Interview with Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, World Renew

Interview with Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, World Renew

 

 

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo is the Executive Director of World Renew.

CCIC:  World Renew has been successfully working since 1962.  Reflecting on your organization’s nearly 60 years of experience, what would you consider as World Renew’s greatest success and how could others in the Canadian international development sector emulate this success?

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: If I compare our work with other international development agencies, I would say we have significant expertise in the area of building the capacity of local partners, especially in their ability to sustain their work in communities with quality programs in disaster response, agriculture, food security, MNCH (maternal newborn child health), village savings and loans, peacebuilding and gender justice.  We have been doing the partnering model since the 1970s.

We have also developed an effective global volunteer and partnership programs that links volunteers, volunteer groups and/or churches with our partners and communities they work with in the Global South.  For an organization of our size, I think it is quite phenomenal that last year and together with our US office base, we placed 468 volunteers overseas, engaged 3,268 volunteers for serving over 279,000 hours and engaged 256 churches from North America in partnerships with communities in the Global South.

CCIC: In December 2018, World Renew published a blog post titled “Where Partnerships Transcends Religious Divides”.  In this blog post, you speak to a World Renew partnership that delivers school programs in Senegal that serve both Christian and Muslim populations.  What do you view as the advantages and disadvantages of being a Canadian faith-based organization working in international development?

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: The most significant advantage of being a faith-based international development agency is that this enables us to be more sensitive to and foster programs that are more effective in integrating people’s faith, worldviews and values for change and development.  This is why we find it quite easy and effective to work in multi-faith environments that encourage inclusivity of every faith group in the community development work and humanitarian assistance work we do.  Working largely in partnership with faith-based that are local to the contexts in the Global South has the additional advantage of ensuring sustainability in community development programs long after the outside international development agencies has left or ended their contributions.

In every culture, tradition and faith there are beliefs or perspectives that hinder people’s ability to flourish.  If these mindsets and foundational barriers are not addressed, even the best programs in humanitarian assistance, health, agriculture or food security, technology, economic development will only go so far or end up failing.  I could give numerous examples from living and working in the Global South about how development efforts are either fostered or impeded depending on people’s views on gender roles, their assumptions about other ethnic groups and their own perceptions about their power to overcome forces of injustice and poverty.

The biggest disadvantage of being a faith-based agency is that people and donors, especially institutional donors, may at times misunderstand our purpose and motivations.  Sometimes it seems there is skepticism about faith-based organizations with misperceptions that their programs may be more exclusive or coercive than non-faith agencies.  There are also misperceptions that faith-based agencies have lower quality in programs or organizational management.   This is most unfortunate since funding decisions by donors then become discriminatory and huge opportunities for making an impact get missed.  Thankfully, some independent assessments are being done that inform the public that faith-based international development agencies can be just as effective if not moreso at times than non-faith agencies.  Of particular note is the recent article from MoneySense where at least three faith-based international organizations, including World Renew, were listed in the top ten international charities for 2019.

CCIC:  In 2012, World Renew rebranded from its previous name, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).  Could you please share with us something that World Renew is currently working to improve, and describe how you envision this improving the organization’s ability to accomplish your mandate?

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: One of the things we are seeking to improve is our marketing and fundraising.  One of the reasons for changing our name is to acknowledge that an increasing level of our donations, often half of our budget or more, is given by sources beyond our faith community.  Thus, we have invested more efforts and staffing in this aspect of our work.  As donors start to connect more closely with our work, they often remark that the high quality of our programs and the way we work with local partners is something they appreciate and yet seems hidden as an opportunity for others to also join.  Essentially, we are trying to get better at telling our story even as we continue to be known for and keep improving the quality of changing the story with communities.  We are also moving forward well in becoming certified in our CHS (Core Humanitarian Standards).

CCIC: Ida, you have been employed at World Renew for several years, and are now the Canadian Director.  As a woman leader in our sector, would you have any words of wisdom to share with aspiring young professionals who wish to someday wear a leadership hat?

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: In short, I would say “go where the energy is”.  Leadership is about managing one’s own energy first and then identifying ways to guide others to use their energy in ways that flourish their lives.  Remember, the only person a leader can really control is themselves and all other power is largely superficial or temporary.  I get my high level of energy only by God’s grace and wisdom to serve over 30 years in this sector of international development and now 12 years as Canadian Director with World Renew.  I have discovered what sustains and grows my energy so I do not waste time on things, including fears, that diminish it.  I pursue whatever learning opportunities can continue to develop my skills, direct my energies to priorities and passions that I have prayerfully considered and never assume that I have become the best I can be.  God is not finished with me yet and neither is he finished with anyone else I may be connected to.  Thus, it is important to extend grace to everyone else as well, always searching to understand and respect them as valuable gifts from God.  My greatest joy is to encourage anyone in my circle of relationships, whether they are staff, partners or communities; in their efforts and journey to discover and become all that God created them to be.

CCIC: World Renew is a valued member of CCIC.  Could you please comment on what your CCIC membership has meant to World Renew, and identify how you would like to see this relationship grow and improve in the future?

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: Our membership in CCIC is valuable because it is a collaboration focused on learning and advocacy with the Canadian government.  I have gained a lot of expertise for our work and my leadership role through conversations and events that are organized by CCIC.  For example, when there was increased pressure for protecting children and others who are at high risk in our development programs, I learned from other members of CCIC what they were doing and what we could also use in terms of policies and practices to promote this.  The relationship that CCIC has with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has also been instrumental in addressing common issues or challenges that international development agencies face in their partnering or use of GAC contributions.

In terms of how this relationship could grow or improve, I would suggest that CCIC keeps listening to its membership on what the most important issues and opportunities are when designing events or organizing meetings to strengthen collaborative relationships with GAC.  So far, the topics have been very relevant to World Renew’s work in international development and we greatly appreciate CCIC’s role in arranging, pursuing and managing these collaborative opportunities when we do not have the resources within our own agency to do this on our own.

Interview with Pascal Paradis, Lawyers Without Borders

Interview with Pascal Paradis, Lawyers Without Borders

 

This month CCIC chatted with Pascal Paradis, Executive Director of Lawyers Without Borders

 

CCIC: Lawyers Without Borders Canada currently works in Latin America, Haiti and Africa. Among other activities, you are participating in the observation of the trial of Berta Cáceres (environmental leader murdered in 2016) in Honduras, with a coalition of national and international organizations. What are the issues associated with the work that you do on politicized and contentious files? What lessons do you draw from it?

Pascal Paradis: Our work very often focuses on complex and delicate files, which are strongly anchored in the country’s current social and policy debates. The rule of law, governance, human rights, and access to justice are very political concepts. However, we engage on these issues from a legislative perspective rather than a political one. All of our interventions are based on international and national law.

Our objective in a strategic litigation file, or in the observation of an emblematic trial such as that of the people accused of killing human rights defender Berta Cáceres, is to ensure compliance with applicable standards. We must then find a delicate balance between international development work and advocacy for greater justice. An important lesson is that by remaining focused on the legal framework, we retain credibility and a level of independence which are crucial.

CCIC: Taking into account the fact that your mission is to strengthen access to justice and legal representation, how do you choose your partners and the emblematic cases on which you work?

Pascal Paradis: The partners are chosen according to the values and principles of action of LWBC. The partners must also choose us on the basis of their values! We seek to be aligned on matters of integrity, commitment, collegiality, complementarity, assertion of human rights, professionalism and responsibility.

The emblematic cases are almost always chosen by the partners first, LWBC being there to respond to capacity building needs related to methodology, application of international law, investigation, witness preparation, etc.

The strategic litigation of emblematic cases consists in selecting among multiple files of human rights violations the one that is most likely to lead to a conviction, on substance or procedure, by a national court.

The selected file can also be the most symbolic based on the nature of the crime, for example rape, sexual slavery or crime against humanity, or the social or political status of the perpetrator of the crime, like when a case involves the prosecution of a former dictator or senior state officials. The ruling will then create a case law which will be useful to get justice in other cases.

CCIC: Lawyers Without Borders Canada receives financial support for its programs from the Quebec and Canadian governments, and you also have financial partners from the private sector, as well as from the Quebec Bar. What can you say about this diversity of donors and the challenges that you face?

Pascal Paradis: Most of the funds we receive for our programs come from the Government of Canada through a range of international cooperation programs. It is important for us to rely on such a partnership that demonstrates the trust placed in LWBC. We are also very proud to count on the support – including financial support – of a large part of the legal community, including most of the major law firms in the country, the Bar, and several private companies. It is a matter of credibility, and also an illustration of the commitment of Canadians toward the mission of the organization. It also allows us to have access to a lot of volunteer services.

Having a diversity of donors is extremely important for the financial security of the organization in the long term. The objective is to avoid potential crises that would be caused by our dependency to only one donor.

For this reason, we continue to develop partnerships and organize fund-raising events, such as our annual benefit show.

CCIC: You joined the Board of Directors of CCIC a few months ago. What are the unique perspectives related to your experience at LWBC that you want to bring to the CCIC Board? And what do you hope to take away from this experience?

Pascal Paradis: I have a great deal of respect for the role that CCIC plays in Canada. It is an excellent spokesperson for the international development and humanitarian aid community, a creator of synergies, a centre of analysis and reflection, a forum where we can gather and speak with a united voice to other stakeholders. I hope to be able to contribute by sharing the unique experience of LWBC as an international cooperation organization that is highly specialized on legal issues, among other things. As for me, I am already getting a lot out of it in terms of cross-country dialogue and best practices. I find CCIC very innovative in its thinking around international cooperation.

CCIC: During the most recent CCIC Annual Conference in Ottawa, you participated in a panel organized by the CCIC-CASID Next Generation Program on the collaboration between academics and international development organizations. What lessons do you draw from this collective reflection and from LWBC’s own practices?

Pascal Paradis: Research is an integral part of all our international cooperation projects because the objective of sharing international law and international good practices at the national level requires the consistent involvement of international and national experts who, together, produce reports, studies, analyses, briefs, etc. on the basis of which concrete actions are undertaken.

We are also part of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice, which brings together several of the most distinguished Canadian jurists involved in the fight against international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide), as well as the main civil society organizations active in this field. The idea is precisely to link research to action on the ground.

It is a partnership that benefits both academic groups and international development organizations. Academic groups of LWBC contribute, through their research, to support human rights and, in so doing, acquire training. This contributes to the empowerment of the next generation. In addition, it allows future lawyers and other students with a marked interest for human rights to deepen their knowledge, develop their own network, and learn about the work of LWBC. LWBC enjoys easy access to a group of experts who can contribute their knowledge to our projects.

Interview with Kevin Frey, CEO of Right to Play

Interview with Kevin Frey, CEO of Right to Play

 

 

This month CCIC chatted with Kevin Frey, the CEO of one of CCIC’s newer members, Right to Play!

 

CCIC: Right to Play harnesses the power of play to protect, educate and empower children to heal from difficult and harsh realities. Is there a particular Right to Play project or program that you believe should influence other organizations in our sector? And if so, what could others learn from Right to Play?

 

Kevin Frey: Right To Play’s unique approach to education, our Gender-Responsive Play-Based Learning program, is a trailblazing new initiative that will help improve the quality of education for thousands of children in Africa and the Middle East. This approach uses Right To Play’s proven play-based learning methodology, that has transformed classroom education and teacher training in many schools. This methodology has been adapted for use in teacher training curriculum documents in. In our most recent revision, our teacher training curriculum now puts the emphasis on how these creative teaching methods can encourage girls to become leaders, addressed gender-based barriers to education, and make classrooms more safe and inclusive for all students.

 

 CCIC: What is the biggest obstacle that Right to Play has faced over the years, whether in one of your programs, within your organization or with external stakeholders (or other), and how did you master or overcome the obstacle?

 

Kevin Frey: One of Right To Play’s obstacles is that play has not typically been seen as an important intervention for children in difficult circumstances by many key stakeholders in development and education. However, Right To Play’s programs, research and evaluations have shown that play, and play-based approaches have a transformative impact on children. Using play-based approaches, Right To Play’s programs in Pakistan have shown significant reductions in Gender-Based Violence in the home and and in schools. Right To Play’s play-based approaches to psychosocial support have built resilience for children living in situations of chronic violence and unrest such as the West Bank and Gaza. Right To Play continues to research and build evidence for the transformative potential of play for children in many different contexts.

 

CCIC: Is there any organization or individual that Right to Play would like to collaborate with? And what would this dream collaboration look like?

 

Kevin Frey: We are interested in pursuing collaboration with Canadian and international civil society organizations that are working with the communities in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where we also work. We’ve seen that the impact on our beneficiaries can be so much stronger, our collective voice is louder and we reduce inefficiencies in the sector by working together. Our dream collaborations emphasize the individual strengths of each partner. For example, Right To Play brings a unique play-based methodology to our work that can be used to achieve a range of critical development outcomes. We want our collaborations to bring forward this unique strength, to amplify the work of our partners, while also enabling us to learn from their strengths and approaches.

 

CCIC: Right to Play is a fairly new member of CCIC. What influenced Right to Play’s decision to join CCIC, and how has the organization benefited from your membership?

 

Kevin Frey: Right To Play decided to join CCIC so that we could be better connected to the Canadian international development civil society sector. We realized that many of our goals could be better achieved by working with other organizations. We have been grateful to be able to access a coalition of like-minded organizations, facing similar opportunities and challenges in the Canadian and international landscape. We’ve benefited from our ability to have a finger on the pulse of what is happening in Ottawa and beyond, including through the CFO Working Group and the Policy Working Group. We’ve appreciated opportunities to connect with Global Affairs Canada and other stakeholders, facilitated by CCIC and we’ve also benefited from our membership with CCIC in the stronger relationships we’ve built with other CCIC member organizations.

Interview with Will Postma – The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund

Interview with Will Postma – The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund

 

 

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is committed to addressing long-term development needs and to working in partnership with local communities and organizations. Could you highlight one of your exciting new programs? We realize it’s difficult to choose!

One new program we are excited about is a youth microfinance initiative with NEDC (Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation) in B.C. The Indigenous Youth Business Strategy program provides access to a loan fund to help Indigenous youth start a business, experience success, create job(s) and develop wealth. PWRDF funds will support the loan fund as well as programming to teach and support youth in marketing, cash flow, logistics, personal finance and budgeting skills.

Sharing stories is a great way of engaging Canadians on a human level. Could you illustrate how the PWRDF story library has been able to achieve this?

We have an incredible network of volunteers across the country sharing out our stories to their communities and parishes. They share monthly Voices of Hope stories in the weekly church service bulletins and speak at churches and many other community events – at schools, Lions and Rotary Clubs, with city officials, even at birthday parties and weddings! They share videos we have produced showcasing the work of our partners. We are active on social media and our volunteers are quick to share these stories to their networks, often adding context to make the stories more impactful for their respective audiences. We also produce devotionals for Lent and Advent in which we relate Biblical imperatives for justice and compassion to our work. People subscribe to receive these in their inbox every day. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Springhill, N.S. mining disaster in 1958 which was the beginning of PWRDF, and we are producing an e-book of 60 stories for 60 years. This will be on our website and the individual stories shared on social media. We will also be releasing a new video in honour of this milestone that features the inspiring work of two of our volunteers, a mother-daughter pair in Camrose, Alberta.

We’re looking forward to your panel at the CCIC 2018 Annual Conference focused on the perspectives of Indigenous communities in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from this panel?

There is so much wisdom, impact, collaboration taking place within and across Indigenous communities. Now is the time to share this out, not just for the benefit of working more to strengthen the achievement of human rights in Canada but to share learnings with the broader global development community. Together, we can make progress on the SDGs. Results are happening.

Interview with Jim Cornelius – Canadian Foodgrains Bank

Interview with Jim Cornelius – Canadian Foodgrains Bank

 

 

The Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) works towards ending world hunger by providing food in times of crisis, helping people grow food to feed themselves, and providing nutritional support to malnourished people. Ending world hunger is a lofty goal, does CFGB has a success story that could share about their quest for that goal?

 

Any time a family that is facing hunger is able to access food due to a well functioning social protection system or timely relief provision that is a success story. I remember talking with a widow in Niger as we watched her two young boys fight in the yard. She noted that a few months earlier they would not have had the energy to fight due to food shortages from the severe drought that had devastated her crops. The monthly food we were providing was providing the food the family needed, and meant she did not have to go into debt or sell her land to survive. This is success. Of course, we are also working to strengthen the resilience of communities to drought. Seeing maize growing in the fields of smallholder farmers in Kenya that have adopted conservation agriculture practices when the maize in neighbouring fields is failing due to drought is a success. We have been investing significant resources in promoting conservation agriculture to improve soil health and resilience to drought, and are seeing more uptake. When all the neighbours adopt these practices then we will have been truly successful.

 

CFGB was instrumental in ending the tying of food aid in Canada. What prompted CFGB to lead this policy initiative and why was it successful?

 

The origins of Canadian Foodgrains Bank involve Canadian farmers sharing grain they had produced. Our very identity involved the shipping of Canadian grain. In many cases this made good sense. However, we could not always provide as timely assistance as we wanted. We sometimes had to swap Canadian grain for other needed or preferred food commodities. There were many cases where is was more costly to ship Canadian food rather than buying it locally or regionally. And we were concerned about disrupting local markets. Calling for any change meant deep conversations with the Canadian farming community and their farm organizations to explain why the untying of Canadian food aid made good sense, and would not be harmful to Canadian farmers. Our supporting farmers, who have a heart for rural families in other parts of the world, proved critical to persuading their farm organizations and neighbours to accept this policy change. Once key farm organizations agreed not to oppose a change, then the government was able to move forward with the policy change.

 

What might people be surprised to know about CFGB?

 

Not everyone knows that Canadian Foodgrains Bank is an association of 15 Canadian churches and church agencies. We are a church-based agency with deep roots in the Canadian farming and agriculture community. All our international programming is delivered through our member churches and their partners. While we are best known for our food assistance programming, we are also one of Canada’s largest funders of agriculture and nutrition programming.

 

CFGB has been a member of CCIC for many years and have always been strong advocates of CCIC. What value does CCIC bring to your work and why is it important for you to be involved?

 

It is vital that Canadian NGOs have an association that can serve as a joint voice for our sector with government and media, and that can work with the sector to develop common positions or messages. We also need an association that can help convene critical conversations. It is important that we don’t work in isolation, that we work as part of a bigger movement for change. We also value the information that comes from CCIC.

Interview with Rupak Chattopadhyay – The Forum of Federations

Interview with Rupak Chattopadhyay – The Forum of Federations

 

The Forum of Federations is a relatively young civil society organization (founded in 1999). Can you briefly explain what makes the Forum of Federations unique and why your work is necessary in today’s world?

One of the fundamental challenges for democratic governance, in our time, is to make governments at different levels work efficiently, inclusively and in the interests of the people. The Forum of Federations is focused on this challenge.

The Forum is unique because it is the only organization worldwide that focuses on federalism, devolution and decentralization. The Forum today is supported by ten member countries, and can draw on these networks to curate comparative experiences on multilevel governance to help policy makers in partner countries improve their systems of government. The Forum takes a non-prescriptive approach based around its core principle of “learning from each other”.

We work with partner countries to help them establish institutions and processes rooted in their own social, economic and/or historic realities. We do this by offering trainings, workshops, and providing policy research and sector-based technical advice to governments and other key stakeholders.

The Forum’s work has been in great demand during the last decade as more countries come to appreciate that decentralization or federalization contributes significantly to better governance and provides solutions for more equitable distribution of power and resources. Furthermore, the federal idea has come to be seen as an important tool in the conflict resolution toolkit for countries with a great deal of diversity.

The Forum has a practical, problem-solving approach to achieving results. It supports governments and citizens around the world – through training, the provision of expertise and impartial practical education. Could you briefly describe a success story stemming from your work?

One recent success story is the adoption of the Nepali federal constitution. The Forum became engaged in the process of Nepal’s democratic transition in 2007. Between then and 2015, we ran a program of public education and technical advice to respond to the needs expressed by Nepali civil society and government. Our public education program sought to demystify federalism and provide a common vocabulary for the public and government so that the Nepali people could have an informed and meaningful debate about the pros and cons of federalization. As they wrestled with complex reforms, the Constituent Assembly and government sought the Forum’s expertise in understanding the process of federalization in other countries. The Forum’s curation of others’ experiences fed into the institutional choices made by the Assembly, but the federal constitution promulgated in 2015 is a uniquely Nepali document organically rooted in the country’s realities. That the Forum support informed their choices is well appreciated by the key stakeholders, as is the fact that the Forum neither advocated for a federal Nepal, nor for a particular institutional model (e.g. Canadian model, Swiss model, etc.).

The Forum of Federations works in several different countries and regions with programs that include global programspolicy and researchdevelopment assistancegender based programs and also the Mena project. If you woke up tomorrow with unlimited time, staff and financial resources, what project or program would be your dream endeavour?

The Forum typically works in about 20 countries every year. There are at least dozen more which could benefit from what the Forum has to offer. Let me start by saying that unlike a number of other types of developmental interventions, political and governance reforms take a long time to accomplish. It took almost 700 years from Magna Carta to the women getting the right to vote in the UK! Just look at how long it has taken us in Canada to grapple with issues of regional, linguistic and racial marginalization. Thankfully the world now moves at a faster pace – Nepal took almost 9 years to promulgate a federal constitution and the process of implementation is still ongoing.

The expectation that newly democratizing countries will establish responsive institutions based on the rule of law overnight is unrealistic. Institutional and political reforms don’t progress in a linear fashion. Indeed there may be reversals along the way. The challenge always is to remain engaged because some of the fundamental issues targeted by the reforms don’t go away.

So on balance, our dream endeavour would be to be active in more countries with longer programming time horizons than is currently permissible.

The Forum of Federations has been a member of CCIC for the past few years. Could describe why it is important for the Forum to be a member of Canada’s coalition to end global poverty?

CCIC offers an important platform for Canada-based organizations working in the development sector in Canada to collaborate and learn from each others’ experiences. We are all trying to tackle the same problem from different angles. The Forum’s approach is closely aligned with the SDG-16 focus on peace, justice and building strong institutions, and we hope that our experience and voice will complement the great work that others do.