Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 195 | Octubre 1997


Latin America

NGOs: Rethinking Strategy

There will come a day when the local become the protagonist of social movements. To make that day come quicker, the NGOs seeking alternatives throughout the world should stop to examine their strategies and begin to face up to the new challenges.

Peter Marchetti

In discussions about the impact of globalization, we spend too much time batting around questions of what to do and who to do it with, and don't put enough effort into the question of how to do it. The result is that we leave daily operational aspects in a sort of black box, which ends up being a black hole of economic, financial and ecological unsustainability.

We should shift our attention to methodology, looking at two questions: 1) how to carry out autonomous and self-sustaining local development and 2) how civil society can negotiate with multilateral agencies and the national government. Two questions with very tough answers.

Four challenges currently threatening our strategies must be addressed in order to start responding adequately to these questions:
*The challenges of the context imposed by globalization.

*The challenges of the context of Latin American civil society.

*The challenges of the context of international financial institutions.

*Institutional challenges within international cooperation.

To correctly analyze these challenges, we have to be realistic about two aspects. One is accepting the roles that the world context, the civil society context and the context of the international financial organizations play in opposition to our strategies, recognizing that the evolution of these three contexts is linked and acts against the implementation of alternative proposals.

The horizon offers little hope for those of us with Central American passports and for the half of the Latin American population that will never have any passport with which to emigrate to the North. The hope lies in the void that exists today and that only civil society can fill. History is pushing us to respond, but realistically, knowing that we're swimming against the current, so when we decide to implement an alternative local development model and negotiate it with municipal and governmental entities, we must take all security measures to avoid drowning in the rough waters of the neoliberal tidal wave.

Another realism is accepting that the Latin American people are tired of hearing critical speeches about their poverty, and tired of watching international NGO projects fail. They want to see concrete proposals carried out that really do reduce their poverty. We're morally obliged to reduce poverty because it really is possible to do. And it's possible because there are budding new local experiences that have positive effects and whose methodology could be disseminated with the decided support of international cooperation.

First Challenge: Globalization Itself

The first challenge we face is the conservative revolution sweeping the planet today, with world transformations in information, management and ideology, and above all, in managing speculative finance.

The dominant paradigm has provoked an elitist, top-down globalization that concentrates and centralizes wealth, technology and military and political power to a degree never before seen in human history. At the same time it has provoked an increase in poverty and unemployment, the exclusion of great masses of the population converted into a superfluous population, and a greater fragmentation and polarization of societies, in both the society of two thirds in the North and the society of one third in the South.
The current levels of income concentration are also unprecedented. Today's global society can be drawn in the shape of a champagne goblet: the poorest 20% of the world's population is in its narrow stem and possesses only 1% of world income, while the richest 20% are in the broad bowl, controlling 83% of income. The personal wealth of only 383 individuals is equal to the income of 45% of the world's population.

In addition, official spending on weapons and public security (the armed forces and police) has not diminished and is equivalent to the income of the poorest 49% of the world's population, while drug trafficking generates $750 billion annually, equal to the income of 44% of humanity.

The concentration of technical-scientific knowledge is even more unbalanced. It is four times more concentrated than income.

Also characteristic of this moment is the new poverty emerging in the North, where the phenomenon of economic growth without employment generation has been consolidated. The countries of Southeast Asia are the only exception to this trend.

The way things are going, the speculation in and volatility of the currency market structurally cancel out any possibility of sustainable social development, not only in the South but also in the North. The globalization process in Central and Latin America is forcing rapid impoverishment on broad sectors of the population that until recently were not identified as poor.

In this context, the first challenge this globalization process presents us with is the poverty and the asymmetric distribution of economic, technological and political power that it generates. This severely conditions our proposals, because poverty deactivates the possibilities of sustainable local organization. The formation of human capital and the discovery of alternative structural adjustment programs are crucial because they will determine the success or failure of our social, gender and environmental development programs.

With the Poor or With the Impoverished?

Globalization forces us to rethink the target groups with which we work. How many of the projects that were financed for the poorest target groups ten years ago are still functioning given the avalanche of globalization? How many of those poor "learned how to fish" for themselves without depending on the injection of new external resources?
Is the generic definition of "preparing the poor to strengthen their self-organization capacity" synonymous with the definition of target group? Or does last decade's emphasis on self-organization and the creation of networks of successful local experiences represent a redefinition of target groups because of the impact of globalization?
In other words, is there a contradiction between self-sustaining organization and the definition of the target group as the "poorest of the poor"? If we recognize that contradiction, won't it be necessary to abandon the "povertyism" that reigns in the thinking and discourses of nongovernmental organizations, to broaden our definition of target group and include as beneficiaries of local cooperation the recently impoverished with idle economic ability?
Isn't it true that the newly impoverished sectors, together with the poorest who have become a superfluous population, are all victims of the same globalization process that concentrates almost everything in the hands of a few? Can we consider the interests of the always poor antagonistic to those who were not poor as recently as yesterday? Shouldn't the interests of both be the basis of the only alliance with which the South can today question the current globalization tendency?
Nitlapán, the research institute of the Central American University in Managua, currently has as its counterpart a target group composed of 80% of the poorest and 20% of the recently impoverished sectors. The autonomy and self-sustainability of our counterparts largely depends on the steps we have been taking to overcome "povertyism," because the recently impoverished sectors that we have brought together contribute significantly to the autonomy of local development and support the poorest.

Facing the Globalization Managers

The second challenge in the globalization context in which we live is the management of globalization by the institutions born in Bretton Woods in 1948: the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which protect international financial speculation at the same time that they impose a partial adjustment on poor countries. More exactly, instead of controlling international financial speculation—as they should do in fulfillment of the mission for which they were created—they facilitate that speculation through the formula they have found to adjust all the economies of the Third World to the international market. Or, even more specifically, it is with their formula that they adjust our economies to international financial speculation.

The speed, depth and character of the transformations that the world has witnessed in the last two decades imply a change of epoch dominated by a global conservative revolution. The revolution is trying to make the homogenous globalization of the international market inevitable, based on privatization and the opening and deregulation-liberalization of all economies under the tutelage of these international financial institutions.

No one, besides those who direct these institutions, would disagree with the assertion of the Danish NGO, IBIS-Central America: "Despite growth or recovery in countries like El Salvador and Costa Rica, Chile and Colombia, as well as Peru in the first five years of the 1990s, the adjustment policy has not solved the problems of poverty inherited from the previous decades. Rather, it has deepened those problems, which were created in the past decade by the same partial adjustment. Both in the Andean region and in Central America there has been an increase in the levels of social breakdown."
Even leaders of the most anti-neoliberal NGOs, however, recognize that certain elements of the imposed adjustment have managed to eliminate subsidies to oligopolist businesses and to political clientele of the "state control model."

How Do We Fight Their Partial Adjustment?

We have to analyze this partial adjustment that the international financial institutions have imposed on us, and come up with a strategy to negotiate an alternative adjustment with them.

The diverse sectors of civil society must take a clear stand with respect to the imposed adjustment if they are to confront the dominant paradigm. Despite their rhetoric, the majority of supposedly progressive political parties are very ambiguous about the adjustment. And for their part, the networks of NGOs, unions and local associations cannot afford the luxury of calling the adjustment "totally disastrous" without presenting an alternative adjustment proposal.

The greatest criticism to be made of the current adjustment is that it is partial and not transparent. It is partial in that it has only touched commercial market transactions without adjusting internal market structures. In fact, it has not actually been a structural adjustment, but only a trade and monetary adjustment that benefits the interests of the Group of Seven countries and those of an infinitesimal minority of Latin American entrepreneurs and merchants.

The adjustment has deepened the segmentation of our markets and accentuated the oligopolies, converting the old oligarchies into "modernizing sectors." The construction of true markets and the search for equilibrium in local markets is urgently needed in the poorest Latin American countries. The partial adjustment refuses to recognize this urgency.

What is our strategy to question the IMF and the World Bank? At least two strategies exist today. One is to frontally criticize the structural adjustment objectives and propose as an alternative a rewrite of some of the formulas from the state control model, dolling them up with speeches about civil society. This strategy assumes that the adjustment's economic elements are intrinsically perverse and that the structural reform programs are underway, overestimating the ability of the IMF and the World Bank to implement its program. The strategy also overestimates civil society's ability to win in a direct confrontation with the IMF and their World Bank and with the governments dominated by them.

The other strategy also criticizes the IMF and the World Bank, but in their own terms of references, seeking to enmesh the oppressors in their own protocols and mechanisms, proposing alternatives within the same monetarist and commercial equations to thus make possible the truly necessary structural reforms in our countries. This strategy assumes that the most offensive aspects of the adjustment are its political elements and that imposing the same recipe on each country without a national social contract in that country will never meet the goals proposed in the structural adjustment. This strategy requires close collaboration between national research NGOs and union networks, and advocacy work with the local associations and NGOs that are developing autonomous and self-sustainable initiatives and mobilizing the class interests of women, children, the indigenous and other sectors that suffer the greatest violations of their human rights.

Facing the Global Culture

The third challenge presented by globalization is to identify its Achilles' heel. And that heel is its cultural weakness and the game of mirrors it plays to cover up and protect that weakness.

The current conservative revolution is not only an economic one. It is, above all, an attempt to globalize a homogenized consumer culture and justify social differentiation. Domination of the media and image control is more important in this revolution than domination of the information, technological and capital resources that permit activity in the financial speculation sphere today. In other words, it is more important that this sphere not be questioned closely.

The centralization and concentration of economic power that globalization has brought is accompanied by a disintegration or fragmentation of the structures of nations and their civil societies. This disintegration is a crisis of culture, a crisis of civilization that the media obscures with its daily opium ration, served to us not only through diversion and great spectacles, but also by managing the news as a great spectacle itself, thus generating paralysis, impotence and passivity. Its daily slogan is "inform to conform, not to question."
But the tendency towards cultural disintegration is not the only tendency. There is also one towards globalization from below, which is emerging with an alternative culture that represents the guiding force of the new proposals. This tendency is seeking to project alternative solutions based on local experiences toward a national and international horizon.

A new consensus has already been born out of both the failed experiences of sustainable development and its successful elements. This consensus does not try to resuscitate or rewrite the past. It is still embryonic precisely because of the absence of global or national strategies. There is now a consensus in the perspective of the best NGOs dedicated to local development and research and in the most mature elements of civil society about the role that civil society and social forces should play in relation to political entities.

It is a consensus about how to use the market, reforming it but not demonizing it. A consensus about sustainable development, about the gender issue, about ethnic movements and those that defend nature. A consensus about the crucial micro-macro and local-national links. It is a consensus that does not seek to divorce the development debate from the adjustment debate of the IMF and World Bank. A consensus characterized by a new and healthy pragmatism. Still missing, however, are the mechanisms to implement and unify the new vision encompassing this new consensus.

Second Challenge: Civil Society

One reality we have to accept is found not in the international context, but in our national contexts. It is the current weakness of the traditional entities of civil society (unions, small and medium industry organizations, organizations of peasants and small agricultural producers, neighborhood associations).

Despite this weak point, it must be emphasized that these entities still have more influence in our countries than do the NGO networks and the new social actors of local development born in the last 15 years. It is also important to note the evolution of these traditional entities as they confront the causes of their weakness.

The weakness of the traditional social actors has run parallel to the weakness of the national state, caused by the harmful effects of adjustment and the growth of corruption in the new governments of "strong and efficacious men" who advocate "liberal" state capitalism, but would be better termed conservative or reactionary.

In addition to their evident weakness, these traditional entities of Latin American civil society also have three more relevant characteristics:
*They bring with them a non-democratic legacy that tempts their leaders to act as power brokers at the national level, without offering adequate spaces for participation at the base.

*They are on the defensive because they lack alternative proposals about "how" to resolve the problems rather than just point them out and criticize them.

*They are divided in the face of the attack by neoliberal adjustment because of their inability to link the specific issues of their sector to national issues. The isolation of these entities from each other is the source of the separation of all of them from the people.

Facing the New Social Processes

At the same time, however, there are new processes in Latin American civil society. New social processes and new actors have emerged out of both the confrontation with the conservative revolution and the weaknesses of the traditional social movement.

The first such social process, which sometimes receives too much attention and frequently appears overblown, is the apathy and individualism that reigns among the poor and their uncritical acceptance of First World values and cultural patterns, breaking the traditional collective and communal links as if they were denying the possibility of social change.

But despite this process, the replacement of the dictatorships and of their exceedingly conservative cultural patterns with new restricted democracies is making way for the appearance of a new scheme of anarchistic values among the majorities, destined to thrust their voice and their will onto the political stage.

A second social process is perhaps more massive. It is generated by proto-movements of the excluded, since social exclusion always produces a contradiction. Excluded people are now finding their dignity and identity in subordinate spaces. And the creation of such subordinate spaces of identity and dignity is expressed in many ways, some of them ambiguous and contradictory. Gang violence is among the most visible way at the urban level, while rural violence continues in the countryside.

A third social process is bursting onto the traditional sociopolitical stage of the hidden politics of the excluded. Though the most recent example of this is the Zapatista indigenous movement in Chiapas, multiple examples of socio-political violence and other collective action throughout Latin America have not yet impressed themselves upon the national and international scene as in Chiapas. But they are there, hidden, and no one can predict how they will increase and what politicized paths they will follow.
A fourth social process is linked to human rights, gender and environmental groups, which were also born of the clandestine politics of the excluded and are now out in the open. In these social movements, the demands are expressed to the state not in a violent manner, but through the creation of an intermediary institutional platform of NGO networks. Representation in these movements is not through political parties or economic entities such as unions and producer organizations.

This is a "third sector," different from the state and from the market, and it has been an indispensable factor in democratization and in relieving the tragic social effects of adjustment. This sector's great problem is its relative inability to link up more directly with local development movements and other economic entities that are fighting to keep their space in the globalized and neoliberal market.

A fifth social process is the renovation of local associations and traditional unions in terms of their organizational abilities and their links with NGO networks that do advocacy work at the national and international level. The most important aspect of this renewal is the birth of local associations of grassroots producers and service agents that operate in the market and are consolidating their skills and their quotas of power for later negotiation with the state.

These associations have been born of the best expression of the NGOs: catalyzing or generating autonomous or self-sustaining movements. The greatest achievement of any NGO is the ability to renew society and then be replaced by movements from that renewed society.

As this fifth process expands, the NGOs will be able to abandon social compensation activities and all forms of subsidies incompatible with local sustainable development. Of all the processes, this is the one that is key to creating national networks capable of negotiating with the state and giving a firm base to NGO networks and new social actors at the continental level.

What Role Should The NGOs Play?

What is and what should be the role of NGOs and grassroots organizations, whether they be civil society organizations, para-state ones or those linked to political society? There is a lack of definition right now among the national NGOs and grassroots organizations financed by nongovernmental agencies from the North. It appears that legal definitions are not enough and do not work.

Certain NGOs resemble grassroots organizations more than the organizations themselves. And certain grassroots organizations, unions and guilds are more like NGOs than the NGOs themselves. And many times, both the NGOs and the grassroots organizations have economic characteristics that correspond to public entities. This is not because, in this neoliberal era, the NGOs and other organizations are filling the gap in public services that the state does not fill and should. It is because NGOs and others live off the transfer of taxes from Northern contributors or of those paid to Latin American national or municipal governments.

What should the most important criterion be: the civil society title or the nongovernmental title? Neutrality before any party policy defined in legal terms or the economic and administrative survival of the NGO and the services it offers through contributions by its own members and voluntary citizen contributions?
The same questions should be asked of the local associations that are NGO counterparts. How many of their operating costs are covered by their own members? In local development projects, are the members paying the real cost of the money?
In 1995, Nitlapán's local counterparts covered 100% of their operating costs and 100% of the cost of the money with cash from the members' pockets. Nitlapán covered 12% of its own budget with income from services compatible with its mission and 10% with support from the poor who were beneficiaries of its programs. This is the fruit of a choice not to ask financing agencies to cover administrative costs but to ask local counterparts to pay interest to cover the costs of administering international donations or loans with concessionary rates.

How do international NGOs cover operating costs: with contributions from their base or a budget line from their government? Without sacrificing the subsidies necessary for human training and formation, which are urgent for building local institutions, and also without sacrificing the ideal of reversing the South-North capital flow, do we need a new insertion in the labor market for international, national and local NGOs that would accentuate their civil society characteristics?

Third Challenge: International Agencies

All international financiers, from the IMF to the last of the NGOs, are experiencing a crisis. The best definition of crisis is to identify it as the moment when "the old that has to die has not yet died, and the new that must be born has not yet been born."
The incorporation of social compensation policies promoted by the World Bank and the reissuing of traditional bureaucracy styles contrived by the welfare state are clear signs of the moribund state of neoliberalism. But the neoliberal model is not yet dead because the new paradigm, with all its implementation mechanisms, has not yet been born.

Though not yet dead, the neoliberal model has entered an important deterioration phase, and has already been pronounced terminal at the academic and technical levels. World Bank and IMF technicians themselves have accepted the biting critique that the Japanese have made of their model. The World Bank also accepted severe criticisms of it in a recent seminar in Brazil of representatives from Latin American civil society. These representatives insisted that investment in human capital was a better economic growth indicator than the monetary stability that the World Bank demands of and imposes on Third World countries.

As one of the most important World Bank representatives stated in the preparation for the 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit, even Bank directors have lost confidence in the neoliberal model because of its reductionist vision. In internal seminars with bishops of the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) and economic and social scientists from the Society of Jesus, respective IMF and IDB heads Michel Camdessus and Enrique Iglesias expressed doubts about the model they promote. What they will still not concede is their "right" to define the reformulation of the model from on high and without civil society's participation.

How to Truly Eradicate Poverty?

A key question we should be asking is this: should we promote social compensation or the ability to organize and to represent the organization's interests at the micro-regional and national levels?
The current levels of concentration of wealth, not only in the Group of Seven countries but also in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Chile or Colombia, indicate to us that there is an enormous reserve of resources to eradicate poverty and initiate development in our countries. Though the solution is not a mathematical redistribution of these resources, such redistribution would free up funds to begin to solve the poverty problem. A good example: with just a 2% direct income tax on the richest fifth of Latin Americans, the entire continent's population could immediately climb over the poverty threshold through social compensation programs.

But income redistribution and social compensation programs are not enough. What is missing is a redistribution of power and respect for the political participation potential of the popular majorities. Only the mobilization of that human and cultural capital, with dynamics of endogenous development, can replace poverty and turn those who are poor today into producers who support their countries' gross domestic product instead of demanding social compensation.

Economic issues cannot be divorced from the social sphere. The accords that come out of economic summits condition the accords of summits that are not specifically economic. The ministers who go to the Río Group meeting should be allies of the NGOs, because both they and we are subordinated to the IMF and World Bank supra-governments, which do not report to anybody.

Many NGOs at the Copenhagen Social Summit fell into the trap of these supra-governments, which try to reduce the role of NGOs to a discussion of social programs and implementation of social compensation programs for the poor. The new popular subjects that are capable of reactivating our economies through authentic development with more jobs demand that the summit commitments be made compatible with the economic programs imposed by the IMF, the World Bank and the IDB.

Continue with Social Compensation?

What rhythm do the structural adjustment programs impose on NGO cooperation? Is there a clear definition by which to analyze how much our NGO projects support the current partial adjustment through programs of mere social compensation? Or are we choosing projects aimed at building civil society at the local level with power perspectives that question the dominant paradigm? What is the distribution of resources among the two types of projects?
Do the NGOs still believe that generating temporary employment in economically and financially unsustainable projects can be the basis for civil society networks capable of negotiating their interests with municipal and national governments?
Only the generation of full employment within a sustainable project can catalyze local savings and autonomous institutions and only that base can increase the direct influence of the poor and impoverished in improving their own living conditions. From this perspective, are there criteria within the NGOs to judge projects in terms of employment generation and an increase in local savings levels? How long will the NGOs allow the World Bank to continue expropriating our agenda to overcome poverty?

How to Finance Autonomous Thinking?

There is little or no financing for projects that make the macro-micro and national-local link, just as there are institutional and operative difficulties for these types of projects. The Nordic NGOs are the exception among most NGOs because they do not follow the AID and World Bank line, which is that the attack on poverty requires financing only primary and technical education, because university education and research into macroeconomic and sectoral policies has been inefficient and has turned into a sort of support for the well-off middle class, with clear consequences in terms of concentrating wealth and increasing poverty. Washington touts the idea that Latins and Africans can study at universities in the Group of Seven countries. The view in Washington is that research, technological development and autonomous thinking are a luxury for countries of the South in these high-efficiency times of globalization.

A strategic proposal requires a different line of action. It requires financing the generation of autonomous thinking in those forums that permit the systematization of local, national and international experiences. And it requires financing research into alternative policies. This proposal is beginning to programmatically lead to a new North-South relationship in terms of the democratization of knowledge.

What criteria should an NGO take into account to guarantee the link between national and municipal reflection and the experiences of local self-sustainability? How to design methods that feed the supra-local forums from the local sphere, and also feed the methodological references of local experiences? Are the NGOs aware that such a strategy requires reorienting their financing plan towards applied research, in terms of both development programs and alternative policies?
These are not easy questions to answer. And, despite their validity, a correct response does not guarantee the success of the strategy. The dangers of failure are considerable. It is an enormous challenge.

Fourth Challenge: International Cooperation

The challenge put to us by international cooperation itself is to draw up a strategy that means walking on two legs to strengthen an alternative development model. These two legs are:
*The reconstruction of civil society into self-organized grassroots sectors around local economic development.

*Development of this civil society's ability to negotiate with municipal and national governments and eventually broaden that negotiating ability to include the IMF and World Bank supra-governments.

Various problems must be solved in order to develop these two legs and learn how to use them. One such problem is the different rhythms required to confront the dilemmas presented in local-national work, which demands patience and a medium-term perspective.

Facing the Different Rhythms

For civil society to begin negotiating with public actors, it is important that it be represented by social forces that deserve respect. Before talking about terms of reference and negotiating conditions, it is necessary to build effective negotiating strength. No state, progressive political party or NGO network can do from and for the people what the organized people cannot negotiate with the current neoliberal state from their own resources, spaces and identities.

Social negotiation and effective participation take place from resource self-management, from controlling a quota of power, from a minimum of local economic development and from a minimum of humanity and the rights conquered for that humanity. The dominating definition of development among Latin American and Asian economists right now is culture: ones own culture and resources are the take-off points points for development.

The negotiation process must respect the rhythms needed for the creation of alternatives to the current situation. Any national alternative emerges from the slow accumulation of local power and from experiences solving specific problems. The rhythm of this local accumulation of power, abilities and human capital training is different from the rhythms of municipal, national and regional negotiation. Communication between different sectors, entities and unions and among regions also has a slow rhythm. The great enemy of effective negotiation is a premature negotiation that breaks the unity of the different sectors of civil society and isolates them from each other. It is necessary to coordinate the rhythms of negotiating with the government with the rhythms of creating our proposal. We must walk on two legs, but putting the stress on our own process of building identity by stressing communication and the accumulation of negotiating capacity from below.

Impatient or Respectful?

Which leg has the priority in the current NGO strategies? Will we be victims of impatience in the desire to formulate an alternative development model instead of waiting for local counterparts to launch their own proposal? Will we succumb to the temptation and the desire to coordinate the social movements with still immature local roots rather than concentrate on facilitating the spaces that have to do with local self-organization?
In implementing the NGO strategies, will there be full recognition that the local terrain (community, neighborhood) is the natural space for grassroots ideology and policy, but that the municipal and national terrain is the natural space for non-poor ideology and policy? Will the NGOs maintain a strategy that combines the patience to put up with the boring details and never-ending technical elements required by local development and of great interest to the poor on the one hand, with the task of systematizing their counterparts' methodologies—which, by definition, are not local—on the other, thus preparing for the transcendental moment in which the local sphere will finally become the protagonist of the social movement?
Can the NGOs walk on two legs, one going towards supra-local negotiation and the other towards promoting authentic development and local self-organization?

Facing the National Space Of Struggle

There are also many dilemmas that need to be elucidated within the South-South and North-South networks. It is urgent that we concentrate on national experiences with the specific aim of negotiating an alternative adjustment.

To avoid falling into the error of financing more international reflection seminars that do not result in programs to promote new social movements in Latin American civil society, it is crucial that the NGOs reflect on the fact that the strategy of the multilateral financial organizations is a single universal recipe imposed on each nation. The space for confrontation is national. Without training people for this confrontation at the national level, there will be no accumulation of social forces in civil society. However, national experiences cannot move forward independent of the experiences of their counterparts in other countries of the same region. Central America is an obvious example.

Solidifying the alternative also requires important investments in highly qualified international technical assistance, and even requires practical experience in the very belly of the IMF and the World Bank.

Facing Two Different Logics

Providing skills in local self-organization and negotiating alternatives at the national level have two different logics. While at the local level one only has to concentrate on a limited number of issues, at the national level the limitation in the search for a strategy search is not the number of issues but the country's conditions.

At the local level, specialization of initiatives is crucial. Self-organization requires choosing to form local counterparts in financial services and capitalizing sectors that have been traditionally excluded, whether by the globalization of trade or by productive conversion. The training costs applied to building up local institutions are substantial and require constant emphasis on methodological professionalization.

At the national level, analysis and sectoral and sub-sectoral research growing out of the experiences of producers, social service agents and NGOs representing women's and environmental issues is needed. Only this type of research can truly be on intimate terms with civil society, but debating with the globalization managers from the South requires an alternative macroeconomic proposal that covers a great many issues.

Facing a Complex Economic Agenda

In our experience in Central America, the minimum list of economic issues that should be addressed in an alternative macroeconomic program includes:
**Food security and new schemes of intra-regional trade. The European Union is currently cutting its food aid programs in our country with the accurate statement that the Southern countries have the same rights to food security as the North.

**Finances. There is financial capital in Central America. The problem is the protectionist interests of commercial banks and, above all, the interest rates imposed by the partial adjustment, which prohibits the penetration of financial capital into agricultural and industrial production.

**Renegotiation of the international debt. This issue tightens the links between international, national and local NGOs. Trading debt for solvent local development opens the door to integrating proposals. Debt renegotiation is also the most effective way to achieve multiplier effects in the flow of resources from the North toward the poor and impoverished sectors of the South.

**The trade bloc integration schemes. This reality demands a critical analysis of the issue of trade openings and of income distribution, both to provide feedback to the social forces and to negotiate with the IMF and the World Bank. This could be the central issue if one wants to do training in advocacy skills and confront the concentration of wealth that globalization will continue producing in the future.

**The opening to foreign and national investment. This is one of the most complex issues, but also one of the most fruitful for concrete and viable proposals in the face of globalization.

In addition to including all these issues, there is a need for a model of semi-accountable macroeconomic scenarios, designed to be compatible with proposals from distinct sectors of civil society. In other words, instead of recipes that end up being very useful for the globalization managers and the winners in this process, we need a new type of economy that is strong enough to negotiate effectively within a totally new social and economic scenario.

What Research to Finance?

The consensus among international financial institutions in Washington about the inefficiency of financing university education and specialized research in countries of the South should not be accepted. The Nordic countries and NGOs are among the few that have understood that without autonomous thinking and an effort to counteract the concentration of knowledge in the North, Latin American civil society will get even weaker. However, the only type of research that should be financed is that which:
*Has supra-national links with the ability to face globalization.

*Has specific links to emerging civil society networks that are attempting to propose viable alternatives to the partial adjustment.

*Has proposals to stop the squandering of national technical assistance and puts a priority on relocating the public resources that exist in countries of the South in trusteeships or "human development funds" compatible with local self-organization experiences under the majority control of civil society networks.

*Has as its aim to make proposals, that is applied research precisely because it proposes new institutional and programmatic mechanisms.

In What Countries Should We Work?

What criteria should NGOs use to select countries and counterparts? International leadership is the most characteristic trait of life in the countries of the South. However, there are notable differences between each of our countries.

Will the strategy proposed by an NGO have more impact in countries with a high level of international leadership and a weak civil society or in countries with a more developed civil society and relatively more independence from foreign management by the international financial institutions? Where will there be more success in countries where the municipalities are more developed or in those with lower levels of development?

Wishy-washy or Transparent?

The analysis of adjustment must be applied to how international NGO cooperation has evolved, to see if there is also an adjustment in the institutional mechanisms of the NGOs and their counterparts.

The partial adjustment imposed by the Group of Seven countries and their managers, the IMF and the World Bank, is characterized by liberalizing contracts without reforming or transforming our economies' institutional mechanisms. Based on this, we should ask ourselves what transformations have occurred in our institutional mechanisms over the last decade of globalization and adjustment.

The institutional mechanisms of the nongovernmental international agencies and their counterparts have been transformed very little. Instead of responding to globalization with creative institutional reforms, they have also imposed a contractual adjustment on us.

Perhaps the best way of establishing the distinction between liberal and institutional reforms is with an example. Between 1990 and 1993, the institutional relationship between Nitlapán and its local counterparts was the following:
*Rhetoric of self-organization, autonomy and local development.

*A lack of mutual demands due to the absence of clear rules for criticism and correction processes. Being so wishy-washy opened the way for mutual manipulation in which we tried to induce changes in local associations and they in us.

*No correspondence between the follow-up and control systems for our counterparts and the follow-up and control systems with which we informed international nongovernmental agencies.

*Mediation of financial resources and administrative, organizational, pedagogical and economic resources according to the delivery of external resources.

*A constant message to our beneficiaries about the limited resources we had to distribute among all of them.

The result of all of this was that the projects had little social, economic and financial sustainability and low levels of collaboration in local development. These things changed between 1993 and 1995, when Nitlapán's relationship with its counterparts became the following:
*Dissemination of collaboration and co-management principles to achieve autonomy of the two parties and a search for self-management by predefined stages.

*Clearly established rules and firmness in applying them.

*A constant message that lots of money is in an account for our counterparts, for which they only have to fulfill minimum conditions of local self-organization.

The result of all of this has been a spontaneous expansion of operations by our counterparts, breaking with the previous weakness characterized by subsidized local development poles that were isolated and not in communication with similar experiences in other areas of the country.

In synthesis, the difference is between being wishy-washy and saying we have limited resources, and saying that there are plenty of resources but with conditions on them, then transparently and firmly managing those resources.

The Search for the Lost Link

How do we keep counterparts from becoming more sacred than the program criteria? Globalization is eliminating candidates that could be true international NGO counterparts as fast as it is concentrating income. However, our experience shows that to achieve local development, the commitment must be to the territory and not to the counterparts.

The most autonomous and self-sustaining process is one that filters and rotates leaders. Perhaps the greatest evaluation criterion of international nongovernmental agencies should be the average time worked in a local territory contrasted with the average number of changes of counterparts in that same territory.

There are new methodological references in the institutional mechanisms of promoting local autonomy and sustainability in Latin America today. This methodology includes gradualness, progressive specialization and professionalization, types of co-management, processes of transparency, mechanisms of exchange and communication and their relationship to coordinated efforts, etc. This new methodology in the styles of applied formation is superior to some of the worn-out popular education methods.

What is missing is a systematization of the experience of institutional reform stages in local development and of the first experiments to discover the lost link between micro and macro, between local and national.

Linked to the Municipalities?

There is an implicit debate in all the questions that have been formulated thus far. It is the debate around how to increase social movement within today's top-down, asymmetric and concentrating globalization.

It is in vogue today to see the solution, the "golden thread," in linking local development to the decentralization and municipalization processes in Latin American states. Is this idea a free option of the international and national NGO communities, or is it imposed by the globalization process and the cut-off of resources from the North to the South?
Without doubt, administrative decentralization in various Latin American states is a positive process. But we should be realistic and critical before proclaiming it as the most promising way to multiply the effects of our development programs. The current decentralization is only a reaction to adjustment, a partial way to get around the IMF evaluation criteria, which require more central government income and less spending. Isn't the current administrative decentralization a disguised social compensation program and a rewrite of the state control development model, now displaced to the local territories?
We should not close off links to municipalities, but we should recognize that for many national NGOs—usually the biggest—it has been the way to repair their own budget deficits caused by a cut-off of aid from the North. We should also recognize that this link to municipalities has increased NGO dependence on public entities, creating a market insertion that we can only call "para-statist."
There are many sides in this debate. The typical planning processes of administrative decentralization can be analyzed. Since planning tends to be by objectives, by identifying bottlenecks, etc., we can say of these processes that "you reap exactly what you sow." But there is another planning style that is more decentralized, where "you reap what you have not sown." This planning principle clearly places responsibility in the hands of local counterparts and puts a priority on the spontaneous and self-organized expansion of local actors. This planning process is moved by the logic of progressive results and is more democratic than the other.

Walking on Two Legs

In conclusion, the most important point to stress is that only the centrifugal growth method of local development poles will attain enough social force to halt the avalanche of globalization in our territories and enough negotiating capacity to establish a serious and propositional dialogue with the globalization managers.

There are two ways to increase the target group's influence in the development process beyond the locality. They are the same two legs as the strategy for Latin American civil society. These are difficult times of adjustment and we must walk with both legs. If not, we will fall.

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