Last Saturday, I had the honor, with my colleague Younes Khitouch (a graduate student at the Faculty of Law and a HAF field facilitator), of representing the High Atlas Foundation at the first general assembly to create a new network or federation, or as the founders prefer to call it, the coalition of CSOs in Mohammedia.
At this meeting we witnessed the birth of a new CSO (civil society organization) structure as a result of a long process led by the HAF team, and that included many training sessions and meetings to plan and discuss the importance of federations for social change and advocacy.
The meeting was scheduled at 10:00 am at the local Dar Chebab (Youth Center). Now, choosing the Youth Center to hold the constitutive general assembly for the coalition has an important significance and made the event open to representatives of local authorities and to CSOs that target youth.
The meeting started at 10:45am by the president of the assembly, who after thanking the participants and the represented CSOs, presented the agenda and asked the participants to suggest other agenda items.
The first agenda item was to review and approve the proposed bylaws, which was sent by email and hand delivered to all participants 20 days before the meeting. But, of course there are always those that did not receive the document or those that just do not check their email box regularly and who clearly declared that they preferred to postpone the meeting. At that moment I understood that the meeting was going to be interesting as I could sense a kind of opposition message from three participants, the type of opposition that advance a “No” message for everything and anything suggested by the group.
After explaining the communication process that took place and the steps to develop the proposed bylaws, the president of the assembly started reading each article and taking note of the proposed changes and additions.
The discussion was interesting and the suggestions to change the wording of different items on the bylaws were made to make sure that the coalition reflects the vision and objectives of its members, which is legitimate.
As an observer of this process, I started questioning myself is there a magic formula to developing networks of local CSOs? If so, what would that formula be?
I remembered a document by John Loflands’s (Lofland 1996), which stated that new organization arises out of old organization. Interesting formula; organizations are living organisms. They change and reshape and sometimes create networks as their surrounding environment does.
At that moment, the present of the assembly announced time of a greatly needed coffee break. My chance to share my opinion with few participants. By the way, as observers and before the meeting, we decided my colleague Younes and I to not interfere or influence the discussion during the meeting. This was helpful, even though sometimes both of us could not hold our selves and wished we could be active members of the coalition.
After the break, it was time to elect the administrative council. This of course is a sensitive process, as the organizers have to make sure that the articles of the newly approved bylaws are well respected and followed.
The president of the assembly opened the list for nominations for the president position. But guess what, no one took the initiative to nominate himself/herself or someone else. It was an interesting time of silence and looking at each other. Waiting for the leader to be revealed.
At last one participant, requested permission to speak and after a long introduction to explain himself and make sure that what he was going to say is his own opinion, he nominated another participant. Then I witnessed something purely Moroccan [if I may say as a Moroccan], before even the nominating person finished his words, all the other participants started clapping their hands and cheering. Now, is this a democratic process? I did not even had the time to process it when other participant requested permission to speak and declared that this is not a democratic way to elected the president and that he was going to leave the meeting if this is not addressed immediately.
Thank God and thanks to this person, because I was starting to feel bitter. What happened after was impressive. Each of the two nominated candidates for the president position had the time to share their visions and programs and ideas to develop the coalition and make it a tool for effective capacity building and advocacy for all members and as a space for cooperation and synergy. Then using a secret ballot, the other participants had the chance to vote and choose the leader of their new coalition.
With all the yelling and shouting, I was happy with the outcomes and thought that this was kind of a magic formula; a network or a coalition of CSOs that evolved based on the need to create a socio-cultural community center under specific conditions and while using limited resources, has been working towards creating coordinated and collective action.
I was thankful for the day and for the opportunity to contribute to this outcome.
HAF Lead Trainer, Mohammedia