Civil Society lobbies for voice in dire economic times

But does it matter? Not necessarily, according to Steve Godfrey, managing director, Commonwealth Business Council in the United Kingdom, who said that the current global economic downturn can trigger positive philanthropic responses.

As he offered suggestions on ways civil society can survive in the current economic environment, Godfrey said aid flows and finance transfers were of little value to development.

Godfrey was one of two speakers at a working session on the Carnival Victory cruise ship at the Civil Society Forum, which forms part of the Fifth Summit of the Americas, being held in Trinidad.

According to Godfrey, western NGOs have already felt the impact of reduced funding from charity donors and the private sector.

“What are the prospects of civil society in the time of a global credit crunch?” he asked.

While Godfrey and economic consultant Indera Sagewan-Ali, of Trinidad and Tobago, moderator of the session, admitted that there were serious challenges to covert the effects of the current economic turmoil into opportunities, Godfrey said good governance was important to achieve change.

He pointed to several countries which, he said, have successfully managed to “uplift millions of their people out of poverty” without accessing aid, among them China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

“We have become obsessed with the global crisis and NGOs are prone to these challenges. We need a vibrant non-state sector partnership with Government,” he said, as he called for civil society and the private sector to work together.

“We need to become innovative in the way civil society approach the global crisis and accessing to funding to achieve its goals,” he said.

Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States, Luis Fernando Andrade, admitted that no one was immune to the global economic crisis, as he, too, pushed for a united front between the private sector and civil society.

“There is no silver bullet to manage the economic crisis,” he said, adding that the silver lining was that the crisis could improve development.

As he managed to slip Cuba into the discussions, he gave a brief overview of the island’s economic collapse in the 90s, stressing that it was only by trial and error will countries be able to find opportunities within the global crisis.

“Their flow of money was significantly reduced, funding was reduced, factories dismantled and ground to a halt and Cuba was faced with an economic blockade, but they kept the spirit of solidarity and ensured that the standard of health and education were maintained,” he said.

As the ACS secretary general urged civil society participants to embrace a stronger and united role with the private sector, he said there must also be strong debate with government institutions to improve human prosperity.

“Embrace a stronger and united role in ways you lobby and negotiate with Government,” he said.

In response to concerns by participants that in many countries Governments “make you go through hoops just to get peanuts,” Andrade admitted that often times there was the strategy to neutralise NGOs because of who they received their funding from.

“Many of them are financed by foreign entities and have distorted agendas,” he said of some NGOs.

“But do not budge so long as there is no political agenda in your organisation,” he told participants.

Godfrey, meanwhile, said there should always be investments in NGOs since they continue to be an ally to development.


"Civil Society lobbies for voice in dire economic times"

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