GWIAGrassroots Women International Academy

by | Jan 27, 2023 | Concept and history

The first Grassroots Women’s International Academies (GWIA) were conducted as part of the Expo 2000 in Germany. The following grassroots groups and partner organisations piloted the initial series of six week-long GWIA’s held at the Mother Center Salzgitter-Bad, an exponent of the Expo.

GWIA Handbook

The GWIA handbook features a unique approach to knowledge building and education, directed deriving knowledge from experience on the ground, from what happens in communities, specifically from the practices of grassroots women’s groups around the world.

This handbook describes the Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA), an international forum created by international grassroots women’s networks, to showcase and learn from their best practices.

GWIA provides a structure for direct communication and exchange between different grassroots cultures and experiences to identify and capture the abundance and sophistication of grassroots practices around the globe. GWIA is about highlighting processes and solutions from the ground, that are the seeds of change. GWIA is about bridging the schism between grassroots women’s expertise and public decision making. GWIA is about redefining governance and development roles and reframing the use of knowledge and resources from the perspective of what works on the ground.

GWIA symbolises how the grassroots movement has reached international proportions and how knowledge from the ground can be harvested to inform and enrich global problem solving.

Key tools used at GWIA include the following

  • Grassroots Women’s International Academies are a format where grassroots groups are

stimulated to examine and present their experiences in the form of trainings, to teach their

practices, strategies, methods and lessons learned in a curriculum design.

  • By exchanging and sharing their expertise in in-depth sessions, GWIA participants are

able to evaluate and adapt peer practices from other regions of the world to their own


  • GWIA is designed in a way that enables participants to extract the implications of their

work for advocacy, policy making and institutional reform.

  • By including dialogues with institutional stakeholder GWIA supports partnership building

and the bridging of grassroots and mainstream cultures.


The Grassroots Women’s International Academy (GWIA) was designed and initiated by

members of the Mother Centers International Network for Empowerment (mine) and

conducted in cooperation with Groots International and the Huairou Commission1


The inauguration GWIA at Expo 2000 was sponsored by the Family Department of the

German Government, the German Division of SOS Children’s Villages and the Huairou


GWIA was conducted as a series of six one-week peer learning exchanges as part of EXPO 2000 in Hannover, Germany.

For over a century, world fairs have been a forum for solutions to challenges faced by humanity. In 1876 the women’s movement became involved with a Women’s Pavilion highlighting women’s demands for equality and recognition. Since then, there has not been an organized female presence, center-staging women’s concerns and contributions at world expositions. The focus tends to be on high tech and highly specialized professional expertise. With the Grassroots Women’s International Academy at Expo 2000 a rare voice was highlighted at an international event of this kind, the voice of community women, who are designing and practicing on the ground solutions to everyday issues of human settlements.

Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them. Centralized top down

procedures are not managing to solve many of the issues we are facing in the 21st century. Communities are being kept together by the ingenious self organization of grassroots actors. The poor and marginalized have cultural, spiritual and social resources on which to build. They have created strategies to confront poverty, housing, safety, health and basic needs and services, with which they are already surviving. It is becoming increasingly visible that solutions to major issues of sustainability are being devised by the informal sector. What is needed is getting behind what already works in communities. What is needed is to learn from this informal knowledge base.

GWIA is a methodology to secure the rich knowledge of grassroots women’s groups and to make it visible to mainstream partners. For the first time at a world exhibition grassroots women were teaching their solutions. 60 grassroots women’s groups from all corners of the globe presented their practices and the underlying skills and strategies that make them work. They spelled out the constraints and obstacles faced by grassroots women and their communities, as well as the expertise that grassroots communities have developed in tackling these obstacles. 

They showed the community-owned assets that they have created by collectively mobilizing and institutionalizing the locally generated knowledge and skill base. They demonstrated the visibility and recognition gained by claiming, appropriating and intervening in public spaces and processes. And they outlined the resources and influence they have been able to leverage, as a result of building innovative, efficient and sustainable partnerships with mainstream institutions, both public and private.

Two preparatory events led up to the four international GWIAs during the 5 months period of EXPO 2000 at the Mother Center Salzgitter. In 1998 a GWIA was held which focussed on multicultural grassroots women’s work in Western Europe. The 1999 GWIA gathered together grassroots women’s groups from Central and Eastern Europe to define a grassroots women’s perspective on development in post-socialist countries. The GWIAs in 2000 brought together grassroots women’s groups from around the globe.

Themes revolved around issues of concern to grassroots communities: eradication of poverty, community based economy and education, community development and social cohesion, safety in cities, urban planning and housing, health, post-war and post-disaster development, engendering governance.

The Grassroots Women’s International Academies have created global space for local experience and knowledge. Grassroots expertise is extracted and analyzed both in horizontal peer exchanges as well as in formats to inform partners and public policy makers. GWIA engages peer learning as well as partner dialogues. A grassroots perspective is consolidated on key issues of grassroots communities. Mainstream partners and policy makers are brought in to debate how grassroots strategies and solutions can be mainstreamed into formal decision-making processes.

The Grassroots Women’s International Academies have become a very successful format for generating and disseminating knowledge from the ground. Investing in grassroots women’s processes of capacity building proves an essential element in creating a sustainable future.

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