Swazi NGO Meeting Culture – It’s about the food!

Dessert at the Royal Swazi Sun, where many meetings and launches are held.

I’ve been attending quite a few NGO campaign launches, workshops and stakeholders’ meetings since I came to Swaziland and have noticed that things are run a little differently than in Canada. Food is very important and helps draw attendees (humm, maybe not that different. North American press events are the same). I must say, it’s a little disquieting to know many people in Swaziland live on less that $2 Cdn a day…and at these meetings the plates are piled high. Not sure where this all came from…maybe a throwback to British rule? Donor tradition here? Or Swazi custom, where any gathering requires a feast, especially if official dignitaries are invited.

Here’s a little rundown.

1. Invitation comes to your office via hand delivery. This can be 1 week to 1 day prior to the meeting.
2. If it is a campaign launch, it will be a 1/2 day affair. Stakeholders meetings are usually a full day and workshops or training sessions usually go from 3-5 days.
3. Venue – launches are generally in a fancy hotel or resort complex. Usually government officials are invited. There is strict protocol to be followed and lots of long speeches. Workshops are held in very nice hotels and attendees stay overnight. All accommodation and meals are covered. For instance, a workshop hosted by the UNFPA will invite stakeholders to a lodge out of town so they actually stay for the duration of the workshop. Usually there are around 30 attendees at these meetings, along with presenters. The stakeholders’ meetings I’ve attended are a day long and held in convention spaces, or guest houses with meeting rooms.

Heading in for lunch.

4. The meetings are usually scheduled for 8 or 9 am. They start an hour (at least) later.
5. Meetings break around 10-11 for tea. This means tea and coffee, and muffins, biscuits and/or sandwiches.
6. Lunch break is around noon-1pm. Often it is buffet style, meat, veg, rice, potatoes, salad and dessert. This can be for 1-2 hours.

Salads salads salads.

7. Presentations continue after lunch. They are just about always power points, with some question and answer time.
8. By 5 pm the day is over…time for dinner!! (At workshops)
9. Even at community events, say World AIDS Day, with hundreds of attendees, there are speeches, entertainment, more speeches, and lunch…everyone lines up at tents outside and gets a Styrofoam box of chicken or beef stew and rice. Fruit for dessert.
10. Most NGO staff members attend at least a couple of these workshops, launches and stakeholder meetings per week. It can be hard to get your own work done.
11. Examples of gatherings: Gender Links Summit (2 days at Lugogo Sun), Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Bill workshop (2 days at Maguga Lodge), Girls Empowerment Club stakeholders meeting (1 day at Great Alpha Restaurant), World AIDS Day (1 day, Mavuso Centre), International Day of the Girl Child campaign launch (1/2 day Happy Valley Hotel and Casino).
12. After these sessions attendees are full of info and food. Most of us have to skip meals for a few days to get back to normal.


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