International Development Research Centre (Canada) president Dr David Malone yesterday shared lessons he had learnt working in civil society as he gave a lunchtime talk about how CSOs could become more involved in policy-making.
“The minute one starts taking money from other organisations or the Government, it is pointless to claim you are 100 percent independent,” Malone said.
For CSOs which do choose to accept donations, he said they should broaden their base of donors as he recalled the joy at seeing donations, however small, from members of the public.
He said the best way for CSOs to stay independent was to have as many institutional and individual fund-raisers as possible. “Multiply the number of fund-raisers so that you are not at the mercy of any one of them”.
Malone also cautioned about the legitimacy of some CSOs. He recalled that from his days in India, some NGOs were set up simply to be fronts for organised crime.
“Don’t romanticise civil society”. Saying the CSO world does not police itself, he said, “We all owe it to ourselves to know who we are working with”.
He said it was often necessary for CSOs to work with people they don’t admire. Noting that organisations find it hard to work with other such groups, he said, “Go into partnerships with eyes wide open”. The issue of technology was also discussed with several speakers urging delegates to use the power of the Internet to communicate and build their organisations.
From Jamaica, Lincoln Robinson of Interlinc Communications, urged civil society organisations (CSOs) to use the many means of social-networking available online, such as Facebook, My Space and Twitter. “These give you, the user, the opportunity to control content. You the user have control of the landscape”.
He said this was a far cry from the traditional situation of a news room editor controlling the flow of information. Computer-technology, he effused, has blurred the line between news-consumers and news-producers. “The technology is there. Let us use it and we can control it.”
Caribbean Telecommunications Union (Trinidad and Tobago) head, Bernadette Lewis, said traditional communication has been uni-directional, but this has been altered by computer-technology which she added has also freed citizens from geographical constraints. She said technology has now made it theoretically possible for every human being to communicate with every other human on Earth.
She said Government must use computer technology and also ensure citizens have affordable access to it.