Last week, WIEGO spoke to Janhavi Dave, International Coordinator of HomeNet International, and Chris Bonner, Advisor to WIEGO, about the process that led to the formation of HomeNet International. This week, we talk to them about the organization of the virtual Congress that launched the global network, and plans for the future.
The Congress during which HomeNet International was launched had originally been planned to take place in Nepal in October 2020, but was moved to a virtual meeting because of the pandemic. Can you tell us a little about how you made the Congress a success?
To build a network, at some point organizations have to formally join and become affiliates. We kind of abandoned the whole timetable on that because of the pandemic. We just couldn't even talk about that. It was only as we worked towards the virtual congress that had been organized for February 2021 that we started talking about actually affiliating. Organizations did start to affiliate and, when we held the congress, we had 36 affiliates already, which was quite remarkable. At that stage I think organizations had seen the need for a global voice and we built up quite carefully towards that.
The congress itself was quite an operation, with all the translations required, and WIEGO was really important in providing that technical and communications support. At that point, HomeNet International didn't have any full-time staff and, without WIEGO, it couldn't have happened. None of us really knew how to run a Congress virtually. Because of the time differences, we could only hold two-and-a-half hour sessions, which we did over two days. There were also connection issues and, at one point, one organization had to rush to get a generator when they lost power.
Physical congresses often last three days, which gives you time to hold discussions outside of the main meeting to settle issues and get to know each other, and do something social. Since that was all missing, it was really challenging to work out how we could formally launch, adopt a constitution, appoint an international coordinator, and choose the leadership committee.
We have a Working Committee now for HomeNet International instead of an Executive Committee because we didn't feel we could hold elections online. To hold elections, we’ll need to have a physical Congress, because home-based workers aren’t used to doing polls online and not all of them own devices so we don’t know how accurate a virtual poll would be. Until we meet face-to-face, the nominated, interim International Working Committee will continue to play the role of the Executive Committee.
The Working Committee consists of three representatives per region—Latin America, Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia—and three people from WIEGO; one of them is Chris [Bonner] and the other two people coordinate work in Africa and Latin America. So the committee has 15 members in total. WIEGO will continue to play a big role in organizing in Latin America and Africa, until independent regional organizations are formed there. But even though we have had our Congress now, we have a long way to go. We still need to have an election to ensure democracy within the organization, having democratic processes. We do need WIEGO's support on this, apart from the more technical support of holding funds, communications support, organization and representation support and all of that. I think the key role WIEGO still will play is to ensure regional solidarity from emerging regions and to create processes which continue to be democratic.
What are the current priorities for HomeNet International?
The top priority for HomeNet International at the moment is to build solidarity, more than anything else. We have 36 affiliates from 20 different countries and all of us have different histories; not only do we have different histories of organizing, but the political and economic situation in each of these countries is also different. I must say, and I applaud all our affiliates, they have come together not just with open minds but with open hearts as well and they are accepting each other. We need to really deepen our own understanding of each other and build solidarity along with that. There is always going to be diversity so we need to understand that diversity and how we can come together and build solidarity on some of the common issues. That is going to be a key piece for us for the coming year, however difficult and challenging that may be sitting at home with the pandemic.
The second piece is about building an organization and the systems within it. HomeNet International is a democratic organization and therefore the processes also have to be democratic. We have to create a system for responding to our affiliates until we can have our elections, which can only happen during a physical Congress. I don't know when that is going to happen. We kept thinking maybe next year April; now again we're not sure about that.
Also we have to focus on two key things which I feel are coming up quite a bit: one is around the visibility of home-based workers, which includes anything from working on statistics briefs—having numbers for advocacy—and doing research, to online grassroots campaigns; the other is around the importance of social protection, which has come to the forefront even more during the pandemic.
Apart from involvement in the Working Committee, what role will WIEGO continue to play in the future of HomeNet International?
The interim leadership committee has met twice already. It will meet monthly at the moment because there are so many issues, including around finances and expenditure. HomeNet International at the moment doesn't have its own bank account; some of its funds are held by HomeNet South Asia and some by WIEGO, which has also helped us to raise funds. So things are underway and also there are plans to hold some regular webinars to build solidarity. The first webinar was held for International Workers’ Day to talk about what happened recently to workers due to the pandemic and what their demands are for building back.
We are already working with WIEGO’s Organization and Representation Programme, Social Protection Programme and also with the Statistics Programme to develop statistical briefs on countries outside Asia. There is a focus on other regions because we don’t want one region, South Asia, to seem to be dominating in the network because the regional network is strong there. That would be an issue for building solidarity. As the network grows, WIEGO will play a less active role, but it will continue to support HomeNet International over time, in the same way that it supports the established global network organizations of street vendors (StreetNet International), and domestic workers (International Domestic Workers Federation). WIEGO is also currently assisting waste pickers to work towards a global network.
Read last week’s blog to learn more about the creation of HomeNet International.
Photo: Aurapin Sakvichit (left) poses with Areewan Rotsattra (right), showcasing the clothing they sell at a local market. Aurapin has worked as a garment home-based worker for decades. Credit: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage.