Political summits and international donor conferences are held regularly. However, it is much rarer to find conferences where the target groups of development policy programs come together and exchange ideas across borders. What led to the idea for Beneficiary Convention, or BENCON, organised by medica mondiale and its three partner organisations in the Great Lakes Region of Africa?
Laura Fix: The idea was born during the planning phase of a transnational project with our partner organisations MEMPROW in Uganda, PAIF in the Democratic Republic of Congo and SEVOTA in Rwanda. Exchanges between the organisations already existed at the professional level. Then Covid-19 came along and our partners developed digital formats to stay in touch with women and girls affected by violence. These are their target groups, and they were able to support them in their respective environments. In fact, it worked out so well that the idea came up to try organising exchange among each other across the region.
Lisa Trebs: Considerations of power relations also played a role. After all, the real actors are the women and girls, their families and the community members – these all form the target groups being addressed by the services offered by MEMPROW, PAIF and SEVOTA. They carry impacts and changes into their communities. So MEMPROW calls them “change agents”. Until now, they have not had the opportunity to exchange information with their counterparts in other countries. Now we have enabled that.
Why was it important to initiate this exchange at the regional level?
Laura Fix: It is important to have the opportunity to look beyond your own immediate context. This perspective helps you improve your awareness of your own situation – and your own successes. Seeing that you are not alone, realising there are women affected by violence and activists in other countries who have to deal with the same problems and struggle against the same causes of structural violence, and finding out how they cope: all of this can give you confidence and strength. This is true for individual women and activists, and also for organisations.
Lisa Trebs: In addition, the conflicts in the Great Lakes Region cut across national borders. So it is important to come together at the civil society level and work together.
Cross-border cooperation – how does medica mondiale continue with this?
Lisa Trebs: As for BENCON specifically, at least two more meetings for the participants are planned. One will take place virtually and one will be a hybrid event.
Laura Fix: We promote regional exchange worldwide. In our projects, we already rely heavily on peer-to-peer support. This means that managers, project managers or psychosocial professionals all share experiences and strengthen each other at the professional level. This will be further expanded in the future.
On July 10 and 11, in Kampala, Uganda, 50 women and men attended the Beneficiary Convention. These participants included survivors, teenage mothers, psychosocial counsellors who accompany women affected by violence and underage mothers in their daily lives, teachers, police officers, religious leaders, local leaders, and staff from the partner organisations MEMPROW, SEVOTA, PAIF and medica mondiale. The goal was for them to share their experience, discuss how to prevent violence and build non-violent communities – and to celebrate their successes.