Atallah Kuttab and Maria Chertok — WINGS chairs, current and future, reflect on its evolution

Maria Chertok (CAF) will take the role of WINGS Chairperson on 1st January 2016, succeeding Dr. Atallah Kuttab of SAANED. We asked them to reflect on the evolution of WINGS and to share what’s in store for the network.

kuttab_250WINGS: You are a board member and WINGS Chairman since January 2013. How has WINGS evolved? What developments have you seen in recent years?

Atallah Kuttab: The meeting in Bangkok in 2006 was my first meeting. It’s amazing how far we’ve moved since then. That year the meeting was driven by the secretariat, which then had moved every four years from one place to another. With every secretariat move we lost the institutional memory, if you will. It was around 2009-10 that we began to look at which regions could be the most friendly, to institutionalize WINGS and have a permanent base. After comparing several locations and keeping in mind that we intended to place WINGS in the Southern hemisphere to highlight the voice of the countries in Latin America, Africa, Arab region and other regions, we thought that Brazil offered the most favorable and friendly place. That’s when WINGS moved to São Paulo.

To get it right, we spent many years working on WINGS governance, opting for best practices rather than our work on building philanthropy around the world, which was necessary yet frustrating. Over the last four years we’ve focused more on building the infrastructure of philanthropy globally, whether through data that exists right now, or building alliances to support the members and encouraging our members in their work.

We selected Maria Chertok as my successor in June, which gives us half a year of transitioning, which is considered good practice. A smooth transition from one chair to another keeps the eyes on the ball, which in our case is developing philanthropy around the globe and supporting an enabling environment for philanthropy. I hope that WINGS continues to push the envelope, where the landscape of philanthropy is changing, in that the line between for-profit and non-profit sectors is becoming fuzzy more than ever. One positive change I expect is that WINGS will keep up with this reality and not remain frozen within the established definitions of philanthropy.

WINGS: WINGS made tremendous strides between the last two WINGSForum events. WINGSForum 2017 will take place in Mexico City. What key message would you like to see promoted in 2017?

AK: There are a few key messages surfacing from the meetings we are holding around the world. One is that money is not the only currency for doing social change. There are others factors and we need to lay those on the table, and WINGS has a role there. And secondly, for effectiveness we need to continue asking the question, philanthropy for what? If an organization spends money on its philanthropy activities it doesn’t necessarily mean it is doing things that are useful. So let’s not be happy only to see people allocating money for philanthropy, but let’s push the envelope by checking always philanthropy for what purpose and build the needed infrastructure for that? I hope we will discuss this in Mexico, to improve the performance of the sector, stay inclusive and engaging of all forms of giving and to make people think about the effective ways of using the currency we have, whether it is volunteering, solidarity, or cash — whatever is out there in local practice, with the objective of achieving social change or social justice for a more equitable society.

WINGS: You’ve been on the WINGS board since 2012. How has WINGS evolved since then?

chertok_300Maria Chertok: When I joined the board, WINGS was in the final stage of transition from an informal network to a registered global association, from Manila to Sao Paulo. We had a new secretariat and a new CEO and the board was, to a great extent, new as well. As a board It took us a while to figure out our position in relation to our members and the secretariat. I remember having long debates about the difference between a network and a membership organization.

I am very happy that this process of searching for a new identity is now in the past, and that WINGS is now a strong and well-defined organization, with a broad and active membership base and well-grounded strategy. The feedback we receive also shows that it is highly regarded in different parts of the world, and that our members see WINGS and value its contribution. I believe a turning point on this journey was the WINGSForum in Istanbul with its unique atmosphere of self-challenging, friendship and peer learning. I personally enjoyed it like no other event in many years.

WINGS: What will your experience in global philanthropy bring to the WINGS Chairmanship next year?

MC: I have been working at CAF Russia for many years and experienced firsthand the process of philanthropy growth from scratch in an emerging market country. At the same time CAF, which originated in the UK in 1924 — probably the first infrastructure organization in the field of philanthropy in the world — now operates on all continents. I hope we at CAF managed to turn our global reach into a strength and source of ideas for developing the work in each of the country offices. Learning about the experience of my colleagues from different countries has always been an inspiration to me. I believe this combination of local and global experience made me qualified for the chair position, and I am looking forward to continuing this learning process, together with my fellow directors and WINGS members.

WINGS: What do you envision for the WINGS global network going forward? Looking at the WINGS Strategic Plan, is there anything you look forward to the most?

MC: Both the board and the WINGS office are keen on growing our membership – in numbers and in quality of interaction between WINGS participants and partners. We are uniquely placed for it and it appears that we are excelling in this. The biggest task for the next two years when I will be a chair of WINGS is to organize the WINGSForum, which will take place in March 2017 in Mexico. Istanbul was a great success, so our own expectations and the expectations of our members are very high, so it would not be easy to meet them. As the board we are very aware of the difficulties that philanthropic and other civil society organizations have been facing recently in various parts of the world, Russia being no exception. So the issue of shrinking space for civil society is high on our agenda and we have planned a number of activities in this area.

I personally believe that understanding that this problem is common for many countries will help our members overcome isolation and look for working solutions, or at least compassion among peers. I believe WINGS has a unique role in accumulating knowledge about the sector, and I love the reports WINGS produces, which are focused, clear, and visually attractive, and really add to our understanding of how philanthropy works globally. We will have a number of such products in time for WINGS Forum in Mexico, which will trigger discussions there. What we also planned for the next period, and something I am looking forward to is building closer links with teaching and research centers focused on philanthropy.

You can participate in WINGS leadership by submitting a nomination for the upcoming WINGS board of elections. View WINGS Strategic Plan 2015-2018 here. More WINGS interviews here.

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