Under the motto "Give community a voice", the UBS Optimus Foundation recently brought together around 150 representatives of charitable organizations and grantmaking foundations from over 50 countries for a symposium at the Wolfsberg conference center. The event marked 10 years of the Foundation, but was also a rare opportunity for participants to meet like-minded charity professionals, exchange experiences and learn from one another.
Although the Symposium was conceived as thank you to the project partners who had worked with UBS Optimus Foundation since its establishment, the organizing team consciously planned the event so that it would bring tangible benefits to those who attended. Interactive workshops formed the backbone of the program and allowed participants to exchange and learn from one another's ideas and experiences. They were dedicated to the primary focus of the UBS Optimus Foundation's work: Education, Child Protection, and Global Health, and were punctuated with plenary presentations and panel discussions which offered an opportunity for everyone present to discuss issues common to all the projects and organizations represented. So-called "dancing sessions" added an extra and unique dimension to the event. These offered a platform for projects which needed funding to meet up with and present their work to potential financial backers.
The power of partnership
Three main issues emerged as central to many of the discussions. The power of entering into a genuine partnership with local communities was stressed repeatedly. There was general agreement that not involving communities in decision-making meant remaining ignorant of important cultural and social influences on the local situation. Giving communities a real say and direct involvement in development projects not only created greater motivation but also meant helping communities to help themselves.
Tackling the root causes of deprivation
The importance of taking a holistic approach was also emphasized. Taking the example of education, project representatives pointed out that setting up schools alone would not sustainably raise educational levels in deprived areas if the root causes of the deprivation were not addressed at the same time. Families who did not have enough to eat would inevitably give higher priority to getting food than providing their children with an education. Parental attitudes were of central importance. They had not only to be economically able to send children to school, but also convinced of the value of education for their children's future.
Gender equality is central
The role of women was also highlighted. Experience showed that when women were directly involved in projects, they had a greater chance of long-term success than if only men determined what happened. Gender equity was key to sustainable development, and giving women a voice also had a crucial role to play in preventing sexual abuse of children.
The final speaker at the Symposium was Jakob von Uexkull of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, better known as the creator of the so-called "Alternative Nobel Prizes". He said that local communities had to be given back control over their own destinies. If development projects listened to and respected their views and allowed them to determine for themselves how local problems should be resolved, a bond of trust could be created which was the key to long-term improvement. "With trust," he said, "almost anything is possible. Without it, almost nothing."