AIWF News March 2017 - Issue No 40

“Both personally and as Founder Chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum, I am proud indeed to have a longstanding relationship with Welcome Clubs International that dates back to my Presidency of the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London in 1998 – 2000. Welcome Clubs International was a valued member of FIWAL, and I had many wonderful experiences and opportunities to speak at a great number of distinguished WCI meetings in London, Washington DC, and many other cities all over the world.”

Haifa Al Kaylani, Founder Chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum and Fellow, Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative 2017

Working collaboratively and across cultures is essential to dealing with many of the world’s current issues, writes Dr. Maria Fernanda Arduino,
President of Welcome Clubs International

I would like to thank Mrs. Haifa Al Kaylani, Founder Chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum, for inviting me to contribute with an article on WCI. It is an honour and a pleasure for me to do so. We look forward to working together in the pursuit of our goals.
WCI is an international, non-profit consortium that represents women’s clubs from all over the world. Our clubs share a common goal of cross-cultural education, understanding, and friendship. Our mission is to gain understanding through friendship, and to form friendships through understanding. In this way, we build personal connections with women in the belief that this will eventually influence positive relationships between countries. We believe we can help to achieve peace, as we strive to relate to one another with respect and care in our associations of international women. WCI acts as a forum for women from all cultures to communicate, without regard to political, cultural, or religious differences.
WCI was founded in 1986. Our founder Marian Adair, the wife of a U.S. Congressman, realized that ambassadors’ spouses, usually women at the time, arrived in the United States, and attended many public and social events; however, they seldom, if any, had the possibility to visit an American home. In this spirit, Marian founded Welcome to Washington, in 1959, – to open homes to ensure women from all cultures felt welcomed. This resulted in several clubs blossoming around the world. Hence, the need for a central organization to promote closer ties and to encourage communication between member clubs was essential. Since its inception in 1986, WCI has grown in both the number of member clubs and the number of members worldwide.
A Board of Directors, consisting of the President and Liaison of each member club, is the decision-making body. The WCI Executive Committee reports to the Board at its meetings. The Board meets once a year; each club has one vote. The Board of Directors elects WCI’s President who in turn appoints an Executive Committee. The Executive Committee, which meets throughout the year, carries out the decisions of the Board. WCI member clubs are autonomous and located worldwide. Individuals of member clubs are members of WCI.
Today the world has grown in complexity. The need to understand one another and to work collaboratively is proving to be essential to successfully deal with many of the world’s current issues. We believe the leadership of women today is necessary and needs to be fostered in every sphere. WCI would like to contribute to this aim through working to relate to women from all backgrounds so that they are leaders of peace, understanding, and compassion in their communities. The vehicle to achieve this aim is education. Our international conferences act as a forum for our members to be educated through the speakers and the exchange with international friends. Our website, theLink Magazine (our biennial publication), a Membership Directory, and Sister Club News are all excellent means of intercultural communication and education. Currently, we are working on a more interactive website to promote the online participation of our members worldwide. Likewise, we are creating a program kit to share with our member clubs to foster initiatives for the betterment of the education of women in the host countries. WCI stands for women contributing to today’s world using their talents and capabilities.

WCI Brings Together Women’s Clubs from Around the World

By Stephanie Kanowitz
January 31, 2017
The best way to foster world peace is through understanding, cross-cultural interaction and education, says the president of Welcome Clubs International (WCI), an association that aims to bring together international women’s clubs worldwide for just this purpose.

“I think that usually it’s lack of knowledge [through which] conflicts may arise because when you get to know a culture, when you get to understand their viewpoints, when you get to know about the history, their art, their music, it’s so much that you learn and you understand,” said Maria Fernanda Arduino, WCI president..

WCI was born of the Welcome to Washington International Club, founded in 1959 by Marian Adair. As the wife of a congressman — Rep. E. Ross Adair of Indiana — who attended many diplomatic functions, she realized that the diplomats’ wives would often leave Washington without having made an American friend or seeing the inside of an American home. The club changed that, and “members of Welcome to Washington not only enjoyed getting to know and befriend Americans, but they found the concept of a club very appealing and very often once these ladies returned to their own country, they’d start a club in the image of Welcome to Washington.”
From left, Welcome Clubs International (WCI) former President Pam Bansbach, WCI Vice President Sarka de Jong, Alena Klenot and WCI President Maria Fernanda Arduino attend an international conference in Prague in May 2016.
As the number of clubs grew, it became necessary to have an overarching organization that could facilitate communication among the independent member clubs, and that’s how WCI came to be in 1986. It is a forum for clubs and members to exchange ideas and develop relationships free from political, religious and cultural differences, Arduino said.
WCI started with sister clubs in Brussels, Colorado, London and Ottawa. Today, the international nonprofit consortium represents 22 sister clubs […] [and one] associate member club, the Federation of International Women’s Associations in London.
All WCI clubs throughout the world are autonomous. Some engage in charitable and civic activities in their communities, while others focus on cultural awareness. Clubs range in size from 25 to 900 members. The Welcome to Washington branch, for instance, has over 500 members from 80 nations and hosts events such as behind-the-scenes tours of D.C., cooking demonstrations, language groups, docent-led art tours and other activities. WCI only requests that individual clubs share the association’s mission of friendship and understanding.
“Our clubs share a common goal of cross-cultural education, understanding and friendship,” Arduino said. “Our mission is to gain understanding through friendship and to form friendships through understanding, and in this way we build personal connections with women in the belief — and I truly believe this — that this will eventually influence positive relationships between countries. We believe we can help to achieve peace as we strive to relate to one another with respect and care in our associations of international women.”
Part of WCI’s role as a facilitator means it holds various meetings in locations worldwide. This year, the WCI board of directors will meet in Cyprus, the executive committee will convene in the United States in November and there will be a formal inauguration of a new club in South Korea in the fall. WCI’s main event, the international conference, will take place May 2018 here in Washington.
Although WCI is apolitical and nonreligious, members are interested in current events, Arduino said. “I think people do have an interest in getting to know about the ongoing situation in the world, and I think we cannot be blind to the fact that there are many things going on, such as the refugee [crisis], for example,” she said. “One of our speakers at our international conference in Prague specifically spoke about the refugees and immigration in Europe.”
As it works to foster relationships now, WCI is also looking ahead. It is examining ways to take a more active stance on educating women, for example, Arduino said, and to better enable its communication with other international organizations.
“In this globalized world, one organization cannot work alone. It is very important to reach out to other international organizations that share our goals of fostering peace and understanding,” she said.
WCI is also exploring technology as a way to help connect women globally. When members can’t travel to meetings or conferences, they can dial in through Skype, for instance. WCI is also working to have a more interactive website for members.
“In five years, we see WCI growing in member clubs, strengthening the communications and relations among member clubs, promoting the education of women and establishing relations with other international organizations to work collaboratively,” Arduino said.
She became involved in WCI through the club in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2008 and became president of WCI in 2016. Her goal is to visit all 22 sister clubs, although she doubts she will be able to pull that off before her term ends in 2018.
“I think it’s very important that whenever possible … to travel to meet in person the various sister clubs. This helps maintain good relationships,” she said.
So far, she has been to the clubs in Florida, Jakarta, London, Prague and San Diego. This year she plans to go to South Korea, Porto Alegre and several U.S. cities.

About the Author
Stephanie Kanowitz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.
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