In preparing our Strategic Plan for 2022-2026, we examined 30 years of data on our Membership, income, expenditure, projects work, advocacy, and impacts. We identified the strengths and challenges of our organisation, and set a new plan of work and actions to achieve the priorities set by our Membership.
Our new strategy sees the launch of a new programme of development projects, ensuring greater community impact for the women most at risk of being left behind.
Grounding our development projects in 40 years of experience, combined with recognised good practice, we will continue to prioritise the issues highlighted by rural women in their communities. In line with experience and global priority, we will focus on Climate-Smart Agriculture, Rural Women’s Health, and Education & Community Development for our Core Projects.
Alongside Core Projects which respond to local priorities, we will work with strategic partners to add Capacity Building modules to each project, strengthening impact and building sustainability. We will fund fewer Projects each year, but continue our annual spending at the same level, so there is greater investment in each community.
To strengthen the sharing of knowledge between Member Societies, we are inviting all Societies to nominate ACWW Coordinators; they will receive training and support, and have regular online meetings with each other, their Area President, and the World President. This will mean global representation and greater communication.
Coordinators will be assisted in organising local activities, and awareness-raising events, and will be encouraged to implement fund-raising activities and organise local Women Walk the World events.
Area Conferences will continue to benefit from the support processes established in 2020 in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, and this will be strengthened with Capacity Building workshops and training sessions.
ACWW will continue to use its Consultative Status with the United Nations and its Agencies to amplify the voices of Rural Women, and highlight the issues they raise at the international level. Amongst other policies, we will prioritise the following:
With the FAO, we will advocate for the importance of family farming, women’s land rights, Indigenous seed protection, food security and food sovereignty.
At UNESCO we will advocate for equitable access to quality education at all levels for women in all their diversity, the importance of traditional and inherited knowledge, Indigenous languages, and global citizenship.
We will use our access at the Human Rights Council to promote understanding and implementation of CEDAW for women everywhere.
We will raise awareness of critical UN Declarations and Conventions that are specifically relevant to our membership.
ACWW’s global network of women’s organisations is unique, and important to protect. By focusing our efforts on building capacity within our network, we will strengthen both our Members and our Membership.
For many years we have worked with partner organisations who are aligned in policy and intent; we will continue to build these relationships and work in like-minded coalitions where appropriate to achieve our aims.
We will establish strategic partnerships to help deliver Projects, fund our core work, and advance our advocacy work. Partnerships will be considered at global, national, and local levels.
All partnerships will be built in line with ACWW’s established policies and the Statement of Ethics adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2021.
Our Members will continue to be our priority, as we work to achieve the agenda they have set for ACWW.
Over the last 5 years, there have been many attempts at consultations, from a survey meant to investigate whether members in societies knew about ACWW, to a survey on the living conditions of rural women, to a survey on the future of the Countrywoman. The response to these surveys was poor, indicating a severe lack of engagement with the organisation at a grassroots level.
This is part of what the Board is addressing with their plan to reinvigorate ACWW. It was felt by the Board that the lack of engagement with surveys and decreasing activity on ACWW resolutions was sufficient to indicate a need for them to take the lead on this plan, using their collective years of experience with ACWW and its members, as well as a complete understanding of the current state of affairs and trajectory.
The Constitution of ACWW was carefully consulted at every stage. ACWW employs an Executive Director whose main function is to ensure that the organisation remains compliant with Charity regulations and law, and who also has extensive experience in charity governance in the UK. Any decisions that do need ratification will be presented to the conference, where the normal rules of debate and procedure apply.
One of the challenges identified by the Board was that the current committee members were representative only of those who could afford to travel to London or whose societies could afford to send them to London. They are therefore not representative of our global, grassroots members.
Another challenge the Board identified had to do with rapidly developing communications technologies, and the pace of news cycles and governmental policy changes. Being at the forefront of these issues and technologies is necessary for ACWW to remain vital as a civil society organisation, but it was not felt that members should be expected to be experts on these matters.
When asked, most Committee members said they came on to a committee in order to learn more about ACWW. Thus their ability to give advice and expertise to the Board was limited. The committee members are experts on the issues facing their local communities.
The Board then considered how best to engage the passion of the current committees as a body of representatives that can make the needs and concerns of their member societies known. Thus, the Coordinator Programme was born.
The Code of Conduct is in place as a matter of best practice. It lets everyone know what is expected of them and what support they will get. A volunteer code of conduct is standard across charities in the UK, and means that if someone is giving mis-leading or out of date information, or fundraising in bad faith, or brings the organisation into disrepute, there is a mechanism to deal with them. We know that the vast majority of our volunteers and supporters are well-meaning, however should the situation arise that enforcement of the Code of Conduct is needed, we will all be grateful that it is in place.
The Coordinator responsibilities were put together on the basis of the activities of those volunteers who already act in a similar capacity in different parts of the world. If you would like to be a Coordinator, but feel that you don’t have the capacity to fulfil all of the responsibilities, please get in touch to discuss with Sydney at Central Office; we would still welcome the opportunity to have a representative from your society. Coordinators are volunteers and some will have more time than others, the basic requirement is that you will keep in touch with ACWW and your own member society.
Previously, ACWW spread its funds as widely as possible, funding many small-scale projects in a variety of countries. While this was initially seen as a good way to work with smaller, local organisations, international development funding practices have changed over the years, and we want to embrace this transition to ensure that your ACWW donations help to fund long term sustainable impact. The average amount of money granted to a project has hardly changed decades, despite inflation!
The narrow scope and short timelines of these projects meant that when project partners face challenges like unforeseen problems, we were unable to offer additional help. This will change with the new model, and ACWW will be able to not only address challenges as they arise, we will also be able to use our expertise and that of project partners and do risk assessments in advance of the project beginning. We will be discussing with the local society what additional things would make the project successful and really impactful.
So, while there will be fewer projects funded, there will be greater investment in each community. We will be spending an amount similar to current projects expenditure,
but on a smaller number of projects but with a far greater sustainable impact.
Another significant change is that ACWW will use its wider network to offer capacity building elements to all of our projects. These could include rabies training, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) initiatives, training in leadership and advocacy, or even infrastructure and equipment. These capacity building elements will be unique to the needs of each community.
The application process remains largely the same, though it is more focused on ACWW’s existing network, that is, Member Societies. Members will apply for funding, are evaluated first by the Projects Grants Officer according to ACWW’s funding criteria, and checked over for general compliance, followed up with for clarification on project activities and budgets.
The Officer works with the Board member responsible for Projects and applicant to determine scope for the addition of capacity building modules. The projects applications are then presented to the entire Board of Trustees who will ask questions, contribute their own expertise, and decide whether or not the project can be funded.
There have been many objections to the name ‘Pennies for Friendship’. An issue that has been raised many times over the years is that ‘if you only ask for pennies, you’ll only get pennies.’
ACWW’s model, in the past, has been that small efforts across a vast membership are enough to sustain the organisation. However, over the last 5 or so years, it has become clear that our existing members are giving as much as they can, but as our Members’ societies reduce in size, so too does our potential for support. As a network of rural women’s organisations, ACWW considers it our responsibility to help support and build up Member Societies.
These changes take us back to our roots, creating a vital, thriving international sisterhood that Member Societies can call on to learn from each other, about how to attract new members and how to grow in a quickly changing world.
Part of this involves being able to rely on our elected Board to allocate funds according to ACWW’s aims and objectives, continuing to invest in grassroots community development, but also bringing all of our work together in a way that benefits the whole network. Continuing to have restricted funds would restrict this work. From now, ACWW’s main enabling fund will be the Rural Women in Action Fund.
Donations to ACWW will support all of ACWW’s work, from projects to advocacy to education and awareness-raising, with the belief that supporters come to understand how vital it is that all of these elements are connected and cohesive.
The summary of the audited accounts has been published in the Countrywoman each year showing the facts and these have been on the website.
The budget is approved by the Triennial World Conference, and there was an appeal launched in 2019 that explained the financial situation. This appeal was ineffective, and for many years running, the Triennial World Conference approved a deficit budget.
ACWW’s logo has undergone various changes and designs over the last 90 years, with a similar theme of a compass shape, and the letters of our acronym pointing North, South, West, and East. We know that this logo is much loved by many members. The Tree of Life symbol used for many years was also very popular.
However, the logo has also received criticism from those outside the organisation and new members. These include that it looks dated, it is confusing because it doesn’t say our name, and in some parts of the world, cardinal directions are not read north, south, east, west, or north, south, west, east. It has also been suggested that it is not clear that the logo is meant to be a compass, so the global inference falls flat.
The need for a new logo is necessary for a visual representation of moving forward, and drawing a line between what came before and what will come ahead. It will stop the risk of accidentally using out of date materials. It says we are the Associated Country Women of the World and shows that we are rural women in action