Being in a network is all about keeping up to date with what’s happening, learning from each other and giving each other support. With this in mind, weltwärts partner organisations have formed regional networks in recent years. They bring together weltwärts organisations from one country or region to further their knowledge on specific topics and update each other on the latest developments on the programme. We spoke to Carola Flor from “Red weltwaerts” in Ecuador.
What were the reasons for setting up the network?
Carola Flor: The “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” network was set up in 2012 with the aim of improving the flow of information for all Ecuadorian partner organisations on the weltwärts programme. Back then, not all organisations in Ecuador had access to all information. With the help of the network, the information from Germany was translated into Spanish and passed on to all partners. The Ecuadorian partners also felt a major need to discuss the education and mentoring activities for volunteers and safety, health and other practical issues with their counterparts in other organisations. The network provides a way to meet that need.
What does the network offer its members?
Carola Flor: In addition to monthly meetings, there’s a “Día weltwärts” (weltwärts Day) to which all partners and weltwärts volunteers in Ecuador come. At this event, cultural activities can be offered, all participants have a chance to share ideas and knowledge with each other and specific issues concerning the programme can be covered. The “weltwärts Day” was financed through German implementing organisations up until 2017, when we began a collaboration with the German Embassy in Ecuador, which has been providing the funding for the venue and the catering ever since. The network organises the day.
In addition, “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” offers joint workshops on topics of relevance to weltwärts, such as safety, health and (sexualised) violence. The network members provide the facilities for these events. One partner organisation supplies the room, another supplies the accommodation and another one supplies the food and drink. The speakers receive no payment.
What’s been your personal highlight in your work for the network?
Carola Flor: To start with, spreading the word about weltwärts and volunteering wasn’t very easy but we’ve seen lots of progress in the meantime. A number of Ecuadorian partners and places of assignment - as well as official bodies - recognise the major benefits that volunteering and international cooperation bring.
At the beginning, we often had difficulties with volunteers wanting “to save the world”. but now they have a more realistic idea of what voluntary service is and what it’s not. The places of assignment and local communities now take a different approach to the way they share their culture with the volunteers too. Lots of people used to think that “cultural exchange” was about sharing Ecuadorian folklore but not, for example, talking about macho mentality. Now, however, they see “cultural exchange” in a much broader sense and there’s more interest in German volunteers and their background and culture. In the past, some implementing organisations wanted to minimise their networking effort but now the members of “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” see the major advantages of coming together in a network and joining forces.
How does the network operate?
Carola Flor: “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” currently has ten members from Ecuador. Some of the organisations are also beginning to establish ties outside of Ecuador too. Talks aimed at expanding the networking activities have already taken place with organisations in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia and with African networks. Unfortunately, the pandemic has put a stop to those efforts for the time being. There has also been cooperation with organisations from other countries, resulting in the idea of a network for the whole of Latin America.
The network has always been a platform for collaboration involving all members in a joint effort. The various members now hold regular meetings. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been numerous video conferences. We also use email, WhatsApp and Google Drive for a lot of our communication. In-person meetings are planned to resume in November 2021. They’re very important for everyone but especially for those partners that don’t have as many technical resources or as much expertise as others.
How do you recruit new members for the network?
Carola Flor: We haven’t got any money for PR work but the volunteers are our best advertisement. Their partner organisations and places of assignment hear about “Dia weltwaerts” and other activities from the volunteers and then they approach “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” as a result.
What are your plans for the future? What do you aim to achieve with the network in the next two years?
Carola Flor: Once the pandemic situation has improved a little, we want to work on making our structures more effective. For example, one aim is to improve how our members agree who is responsible for what and to provide formal definitions of those responsibilities so everyone knows who does what. Another thing we want to do is reactivate our Facebook page to make it easier for people to contact us. We also intend to start working on our own website as soon as we have the money to do so.
Some of the “Red weltwaerts Ecuador” partners are also actively involved in the establishment of an Ecuadorian network for voluntary work. This network is already in consultation with the Ecuadorian government on the subject of a law for volunteer services in Ecuador and possible support for them.