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Members invited to participate in name discussion

As you may know, last year we started a discussion about changing the name of our organisation, International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. During the process, hundreds of people took an active part in selecting their preferred name option, but we also faced criticism from a number of people for the process and the two names suggested. For that reason the IWGIA Board has rebooted the process. Below Chairman Knud Vilby explains why and what will happen now.

You have been a strong advocate for a name change. In your view what difference would a new name make?

In many parts of the world indigenous peoples’ rights are under immense pressure. For too many indigenous peoples’ harassment, threats and criminalisation is the order of the day. Some are even killed as they insist on fighting for their rights. For more than 50 years, IWGIA has been a central support organisation to indigenous peoples. I would like us to continue to be so – as it is needed more than ever.

To continue to make a difference for indigenous peoples’ rights we need to increase the awareness of indigenous issues. And we need the support of new donors, decision-makers and parts of the public that have not yet heard about us. All this in a context of increasing donor competition.

All experience shows that IWGIA is a difficult name to understand, pronounce and remember for people who don’t know us. A new name is not going to turn things around overnight. But it would help us to better reach out to those who don’t already know us.

The process and the names suggested was criticised. What is your take on that?

I think it shows that a lot of people really care about our organisation and the work we do. A vast majority of the people we consulted actively chose between the two names suggested by the board. We also received many valuable inputs related both to the process and the suggested names – but also some very critical remarks.

The board has listened to the criticism and has decided to reboot the process. The next step is to have an open conversation with members, who are also the decision-makers on any changes to the statutes, which a name-change would require. We would like to hear if they have any good ideas as to what a new name could be.

Could you not be criticised for this process as well?

It is always possible to be criticised. We have had an open consultation process on Facebook and some people also wrote to the board. Now it is time to discuss with those who are the final decision-makers in the organisation, namely the members. After all, this is an organisational matter and we think it is only reasonable that we have the discussion with those who are part of our formal organisational structure; to which everybody, by the way, is more than welcome to join as members, to have a say over the organisation.

The IWGIA Board is not in full agreement itself, with a majority of the board recommending a name-change. Is this a problem?

The debate this past year has shown that many people feel strongly about this issue, and this is also the case for our board. As one board member expressed it, our name is “loaded with history and trust”, and IWGIA has worked for more than 50 years supporting indigenous peoples’ rights. The organisation has developed into a highly respected international organisation with its current name, even though the organisation today is so much more than just a working group.

Would a name-change mean that IWGIA changes its way of working?

I would like to stress that a name-change is not going to affect the core of our work. We will – like in the past 50 years – focus on protecting, promoting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights together with indigenous organisations and partners. We will continue to do so through documentation, advocacy and capacity-building. What is changing – with or without a name change – is a move towards greater outreach and alliance-building with new stakeholders. Core to IWGIA’s survival is more diverse and sustainable funding.

What kind of considerations do you have on a possible new name?

I hope that together with members we will find a more straightforward name, which still honours the history of IWGIA – maybe by only using some of the letters of the current name and changing the meanings of them to better reflect what kind of organisation we are today. It is important that a potential new name signals that we are an organisation supporting indigenous peoples and their rights, and it must be a name that is easier to remember and relates to our work.

What is the future process?

The board will discuss the issue again at our board meeting at the beginning of May, and we hope that our members will share their thoughts and ideas with us, before this meeting. I have written a letter to members to encourage them to come forward with ideas and constructive suggestions.

You are welcome to contact us at iwgia[at]iwgia.org if you have more questions related to this process




IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for Indigenous Peoples worldwide. Read The Indigenous World.

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