TRI-SECTOR SYNERGY FOR DEVELOPMENT


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

 

[Writ 22 March 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

 

Within a nation-state, from micro to macro levels, there better be cooperation among the three main sectors of development: state, market, civil society. I stressed this well in the New Nationalism article.

 

The emerging term for cooperation today is ‘synergy’. In the original sense of the term, it denoted the causal chain of “one thing leading to another.” It had since become a staple term in ecology and cybernetics. Gradually the meaning of the term underwent change.

 

Today the term ‘synergy’ had come closer to the term ‘symbiosis’ of ecology. The neo-Weberians were among the advocates of this largely symbiotic signification, applied to the three sectors. Joel Migdal, Vivienne Shue, Theda Skocpol and Peter Evans are among these chief advocates of synergism as strategy for effecting development.

 

Synergism isn’t really new here in Asia, even here in my country of origin. For centuries now,  we had at the grassroots  level the ‘bayanihan’, practiced by helping each other in times of need. Bayanihan’s closest translation is gemeinschaft (Ferdinand Toennies’ term) or community. It means synergy precisely in today’s context.

 

There is no way that we should go back to the old days of looking at the state and civil society as relating in a perpetual state of clash. The first time that Alinsky was discussed in my sociology classes in the late 70s, I had some goose bumps about his notion of a perpetual clash, almost akin to the ‘permanent revolution thesis’ at the grassroots level. I said to myself that “this won’t work in the Philippines.” If given the chance for grassroots work, I will never apply Alinsky at all.

 

Look at the destructive effects of the ‘clash thesis’ during the 80s and 90s here. There was a time when massive strikes were the in thing most specially after Martial Law, and look at the downgrading effects they had on productivity. It was near to chaos during certain moments than.

 

Contrast that today with a healthy synergy of trade unions and management, which shot up Philippine labor-management relations to being the world’s top (per ILO update). As strikes had decreased, productivity likewise immensely increased. We are now a model of industrial peace here, thanks to the new paradigm of synergism thru the efforts of the University of the Philippines’ School of Labor and Industrial Relations.

 

However, in the past decades, before 1986, civil society players were merely kibitzers of development here. So to a certain extent the attrition caused by civil society on the state earned this sector its right to be recognized as a co-partner in development. For a long time after independence (1946), only the market and state players were in dialogue, leaving marginal groups and sectors out of the development game.

 

Now that civil society had earned its keep, its players should shift in mindset from clash-oriented (Alinsky-inspired) models to synergistic models (inspired by bayanihan, Gandhi, Evans) of development. Even the post-Martial Law constitution recognized this potency of civil society, and thus entitled the colossal sector to rights never before it enjoyed.

 

I hope this synergistic mindset is currently emerging among all the nations of the world. It is among the progenitors of the peace condition, of development with peace and of peace with development.

 

The basic contention is summed up by the excerpts from the article, to wit:

 

Promote synergy with civil society in the development path.

 

In the old formulations, development was an exclusive endeavor of state and market players. That is, the directions of development were largely the handiworks of political, bureaucratic and corporate elites. There should be an admission that this structural formulation was a factor in generating the crisis-level ailments of mass poverty, large-scale unemployment, low wages, sluggish growth and dependence. So why retain a formula that had failed us miserably?

 

The current context, where a dynamic and colossal civil society operates, points to the ever-growing recognition of the potent role of civil society in co-determining the compass of development. At the grassroots level, development efforts will be accelerated to a great extent by involving civil society formations acting as ‘social capital’ base, as studies have positively demonstrated (citations from Peter Evans’ works on ‘state-society synergy’). Insulating the state from grassroots folks, as the same studies have shown, have produced dismal if not tragic effects, e.g. India’s non-involvement of ‘social capital’ in the erection and maintenance of irrigation facilities resulted to program failure in the end.

 

Building and maintaining ecologically sound, clean cities can likewise be effected through the tri-partnership of state, civil society and market, as demonstrated by the Puerto Princesa case. Under the stewardship of the dynamic city mayor (Mr. Hagedorn), the tri-partnership was galvanized. Businesses have since been conscious of operating on clean technologies and environmental responsibilities, city streets sustain hygienic images, traffic is well managed as motorists exude discipline, and civil society groups constantly monitor the initiatives that saw their hands dipped into their (initiatives) making. All we need to do is replicate this same Puerto Princesan trilateral partnering at all level and in all communities to ensure better results for our development efforts.

 

The ‘state-society synergy’ in our country had just recently been appreciated and grasped by many state players. Being at its ‘take-off’ phase, it is understandable that synergy is only a lip-service among many state players, notably the local officials. State players still regard civil society groups with ambivalence, while civil society groups are suspicious of state players whose sincerity can only be as low as their Machiavellian propensities would dictate. Such local state players desire to subordinate civil society groups, and many politicians have constituted ‘government-initiated NGOs’ or GRINGOS as cases of non-authentic subordinated groups. On the other hand, local-level volunteer groups can at best perceive domestic politicians as ‘Santa Claus’ providers, and utilize them largely as gift-giving patrons. Strengthening state-society synergy has a long way to yet, but it is not exactly starting at ground zero in this country. It is, by and large, a core variable in developing citizenry and constituencies, and must be advanced beyond its current take-off phase.

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