Wednesday 1 July 2009

Euclid, The Governor and the Garden Party

Well, there was me expecting lunch round the campfire and we end up at The Governor's Residence (above). Not exactly hippy! We held our Euclid Board at The Governor's - she is appointed by Government and it was interesting to chat to her. She was the Leader of the Swedish Green Party till recently a strong supporter of the third sector. It was amusing to discover that they don't particularly like the term " civic society" as it was a description favoured by the neo cons and free market right wingers who want to replace the State.

The Euclid Board went particularly well - we are thinking through our longer term strategies and positioning. But the roundtable iself was fascinating. We had the presentation of a research project on the role of the third sector in promting local democracy. This raises fundamental questions about what democracy is? Is there balance between elective democracy and participative one. On paper we all have equal access through the vote. But not enough real power if decision making excludes citizens. So Robert Puttnam's book, "Making Democracy Work"(1993) argued civil society builds social capital. He studied the Italian introduction of regional government. In those regions where there was a strong history of civil society engagement, the regions worked better.

How can we shape decisions in local communities - civil society must play key role in this process. Voting not enough.

So we assume we are making democracy better. But aren't many TSOs very middle class? Exclusive? Self selecting? Is it good or bad for democracy? There are there good and bad organisations.

So our presentor talked of "bridging or bonding" organisations. Bonding orgs (where people of similar outlook and background) don't necessarily contribute to democracy and might work against it as they oppose groups different from them. Class, race and gender issues arise. However bridging ones (those that cover differing communities) do.

This strikes a cord. It is assumed by the sector that all community groups are good per se. But we know of community groups who have campaigned against the siting of mental health facilities or migrant centres in their locality. Groups that work against multi-cultural approaches and try to keep their community white or Protestant.

Internationally, in the Balkans many community groups of like ethnic composition oppose others not like them.they have added to ethnic division.

So this was a challenge to lazy thinking that all local or community groups must be supported and must be favoured. Its the same when some sector leaders try to argue that large charities or national TSOs are bad and out to strangle local groups.

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