and the resulting international Mother Center conference in Bratislava. This was a success in many ways:

  • The campaign represents a bottom up approach; a national (Slovak) campaign was taken to the international level.
  • Many countries (over 20) joined the campaign.
  • For the first time Mother Centers from around the world had an opportunity to meet in person and define their common goals and interests.
  • With the Platform of Action, which was signed by a large part of the conference participants, a truly international document of what unifies mothers world-wide was created.

I would also call the organisational structure we found for mine, after a year-long debate in organisational development, a success. It embodies and finds a structural form to incorporate the participative spirit of the Mother Center Movement.

As sociologist I always also perceive the lessons learned and the knowledge gained as successes. In the projects and activities we undertook as mine we found out what it is that makes the Mother Center concept so attractive to groups in such different parts of the world:  Communities are falling apart world wide, and Mother Centers are a way to rebuild communities.

We also learned that the Mother Center movement cannot spread without support. In countries where there is political and financial support for Mother Centers (like in Germany, Tyrol, Slovakia or Switzerland), they spread with amazing speed. The conditions for Mother Centers to spread are that they can get rooms free of charge and receive basic public subsidy. Mother Centers need to be regarded as part of the structural support needed to be given to families as part of creating a positive environment for the upbringing of children. They need to be seen as part of regular family policy and public expenditure, just like kindergartens and other forms of public childcare. In countries like Bosnia, Nepal or Rwanda, where there is no such public policy, the Mother Centers have remained single initiatives and have not spread. In such countries foundations and philanthropic organisations need to step in and fill the gap of public governance.

The study: Spreading like Wildfire, undertaken in Mother Centers in five countries also brought together a lot of learning and knowledge about the development, the potential and the challenges of the Mother Center movement.

The main failure, as profane as it may sound, was the inability to acquire funds for mine and the international Mother Center movement. Despite countless efforts in this respect we did not succeed. Networks cannot be sustained by voluntary work alone. This is already true on regional and national level, it is especially true on international level. As much as the work of Mother Centers is recognised and appreciated on the local level, the necessity, gains and achievements of creating links and networks between them is not acknowledged by public and private funders.

The fact that the Mother Centers have not remained a one time/one place project, but have developed into a movement, spreading on their own all over Germany, Europe and even into other continents, I continue to find truly amazing and not self evident at all. It continues to puzzle me that this huge accomplishment and even greater potential is not seen and met accordingly by public and private donors. Mother Centers have already achieved what many programs and projects are aiming for: dissemination and up-scaling, transfer and replication under very different economical, social, cultural, geographical, and political conditions. Mother Centers are received and welcomed by “the target group”, not only in Germany, but world wide. The concept has proven itself over and over again, in practice, in very different settings. And yet we have not managed to find international funding support.

3. What are wishes for the mine future?

I think it comes as no surprise that finding core funding for mine as well as for mine international projects and campaigns is my main wish for the future.

Considering how much we have achieved, however, even without funding, I also wish that the creative activities and bottom up participation in mine continues to evolve. I have been a leading force in mine from the time we founded it. In the last years I have undertaken different measures to step back and create more room for others to take leadership in mine. My illness now has forced me to discontinue my activities in mine and the Mother Center movement altogether. My wish is that others will carry on.

The future I envision for mine is an alive and active network with many international projects and campaigns which involve all the countries where there are Mother Centers. I envision that participants of Mother Centers all over the world are conscious of and cultivate the international dimension of Mother Centers. That there are many opportunities for women from Mother Centers of different countries and continents to meet and exchange their experiences. That out of these meetings and encounters an awareness is developed of the issues and concerns that are common to mothers world wide and strategies are developed to support each other and to become a political force. I envision mine and the Mother Centers to become part of a larger movement of mothers and mothers groups world wide, networking together to make mothers voices heard and give mothers true political influence in society.