Open letter to colleagues and partners in welfare and development endeavors

Today starts the celebration of the 14th NGO PO Week in Iloilo. Spearheaded by the Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs (ICON), the annual celebration is done in partnership with the provincial and city government to give due recognition to the role of Non-government organizations (NGOs) and People’s Organizations (POs), and other civil society organizations in nation building. It has been institutionalized by Provincial Ordinance No. 2000-042 and City Regulation Ordinance 2001-190.

ICON  2013

This year’s theme is “Reclaim our Noble Heritage: Sustain the Power of Networking.” It was supposedly intended to respond to the multi-billion pork barrel scam that has besmirched the noble aim and name of NGOs. In fact, the planned highlight of the celebration is the big gathering of NGOs and POs in the city and province of Iloilo to tackle the current national crisis brought about by the pork barrel scam. As well, as the subsequent backlash even to genuine organizations that have been consistently serving the marginalized sectors of the society. At the planning stage, we felt the need to strengthen our ranks through linkages and networking to safeguard the organizations from fly-by-night ones. We consider the crisis an opportunity to bring into the public consciousness the noble heritage and role of NGOs in nation building.

In fact, in a statement published after the finalization of the plan last November 2, ICON has deplored the use of fake NGOs in a conspiracy to steal taxpayer’s money which besmirched the noble aim and name of non-government organizations . The Coalition has observed two angles in the current controversy- the systemic graft and corruption practices and the role of the NGOs.

We considered the act a double injury. The large -scale misuse of the people’s money is outrageous. Siphoning money out of government coffers thru fake NGOs adds insult to injury. For it besmirch the good image established by the genuine NGOs for decades. Worse, it provides justification to some government officials and local chief executives who do not feel comfortable with the watchful eyes of NGOs and their seeming intervention as provided for by the local government code in the Philippines. For indeed, one way of averting the systemic robbery in our government is to involve genuine NGOs in monitoring projects.

ICON member, MASIPAG- Visayas, handles the relief operation of the Philippine-Misereor Partnership, Inc.-Panay Cluster to famers in San Dionisio, iloilo

We have simplified the celebration, though, due to pressing needs of the time which have also made our officers and member organizations busy in respective relief operation and rehabilitation plans. The following are the activities we decided to retain out of the previous plan:

December 2, 2:00 pm  Opening of Photo Exhibit, Robinsons Place,                                                       Iloilo City
December 3 – 8:30 am, Forum on Volunteerism, 4th floor                                                                          Henry Luce III Libraries Central Philippine University
December 6- 8:30 am NGO-PO Fellowship and Capability Building                                                       Seminar, 4th floor Henry Luce III Libraries, CPU
December 7- Advocacy- Dialogue with NSTP students in various                                                          universities  and colleges

The supposed highlight of the celebration on December 6 will be spent, instead, to discuss how we can maximize our participation  in the  on-going relief operation and  how we can sustain linkages and networking in helping in the rehabilitation or rebuilding process. In this way, our theme will still be relevant in responding to the crises in our country in various fronts or aspects. In the midst of crises, let us continue to celebrate this milestone of networking in Iloilo.

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NGOs: Real or reel?

Since the expose of the alleged multi-billion pork barrel scam  by the whistleblower Benhur Luy in July, Filipinos have been both enraged and entertained by the seemingly incredible development and extent of the conspiracy to steal taxpayer’s money. Worse, the alleged brain (although many won’t consider her as such but a mere pawn) Janet L. Napoles  seemed to besmirch the noble aim and name of  non-government organizations (NGOs) in cohorts with some legislators and other officials of the implementing government agencies.

The public outrage appears to build up as more revelations and denials are reported by the mainstream media and netizens. Hopefully, it will not die down until significant changes are undertaken by the government itself or by people’s initiatives nationwide.

Co -host Rev. Talha asks Boyet Areno and Ted Aldwin Ong (extreme right) regarding the stand of the Iloilo Caucus of Development NGOs (ICODE) on the pork barrel scam

In an attempt to do our share in responding to today’s challenge, the board of directors of our NGO- PO Network met some weeks ago to discuss the issue and unite on a particular stand. Being a loose coalition of various aggrupation  of non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs) with diverse programs, services, directions, leanings and  persuasions, our network seldom makes an organizational  stand, not until we reach a consensus. Yet, when it  does, the result has greater impact.

We have seen two angles in the current controversy- the systemic graft and corruption practices and the role of the NGOs. We considered the act a double injury. The large -scale misuse of the people’s money is outrageous. Siphoning money out of government coffers thru fake NGOs adds insult to injury. For it besmirch the good image established by the genuine NGOs for decades. Worse, it provides justification to some government officials and local  chief executives who do not feel comfortable with the watchful eyes of NGOs and their seeming intervention as provided for by the local government code in the  Philippines.

POSE FOR POSTERITY. Mr. Rene Masongsong (center), director of SOS Children’s Village, guested our CATV Show together with his staff. At extreme right are co hosts Stazy Vencer and Allen Aquino

It is in this second angle that the Iloilo Coalition of NGOs and POs (ICON) decided to focus, While some members continue to actively take part  in the local anti pork barrel movement representing their respective organizations, ICON has committed to inform the public about the existence and corresponding programs or services of genuine NGOs.

For the past months, I have discussed in my CATV show the history and development of NGOs and related issues and concerns. A segment featuring member NGOs of our network, as well as those of the Social Welfare and Development Learning Network (SWDL-Net) has been a regular part of the show. This way, we give the public the opportunity to ask questions to clear their doubts and reservations brought about by the pork barrel scandal.

We consider the crisis an opportunity to bring to the public consciousness the role of NGOs in nation building.  For indeed,  one way of averting  the systemic  robbery in our government is to involve genuine NGOs in  monitoring projects. As Alegre (1996) once contends:  NGOs have emerged as a new catalyzing, social organization and as a significant player in development. They are increasingly significant actors in global governance and in international development.

But what are NGOs? How can they contribute to development? What are their roles, strategies, strengths and vulnerabilities? All of these and more will be the subject of  the upcoming series of posts on NGOs.

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First published on PADAYON, this article signals  the series of posts on NGOs. Admittedly, the current pork barrel controversy in the Philippines  involving the Napoles  network of fake NGOs has besmirched the noble aim and name of  non-government organizations (NGOs). However, we consider the crisis an opportunity to bring to the public consciousness the role of NGOs in nation building.

Social Work Week celebration in Western Visayas

It will be another opportunity for Social Workers to take the center stage with the week-long celebration of the 9th Social Work Week in Western Visayas  on June 13-19, 2013. With the  theme  Resiliency and Advocacy: The Power of Social Work, the event will kick off with a motorcade on June 13 simultaneously in  various provinces/cities in Region VI. It will followed by opening program in respective venues. The theme has been adapted from the National Association of Social Workers.

On June 14 -16  Social Work students from five schools of Social Work in Panay and Negros will hold their 3-day Regional Social Work Camp. To be hosted by Central Philippine University, the other participating schools are, as follows: Capiz State University, Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, Iloilo Doctors College, University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos. Literary and musical contests and sports fest  will be held at Colegio del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus. Most of these social work schools are members of SWD L-Net.

Simultaneous with the Social Work Camp, the National Association for Social Work Education, Inc. (NASWEI)- Western Visayas will hold a Regional Conference  on June 15 at Central Philippine University. This will be participated in by faculty and field work supervisors of the aforementioned schools of Social Work.

On June 18-19,  the Philippine Association of Social Workers, Inc. (PASWI) -Iloilo Chapter will host the regional convention of social workers in Western Visayas at Sarabia Manor, Iloilo City. One of the  highlights is the launching of the Social Workers Organizations Regional Network (SWORN).

SWORN will keep the rich heritage and tradition alive by strengthening the social work organizations/ groups in Western Visayas. It will serve as coordinating body of all social work organizations affiliated with recognized national bodies, as well as other independent ones.

SWORN will also act as support system to the regular activities of various organizations, and advocacy network to support the cause of Ilonggo social workers when needed. The network will spearhead the celebration of Social Work Week in Region VI. Moreover, it will be responsible for research-documentation and publication of the history, heritage and future development of social work endeavors in Western Visayas.

The annual celebration has been institutionalized by respective ordinances/ resolutions of city and provincial councils in Western Visayas to recognize of the role of social workers in nation building.

It will be recalled that the passage of R. A. 4373 or Social Work Law on June 19, 1965 has regulated the practice of social work and the operation of social welfare agencies in the Philippines. Subsequently, it has created a new interest in social work and in the field of social welfare.

History and development of NGOs (Part II)

In the previous post  the NGOs were categorized according to their origin and home base. Those coming from industrialized countries are referred to as “northern or international” NGOs while those which originate in and operate within developing countries are labeled as “southern” NGOs.

Subsequently, the historical evolution of Northern NGOs was viewed according to the six schools formulated by Clark (1990). Starting from  relief and welfare activities, they shifted to development endeavors. It was because of  realization that relief work was palliative. It only dealt with symptoms, not root causes of the problem. Hence, they redirected their institutional work to community based projects.

After that  NGOs  followed the conventional model of helping poor communities to become more like Northern societies by importing northern ideas, technology and expertise, unmindful of their local counterpart and other indigenous structures. However, it did not take long when NGOs acknowledged and consequently criticized the weaknesses of the traditional development model. Seriously questioning their contribution to it, they started to shift to a new role, that of providing service to the popular grassroots organization and self –help movements.

Thereafter, two schools followed the first four, as formulated by Clark, namely:

Grassroots Development Organization

In the 1970s, another leap took place in the NGO community. Many NGOs realized the limitation of self-help endeavors especially when dominated by the vested interests of the political and economic elite. Development perspective has also changed during this time. It was viewed as a liberating process for the poor, both from their physical oppressors and from their own resignation to poverty.

Consequently, new approaches were tried, e.g., the Brazilian “conscientization approach” which traces its roots from Paolo Freire. A combination of political education, social organization, and grassroots development, this approach was designed not only to improve the living condition of the poor. It also traces the root causes of the problem and offer opportunities to fight out exploitation through mass organization. This new approach became prevalent among NGOs in the Third World during this time resulting to grassroots organizations characterized by militancy.

Advocacy group and networks

 The changing perspective on development, as well as the view regarding poverty being political in nature, gave birth to another phenomenon in the NGO community, i.e., and advocacy. NGOs began programs of development education, public campaigning, and parliamentary lobbying in pursuit of political changes. It was during this period when NGOs, particularly those who were dependent on government or conservative constituency for funding, faced a dilemma because the culprits that victimized the poor were most often Western based.

The NGOs who continued with advocacy  work for the poor suffered a declining support when they opened up to their supporters. Those who continued advocacy but made little effort to communicate the dilemma to their supporters, have lived with the contradiction ever since.

An important leap in advocacy work happened in the 1980s. Influenced by their staff, some of the Northern NGOs with overseas programs became expressive and active in their advocacy work. Likewise, Third World advocacy groups started to make waves. As a result, North-South networks of advocacy groups started to take shape and to gain authenticity, strength, and power that made them a force to reckon with.

The first network to make a name was the International Baby Foods Action Network. Set up in 1979 by seven NGOs, it grew to about 150 NGOs from all parts of the world and led the successful campaign for international governmental agreement on a code of marketing for baby foods.

The more progressive Northern NGOs with Third World program have supported the evolution of these networks, have often funded them, but have tended to take a backseat role. This is partly because, according the Clark (1990), of a residual concern about their public image and legal status, partly because they have a few staff strong on the skills needed for advocacy and networking and partly – in spite of the rhetoric- because of an organizational half heartedness.

History and Development of NGOs

Although voluntary organizations of various persuasions existed long before the twentieth century in the Western and the eastern hemispheres, their identification as NGOs have a more recent history. NGOs are categorized according to their origin and home base. Those coming from industrialized countries are referred to as “northern or international” NGOs while those which originate in and operate within developing countries are labeled as “southern” NGOs. 

According to Clark (1990), the early Southern NGOs typically arose out of independence struggles. He cited the case of the Gandhian movement in India, which had many offshoots that still flourish today. These offshoots include “handloom centers and other appropriate technology initiatives; schools concentrating on functional education; people’s courts that use non violent citizens’ pressure to achieve justice for the lowest castes; and campaigning organizations for land reform and other aspects of social justice.”

The historical evolution of Northern NGOs is better understood when viewed according to the six schools formulated by Clark (1990), as follows:

Relief and Welfare Agencies

The first Northern NGOs emerged after the First World War, with relief and rehabilitation as their focus. After World War II, this type of approach was strengthened primarily in war-ravaged Europe. Pioneers of this relief work include, among others, the Catholic Church-based CARITAS, Save the Children Fund, Catholic Relief Services, and Cooperative for American Relief Everywhere (CARE). Shifting their attention to the Third World, they broadened their services with welfare endeavors as an additional feature.

Technical Innovation Organizations

Clark (1990) pointed out another development took place during the 1950s and 1960s when northern NGOs flourished with a new focus or direction. From welfare activities, they shifted to development endeavors. NGOs realized that relief work was palliative. It only dealt with symptoms, not root causes of the problem. Hence, they redirected their institutional work to community based projects.

NGOs managed their own projects to pioneer new or improved approaches to problems, which tend to remain specialized in their chosen field. This approach has further opened the eyes of Northern NGOs to the full reality of poverty. In the first locations the symptoms of poverty are apparent, in the second, its root causes.

Public Service Contractors

NGOs at this period followed the conventional model of helping poor communities to become more like Northern societies by importing northern ideas, technology and expertise, unmindful of their local counterpart and other indigenous structures. NGOs set up their own projects, with their own staff to make poor communities a replica of northern societies. Funded mostly by northern governments, they worked closely with Southern governments and official aid agencies.

Popular Development Agencies

It did not take long when NGOs acknowledged and consequently criticized the weaknesses of the traditional development model. Seriously questioning their contribution to it, they started to shift to a new role, that of providing service to the popular grassroots organization and self –help movements.

Landim (1987), as cited in Clark (1990) believed that this work was characterized by its small scale, its local (or at least national) leadership and its support for economic and political independence of the poor. Such change of direction, coupled with the increased funding opportunities from northern voluntary sources, led to mushrooming of southern NGOs. Many of these grew rapidly to become “national-level institutions which served as intermediate organizations, channeling assistance from the Northern NGO to the grassroots level.”

According to Broadhead (1988) as cited in Clark (1990), a conglomeration of events further introduced changes in the NGOs’ direction. New political concepts emerging from the Third World intellectuals, such as theology of liberation, generally influenced NGO thinking during this period. Development theory once dominated by northern practitioners, was becoming an indigenous process led by the people themselves.

Such development has broken the homogeneity among NGOs. While some remained with their traditional activities, others progressed to new activities and analyses at different rates. Southern NGOs started to become assertive. Thus, the NGO community has become increasingly a shared ground, initially shared with southern NGOs created by their northern “partners.”

( To be continued)

Networking: A development strategy among non-government organizations (NGOs)

In the previous blog, we have defined what networks are and identified the benefits and strategic concerns addressed by establishing networks. We will now start our discussion on how networking has been used as a strategy for development among NGOs. The upcoming series of posts on this particular subject matter are taken from my thesis as requirement for Master of Social Work degree from University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2000. 

As a strategy, networking has been used by many sectors in pursuing development endeavors. Networks link local efforts for more effective lobbying and advocacy and provide venues for the exchange of experiences and resources between similar NGOs. A proper coordination of NGO activities, in networking, helps prevent unnecessary duplication or overlapping of development effort. NGOs are also protected from any form of threat because of their collective nature, while they police their own ranks through common code of conduct.

But what are the factors that contributed or compelled the NGOs to establish networks? Better still, what are NGOs? A phenomenal movement – the non-government organizations (NGOs) – came to aid world development and to establish outlooks and attitudes that laid the foundation for a modern development perspective. According to Alegre (1996) NGOs have emerged as a new catalyzing, social organization and as a significant player in development. They are increasingly significant actors in global governance and in international development.

In a broad sense, NGOs are simply agencies or groups which are different from government bodies. Quizon, as cited in Racellis (1998), defines NGOs: as private, voluntary organizations; social development agencies; or professional support; or cause oriented groups that are non-profit –oriented and legal, which are committed to the task of development and established primarily for socio-economic services, civic, religious, charitable and/or social welfare purposes.

This definition covers the heterogeneous nature of NGOs as used in this study.
NGOs emerged to respond to needs, which were not readily met by the government due to systemic limitations. With elite and/or traditional politicians at the helm of leadership, the government, most often, cannot initiate major reforms. This is a situation where NGOs take active role as catalysts for change.

Providing stimuli for the various sectors of society to organize them, NGOs equip the poor with the important skills, knowledge and resource necessary in their struggle towards a better life and a more humane society, according to Aldaba (1993).

Clark (1990) has vividly described the critical role NGOs have to play:
Because of their international structure and linkages they have the potential to construct global networks of citizens pressure. Because they command a unique vantage point they are ideally placed to study and describe how contemporary crises affect the poor. Because of their size and flexibility they are able to experiment with new approaches to the crises and so, through demonstration, serve as pioneers or catalysts for government action. Because of their access to the media they are well placed to reach out with their message. And because they do not stand to make personal profit the public trusts them at large.

The critical role of NGOs is both an asset and liability. Because they frequently pioneer new approaches and challenge development orthodoxy, NGOs are vulnerable to groups with vested interests. Consequently, the NGOs face the problem of either co-optation or reprisal from the government and other traditional power holders that want to maintain the status quo. Moreover, they have to deal with the proliferation of pseudo NGOs that undermine the sector’s credibility. A number of these pseudo NGOs set up not for any other purpose than to take advantage of funding sources for dubious or narrow purposes, according to Abad (1990).

Faced with such problems and threats to their credibility, NGOs have seen the need to establish linkages and networks among themselves and with other sectors of society. Melgrito (1994) has defined networking as coordination among people, groups or organizations of various interests and orientation, working together as in a chain so as to function in a specific manner. It takes place when organizations link up together and make concerted efforts for mutual advantage and greater effectiveness towards the achievement of a common goal.

Dynamics of Networking

Article first published  March 14, 2011 on Social Work and Development.

Networks are defined as units, institutions, agencies or organizations united for a free flow of information and resources between members without any established hierarchy or structure (Third World Studies Center, 1990).
Forming networks and umbrella organizations is advantageous to organizations for varied reasons.

Aldaba (1990) cites six benefits in this regard, namely: (1) Greater economic and political impact; (2) Access to and sharing of resources; (3) Sector Protection; (4) Effective relations with governments; (5) Establishing sector standard; and (6) Linkage with other sectors for social transformation.

Alegre (1996) cites the following strategic concerns addressed by establishing networks: (1) Sharing and exchange of resources, such as information, funds, technology, and expertise; (2) The coordination and complementation of programs and projects; (3) The formulation of common agenda or plans of action for purposes of advocacy, participation in governance, and resource mobilization; (4) Consciousness raising and development education, especially on the relations between developed and developing countries and between the NGO and PO communities in these countries.

John Clark in his book Democratizing Development: The Role of Voluntary Organizations, presents six schools for the historical evolution of Northern NGOs after the First World. He associates the emergence of networks with the development of advocacy group. It was during this period when NGOs, particularly those who were dependent on government or conservative constituency for funding, faced a dilemma because the culprits that victimized the poor were most often Western based.

The NGOs who continued with advocacy work for the poor suffered a declining support when they opened up to their supporters. Those who continued advocacy but made little effort to communicate the dilemma to their supporters, have lived with the contradiction ever since.

An important leap in advocacy work happened in the 1980s. Influenced by their staff, some of the Northern NGOs with overseas programs became expressive and active in their advocacy work. Likewise, Third World advocacy groups started to make waves. As a result, North-South networks of advocacy groups started to take shape and to gain authenticity, strength, and power that made them a force to reckon with.

The first network to make a name was the International Baby Foods Action Network. Set up in 1979 by seven NGOs, it grew to about 150 NGOs from all parts of the world and led the successful campaign for international governmental agreement on a code of marketing for baby foods.

The more progressive Northern NGOs with Third World program have supported the evolution of these networks, have often funded them, but have tended to take a backseat role. This is partly because, according the Clark (1990), of a residual concern about their public image and legal status, partly because they have a few staff strong on the skills needed for advocacy and networking and partly – in spite of the rhetoric- because of an organizational half heartedness