|Essays on Food, Hunger, Nutrition, Primary Health Care and Development (AVIVA, 480 p.)|
|37. B. Sustainable Development beyond Ethical Pronouncements: the Role of Civil Society and Networking|
Analyses of success factors in development projects worldwide are repeatedly showing that the proactive participation of civil society in such projects plays a make-or-brake role in their ultimate sustainable impact. Currently, the main obstacle to such a proactive participation of civil society in development is political. It is thus not far-fetched to say that the ruling development paradigm has gotten to a dead-end, primarily because it has ignored turning-on civil society's potentials. And this is clearly one of the main political flaws in the ruling paradigm. Giving a protagonist role to civil society in sustainable development is thus one of the main challenges we all face.
Which then are the groups one can rightly call members of such civil society?
Others have attempted to taxonomically clarify this for us:
Civil society is to be understood as organizations without direct access to the established political power, and who are working towards a shared vision of a more just and equitable society and development process. Civil society is, therefore, a much broader, more complex and richer concept than NGO; civil society is not controlled by government, but accepts the role of the state; it aims at preparing communities for participation in the political process exerting their right to co-governance. Tolerance towards others and a sense of belonging -of having a common identity- are further characteristics of this civil society. It is said that their main role is to mobilize people and to open political and civic space in which they can operate at an advantage; their accountability is to their constituency only. (Roper Renshaw, 1994).
At least two key questions are raised by such a definition: First, where do organized community groups draw their mandates from (and how do they claim to get these mandates)?, and second, what kind of, capacity building, advocacy, social mobilization and empowerment of beneficiaries do they more precisely get engaged in? Unfortunately, much of the responses to these questions is in the eye of the beholder. (Schuftan, 1996). There certainly are many kinds of these groups with different purposes and serving different constituencies (or claiming to do so); many of them are 'single issue' (AIDS, pro-abortion, pro-environment, etc.) others have wider development scopes of action.
To start with a minimum-consensus-package to build upon, we can most probably agree that our universal common denominators in development work are only three. We all (presumably) depart:
- from a given science (which tells us what can be done),
- from a given ethics (that tells us what ought to be done), and
- from a given political stance (that tells us what must -or must not- be done, how, with whom and against whom it could best be done, followed by actually getting involved in doing it). (Jonsson, 1994)
Most of us will agree that science can be more absolute than ethics or politics.
Science, ethics and politics actually come together in conceptual frameworks that depict the different levels of causes of underdevelopment (or of ill-health or malnutrition for that matter). Such conceptual frameworks need to be shared in order for development practitioners to be able to agree on what can, ought to and must be done in a given historical context. ('No common understanding, no agreement on action'). (Schuftan, 1982; UNICEF, 1990)
Agreeing on the science in development work is less frequently a problem. Agreeing on the ethics has come a long way in the short history of sustainable development. But agreeing on the politics -beyond ethical pronouncements- is the real challenge if what ought to be done is to get done the way the actual beneficiaries of development see it most fit.
Finding such a unifying core for these civil society organizations in the political realm is what this paper is mostly about. (Creating a new historical reality is a political act, especially if it is about involving development beneficiaries as protagonists). The paper, therefore, suggests some strategies deemed necessary to follow to achieve a strong social and political mobilization for sustainable development.