PHILIPPINE NGOS IN THE 1990s: SIX TRENDS

PCDForum Column #1 Release Date October 20, 1990

by Tina Liamzon

Six current trends are reshaping the development roles of NGOs in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia in ways that are likely to have important implications for our future partnerships with Northern NGOs.

Trend #1: Networking: We are learning to work more effectively with one another. In addition to a proliferation of national networks, many of the smaller NGOs are forming regional networks responsive to their local needs. We also find a growing number of sectoral or issue oriented networks formed around specialized agendas, such as, agrarian reform, removal of the U.S. military bases, debt, women's rights, and sustainable development.

Trend #2: Collaboration with Government: We are recognizing that: 1) the tremendous resources of government are unlikely to reach the intended target groups without NGO intervention; and 2) partnerships with government provide opportunities to influence government policies and programs. The era of generalized demands and protests, "government should..." or "down with...," rendered us irrelevant noisemakers, more a nuisance than a major player in policy debates. We now see the need to translate our value commitments into specific recommendations for policies, programs and procedures. We want to show government, look, this is the way the land reform program should be implemented.

Trend #3: Domestic Constituency: We know that we must become less dependent on foreign funding. In recent years donors flooded us with offers of money. We willingly obliged, accepting millions of dollars to scale-up our programs. The tide is already ebbing. Eastern Europe is the donor flavor of the month. We are now tapping more government resources and recognize the need to raise funds from our own middle class. Even more important we see the need to build a domestic political constituency. Opinion polls tell us the majority of Filipinos favor agrarian reform, but we have failed to mobilize this majority into a political constituency. We are now examining how we can address this need.

Trend #4: Political Roles: Most of us have avoided politics. However, as we watch the traditional politicians repeatedly defeat legitimate social reform initiatives, we are realizing that to eliminate the causes of social injustice we must reform our electoral system. The responses are varied. Some NGOs may field candidates. Others will campaign for specific issues and press candidates to address these in their platforms. Still others will work for clean and honest elections. For most of us these are new commitments, but the need is recognized and the first steps are being taken.

Trend #5: A Shared Vision: In the past, we each worked on specialized tasks at the local level. One did community organizing, another health, and still another cooperatives, without regard for a larger whole. We are now sitting with one another, as well as with groups outside of our immediate community, to share our concerns and aspirations for our localities and our country. Groups that once found themselves separated by seemingly irreconcilable ideological differences are finding they share a common vision. This shared vision enables us to meld our individual efforts into a more cohesive and powerful whole.

Trend #6: A Distinctive Competence: We are recognizing that good intentions are no longer sufficient. As resources become scarce, NGOs that have nothing distinctive to offer will go out of business. We must perform. Many of our organizations are working to define and develop a distinctive competence.

We have talked for ten to twenty years in bold generalizations about social transformation, but confined our action to isolated local problems. Concerned with turf, we have exaggerated our individual uniqueness and built small isolated empires.

We are now reassessing our strategies in an effort to achieve a new level of maturity and effectiveness as agents of local, national and global transformation. We realize we must develop new styles of working based on a shared vision, complementary strategies, shared turf and a sharing of resources. We must become sophisticated analysts, operationalize our agendas, and build our political constituencies. While much remains to be done, we have taken the first steps. We welcome partnerships with NGOs, of both North and South, who share our commitments and bring a distinctive competence to the table.

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Tina Liamzon is a founder of the Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA), a major Philippine NGO consortium body that she served as national coordinator for six years, a leading alliance builder among Philippine NGO networks and a director & fellow of the PCDForum. This column was prepared and distributed by the PCDForum based on an article by Tina Liamzon's in PhilDHRRA Notes, July-August 1990.