Monday, November 03, 2008

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development

Newsletter #53
November 1st, 2008


Message from the Editorial Team

The role of civil society in development
Parallel Forum of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Accra: August 31st and September 1st, 2008

European Social Forum, Malmö, September 18, 2008
Seminar: Building the Alternative Solidarity Economy

Message from the Editorial Team

In this issue, we present two different reports on international meetings; one focuses on a meeting of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Accra, Ghana and the other relates to a seminar on the construction of an alternative solidarity economy during the European Social Forum held in Sweden. They both show that the forms of organization of the civil society movement, unionism being a part, are built to meet the basic needs of populations. We are happy to be involved, even if only modestly.
We are pleased to announce that Judith Hitchman, who you've already read several contributions, has joined the editorial team. Her presence opens a broader intercultural scope to the English-speaking world because of her Irish origins, her professional background as an interpreter, her continuing participation in thematic, continental and global Social Forums. This gives her a great knowledge of the areas covered by this Newsletter and which are also hers.

Editorial Team
Yvon Poirier
Martine Théveniaut

The role of civil society in development
Parallel Forum of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Accra: August 31st and September 1st, 2008

The question of development aid, mainly from North to South, has been a major challenge for over half a century. The majority of donor countries are members of the OECD and have adopted various strategies since the 60s. However, the gap between the rich and the poor of our planet not only has not diminished, but worse, has increased in some parts of the world. Often the "help" was a disguised method to promote exports: the country receiving the aid being forced to buy from the donor country (referred to as "tied aid").

Historical process

With the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the United Nations in 2000, goals aimed at reducing by 50% the number of poor people on the planet within 15 years, donor countries questioned themselves as to the effectiveness of aid, especially since many countries have reduced their contributions as a percentage of GDP. Furthermore, very few countries meet the commitments made in 2000 to devote the equivalent of 0.7% of their GDP to international aid.

Thus, in 2003, donor countries agreed to harmonize their programs and in 2005 adopted the Paris Declaration, which established important rules on aid effectiveness. In particular, there is a willingness to make responsible the countries who receive public assistance regarding administration, transparency and management of aid.

Agreeing with the principle of accountability of countries receiving aid, civil society organizations, and particularly development NGOs, quickly realized that in the Paris Declaration there was no question of civil society. Both CSOs from North and South have been squeezed out of the actions for development aid. They quickly mobilized and decided during the World Social Forum 2007 in Nairobi to make every effort to have recognized the full-fledged role of civil society in the development process. At the same time, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) suggested to the donor countries, the set up of a working group to examine how civil society could play a role in development.

These two initiatives set the stage to prepare a meeting in Accra in September 2008 between donor countries and aid recipients, to take stock of the situation three years after the adoption of the Paris Declaration.

The CSOs who had been virtually absent from the meeting in Paris in 2005, carried out important preparatory work (documentation, Better Aid website) and organized a Parallel Forum which brought together nearly 700 people on the eve of the meeting of donor and recipient countries. The preparatory work and the Forum allowed civil society its rightful place and recognition as an actor in its own, regarding development and was supported by the majority of countries involved, donor countries and recipient countries.

Progress made

The Declaration of the civil society, adopted by consensus at the Forum, made useful proposals in the general sense of the alternate globalisation current (available on the Better Aid website - see below).
Also, the CSOs sought and gained accreditation in order to participate in the official forum. Thus, instead of 14 persons as in 2005, some 80 representatives of CSOs were present and well prepared. They were the spokespersons for all the CSOs and their political message. Similarly, the report of the working group led by CIDA filed specific recommendations for the inclusion of civil society in development aid.

Thus, progress has been made. The Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) approved by the participating countries, recognizes what follows:
Paragraph 20. “We will deepen our engagement with CSOs as independent development actors in their own right whose efforts complement those of governments and the private sector. We share an interest in ensuring that CSO contributions to development reach their full potential.”

Some countries, specifically the USA and Japan have prevented the inclusion in the AAA of commitments collectively requested that donor countries honour their obligations for longer periods and completely eliminate tied aid. " Nevertheless, it is a real breakthrough for CSOs. Obstacles, however, are considerable as they seek to transfer to the UN monitoring issues related to aid and development. For now, control belongs to the OECD. And as many stated during the Parallel Forum, the approach to "aid effectiveness" looks like a form of neo-colonialism. Rich countries impose their conditions while not respecting their commitments (0.7% of GDP). In other words, developing countries must be accountable for their use of aid, but rich countries do not account for non-compliance of their commitments.

Probably the most encouraging and rewarding aspect is to see a collective movement by civil society to assert and organize itself, globally, in order to obtain a genuine development policy based on "an explicit recognition of human rights, gender equality, decent work and environmental sustainability as the objectives of aid”.

Author : Yvon Poirier
Participant to the Parallel Forum
For further information:
CSO website :
Government site:

European Social Forum, Malmö, September 18, 2008
Seminar: Building the Alternative Solidarity Economy

This seminar was organised by the GEAN (Global Economic Alternatives Network).

The network was founded by Pasqualino Colombaro, from Cambridge, Massachusetts in the USA. Pasqualino is a labor and community activist. For many years he was a representative of the Service Employees International Union. He is a native of the Abruzzi, Italy. He is also a founding member of Jobs with Justice, the Italian-American Labor Council, Working Massachusetts and the Center for International Social Studies in Rome. He was among the first in Massachusetts to organize events to promote debate locally, nationally and internationally on the role of organized labor and of independent worker initiative on issues of economic empowerment and social entitlements in the globalized economy.

The objectives of the seminar were to move towards the building of a new global network linking ‘best practices’ in the alternative economy and laying the foundations for a similar activity during the World Social Forum in Belém in January 2009.

To achieve these ends, the exchange took a critical look at significant examples in the fields of the social/solidarity economy, of cooperative and trade union initiated alternatives within the public and private sectors in the United States and Europe (Hungary, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France) as well as Venezuela.

The general discussion attempted to link these experiences to an underlying theory, taking into account how social protections and economies of scale should be considered in forming a new, global economic vision, as new practices of production and work organization develop in the social/solidarity economy and in contrast to the current period, marked by deep social, economic, political and environmental crises which negatively invest the state, the corporations, the financial institutions and the trade unions.


Approximately 80 people, most of whom expressed the wish to join the network currently under construction, attended the seminar. They represented experiences and organizations from the US, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Hungary, Latin America, South Africa. A wide range of perspectives, all based on economic approaches alternative to the prevailing capitalist model were presented. The common denominator was an egalitarian, bottom-up, worker empowering emphasis leading to broader social and economic impacts, irrespective of the sector in question.

The range covered both broad-based approaches (co-operatives in Latin America and Italy, global trade), and more specific (Pactes Locaux, URGENCI in France and the Cooperativa Puzon in Coro, Venezuela). Hilary Wainwright of TNI spoke about the Unison Trade Union successes in the City of Newcastle, UK, in addressing the currently key question of the defence of public services from privatization, through the institution of new forms of horizontal work organization and of delivery of high quality services to the public.

The financial alternatives were spoken about with reference to the Hungarian LETS system, born of economic necessity, as well as three banks: Ekobanken of Sweden, Merkur Bank of Denmark and Banca Etica of Italy, who despite their respective specificities have all been successful in providing positive and ethical alternatives to financing new economic initiatives.

The only negative aspects of the seminar were due to glitches of the ESF organising committee: the failure to include the seminar in the proper slot of the programme which cut on attendance, and the lack of working booths for interpretation due to insufficient technical support (which did not stop the interpreters from doing a valiant job).

All presentations and background documentation of the seminar can be found at:

Judith Hitchman
Speaker at this seminar on the example of the Pactes Locaux and the URGENCI network (An Urban - Rural Network: Generating new forms of Exchange between CItizens.)

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Special thanks to:
Évéline Poirier from Canada for the English translation
Brunilda Rafael from France for the Spanish translation
Michel Colin from Brazil for the Portuguese translation

To contact us (for information, feedback, to subscribe or unsubscribe):
Yvon Poirier

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