The grey boxes contain the contexts of urban anti-poverty policies. Neighbourhood organizations appear as emanating from the local support network, while the State and international organizations form part of the wider context of economic and political relations or information control.
The lines denote relations between the actors. Two types of link are emphasized. First, the neighbourhood organizations-State relationship, the aim being to promote democratic process and autonomous activities. Second, the mediation role which must form the matrix of the development NGO’s action. Near to the latter, the international organizations are represented. Their interventions fit into an “action-reaction” rationale, insofar as their action is mediated by governments and NGOs.
The approach to policies to fight poverty presented in this diagram is that of an exercise in mediation between a wider context and a local population structured by its local support networks and represented by its neighbourhood organizations. The micro/macro dichotomy thus loses its relevance.
This General Action Framework should be used to prepare specific diagnoses and strategies for each situation. In other words it is a useful template. In each situation, a number of precise questions must be answered and upon these strategies will depend. We insist on the importance of constructing a relational framework, the core of which will be the Neighbourhood Organizations-State relationship. In such a situation, how much weight should be given to the State and how much to local government? Should international bodies give priority to helping NGOs, the State or neighbourhood organizations? Such questions cannot be answered via a one-size-fits-all framework and rightly so.
The answers to these questions will be influenced first by the diversity of local or national situations, and second by people’s history. Developed societies contain many examples of weak community organizations that find it hard to get established. This is not surprising since their role has been obscured by economic progress and, after two centuries of continuous action, public institutions have taken the place of community spirit. The situation is quite different in poor countries where the institutional deficit and State inadequacies are glaring and as a result community organizations are very strong.
It is also observable that there are variations in the democratic content of neighbourhood organizations. In countries (e.g., Uruguay) with strong democratic traditions and structures, neighbourhood organizations may contain an element of democracy, helping to broaden the public arena and renew the democratic system. The situation is totally different in countries with a paucity of democratic experience16. It is therefore wrong to
16 Following the theories of “new social movements” inspired by Alain Touraine, many Latin American theorists extolled the virtues of “civil society” organizations in the democratic revival that took place in the 1980s. These hopes did not last long when these social movements gave way to cronyism and forceful political systems. For a critical analysis, cf. CARDOSO, 1983.