WG-USA: President’s Address
September 25th, 2015
It is with very great pleasure that I welcome you all to the 8th Annual General Meeting of Women Graduates-USA here in Baltimore, MD. The theme and content of this year’s AGM is designed to not only provide information about our mission and program focus but to also provide those of you who are more action-oriented with the correct tools to advocate on those issues of importance to you. Program and Action, working together, is a combined effort providing you with information about an issue that may instill a desire to take action.
At tonight’s Town Hall style Visioning session, you will have an opportunity to tell the leadership of WG-USA just what is important to you and what you expect, or would like, WG-USA to look like in the future. I hope you have all come with your own ideas of what that vision might be.
For the next few minutes, I would like to quickly recap WG-USA activities since the last Annual General Meeting in Salt Lake City in September of 2014. That meeting started off with the news from Florine Swanson, that Women Graduates-USA had, just that week, received the first installment from the Estate of Esther Scher. For those of you who are new to WG, Esther was one of our founding members and an avid believer in education, especially education for women. A second installment followed a few weeks later. The Board and the Finance Committee went into overdrive and by the middle of the first quarter of 2015, we had invested the bulk of it and created a rudimentary plan of how we might use the rest of it, with the purpose of improving the organization. Each committee was asked to provide input from the viewpoint of their own committee activities, how a sum of money would help WG move forward. Members will see the results of these discussions in the coming months and years as we begin to put the money to work.
Women Graduates-USA is always a presence at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in NYC. This year, WG-USA participated in three parallel sessions, two on human trafficking hosted by the Working Group on Human Trafficking and one on Nonviolent Peace efforts. These sessions provide visibility for Women Graduates-USA, and also give us a forum in the global arena for discussion and presentation of our focus areas. In addition, we have opportunities to partner with other like-minded NGOs. It is also one of the rare occasions that WG-USA members can get together face-to-face. For the 2015 sessions, we partnered with IFUW (now GWI) and GWI affiliates from Canada and New Zealand, NonViolent PeaceForce, S.P.A.C.E. (Survivors of Prostitution), and the Bucks Coalition Against Trafficking.
There were tangible results from the NonViolent PeaceForce session, the focus of which was to formulate recommendations for the UN High Level Panel Review of Peacekeeping Operations. This focus took into consideration the Beijing Platform for Action and SCR1325 Women, Peace and Security mandates. The outcome document prepared by Nonviolent Peaceforce, had 22 specific recommendations including two areas of concern for Women Graduates-USA: the protection of women and inclusion of their leadership in endeavors for peace and security; and the use of unarmed civilian protection. With respect to implementing the Women, Peace and Security agenda, the UN High Level Panel recommended that The Secretariat and missions should carry out gender-sensitive analysis throughout the analysis, planning, implementation, review, evaluation and mission drawdown processes.
Continuing with the Peace agenda, in May, the WG-USA Advocacy Committee convened a webinar on women and peace called “The Peace Algorithm: Women, Inclusion and Citizen Action”. The webinar format was a first for WG-USA, although not the first time we have presented program-based teleconferences, as was the decision to open it up to non-members who were exposed to WG-USA for the first time. Responses to the webinar in the days and weeks that followed were extremely positive and confirm our belief that in the future, webinars and other video presentations will be important tools that attract prospective members.
WG-USA continues to advocate as an organization on issues that directly impact our Program Priorities and our existing Resolutions. Our Resolutions formulate our action policy. This year, the call for Resolutions to our membership resulted in the four proposed Resolutions that you will for vote on, Sunday morning. WG-USA prides itself on being a grass-roots organization. Action policy comes from our members and sets the focus of our advocacy for the future. We, you, can freely speak out in the name of Women Graduates-USA on issues that are outlined in our Resolutions.
The Governance Committee was faced with quite a challenge in providing the slate of officers for this election. Many of our ‘senior’ board members have reached the maximum service allowed by our bylaws including myself. I think you will agree that they have done an outstanding job in seeking out and providing WG-USA with its next set of leaders.
Membership growth for WG-USA continues to be one of our greatest challenges. Operating virtually, we need to meet the challenge of appealing to the needs of our members and at the same time grow the membership. Only having one face-to-face meeting in a calendar year, with the added option of meeting informally in NYC at CSW, makes it difficult to have that personal appeal. So I send the challenge to you all to help us find members who are interested in our mission and vision. Our second challenge, and related to the first, is that we are an action and mission organization, and not a socially-oriented group. We provide a forum for women, especially younger women, who need and desire to be involved in a passion but don’t have the desire or a need to attend a meeting as a social outlet. We need to find THOSE women. We need to discover THEIR passion. We need the help of our younger members to find them and we need to define the message that will appeal to them.
I hope you take the time to read the Annual Reports that have been included in your Program Folders. Our Board and Committees have worked very hard over the last year on our behalf. I will now call upon each one of them in turn to provide a more detailed account of the activities of the past year.