Friday, April 18, 2008

Lessons from Peru's former President, Dr. Alejandro Toledo and Gawad Kalinga

Today, I attended a symposium entitled: Social Justice in Health: Local to Global at the University of Arizona.

I also presented a paper on Gawad Kalinga entitled Save the Poor Save the Environment, Save the Environment Save the Poor: The Gawad Kalinga Social Movement on Community Development. This is my third presentation on GK in the past three weeks.

In the symposium, the keynote speaker was former Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo who led Peru from 2001-2006 and was very successful in reducing poverty, inequality, and exclusion (PIE) through various creative and commonsensical means. Peru's social and economic indicators speak for Alejandro's success.

I liked his talk. First, he calls himself an "accident" in that meeting two Peace Corps volunteers eventually led to him, a sheep herder and shoeshine boy, studying at the U. of San Francisco, eventually earning a PhD in Stanford, teaching in Harvard and Stanford, working at World Bank and other top agencies, and culminating with becoming Peru's most effective president. He said that his "accident" should be normalized for all Peruvians and Latin Americans.

The other point is that his effectiveness at governing lay not really in his academic credentials (an understatement), but rather in his inexperience in politics. Not being a professional politician enabled him to reduce military spending by 23% to the shock of his generals and reallocate the funds to social services, including education. He was also able to forge a fair and free (not lopsided) trade deal with the U.S. and expand trade deals with the E.U., China, and India. Hence, Peru's outstanding economic growth and poverty reduction numbers.

He emphasized to the American audience that political INexperience is NOT a barrier to effective governance. We had a laugh at his "meddling" in U.S. elections.

During the open forum someone asked him about the need for family planning in Peru. His answer was full of wisdom. Dr. Toledo said that family planning should be taken in its whole context. It is not simply about providing contraceptives. Rather it involves providing the information in a socially acceptable manner. It is about education. It is about health and nutrition. It is about improving the household situation. It is about poverty reduction. It is about choice and freedom. But choice and freedom is made and attained respectively only when a person or the family is healthy, has access to affordable nutritious food, is not poor, educated, and is earning a decent living. He added that higher income societies usually have smaller families. Thus, family planning is best implemented within a context of total human development.

What does all of the above have to do with Gawad Kalinga and Harvey Keh?

First, Dr. Toledo, Barack Obama, the highly successful "Life is Good" clothing chain or even charismatic movements share one thing in common, the message of HOPE. Excluding the charismatic movements, the first three emphasize that the power of HOPE, combined with positive energy, creativity, and hard work will lead to success. If it works in business and in politics, why not in social change?

HOPE is the key word in a world full of elections in the next two years. I think the Hope message resonates well with voters. HOPE will probably get you elected, but it is certainly needed in CHANGE.

Second, social movements work best when they don't let organizing get in the way of mobilizing. Both go together, but one should not be at the expense of the other. Harvey Keh calls for greater vigilance against graft and corruption. Yet, he doesn't show us how and defaults to values transformation, which, incidentally, is a core initiative of GK. He calls for more honest officials. We're all calling for that, but the real question is how do we get from here to there? Keh's irony or bureaucratic "iron cage" is that he heads two organizations, and is a ranking officer of a third. As some have noted, what is an organization if it cannot mobilize and deliver SOCIAL CHANGE?

The current state of Philippine "opposition" politics is that they fail to appreciate the transformational value of GK . In failing to do so, they miss out on the opportunity to provide transformational and charismatic leadership.

Dr. Toledo said that democracy is useless if there is no SOCIAL and ECONOMIC democracy. Democracy works best if the PIE is reduced, PIE being poverty, inequality and (social) exclusion. Democracy is strengthened when the citizens are engaged. They are engaged when they have a roof over their heads, when they have access to healthcare and nutritious food, when they are earning a living, and when they are educated. Democracy is multidimensional.

Pre-colonial societies in what is now the Philippines were ruled by datus or chieftains who attained their status in two combined ways namely, leadership and bravery in conflict and leadership, intelligence, and creativity in engendering a peaceful and prosperous community. It was not an either-or, but an AND of: physical security and economic well-being.

Thus, any group that seeks to challenge the incumbent administration, rightly or wrongly, needs to present to the Filipino people their roadmap for political, economic, and social democracy.

If one wants to tear down the house that is the Philippines to drive away an "unwanted guest", please make sure that the house to be re-built can withstand 265 kph winds, has running water and flush toilets, has a beautiful garden, and is near schools, health centers, and places of work. Please also make sure that meaningful work is available and that the neighborhood is peaceful...

In reality, no one, no organization, no institution has presented a model of social change that is comprehensive, holistic, scalable, replicable, self-sustaining and importantly ADAPTABLE to different contexts than what GK has proposed and is proving with each passing day.

Dr. Toledo's Peru has shown what an inspired, positive, and creative political leadership can achieve. His is a model of leadership at the pinnacle of POWER. Filipino politicians would do well to probably follow in Dr. Toledo's foot steps if they think they are up to the task.

GK, on the other hand, provides for servant leadership from the ground up. It is a bottoms up approach to development in the near absence of effective governance. Dr. Toledo's wish and aim is for the likes of him, an "accident of history", becoming the norm.

GK is showing how future Dr. Toledos will be formed. It would do well for Dr. Toledo to consult with GK.

Lastly, the brouhaha over the alleged Vatican displeasure of GK's "overemphasis" on social work is belied by the annual solicitation letter I get from the Bishop of the Diocese of Tucson for the numerous social works they are engaged in the diocese. The list is long, the beneficiaries numerous, the goals ambitious.

Is the Bishop overextending himself?

Should I report him to the Vatican?

For groups such as Couples for Christ or even the Roman Catholic Church to retain membership they need to increase their social works. Afterall, that is what AGAPE is really all about, loving the most vulnerable in society as Jesus did. CFC then is on the right track with its Gawad Kalinga ministry.

While Arizona may be in a unique situation because of the xenophobic immigration issues and the sexual abuses scandals of the clergy, I have noticed the increased activism, social justice, and social works initiatives of the Catholic Church here.

There are unmistakable 'signs of the times" especially in the field of social change. GK has read these signs well and acted on it. Massive mobilization of volunteers, talent, and resources. Sharing and caring. Servant, heroic leadership. Looking into ourselves and recognizing our greatest assets. Treating the poor as partners in development. Tapping cultural traits of padugo, bayani, bayanihan, bayan. Claiming the true definition of faith and patriotism. Discerning the yearnings of the Filipino diaspora for a progressive Philippines. Channeling the "legacy" angst of the elite into nation-building. Harnessing peace as a productive force. Making 'convergence" work effectively. Melding the "science and spirit" of community development. Showing the effectiveness of adaptive management. Finally, laying the groundwork for what the late Fr. Horacio dela Costa said about "recapturing the bureaucracy."

GK stalwarts Boy Montelibano and Tony Meloto said that GK will appeal to certain people and that all GK needs to do is "build it and they will come."

I agree. I believe that revolutionary/ disruptive social change is really through culture work that is creative, positive, optimistic, and charismatic. GK best exemplifies this.