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Building Civil Society - Brazilian Non-Profits in Denver

Originally, Aristoteles coined the term “civil society” (koin?nía politik?)  as a pursuit of shared values to further the greater good of society. Today, building civil society is deemed as strengthening the contract between state and society. The term has become increasingly prominent among political agendas, because of a realization that bottom-up approaches often instigate more sustainable social change. Therefore, governments, along with private sector corporate responsibility schemes, have furthered involvement through lending their expertise to equip the third sector institutions who are driving social impact grass-roots movements. 

 

International Visitor Leadership Program - Building Civil Society

In light of this movement, in October 2018 the U.S. Department of State funded and organized an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), which brought 11 members from non-profit organizations (NGOs) in Brazil, to learn from and build partnerships with similar organizations in Washington, Denver and Florida.  Considering the recent election of Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has publicly, repetitively endorsed military intervention, building civil society in this nation is certainly a priority to strengthen diplomatic values and empower citizens.

The international visitors spent five days in Colorado, during which they met with eight  local non-profits for professional meetings, tours, as well as volunteer placements. Given the variety of issues that the selection of NGOs dealt with, (ranging from promotion of Afro-Brazilian culture, environmental protection to healthcare and education) they unanimously benefited from seeing a panorama of the approaches used in different fields. Providing an overview of the possibilities and the methodologies applied throughout the third sector, whilst offering insight into direct response methods between similar NGOs in Brazil and the USA.   

 

Aims of the Exchange

Overall the aim of the IVLP project was to understand the relationships between sectors (Government, Private & NGO), learn about NGO management and introducing social media techniques and fundraising methods adopted in the local organizations. Though, luckily they were granted some cultural immersion breathers, as the team visited Garden of Gods and saw Love Never Dies at the theatre (the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera) here in Colorado.  

 

Why the Non-Profit Sector? 

In an article the New Internationalist captures in detail the pressures that have often impeded NGOs' impact. The line of thought is summarised below.  

The emergence of the word "Non-Profits" dates from 1945 when the United Nations decided to integrate these kind of agencies into their actions. The New Internationalist argues that with the development of more neoliberal reforms and privatization, governments began to depend on NGOs to absorb the fall-out from cuts. Thus, we see the important virtue of charities in society. 

On the other side, the cuts made in governmental sphere or the disparities that were never addressed in the first place, frequently outweigh the capacity of NGOs, who often have less resources at their disposal. Indeed, they depend greatly on the good-will of donors, rather than the rewards-based competitiveness. 

However, the shortfalls have been recognised and the Department of State’s IVLP programs are addressing some of the discrepancies through exchange programs that aim at sharing ideas, capacitating workers and constructing long-term benefits for countries around the world.  

 

What did the participants do?

We joined the group as they visited two NGOs in Denver and Aurora. The first was the Village Exchange Center, a central meeting point to assist refugees and immigrants in numerous capacities. 

The NGO is based in a central church building, but comprises of a number of smaller organisations that group together in a single holding. The benefits are two-fold, since administrative costs were reduced and practicality increased for the population they assisted. The Village Exchange Center also caters for a multitude of faiths, holding diverse services for locals, therefore building community from a set of values and overcoming any restrictions that may jeopardise such community.

After all, it is integration that helps both immigrants and the society that receives them, to achieve their full potential.

The second meeting was held with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking (LCHT). During the meeting the Brazilians heard stories from survivors, which introduced them to methodologies that empowered victims, rather than exposing them to sufferance anew. 

Additionally, they heard of LCHT’s successful efforts at redrafting and rewording legislation. A project that became critical with the increase of human trafficking in Colorado - propelled by the recent population growth (feeding the demand for informal services like construction, hospitality, farming and tourism). 

In this sense, the IVLP team were taught that to deal in violent or sensitive situations (violence, exploitation, human-rights violations) the problem should be dealt from both a bottom-up approach (valuing victims) and top-down approach (coordination with the government and their resources).

Verifying again the virtue of NGOs in their access to the distinct parts of the populatiion and to Build Civil Socity

 

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