Mary Mlambo, Chairperson of SAwN (Southern Africa weltwaerts Network) since its founding in 2014, lives and works in KwaZulu Natal.
Graeme Cairns, board member and Treasurer of SAwN since 2018, lives and works in Cape Town.
When and why was SAwN founded?
Mary: The Southern Africa Weltwaerts network was founded in 2014 during a weltwaerts partner conference in Port Elizabeth. SAwN is the first network in this volunteering program. Meeting each other at conferences helps a lot to connect to each other and start a network. The hosting and sending organisations have found out that they not only have many common challenges but also good practice examples regarding volunteers, administrative matters and the program in general. These organisations wanted to support each other and share information and knowledge with the other organisations.
How does SAwN work? Which activities/services does SAwN offer?
Mary: We conduct stakeholder engagement with all our partners in various countries. We hold conferences with partners, think about how to support each other in all situations and coordinate activities with each other. We have had three virtual Stakeholder Engagement meetings with the networks in Zambia, Malawi and Botswana during 2021. If we can´t help organisations locally we contact German organisations for more information and communicate with each other by phone or video calls. We also collect common questions and identify training needs for volunteers and mentors. During the Annual General Meeting, issues that we all have in common are covered and further topics are selected for discussion, based on the needs of the participants.
Graeme:For the Annual General Meeting (AGM) we normally meet in person but because of Covid we will be meeting virtually to identify the needs of the members and find out how we can assist them. The AGM is also a time for report back of progress of SAwN and to discuss and inform partners of the plans for the next year. The idea of each Annual General Meeting is to provide something helpful for each partner organisation to take away with them. The members are empowered and take part in training sessions on specific topics so they are strengthened; staff become better qualified and organisations are able to work better than before. Each partner has skills and strengths in particular areas and can share their knowledge within the network.
SAwN has no back office, no paid staff and we all work on a voluntarily basis. We were receiving funding from the African-German-Youth Initiative but since the beginning of 2021 the program has ceased to operate and we haven’t found a new donor yet. We are looking for partners and funding now to keep our business running.
How many members does SAwN count? From which countries? Do the members pay a membership fee?
Mary: We have 34 partner organisations as active members along with about 200 weltwaerts organisations with whom we communicate. The members are from South Africa, Malawi, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho and Zambia. Every country has one representative on the board of SAwN. Most members are from South Africa, so South Africa is separated into four different regions with one representative for each region. We also assist with the creation of networks in other regions. Our intention is to grow an African Weltwaerts network together with the western African network (WAWN) and an eastern African network, which is yet to be established.
We decided at the last annual general meeting that we will charge a membership fee soon, since we don´t have any funding at present.
How does SAwN find new members?
Mary: We find new members mostly via our existing partner organisations and in particular via the volunteers: they come to the country and meet other volunteers from other organisations and connect these volunteers and their organisations with SAwN.
What are SAwN´s aims for the next two years?
Mary: Apart from getting rid of the pandemic, our vision is to start with South-South-exchanges. This would assist us in the Global South to understand each other better and to strengthen the relationships in the African Union. When the volunteers come back to southern Africa from their service, they are very helpful and important for the development of the country and the understanding of the world as “One World”.
We would also like to strengthen the relationship and cooperation with other networks in the Global South, for example with WIN (weltwaerts in India), WAWN (West Africa weltwaerts network) and with networks from South America.
We would also like to work on the idea of getting a seat for the partner organisations on the PSC but we understand that it is still very difficult to find a way to represent all 2,000 weltwaerts organisations of the world.
What was your personal highlight in your experiences of networking through weltwaerts?
Graeme: One of my personal highlights was being invited to present SAwN in conferences, especially in the Inclusion Conference in Benin: it is so important to include all people, to not leave anybody out and to bring people into contact through networks.
Mary: It is the same for me. Especially during the pandemic we see how important volunteering exchanges are: the volunteers bring different experiences into the country and go back to their home country with different skills, open eyes and new ideas. We miss the intense exchange with the volunteers a lot. However, thanks to our network and virtual meetings we, the partner organisations in the network, still support and strengthen each other.
How does the contact with other networks work?
Mary: We have received invitations to partner conferences in West Africa and in India. The organisations were curious to learn from SAwN, the first partner network in the weltwaerts program. We had the possibility to present our work and talk about how we had started the network in southern Africa. We would like to meet the other networks in the weltwaerts program and continue with networking in Africa and all over the world. It would be helpful to have funding to achieve our goals.