The end of the year is the time when we look back at what has been done. We evaluate, we sum up and we start peeking towards the new year.
Symbolism at its best
I have taken a moment today to go through my calendar 2016 and came to a very symbolic realization. This year was the year of the 165th anniversary since the founding of IOGT International in 1851. Throughout the year we’ve celebrated 165 years of countless heart-driven efforts by thousands of our members who have carried this organization since its start. Today I have found out, that the number of days I traveled to represent IOGT International in 2016 was exactly 165. Very symbolic.
I am looking back at this year with satisfaction and I feel immense determination for 2017. Let me take you on a trip down memory lane and highlight some of the events of 2016.
One answer to three problems and a happy ending
January was a warm up month of preparations for what would follow. In February Brenda and I represented IOGT International and together with several of our member organizations attended a WHO and UNDP workshop in Botswana to discuss the integration of policies that are designed to prevent and decrease gender-based violence, infectious diseases, and alcohol-related harm. Alcohol policy measures would be part of the solution in all the three areas. From Botswana, we went to Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to visit our members and partner organizations.
February did not end there. Right after that trip I took off for an “emergency” visit to Reykjavik to support our member organizations in their advocacy to protect the alcohol retail monopoly on Iceland. As of today, that story had a happy ending and the monopoly is left untouched. After Iceland, I was on the road again this time to Poland where our member organization IOGT Poland met with PARPA (The State Agency to Prevent Alcohol Related Problems in Poland) and established a partnership.
Women’s rights, Narcotic drugs policy and back to the roots
I spent most of March and April in the US. Especially in the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York City and one week in Washington DC. While our Executive Director and Vice President were in Vienna at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs I was at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York making alcohol policy a feminist issue. Alcohol’s harm to others especially to children and women is a problem that needs to be picked up by the women’s’ rights movement as we have enough evidence that women are better off when effective alcohol policy measures are implemented.
April came with UNGASS (United Nations General Assembly Special Session) on Narcotic Drugs. Long awaited gathering that would be crucial for the future of the UN Conventions on Narcotic Drugs. Together with Active we were represented by several people coming from our board and member organizations from Germany, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Norway, and Uganda. IOGT International was highly involved in the advocacy processes leading up to the outcome document that we were very pleased with and I have to highlight the impressive work our Executive Director Esbjörn Hörnberg has done in his position as chair of the Vienna NGO Committee. The Conventions are still in place, intact and the member states have agreed on joint efforts towards an improved approach to prevention, guided by a human rights perspective with health in focus.
New York City was also the first venue for our own event. We gathered several organizations from the fields of alcohol prevention, recovery, policy and lifestyle to discuss the role of recovery movement in the 21st century. By this event, we officially kicked off the celebrations of our 165th anniversary in the state where we were founded in 1851. It was nice to be back home.
New initiatives and approaches
In May I attended the biannual congress of our members in Germany, then continued to the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen and concluded the month in Geneva at the World Health Assembly.
On top of everything, while I was cruising the world, IOGT International held several webinars, our members joined the Run 4 Sobriety and we launched a new campaign hub Big Alcohol Exposed – the only of its kind. More than 20 different organizations, IOGT International being one of them, got together in order to reveal the unethical practices of the alcohol industry.
I used June to cool down after all the travels and to prepare our movement for a new structure as IOGT International and Active agreed on closer cooperation regarding the administration of both organizations. I spent July with Active. First with the office and then at Active’s Congress and Camp in Poland. IOGT International had the pleasure to arrange a lifestyle festival, celebrating the lifestyle of the 21st century which was a sort of pre-launch of Drink Revolution. We partied, danced, enjoyed lots of alcohol-free drinks, games, did some graffiti, sang, simply had lots of fun. What else to add.
Tools to prevent the alcohol industry from ruining more lives
September took us to Slovakia that was presiding over the European Union during the second half of 2016. In cooperation with the Law & NCD Unit of the Liverpool University, we arranged a groundbreaking workshop on legal tools to protect children from alcohol marketing. To my great joy, most of our member organizations that run activities for children and the whole newly elected Active board participated in the workshop. After Slovakia, my steps led to Oslo where FORUT Norway launched a campaign to encourage the Norwegian government to divest from the alcohol industry – an important initiative to expose Big Alcohol.
Yes we were there too
I spent most of October in Sweden following up all the travels and witnessing three of our representatives from youth member organizations representing IOGT International at the United Nations HABITAT III conference in Quito, Ecuador. I was so proud to see how they worked to raise awareness about the importance of alcohol-free public spaces to be considered in the New Urban Agenda.
In the end of October, before we attended our Anniversary conference on Sri Lanka we visited our members in India and got a sneak peek of their work. And then the conference kicked off. More than 100 participants from 23 countries came to discuss the latest developments in alcohol policy and prevention. On the margins of the conference, we also held a workshop about our rehabilitation work and the Child Rights Core group had met to outline their agenda for 2017 – 2018. The best way to celebrate is to enrich each other with more knowledge, inspiration and strong network. And to party. We did all that. I was moved to tears when I was looking at our members dancing to the song inspired by and written for IOGT International.
The song was a present from IOGT Poland to all the members of IOGT International.
IOGT International also prepared a present for everyone who wants to celebrate the alcohol-free lifestyle. We launched Drink Revolution that opens space for everyone who chooses to live an alcohol-free day, week, year or stay sober for a lifetime. It is for everyone who wants to party, be healthy and enjoy life without being forced into practices of the alcohol norm. You can follow Drink Revolution on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and you can sign up to be a revolutionary who wants to promote an alcohol-free lifestyle.
Partying sober means you can just rock the after party
The celebrations were over but 2016 has not passed entirely yet. In November I went to Slovenia and participated in a high-level panel discussion about Non-state actors together with Eurocare, World Health Organisation and Slovenian Ministry of Health. The discussion was part of the 7th European Alcohol Policy Conference where we also hosted a workshop on legal tools preventing alcohol marketing targeting children. It was again organized in cooperation with the Law & NCD Unit at Liverpool University and the feedback from the workshop was very positive. Information of this kind is highly relevant for many organizations and I am really happy about our decision to focus and dedicate human resources to this topic.
Wrapping up the year
To conclude the year I attended a conference “New Challenges for the Prevention and Treatment of the consumption of drugs” arranged by our associated member organization CIJ in Mexico. I held a presentation about alcohol related harm and alcohol-free lifestyle asking: “Do we need a drink revolution?”. The answer was simple – yes. Something needs to change if we want to live sustainable lives.
The conference was held in the beautiful environment of Acapulco where I had the chance to sit by the ocean, look towards the huge mass of water moving towards and from me making me feel very little and very humble. Looking at the effortless waves I reflected on all I mentioned above. On all the travels, all the side events we arranged, all the members I have met and was in touch with, all the new partnerships I am so thankful for, our new campaigns, our wonderful highly knowledgeable and dedicated staff and other people I got to work with closely.
I am looking back with satisfaction and determination to do even better. I have learned incredibly much during this year. It was a year of growth, challenges, understanding our organization and broader alcohol policy community. I understand the potential of our members. I got to see our strengths and also the reasons why we do not always succeed in what we decide to do.
I would like to thank all the people who have been part of this year’s journey. I am eternally grateful and I am ready to enter the next year together with you. Are you with me?