The crisis of recent years in Spain has deeply affected the NGOs in development cooperation with drastic cuts in funding, the subsequent need to realign or discontinue our projects, the dismantling of our structures and even the disappearance of many NGOs. In addition, the NGOs in development cooperation (NGDO) have been caught off guard by the crisis, when it comes to our methods, our discourse, and our messages.
All of a sudden, issues such as hunger, armed conflicts and its effects on the population, the education of the most disadvantaged, were topics from far away countries that ceased to interest people in our country, who focused on our own problems and a crisis that we considered, with or without reasons, as important as the crisis in Africa, Asia or South America. NGDOs have adapted to this situation as best as we could. In some cases, we, the NGDOs, have diverted the focus from our actions in far away countries and have focused on Spain. However, is this the solution? What are the new aspects that we should put into practice or that we should strengthen in order to continue to be relevant? How, as in the case of Jesuit organizations, can we take advantage of our potential?
In my opinion, these are a few key aspects that could be strengthened:
- Construct narratives and carry out pedagogy. Facing the neo-assistentialist culture, we must insist that social transformation requires a transformation of values and individual transformation. Building a fair, sustainable world for all, based on solidarity, requires profound changes in our individual and collective lifestyles. We need to change the way we consume, our environmental and socioeconomic model in order to achieve a sustainable world. ‘Live simply so others may simply live’ seems old but is still very relevant nowadays.
- Denounce, but also, offer alternatives and solutions. To do this, research based on data and experience must be a strategic aim of NGDOs. As well as lessons learned, best practices and alternative proposals in awareness and political advocacy campaigns. This requires expertise in different areas, such as thematic areas, as well as advocacy, communications, or mobilization expertise. Jesuit organizations may have those skills and have the possibility of networking with academia to supply others.
- Globalise solidarity. Appeal to the most authentic and genuine of people, talk about values and feelings. NGDOs know well the individuals and communities with whom we work, the violation of their rights, and their fighting capacity to face adversity. This is worthwhile to transmit, as well as the co-responsibility we all have in the common destiny of humanity. The necessity of ruling by values of justice, solidarity and the common good saves others, but it also saves ourselves because it makes us more human and it connects us with the best, the most essential and the depths of our being. Jesuit organizations may also specifically add all their ethical and pedagogical knowledge and expertise to a discourse based on values, solidarity and the common good.
- Encouraging “encounters”. The added value of NGDOs is their contact with vulnerable people. Consequently, encouraging encounters between NGDOs and other social organizations in order to learn from each other and build partnerships to scale up the impact of their actions; encounters between these and citizens should be promoted in order to raise public awareness of poverty and injustice and encouraging agents of social change from their own environments; encounters between citizens and their political representatives should also be encouraged to know first-hand some of the realities that people are suffering and involve politicians in social change. These encounters are always unique because of the influence of one’s own personal perception and they can also be deeply transforming. This encouragement of encounters involves a wide array of relations with people from different backgrounds - grassroots, citizens, political representatives - and once again, Jesuit organisations have the potential to establish those contacts and relations.
- Learning from the social organizations from the South, their struggles and transfer them to our environment. What can we all learn from our projects and experiences in the Southern countries? What could be applied to Spain and to other European countries that could contribute to promoting participation and democracy, open up the spaces of decision to popular sectors, and expand their economic opportunities? What can be replicable of cooperatives or women’s self help groups in India; homeless organizations that fight for housing rights in India; mayors and school councils in Peru that promote participation and democratic values among student populations or the mobilisation in order to assign a 4% of the GDP to education in the Dominican Republic? Being in different parts of the world, and connected to different grassroots organisations and movements, Jesuit organizations have a good scope for highlighting and building these local- global connections.
- Sharing spaces for advocacy. Joining and universalising the struggles for human rights. A few years ago, the external debt seemed something from the nineties in South America or from the first decade of the twenty-first century in Asia. Despite differences and variations, we could not imagine that the south of Europe would be living a similar situation. What can we learn from these and other situations? There are lots of topics that are already global such as climate change or human mobility. Some others, such as the right to education, health, housing, taxation and transparency issues change according to the contexts, but a lot of issues are similar. What do they have in common? What are the interests and the power relationships behind them? What can we change in order to favour the rights of vulnerable people? In my opinion, NGDOs should not lose our focus on international cooperation, as this is still an indispensable task. However, the “solutions” are found in connecting these realities, making them global or seeing what they have in common and providing the international connection in these causes. The universal agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and its implementation also offer a great opportunity to establish these connections and the union with other sectors, beyond international cooperation.
Finally, the previous points are focused on two fundamentals: accompanying poor and marginalised people in their struggles and in the demand that their rights be recognized, and contributing to the construction of global citizenship involved in making this a fairer, more sustainable and more supportive world for everyone. Jesuit organizations have a wide experience in this, and shall work and increase their capacities and skills to have a wider impact in constructing this better world for everybody.
(This is an adapted version of an article published in Spanish at “El Blog de Innovación Social”, ESADE)