Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 21, December 1997 

 
 

Effective partnerships

Report of the Bellagio Publishing Network annual meeting, Oxford, September 1997

Katherine Salahi

Katherine Salahi is co-ordinator of the Bellagio Publishing Network.

Donors, publishers and intermediaries met at St Peter's College, Oxford in September for the annual Bellagio Publishing Network meeting. APNET publishers Richard Crabbe, Hamidou Konate and Victor Nwankwo came direct from a World Bank seminar in Washington DC on the textbook publishing industry (reported on page 2 of this issue), opening the meeting with their report and discussions as a timely reminder of the global context in which African publishing operates.

A more sobering reminder of Africa in the international context was provided by the news that Damien Pwono, senior program advisor to the Rockefeller Foundation's Arts and Humanities Division and a key person in the Bellagio Group, was unable to attend the meeting as planned because he had been refused a British visa in Nairobi. Dr Pwono is Zaïrean/Congolese, reason enough, it appears, to be feared as a bogus asylum-seeker.

This was the first Bellagio meeting for the new APNET Board and the first time for Gillian Nyambura and Hamidou Konate to take part in discussions with the Bellagio donors collectively. A number of new faces among the donors too - Willem Veenstra of the Netherlands Foreign Ministry, Samuel Matsangaise of CTA, Lisbet Rubinstein of Danida, Maria Stridsman of Sida and Mikki Shepard of the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as ADEA represented by Carew Treffgarne of the (British) Department for Inter-national Development (DFID) - gave added impetus to one of the main aims of the meeting, reinforcing the partnership between different players in the Network, in particular African publishers and donors.

Gillian Nyambura spoke eloquently on behalf of APNET's work in helping build viable publishing industries across the continent, from the broad vision and mission defined at last March's reflection meeting (see Newsletter no. 20), to the detailed proposal for strengthening national publishers associations as the lynchpins of the enterprise.

The theme of partnership remained the focus during the sessions that included intermediary organisations and individuals. Richard Crabbe shared APNET's views of what constitutes good and not-so-good partnerships. The purpose of partnership, he said, is to combine different strengths to achieve common objectives. A partnership does not mean that there is always agreement, but where there is commitment, trust and respect, disagreement can be manageable. Partners do need to work to understand each other's constraints and understand the realities in which each partner is working. For example, policy decisions in APNET are made by the Board, which meets twice a year and is geographically scattered with frequent difficulties in communications, so the Harare Secretariat's responses are not always as quick as others might like. Similarly, donors are bound by their organisations' mandates, meaning that proposals need to be timed and focused accordingly.

Intermediaries addressed the meeting in the context of capacity building for African publishing. We welcomed Donna Anderton of Obor, successor to Obor's first director Ivan Kats, who initiated the 1991 conference at Bellagio on publishing and development in the third world out of which this network was born. Paul Osborn described the transformation of the ONE Foundation into Médiateurs, which he now represents. Cath Nicholson and Sara Harrity reported on Book Aid International's sterling work in support of African publishing, much of it in collaboration with the African Books Collective. Kelvin Smith spoke about his work with CODE Europe, and Mary Jay reported on SABDET.

APNET reported on recent developments within the organisation before presenting their new three-year programme and budget for discussion among the Bellagio Group of donors. Other reports during the meeting included the African Books Collective, and the Bellagio Secretariat. The Secretariat's proposal to transfer some of its activities to the south were discussed at length. APNET clarified their need for the Oxford Secretariat as a northern-based ally and advocate at least in the near future, while communications south-north remain unreliable.

The meeting provided a valuable opportunity for different players in the world of indigenous African publishing to get to know each other and share ideas in a relaxed, informal context. [end] [BPN, no 21, 1997, p 6.]

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