Can we make global meetings more ethical and impactful?

The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) was founded in 2006 to provide a specialist funding source for work on safe abortion. As some other donors were forgetting, sidelining or outright excluding abortion as a ‘sensitive’ issue, SAAF was set up to not just fill the funding gap, but to proudly support a flourishing global abortion rights movement. 

Throughout the 17 years we’ve been supporting organisations working on abortion, we’ve organised national, regional and global in-person meetings. Of course, as a global fund, and a global team, most of the work we do is remote and online, but we feel there is still a place for in-person human contact, especially when working on such a stigmatised topic. We know from grantee partner feedback that these opportunities to meet in person are highly valued and can lead to unique connections and collaborations. 

We’re about to hold our third ever ‘global gathering’. We’re inviting abortion rights activists from 50 countries to meet and share best practices. Of course, such an endeavour comes with financial cost, but also the investment of everyone’s time and energy. So why do we do it? And how do we try to make sure this kind of meeting is not just effective, but inspiring and impactful? 

Why we hold in-person meetings 

Abortion is stigmatised the world over. Even in countries where it’s legal and available, there is judgement and stigma for those who seek and provide abortion care. All activists can face burn-out and risks to their safety, but with such a stigmatised, and usually criminalised issue as abortion, this can be intensified. We think it’s important to provide abortion rights activists with safe spaces where they can speak openly, and with the support of their fellow advocates. 

Crucially, grantee partners have told us time and again that they want more opportunities to meet with each other in person.  

“It’s truly wonderful to have dedicated meetings where we can address any uncertainties and discuss the progress of our work.”

Grantee partner feedback 
How we organise in-person meetings 

All our meetings are designed by or co-designed with grantee partners. For our upcoming global gathering we formed a small consultation group and sent out a survey to all organisations we fund to shape the agenda and ensure the meeting is as collaborative as possible. After all, we are a diverse global group, from different regions of the world, focused on different areas of reproductive rights. 

We evaluate all our meetings and try our best to actually implement the requests we receive! For example, at a previous global gathering, participants were disappointed that we did not address the status of abortion and related human rights issues of the country we were in. For our upcoming meeting we will therefore have a panel of local grantee partners speaking about the current landscape for sexual and reproductive health and rights.  

Things to consider when hosting a global in-person meeting 

It’s not really possible to find a ‘perfect’ location for a global meeting. Bringing people together from different regions means that some people will always need to get long flights or deal with unwieldy visa processes. There is no country in the world with a perfect human rights record, where all queer and trans people, people of all ethnicities, and people with disabilities will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. We try to weigh up the safety and comfort of our participants, with the practicalities of cost and logistics to choose locations which are most suitable. 

For our upcoming global meeting we chose a location in East Africa for several reasons. Firstly, we have a number of grantee partner organisations there, and it makes sense to base the meeting in a place where the abortion work we support is actually happening. Since 52% of our grantee partners are based in Africa, there is also a consideration around flights and visas. Racism creates a hierarchy of ‘passport privilege’ and we try to pay attention to the fact that our colleagues from African countries are more than twice as likely to be denied a visa as those from other parts of the world. 

We also acknowledge the impact in-person global meetings have on the environment and thus have held only one per funding round. When arranging flights, we always book those with the lowest possible impact and only hold meetings which we, and our grantee partners, feel are relevant and necessary. 

Safety and accessibility 

Though there is always room for improvement, we try our best to ensure SAAF meetings are accessible for everyone. We ask for accessibility requirements in advance and try to think carefully about how the spaces we use work for people with varying disabilities. One key point of accessibility for our meetings is language. Though we cannot provide interpretation into every participant’s main language, we will have simultaneous interpretation for the three working languages of SAAF – English, French and Spanish.

We seek to protect everyone’s health, safety and security as much as we can (for example, we will provide masks and covid tests), but also participants’ wider wellbeing. For example, we will have a ‘wellbeing table’ with personal care items and also share a dedicated SAAF phone number for any questions or issues. 

Fostering ongoing connections 

In-person meetings should give us a space to connect, and hopefully find joy and camaraderie, and some respite from our daily routines. The impact of our meetings is gauged not just from knowledge gained in the few days we are together, but also from long-lasting connections and new initiatives implemented as a result of conversations.  

Therefore, we create informal ways for participants to connect – ‘buddying up’ people we think could have useful things to share, and holding a party for everyone to let their hair down and connect outside of a strictly ‘working’ context. We have already sent out a ‘who’s who’ introduction to help people make connections with other participants and created a link to a collaborative music playlist. We loved hearing that someone “really made many new friends” at a previous SAAF meeting! 

“I really liked this SAAF gathering because I got to interact with people from different countries and I got the information about abortion laws in their countries. One really good thing was that there was a lot of interaction with each other.”

Grantee partner feedback 

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