We interviewed Maria Chertok in the run up to WINGSForum 2017 in Mexico City! Ms. Chertok is a Board member of WINGS, member of the Advisory Board of the Community Foundations Partnership, member of the Editorial Board of Alliance magazine and a co-organiser of the Olga Alexeeva Memorial Prize. Here’s what she had to say:
WINGSForum brings together leaders in membership associations and support organizations serving philanthropy. What is the benefit in having a niche conference that brings similar organizations together?
MC: Indeed, infrastructure organisations serving philanthropy is a niche – to the extent that they often seem invisible. In the same time, we know that lack of infrastructure leads to under-developed philanthropic sector. So this narrow and “exotic” niche is a vital element of healthy giving cultures and philanthropic sector around the world. As far as WINGS Forum is concerned, it helps organisations that may not have a single peer in their own countries to become part of global community of practice, engage in exchanging knowledge and know how, enjoy moral support and speak about big picture issues which they can’t address in their very busy everyday work.
The field of philanthropy changes very quickly. New players, new concepts, new approaches and – sadly – new threats to the field should be discussed and debated in a friendly and critical way, and WINGS Forum is the place to go! The theme of this forum – Critical Philanthropy – calls for honest conversation about philanthropy’s ability to address difficult problems of the day and remain reflective of its own limitations and mistakes. Where else if not at a niche conference this conversation can take place?
How do you think WINGSForum contributes to our field?
MC: WINGS Forum for me personally is an empowering event. Philanthropy infrastructure around the world faces multiple problems and come up with great ideas, and WINGS Forum is the best venue to find solutions for the latter and share the former. Also, it is a great way to widen the field and discover unexpected allies and partners. For example, this time we hope to involve teaching and research institutions in the field of philanthropy, and for this end we completed a mapping exercise to see what they are doing and where they are located. WINGS Forum is also a demonstration of the strength of the sector, of its vital role for civil society development in general. WINGS’ continuous effort to make the case for philanthropic infrastructure would hopefully help to draw more resources to this field.
Do you have any suggestions on how people can prepare for the conference?
MC: I think the best way to benefit fully from WINGS Forum experience is to come with big questions and to actively seek answers – talk with as many people as you can, engage in session discussions etc. The old wisdom “the more you give – the more you get” really works in peer communities like WINGS.
What do you hope people can bring to the conference from their regions?
MC: Giving cultures are unique in every country and every world region, and we want to enjoy this wealth of experience to the full. In the same time, once and again I see that we have many more similarities than we think. This variety and commonality of experience of WINGS Forum participants make its unique blend and allows for content-rich productive conversations. So I hope participants will be ready to share and exchange so that we could create a unique atmosphere of a truly global forum.
As Chair of WINGS’ Board you’ve been involved in the whole conference planning. What do you think will make WINGSForum 2017 in Mexico different from previous years?
MC: Since Istanbul Forum WINGS has matured as an organization. We completed the transition from a loose network to a vibrant membership organization, we further developed our programme work, sharpened our strategy and extended our reach. We have also been through a successful leadership transition recently. So we are making the preparations to the forum from a more solid foundation.
Also, the planning process this time is slightly different. We received a record number of session proposals from our audience and instead of selecting or rejecting them we now engage in crafting new sessions based on what was proposed by future participants of the forum. It does take more work of the team and design team. As a result we will hopefully deliver sessions that will better address the needs of our participants and create a space for meaningful conversation.
What I hope won’t change, though, is a vibrant collegial atmosphere, high engagement of participants and an opportunity to feel the flavor of our host country. This time it will be beautiful Mexico.