November 2020 | By Joe Snell
WASHINGTON — A new international forum aimed at bolstering communication and knowledge sharing among Assyrian organizations supporting the homeland launched on Nov. 14 with representatives spanning Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Iraq and the United States.
After more than a year of brainstorming the concept and pitching members to join, the Homeland Coalition kicked off virtually with a meeting of five organizations and seven representatives. The coalition is part of broader global efforts by non-profit groups supporting Assyrians to gather around the same table.
“We believe it’s more effective and efficient to serve our people, especially in the homeland, when we’re connected and closer to one another,” said President and Co-Founder of Etuti Institute, Savina Dawood.
The concept of the forum originated with the Etitu Institute in the spring of 2019. The group began noticing some of their work was overlapping with other group projects. It became difficult to avoid the problem, Dawood said, because there wasn’t an organized communication line between organization leaders.
Promises of groundbreaking new coalitions are nothing new to the Assyrian community. Many attempts that have been touted as revolutionary have fallen apart before even launching. Before starting a new coalition of their own, Etuti’s leaders worked to identify why previous attempts had failed. They concluded that the introduction of voting for a hierarchy of leadership fueled internal divisions and led to their closure. The politics would often lead to infighting and overshadow the very work they set out to accomplish, Dawood said.
To avoid internal conflict, the Homeland Coalition was structured informally and with flexibility. The group doesn’t run on a governing body or voting for approvals. There are no special registration requirements or mandatory group projects. Participating organizations are welcome to come and go as they please and have the right to decide whether or not to share what they are working on. After discussions, members can choose if they want to collaborate. In short, the key to the coalition is simplicity.
“Sometimes we don’t realize that these small steps are key pieces of the big puzzle,” wrote Shlama Foundation Board Member and member of the coalition, Ranna Abro.
The informal structure is aimed at achieving three goals: bringing similar-minded groups to the same table, creating an open dialogue of projects and future plans, and sharing knowledge, resources and skills acquired from years of on-the-ground experience.
To participate, organizations must fulfill three requirements: they must be working toward the homeland, their work must be philanthropic in nature and they must be registered in their respective country or at least in the process of registration.
So far, eight organizations have agreed to participate: Etuti Institute (Iraq and the US), Shlama Foundation (Iraq and the US), Assyrian Society for Helping and Development (Syria), Assyrian Aid Society – America (Iraq and the US), Gabbara (Armenia) and the Assyrian Church of the East Support Committee (Lebanon). Two new organizations, Shopra Group (Iraq) and Assuritu (Iraq), are also involved.
Media organizations are allowed to participate, although in a limited capacity. As all meetings are off the record, media personnel function strictly as observers and can ask questions at the end of discussions.
At Nov. 14’s inaugural meeting, participants agreed to meet every quarter and to allow only two representatives per organization. During the lull between meetings, communication remains ongoing through emails and a WhatsApp group. Emergency meetings can take place if requested.
To create a space where all organizations are on the same level, talks are facilitated by an outside group. The Assyrian Policy Institute led this month’s meeting and will facilitate meetings for the foreseeable future. The next meeting is scheduled for February.
Even after the first meeting, participants told the Journal they already found similarities in their work and agreed to further discussions on how to avoid overlap.
“I truly believe we can be much more productive, effective and efficient in our work individually and together as organizations in this path, when we are together, when we are connected in communication, we can share and collaborate,” Dawood said.