District 14 History in brief
by District Historian Dr. Franziska Wein, ZC Erfurt
This is the history in brief of District 14 newly formed in 1994 together with Districts 27, 28, 29 and 30 upon the footings of huge former District XIV. The short narrative is basically built on digitized minutes of the Inter-district Conferences of San Remo, Vienna and Montpellier and particular the District Conferences from Chania in 2001 to Bad Gleichenberg in 2013. This is because District Conferences are perfect places for Zonta International authorities to meet folk from local clubs and to learn about problems and progress of implementation of global Zonta International goals on local level. District Conference records tell us the unique story of the commitment to and promotion of Zonta International goals in this region of the world.
From former District XIV to new D14
District Conference of Lausanne in 1993 was the last District Conference of former District XIV. During this conference the President International, Sonja Renfer, disbanded District XIV with the following words: “District XIV has always been something very special in the Zonta world. It is the largest and the most international district in the world and, at times, it has been the most out-spoken district.…Some of my illustrious predecessors found that District XIV was rather too out-spoken on matters of Zonta international finances, organizational structure and administration…But they all highly respected your district for its great accomplishments in service projects, the high standard of membership and the high quality of club programs. Effective in July 1994 you will be splitting into five districts. I feel confident that the high standards of current District XIV will automatically become the standards of the five new districts.” District XIV Governor Cornelia Klauser continued in encouraging just elected boards of the future new Districts 14, 27, 28, 29 and 30 to promote Zonta International in post-Cold War Europe and to connect with Zontians in Central and Eastern Europe, “La bonne terre de ce vieux District XIV a été bien préparée et bêchée: avec les nouveaux districts chaque cultivateur (gouverneur) aura plus de temps et d’énergie à vouer à sa parcelle…“
While the split into five new districts seemed to be the most appropriate approach to deal with new diversity and complexity in Post-Cold War Europe, the audience of the Lausanne Conference decided upon the proposal of the District XIV Board to have joint district conferences instead of separate district conferences and to work together on specified topics during special seminars. Two new activity formats were born: the Inter-district Conference open to the audiences of the five new districts and the Inter-district Seminar open to individuals of the European Zonta community.
During Lausanne Conference the newly elected boards of the future Districts 14, 27, 28, 29 and 30 were asked to discuss and decide upon the allocation of areas in consideration of best connections to new Zonta Clubs in Central and Eastern Europe within their districts. New District 14 board discussed the issue and could not yet agree upon the allocation of the Austrian Areas. The allocation of areas was only one facet of the major concern reception of the so-called eastern clubs. Let us listen again to Sonja Renfer sharing the following personal reflections during her Lausanne Conference address: “When talking to our new Zontians in the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe, I have come to realize what an impact these new Zontians are beginning to have upon our organization. Their priorities are somewhat different from ours, because they are looking upon Zonta as a means to help them to build up trust amongst themselves and to gradually learn to trust us, Zontians from the western world. Trust to them is a totally new experience…Coupled with trust, there is friendship which we, in western Zonta circles, keep telling everybody we truly have. Do we really have that true trust and friendship as well as the tolerance which is part of true trust and friendship?”
Besides this comprehensive understanding of receiving new Zontians from Central and Eastern Europe including rethinking basic virtues such as face-to-face friendship and trust, there was collective reception of the new eastern clubs made of generous financial support. Many western SOM-Clubs of the Eastern Clubs payed the annual renewal fees to Chicago for their eastern protégés and/or sponsored their travel costs to Zonta International meetings and conferences. New District 14 boards maintained former Districts XIV’ policy of limited dispense and subsequent reduction of the district fee to the eastern clubs until the early years of the new millennium. The new clubs in Central and Eastern Europe indeed appreciated all kinds of financial support and relief.
During the first Inter-district Conference of San Remo in 1995 first governor of new District 14, Gerda Senkyr, confessed to the audience of District 14 section meeting, that she had entered into office with mingled feelings: „ … when the former rich and mighty District XIV was divided into 5 districts in Lausanne 2 years ago, our district kept the famous number 14 due to the fact that the oldest European club (ZC Wien I) belongs to our district. But our district was generally regarded as the smallest one (as far as the number of members is concerned) and thus as the district with the least financial means among those five children. Being their neighbours we also have to take care of most of the clubs of former Eastern Europe. Our district comprises 10 countries … and 8 languages. It was very appealing for me starting from such a difficult situation of such a variety of cultures and languages to try to make these countries grow together to a community in the sense of Zonta by mutual understanding, friendship and tolerance.“
When complaining about disadvantaged starting position in terms of diversity she was right, since the objective of the split of former District XIV was to reduce complexity and diversity. When complaining about an inferior starting position in terms of members and economic potential, she might have felt some stress of competition created by the activity format Inter-district Conference where the audiences of five districts came together to report and to eye each other. With return to traditional activity format District Conference in 2001 the above described feeling of being the deprived child under gifted siblings had disappeared.
Philosophy and performance: District 14 on the move
President Elect Margit Webjörn attended District 14th first particular District Conference at Chania in 2001. In her address to the audience, on “an occasion of the new millennium”, she issued the slogan: “Combine Service and Advocacy.” Advocacy at that time was a new word in the vocabulary of Zonta International. A new challenge was born asking the Zonta community to intervene in favour of women’s issues at local, national and international level of politics, legislation and administration. The new task added to the traditional help of women in need by service projects and encouragement of young women by Zonta awards was going to contribute a lot to a modified self-concept of Zonta International: The philosophy slowly shifted from demanding to make the world a better place for women and girls through various services and activities in the spirit of friendship and trust, to a philosophy demanding making a difference in the lives of women and girls globally when acting as the women’s leading non-governmental organization worldwide.
The new emerging ambition tightened the necessity to strengthen organization and potential of Zonta International. Collaboration with Care and the United Nations in international service projects already had to be underpinned by sufficient members and sufficient funds. Thus membership growth has always been a basic concern of Zonta International; membership development was a major topic of each Inter-district and each District Conference from San Remo to Bad Gleichenberg. Area Directors and OMC-Chairs reported in-depth, Governors and Zonta International Foundation Ambassadors encouraged the clubs to expand or at least to retain their members and stop shrinkage, and to donate to the international projects using Zonta International Foundation.
Since 2008 there are two ZIF Ambassadors in District 14, one of them in charge of Area 03 and the other in charge of the remaining Areas 01, 02, 04 and 05, motivating the clubs to think and act globally as well when working on advancing the status of women. Another lesson to be learned by many clubs in District 14 and related to missing donations to Zonta International Foundation was to focus activities and services on women’s issues.
Since the beginning of the new millennium the Governors and Area Directors of District 14 implemented various policies and actions to recruit new and younger members. There were many seminars, workshops and lectures concerning issues such as trafficking in persons, violence against women, female circumcision or female health risks. Some Zontians became member of women’s’ committees or deputies at the European Council or the United Nations in order to advocate women’s interests and augment audibility of Zonta International. Professionalized communication of Zonta awards and service projects at various levels contributed to increase visibility of the organization. Focus on women’s needs and issues, advocacy activities and enhanced communication did reach younger professional women in the Areas 01, 02 and 03 and helped to increase membership and number of clubs, whereas in the Areas 04 and 05 the overwhelming economic problems brought decrease in membership and number of clubs.
The new approaches of Zonta International authorities to reshape the service organization into a respectable non-governmental organization with strong focus on its mission and clever combination of service and advocacy also impacted club activities at local level. More and more clubs of District 14 donated to Zonta International Foundation, invested in local and Zonta awards, first of all the YWPA-award, in order to encourage and empower young women, collaborated in campaigns such as “Zonta Says No”, and created inventive women’s projects tilling the fields of education, health scouting, prevention and cure. There were still donations for reasons not that much related to women’s issues, for example natural disasters, but when Area Directors reported about these digressive donations during District Conferences they did it in a mode of confession.
The short history of District 14 is a history of change and transformation of Zonta International in terms of philosophy and performance. In the early history of District 14 Zonta authorities often talked about friendship and trust; the keywords of Governor Gertraud Ribitsch’s address to the audience of District Conference in Bad Gleichenberg in 2013 were: “Visibility and Credibility”, underpinned by “Networking – Membership – Motivation – Communication”. These few words perfectly describe the development of Zonta International from a traditional service organization to an ambitious and professionalized non-governmental organization down to the present day.