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Review of AAI Activities, 2011-2012
As presented by Tanya Smith, AAI President, at the 2012 Annual General Meeting
It’s been a quite a year! Almost exactly one year ago we launched the new AAI at the Dublin convention. At that time we had a newly elected Board, some of the infrastructure from the former AAI and a lot of work ahead of us!
Our activities in the last year have been around a few themes:
- Re-establishing the membership and support base for the new group
- Expanding communications
- Supporting our members and potential new members
- Supporting atheists in developing countries
- Seeking formal status with international bodies
I’ll talk a bit about each of these.
Re-establishing the membership and support base for the new group...
At the time of the re-launch last year AAI had 19 Affiliate and Associate Members – mainly those that came with AAI as part of the separation - and we’ve now increased that number to over 30. We’ve also substantially increased the number of Individual Members and instituted a free mailing list so we can keep in touch with people who are either unable or unwilling to take the step of becoming an AAI member. Thanks to our social media co-ordinator Matt we’ve also substantially expanded our online presence – our Facebook page has over 10,000 likes (roughly doubled in a year), the number of Twitter followers has also increased significantly to around 4,000 and Matt’s launched us on Google+ also.
This process has been an important part of re-establishing AAI for two reasons:
- The first is simply financial. We’re a volunteer run group and we rely on the financial support of members and donors to operate. We inherited our share of assets from the former AAI at the time of separation but we needed to re-establish a support base that would sustain us and I’m very pleased that we have done so, and a little more quickly than I expected
- The second is that the underlying theme of AAI’s activities is primarily educational. Ultimately things change when we change people’s minds and prompt them to take action – whether it’s supporting a campaign or petition, donating to a project or just making people think differently......so maybe they vote differently or talk about issues with other people and can maybe change their minds. So the number of people we can reach with our message and with information is critical
It’s been a very good first year for AAI, but we’re not done yet so we’ll continue working to grow the group and expand our reach.
On expanding communications...
We’ve put in place a range of initiatives to improve AAI’s communications.
Late last year we established a PR team to work on media releases and help build AAI’s public profile, commenting on conventions AAI is involved with and international issues like the new Libyan constitution, the riots in response to Koran burning in Afghanistan and the case of Alexander Aan.
This year we’ve put in place a News Team with representatives in all populated continents to ensure we get a good and diverse range of articles about atheist/secular issues on our website. We now have nine contributors providing around one original article or commentary on issues per week.
The News Team work complements Secular World magazine, which we continue to produce as our flagship publication quarterly, and we’ve added a periodic newsletter called Imagine! to keep our supporters up to date with AAI activities, which we’re distributing in English and Spanish.
Finally on communications, we’ve launched new branding! The new logo, tagline and website were launched in April to a generally very positive response.
On supporting our members and potential new members...
As a member based organisation we want to help our member groups. Because our members are at very different stages how we support other groups varies considerably.
At the earliest stage, we get fairly regular enquiries from people who want to set up new atheist groups. Some of these actually happen, some don’t, but we always respond with advice and (if appropriate) contacts with other groups in their country or region.
For members that are established, what we can do to help depends on what they need. For well-established groups that run their own projects, we help out with global publicity for campaigns – this is one way the importance of our communications reach comes in.
For groups that need advice or funding for projects we can help out – for example we’re sponsoring a series of lectures on evolution in Gambia next month – and of course we work with our members in relation to conventions. The Cologne convention starting later today is the fourth convention AAI has been involved in this year, following events in Melbourne, Manila and Kamoops in British Columbia. We’re also supporting a convention in Malawi in August.
On supporting atheists in developing countries...
There’s two specific projects I’ll mention from the last year:
- Kasese School in Uganda has been helped by AAI since 2010. This is an explicitly humanist primary school that now has over 300 students. We had a successful project to fundraise for building renovations around the start of this year and there’s a steady inflow of people sponsoring students, which is great. The school is considering expanding to the high school levels, which would be a fantastic extension
- Alexander Aan: this is a man who was attacked and ended up in jail in Indonesia for posting ‘God does not exist on Facebook’. We have worked with local activists and other groups including our Affiliate the Council of Ex-Muslims to protest on his behalf and fundraised to help with his legal expenses. The trial is ongoing.
On formal status for atheists...
We’ve applied to the United Nations and the Council of Europe for consultative status, which would give us a platform to raise atheist/secular issues in an international forum – along with other non-religious groups that are already there. We will find out if we’ve been successful in our application early next year.
It’s been a pretty busy year of re-establishment and growth for AAI. In the next year we’ll continue the projects and programs we’ve established and we’d like to add to our work. We’re talking to various groups about conventions over the next few years, looking at potentially supporting another humanist school in Africa if it proceeds and we are investigating projects that we can run as an international alliance.
To some extent what we do and what we support depends on projects put forward by our members – we respect that local groups are best placed to identify and run projects in their own countries.