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Predominantly Black Sorority Empowered to Expand International Aid Work

Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) sorority, the nation’s oldest Greek-letter organization for African-American women, has been granted special consultative status by the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a designation that will help the sorority further its international aid work under the U.N. banner.


“Obviously we’re quite delighted,” said AKA spokeswoman Melody McDowell. “It’s something that we’ve worked hard for and certainly are deserving of because of our international reach.”


This designation, reserved for nongovernmental organizations (NGO), was created to “strengthen and enhance dialogue between NGOs and the United Nations to enable NGOs to participate in the economic and social development activities of the organization,” according to the U.N. ECOSOC Web site. The sorority and its members can now access ECOSOC’s provisional agenda, make oral presentations at ECOSOC meetings, submit written statements for circulation by the U.N. Secretary-General and attend international conferences relevant to its expertise.


Alice M. Dear, the former Ambassador/U.S. Executive Director to the African Development Bank during the Clinton Administration, was recently appointed by AKA President Barbara A. McKinzie to be the AKA’s NGO representative to the U.N.


“One of the most obvious areas of interest for the sorority is working with the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global policymaking body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” Dear wrote Diverse in an e-mail. “Another critical area is working to help achieve by 2015 the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an eight-point road map with measurable targets for improving the lives of the world’s poorest people.”


AKA’s international activities has a long history. It was the first sorority to obtain observer status at the U.N. ECOSOC in 1946 and it helped create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The sorority has also established several schools for poor children in South Africa.


One of the sorority members is Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has AKA support for her new “women’s market” program.  The program “helps to give them better access to conditions and a more secure place to sell their goods,” said Loann J. Honesty King, chair of the AKA International Program Committee. It also helps them deposit money in banks, as well as provide child care and literacy courses for the children and women, she said.


Undergraduate sorority members are invited to participate in AKA’s international programs through its Extraordinary Service Program of ESP: Economics, Sisterhood and Partnership. Every two years, top students are chosen to visit South Africa and learn first hand what they can do to continue the sorority’s work in southern Africa.


For organizations to gain the U.N. special consultative status, they must have operated as a government-sanctioned NGO or nonprofit for more than two years, according to the ECOSOC site.  Organizations can obtain general consultative status, special consultative status or roster status. AKA received special consultative status because of its special competence in women’s rights and fighting global poverty.


The sorority was just one of 36 organizations to receive the designation out of 142 applications considered this year. The application process, called “painstaking” by McDowell, took two years. There are more than 3,200 NGOs that have consultative status with ECOSOC, including well-known human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.


“This helps us to do more in terms of working with the U.N. to realize some of their human rights goals,” McDowell said.

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