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by Jostein Sydnes
I am old as the post-it note and my first CISV experience was in 1986 at a Village in Sweden. An amazing experience that came to influence my life. From the day I took the train to Stockholm with three friends and our leader, I became a CISVer. I have had the opportunity to do a lot of volunteer work on a local, national and international level. I have always felt that in CISV there are endless opportunities if you want to take them.
In 1986, when I was at my Village, there were 45 villages around the world. Three decades later we host 11 more villages (in 2017 we hosted 56) than we did back when dinosaurs ruled the earth. That’s two new villages every five years. Not a giant leap for CISV-kind. So I have been quite puzzled ever since the amazing ‘twice the reach’ vision was launched at the Global Conference in Norway in 2015. How are people thinking this can be possible? Well if you believe, I guess you can move mountains. But my Scandinavian boring side sometimes knocks on the door and want me to take a closer look at foundations of this mountain we want to move.
I think the brilliant Twice The Reach team (editors blush) has given us great insight on the growth-numbers so I won’t go into detail on that, but their latest article show us some of the challenges. In summary it shows us that we are off track, but maybe not way off track.
However, I want to challenge you to think about how we are measuring our growth. Are we maybe not reaching more people, but merely giving more activities to the ones that are already in the organization? Because as I said, there’s not a lot of growth in the Village programme. One of the main driving factors for our growth is Youth Meeting and from my knowledge this programme mainly recruits from existing members. I believe we have become better at giving more activities to our existing members and we have maybe managed to keep them longer in the organisation by giving the opportunity to grow up in the organisation. And let me say, this is not a bad thing, this is a great thing. We want members longer. But we also want to reach more people. I believe that the increase in number of participants we have seen today is mostly CISVers doing more programmes.
Let’s look at that beautiful year of 1986 again. We had 49 NAs back then, and if you count the countries that were divided in the early 90s we could count 55. Today we have 69 affiliated countries. If we look back on the increase of villages, we have 14 new countries, even more since some have disappeared and new countries have arrived. And still we don’t manage to host more than a few new Villages.
I think we can agree upon that the programme we are founded on, Village, and the programme most of our volunteers promote as “our flagship camp” is in terms of growth, almost on a stand-still. As CISVers I think we all find it hard to fathom that the amazing Village programme isn’t being hosted in every city around the globe, but we seriously need to take a deep look at what is going on with the Village programme, and I am happy the Governing Board has started a programme review.
The hosting plan has been a great tool and has helped us growing the last few years, and at least it has giving us some stability when it comes to planning ahead. But still I think we need to take a hard look at two major factors if we have the chance to understand why Village aren’t growing more.
- Walk the talk we started more than a decade ago.
When CISV shifted focus from an organisation doing camps to being a peace educational organisation I think this was a natural step for us and a lot of volunteers felt that the thing we have been doing for a long time now had a vocabulary. And though as always change sparks controversy, I think that we now all say we educate and inspire action for a more just and peaceful world.
However, despite this, few steps have been taken towards bringing meaning to the phrase and new content to our educational programmes. We need to better promote that we are an organisation not just during the summer months and have better activities that are easy to do all year round for more people. Preferably activities that stand out as typical for CISV. Mosaic is such an important way of reaching this goal. And maybe we can integrate the Village programme more with our Mosaic activities.
I also think we need to be open even more for initiatives that are not within our typical programmes.
- Change the Village programme entirely.
Or at least entirely change how we host and how the structure around our Villages are. The programme is great, and for people attending it, a life-changing experience, but when it comes to hosting it, I think we can agree upon that it can be quite challenging. I also would like us to challenge our own incentives for hosting. We are mainly hosting to get delegations to send but are we altruistic enough to go through all the hassle of hosting so that others can send their kids to Village? I think a lot of our volunteers do their job because they in turn can send their own kids to Village, and if this is correct for even just a small part of our volunteers it is difficult to promote growth in the system we have today. The initiatives of changing the Village programme have been met with scepticism and in 2008 the 21-day village was tried and defeated. But to grow I really think we need to be open to change the way we host our precious Village.
I think we should openly discuss our approach to growth and I think we should do as we always have done before, start with the Village programme.