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Mar 22

From the IFWEA General Secretary

The turbulent circumstances of 2020 were unprecedented. As Covid-19 became a global reality, especially when borders started shutting down and restrictions on movement and travel were imposed, we thought that much of our programme may have to change. However, through consultation and regular communication with our affiliates, it appeared that most of our planned activities remained relevant for them. We conferred to find new ways of doing, addressed new stumbling blocks and brought forward, delayed, cancelled or added certain activities to carry out the strategic objectives.  While the sudden change was a shock, we were able to continue to implement many of the first-year activities of our 2020 – 2024 strategic plan.

This confirmed, for us in the Secretariat, the relevance of our strategy, and of our orientation towards bridging the digital divide. It brought to our activities a sense of purpose and even, in some cases, urgency. Since 2012 IFWEA has gradually moved towards digital applications, developing experience and expertise in democratic, participatory and interactive online education methods. This situated us well to take a leading role in advocating online facilities to our global knowledge community to cope with the challenges brought about by the global pandemic. We were already in a position to support labour educators in their work as they make adjustments to the new reality. Much of this is as a result of the excellent collaboration and support we have received from key affiliates in the previous term, from 2016 – 2019.  In 2020, our global knowledge community has come into its own.

The pandemic affected our small Secretariat’s 2020 operational activities primarily by intensifying the work we had already planned. Those activities involving international travel were cancelled and in replacement, we have been able to bring forward plans which allow for increased participation in our online communication and education for capacity building. We will continue this trend into 2021, as we do not envisage international mobility will change that significantly.

The Secretariat office was closed in mid-March, and since then staff have worked from home, with a weekly online staff meeting and further activity and admin meetings when required. Now that South Africa is in level one of lockdown, the office can function under strict Covid-19 protocols, requiring a restricted number of people, the wearing of masks, maintaining a safe distance and monitoring and recording of all entrant’s temperature and personal details.

As the Secretariat office is both of moderate size and open plan, staff will continue to work from home for the first half of 2021, after which we will again review the situation

As the usefulness of online education became apparent to the affiliate and trade union participants, the demand to do more as IFWEA increased. Staff worked under considerable pressure during this year to meet this demand. The only thing restricting even further expansion of activities was the size of the Secretariat. The Secretariat has set as an organisational priority regular strategic reflection to ensure that the programme work remains adaptive and also to ensure that programme staff are constantly reflecting on outcomes.  This will be done in quarterly review meetings, towards a semi-annual report to the EC to carry these discussions into governance level.

IFWEA Governance

A planned orientation meeting of the expanded Executive Committee (EC), elected at our 23rdGeneral Conference in December 2019, was scheduled for the first quarter of the year. Due to Covid-19, it was cancelled, in favour of individual liaison with the General Secretary and Programme Manager. The online meeting of 3 June 2020 reviewed the year to date and planned for the rest of the year. This was then submitted as a mid-year report in July to donors and affiliates.  The December 2020 EC meeting discussed strategic changes, included a review of 2020 activities and adopted the framework and budget for the 2021 activity plan.

Affiliation and disaffiliation

Affiliate visits planned for the early months of 2020 to strengthen the relationship and collaboration between the Secretariat, Executive Committee members and affiliates were cancelled due to the shutting of borders. Instead, regular consultations were held with affiliates over email and video conferencing to stay in touch and invite them into planned activities.

There were no disaffiliations in 2020. Three new affiliates were accepted by the IFWEA EC:

  • IBTIKAR is a Palestinian NGO that offers innovative youth programmes, corporate training, and consulting services to foster social innovation and entrepreneurship amongst the Palestinian community.
  • ABF Belarus provides informal, popular education to its youth and adults members, to unlock their creative potential, and promote the development of civil society in the Republic of Belarus, based on the principles and values of freedom, solidarity, social justice and equality and tolerance.
  • Legacy affiliate the WEA UK, one of the founding associations of IFWEA, re-applied and were accepted as an affiliate at the December EC meeting.

The increased enrolment to the online capacity development courses we offered, as well as enrolment to the focussed education activities as per the strategic plan, was well received by us. We were struck by the dynamism and dedication of the educators working for affiliates, and the impressive calibre of the young trade unionists they selected for participation in our activities. IFWEA’s potential reach is wide, and the commitment to social justice and democracy of the people we connect with, both those working for affiliates and those in the trade unions and member-based associations they work with, is impressive.

The pandemic, with its health and economic consequences as they continue to manifest, is leading to a renewed sense of social and political consciousness and activity. IFWEA affiliates, many who were already under restrained resources, need to be ready to respond to the needs of the labour organisations they work with. We also need to acknowledge that this year’s pandemic, along with the environmental consequences of global warming, viz. floods, fires etc. has led to great suffering and increased difficulties for already embattled and marginal communities, leaving people feeling powerless in the face of forces out of their control, and awakening deep-rooted end-of-days superstitions in the working-class communities we come from and work with.

As worker educators, we need to keep the spaces open for working people to imagine a better future and keep hopes and morale high. We are considering the design of an OLA Foundation Skills for Social Change study circle called DEALING WITH THE THOUGHT APOCALYPSE, crafting a syllabus which identifies and engages defeatism, prejudice and superstition. We invite interested parties on the EC to participate as a reference group and will aim the activity at young leaders of the TU’s that our affiliates work with.

We wish to thank all affiliates, donors and Executive Committee members for their support during the year. And we wish everybody well for the year ahead.

Sahra Ryklief

December 2020

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