This is Arian Boci, Director of STOP AIDS NGO in Albania, and former SC chair of EHRN.
Currently, we all are witnessing a situation where EHRN (one of the most reputable network in the field of harm reduction and HIV) is facing out major problems with Secretariat shareholders, former EHRN staff, SC and organization members. When first I read the email about internal problems of EHRN, I was shocked and thought “what the hell is going on over there”? However, decided to be calm and not to take any immature step before having information from new Secretariat Shareholders, because I can’t judge just having one-sided information.
I don’t want to take any advocacy role in this situation or to support any parties, as having preliminary information from both sides make me confuse to come out to a final conclusion. However as member of EHRN and former SC chair, I feel obliged to react on this occasion.
First of all let’s be clear: IF THERE ARE ATTEMPTS OF MANIPULATIONS, ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES OR VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS - LET’S LEAVE THIS TO COMPETENT INSTITUTIONS. Soon or later -Everybody will pay its bill!
It is obvious that management problems with EHRN didn’t appear just now, but they are long rooted and connected with legal problems of establishing the organization and the clear power of shareholders. The time has come for EHRN to be reshaped and place clear rules.To my point of view, EHRN management problems can easily be solved by writing clear rules, legal responsibilities and establishing a real management structure.
But what really concerns me, is the way how to overcome this situation and to restore the on-going activities and continue to ensure support for vulnerable groups across the region. Firstly, I was surprised to learn by email about this conflict and then to hear that former SC members and Chairs are working to re-register a new network. I’m in favor of any initiatives that aims to support vulnerable groups, but it is unclear to me why the last SC didn’t inform all former SC members/chairs and network members about EHRN management problems and their decision (December 2016) to establish a new network? Why it took so long to make public their concerns?
Personally, I think that in such situation the Technical Secretariat and SC should have played a stronger and better role in managing and preventing this situation, by informing donor agencies, engaging all EHRN network and member and getting everybody’s opinion about future steps, rather than a small group of people taking decision on behalf of the entire network.
On the other hand, I don’t perceive as a positive approach the way how “organizers of the new organization” urging people to resign from the EHRN membership and join the new network and convincing donors to switch support. Please do not start off on the wrong foot!!!
EHRN is not just a group of two or three shareholders or an NGO, but it is an intellectual property that belongs to thousands of people working in the field and community members who have been devoted and spent time and energy making harm reduction work and saving lives of millions of people suffering from HIV/AIDS, drug use, etc.
Now we are in a situation where our mountain work is collapsed, donors are stepped back and more importantly, the key affected population and community members are without support, confused and left in the middle of nowhere. Establishing and strengthening new network or other initiatives take time and donors are reluctant to support parallel groups/initiatives. And this situation may last for months and months…..This status quo situation calls for an urgent need to probably revise our decisions and reshape our future steps.
I do believe that there is way where we all can contribute to restore EHRN image and ensure continuity and smooth transition of activities. Shall we organize a teleconference call with Technical Secretariat, SC and community members as well as new shareholders and find ways to build bridges of collaborations and overcome the existing problems?
I joined EHRN almost a decade ago, and have spent time, energy to strengthen and expand the network. EHRN is the main umbrella for hundred organizations and the best advocate for thousands community members, it is the Harm Reduction Policy Standard and Guarantee in the region. Therefore, it is not easy for me to see EHRN destroyed just by lack of mismanagement or other technical problems. It is the responsibility of members to keep EHRN and not let to destroy over two decades Network work by a certain group of people, either founders, technical secretariat or SC members. EHRN is more than they interests, it represents a strong army of professionals, well-educated and dedicated people, who I believe that will be able to overcome this situation and continue their tireless effort to make the difference and contribute for a healthier and better world.
Looking forward to discussing ways to empower and strengthen harm reduction network in Europe and beyond.