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IMPRIMER

Member Profile March 2015

Amnesty International Canada

 

BCCIC

Inter Pares Executive Director Rita Morbia (right) with Khushi Kabir, founder of Nijera Kori, an Inter Pares long-term counterpart in Bangladesh. Credit: Natalie McMullen.

This month CCIC met with Rita Morbia, Executive Director at Inter Pares. Rita talked about the 40th anniversary of Inter Pares and the changing context for international solidarity organizations, as well as some programs that are at the heart of the organization's work....among other things!

 

CCIC - What would you say distinguishes Inter Pares from other Canadian organizations working in international development?

Rita Morbia - What distinguishes us is captured in our name Inter Pares, which means among equals. We believe that social change is best achieved when we work collaboratively and as equals with groups or activists here in Canada and around the world.

We also distinguish ourselves by being a feminist organisation. Our work is predicated on the understanding that there are power imbalances between men and women and recognizes other disparities in the world based on, for example, North and South, socioeconomic class, and race. Having a feminist lens that guides our work helps us more thoughtfully address these inequalities, and influences the way we interact with counterpart organizations and colleagues.

We do not have overseas offices but collaborate with counterpart organizations that share our feminist analysis and that are deeply engaged in their own contexts, working for peaceful and just societies, often over the long term.

 

CCIC - How is that specificity and other core values reflected in your work?

Rita Morbia - We put equality into practice both internally and externally. With the 120 groups we support here in Canada and around the world, we have developed collaboration that goes well beyond a funding relationship. We help ignite reflection and develop strategies together to address the root causes of inequality. We facilitate learning exchanges to link counterpart organizations and create spaces where they can share their concerns, learn from one another, and take stronger action. Working with Canadian counterpart organizations is also crucial to our approach, as we know that many development problems encountered in other countries originate in the North. Together, we build a common understanding of these obstacles and advocate to improve unfair policies.

Internally, we operate with a non-hierarchical structure. Inter Pares currently has thirteen full-time staff members who are all co-managers. We are all paid the same base salary, share management responsibilities, and participate equally in consensus-based decision-making. This assures a high degree of transparency, cohesion and rigour, and applies internally what we advocate for externally.

 

CCIC - Can you tell us about one or two current programs that you are particularly proud of?

Rita Morbia - This is a difficult question, as we value our programs equally. The programs we support exist because of the needs clearly expressed by our counterparts. This explains also why we work on a variety of issues, such as women’s rights, food sovereignty, economic justice, migration and health. We believe these issues are all interconnected. For example, it is hard to support women’s rights without working on reproductive health rights, or to work on food sovereignty without paying attention to economic development projects that displace entire farming communities who depend on their land to live.

Nevertheless, we would highlight our Burma program for the significant impacts it has generated and because we are the only Canadian organization with such a long history of support in this country heavily affected by decades of internal conflict.

Our Burma program supports over 60 community-based organizations, some of which we have been supporting since 1991. Thanks to this program, more than half a million people from ethnic and rural areas have accessed primary health services. Issues of violence affecting ethnic women are now brought to international attention thanks to research produced by the women’s coalitions supported by Inter Pares. Community groups and state-wide farmer networks created and supported through this program now work to raise awareness of the impact of large scale development and infrastructure projects. Over 200,000 refugees in Thailand and Malaysia, and internally displaced people in southeastern Burma manage their own communities and relief supplies. Independent ethnic media groups now report on marginalized regions, in local languages and from a local perspective, which was unimaginable just a few years back. 

 

CCIC - Inter Pares is celebrating its 40th anniversary; what has changed the most in your environment in the past 40 years? What hasn't?

Rita Morbia - The international development context has changed a lot. The funding environment is more bureaucratic, and less open to longer-term program-based initiatives as opposed to short-term projects. There is a chill among groups afraid of retaliation for expressing their views. There is a trend to engage the private sector in ways that may not put community needs at the forefront. Additionally, the security agenda adds to an already-challenging global context rife with war, injustice and impoverishment.

On the other hand, what hasn’t changed is the strong commitment of inspiring activists we support who challenge injustice at great risk to their lives. What hasn’t changed is the critical support of individual donors here in Canada who make our work possible. And finally, what hasn’t changed is the relevance of feminism as a guiding principle to challenge all forms of injustice and oppression.

 

CCIC - Can you share information on special events and activities that will be taking place for your 40th anniversary?

Rita Morbia - For our 40th anniversary, we are organizing a major public event, “The Future of International Solidarity,” on April 30th at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa. Four activists from Colombia, Burkina Faso, Burma, and Canada with decades-long commitment to social justice will be joining us to share their experience and analysis on how they envision the future. Their testimonials will be the starting point of a larger discussion we will initiate with participants. 

We look forward to having colleagues from the international development sector, government and public officials, students, academics, allies and supporters to together re-think international cooperation and solidarity. All details of the event can be found on our website.

 

CCIC - Can you say a few words on why it is valuable for Inter Pares to be part of CCIC?

Rita Morbia - Coalition work represents a strong expression of our feminist values of collaboration.  Our membership in CCIC allows us to work together towards a common goal, to address poverty and inequality around the world, which requires decisive and concerted action.

On a more practical level, CCIC helps us access knowledge and information, analysis, and networking opportunities. It provides a space for dialogue and political discourse for development and social justice. CCIC advocates on our behalf on some common objectives we want to achieve as a sector. It creates a stronger voice for the kind of international cooperation that we, as Canadians, wish to see in the world.

 

 

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