Last March 17 - 21, 2009, during Spring Break, I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico to speak at a two part- panel I organized for the Society of Applied Anthropology (SFAA) annual conference. This year’s conference theme was entitled: Global Challenge, Local Action: Ethical Engagement, Partnerships, and Practice. My panel, on the other hand, was entitled: The Possibilities of Doing Good, Social Movements in an age of Neoliberalism. My panel sought to discuss how social change can be pursued sustainably. We were attracted to the perspective of political scientist Karol Soltan looked at social changes as large scale, requiring either revolution or extensive institutional reform, have consequences that are pervasive in society, and have long term effects. My fellow panelists presented on a number of social movements worldwide, from Mexico to Italy to my own presentation on Gawad Kalinga. All noted that working with the bottom of the pyramid and/or the poorest of the poor enabled social change. Many of these have been replicated elsewhere and are “scalable” globally.
When we think of social movements, environmental, nuclear, civil rights, peace, feminist, pro-life, and gun-rights movements quickly come to mind. Common to these groups are a penchant to protest or advocate for their respective causes. They mass mobilize, communicate their message, and seek resources to push their agenda. Lastly, they confront either the state or prevailing cultural codes in the hope of engendering change. Social movements in this sense operate in a conflict environment.
Civil society in America is undoubtedly tied to the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville’s (1835) writings on American democracy and civil society. He highlighted the check and balance role played by civil society in ensuring that power does not centralize toward the state. Traveling across the United States, he cited several examples of how diverse civic, professional, religious, secular, and ordinary groups of citizens engage in varied activities to promote democracy, transparency and accountability, public commerce, public safety, morality, and so on. He contrasted what he observed in America with France’s ancient regime, which failed to channel social pressures and dissent into institutions of politics and social justice designed to address these issues. Tocqueville emphasized the necessity of civil society as a countervailing force to despotism and state’s tendency to centralize power and undermine democracy.
Modernization theorists in the 1950 and 1960s built on Tocqueville’s writings to reiterate the importance of civil society especially in mediating social conflicts brought about social change, economic development, socio-economic mobilization, and political competition. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s, resistance to dictators and authoritarian rule, civil and human rights, as well as environmental, feminist, and cultural issues reignited interest in civil society, praxis, social movements. Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa were arenas of contention as U.S-backed dictatorships as well as communist-states crumbled amidst poverty, inflation, and the weight of their respective despotism. In Asia, the Philippines is one of the first countries that mobilized people power in the pursuit of democracy and governance.
Gawad Kalinga is different in that it seeks to present another side of social movements.
Simply, GK seeks to solve societal problems. While some GK advocates and volunteers may still be involved in protest and advocacy personally, GK activities are primarily focused on problem solving, capacity building, and empowerment. GK even works with those others would consider adversaries to solve problems of poverty, lack of social services, urban blight, environmental degradation, social exclusion, and lack of public education facilities, among others. They will agree to disagree so that urgent problems can be addressed.
From the very home they repaired and the very first they built in Bagong Silang, Kalookan City, there are now up to 2,000 GK communities in various stages of development all over the country. GK continues to replicate and scale up because of the selflessness of the CFC core of volunteers and partnerships with the national government, over 300 mayors, over a 100 corporations, over 150 schools and universities, the Filipino diaspora and their foreign friends, the tri-media, and on-line communities. GK has entered Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Cambodia, India and has Africa in its eyesight. GK has established a decentralized GK Builders Institute (GKBI) nestled in various universities to “converge” their organizational and technical expertise at the most local level—the GK village. This is the hoped for melding of the ‘science and spirit’ of community development.
What is enabling GK’s success? From a social movement perspective, it is passion that drives the movement. In GK, it is passion shared by many who are willing to sacrifice or in GK’s case, padugo. Padugo enables initial success as when GK build the first communities with its resources. Padugo builds character, provides leeway for experimentation and recoverable failure, and importantly, generates credibility. Credibility borne out of padugo attracts partners. Once partnerships reach a critical mass the movement snowballs. It is then nurtured by creativity and innovation in its organizational and mobilization aspects. Gawad Kalinga, at its essence, has always been a movement based on holistic human development that is being upscaled.
What happened to politics and governance? What happened to fighting corruption, which is endemic in the Philippines, some would say? Our answer is: does politics need to be verbalized? Are conflict and confrontation the only tactics and strategies available? How about engagement? How about leading by example, by padugo? How about tapping our cultural values of bayani, bayanihan, and pagbabalik-loob to spur change, reform, and nation building? Heroism especially by martyrdom may spur a revolution, but making the revolution a success needs the heroism of those alive and working day after day at social change.
Thus, in Gawad Kalinga’s perspective, fundamental change in society is possible by making the poor our partners in development. Only when they can provide for themselves and their families; only when they can live in dignity and have their “pagkatao” back, can they participate meaningfully in democracy and make informed choices on national development. The model of what is now known as Gawad Kalinga had started with home building. Providing homes that were comfortable and secure (tenancy-wise) enabled families to save, invest, regain their dignity, and rebuild their lives. From the few homes that they fixed, the results were dramatic. Yet these youth and their families struggled to renew themselves in a slum community. The scale of renewal needed to be enlarged. Stable families could build stable communities.
GK facilitates this process by rebuilding poor communities, make available housing, health and nutrition, education, values transformation, organization at the community level, and productivity and livelihood. This is transformation that is comprehensive and holistic. When people are not hungry and sick, then they can vote in the right politicians or they can demand reform. Political participation requires resources, time, and effort. Citizens must be able to “afford it.” Gawad Kalinga fits into what the late Jesuit historian, Horacio dela Costa outlined for Philippine development. The Filipino people must do three things, namely: (a) build and strengthen communities; (b) link the communities with common goals-ideally national goals; and, (c) recapture the bureaucracy.
I have a particular affinity for what some call the soft aspects of development, the culture so to speak. The anthropologist Oscar Lewis (1959) spoke of a culture of poverty, while James Fallows (1987) spoke of the Philippine’s damaged culture. But a clearer understanding and appreciation of the potentialities of the poor, their resilience, their inner strength, despite what Dominican priest and anthropologist Miguel Rolland said was the “absurdity and impossibility of their situation and existence” holds many lessons for us. It is a window to the resilience of the poor and our own culture. It is also the basis for nation building. Are the patterns emerging for a truly global model of human development and nation building that is a synthesis of family and faith-based human development complemented by capacity building and attention to the needs and aspirations of the household?
A good society has shared traits that promote the common good. Human liberty, at its core, is about freedom and responsibility. Responsibility implies social interaction and community. Community development denotes collective desire, want, and action to change a political-economic and social situation deemed unjust and unsatisfactory. Social movements are dynamic form of collective action. Their emergence result from the intermingling of individual experience and motivation, framing of the issues and societal structure that give rise to opportunities for mobilization. A complementary rather than competitive approach incorporates the various strands of social movement theorizing. Social movements generate mechanisms for articulating and asserting collective interests that are unmet by established institutions such as political parties, the bureaucracy, and the market. Unlike established institutions, social movements are porous, have high structural flexibility, are adaptive, have broad repertoire of actions including disruptive tactics. It is less bound by the organizational logic. As Melucci (1984:830) noted, “the movement is the message.”
The literature on engendering change and community development, from anthropology to sociology, social psychology, and social economics, among others, call for a values-based paradigm that is creative, transparent, engaging, and participatory. In other words, revolutionary/ disruptive change is really through culture work that is creative, positive, optimistic, and charismatic. The search is for a transformational social movement. In the GK model, we can see discern this “culture work”
The Gawad Kalinga model points to the burgeoning anthropological study of “successful outcomes of civically engaged communities” as the anthropologist David Stoll (2002) noted. Gawad Kalinga shows the inherent value of convergence, of not only individuals, organizations, and communities, but that of the art, science, system, and faith of community development and nation building.
GK’s Boy Montelibano articulates this best when he says that GK is successful when the “GK Way” of community and town development is adopted by communities and cities. The transformation of Bagong Silang, Kalookan and the quest of Taguig to become a “Designer City” are concrete examples of the “GK Way.”