I have taken part in numerous discussion panels, conferences and workshops. Most of them have been organised by non-governmental organisations, sometimes also by the public administration. The last Forum was held in Warsaw and its subject was the migration policy of three Polish cities: Cracow, Lublin and Warsaw. That was also the order in which workshops were organised in the three cities, each time at the invitation of the main partner of the Forum – one of the following non-governmental organisations: Interkulturalni (the Intercultural), Homo Faber and the Inna Przestrzeń (Other Space) Foundation.
The third sector has its merits in the development of democracy, resolution of various social issues and numerous untypical problems. I sometimes wonder: if the third sector had existed in the Middle Ages, would have Galileo had a good protector and defender in his confrontation with the church authorities? The effectiveness of NGOs is simply unparalleled in certain matters.
Both the 3rd Forum and the two previous ones were devoted to the problems of immigrants. We all regretted that there had been so few of them at the first two Forums. The ambition of the Warsaw team was to get in contact with as many immigrants as possible and to invite them to work in the teams. The scheme that proved effective was as follows: we would search for the contact details of the leader of a specific immigrant community or an organisation, make a call, check whether the person had received the information we provided. Finally, we would ask him or her to register and choose a subject group. That really worked. Vietnam, Pakistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Senegal, Mexico and Brasil to name just a few non-European countries. At the Forum opening plenary session, almost half of the participants were immigrants.
Another goal that the organisers set for themselves, an even more important one, was actually a question. What, apart from the strong presence of immigrants and extension of the scope of subjects that the groups deal with, would be an asset to our meetings? What could give the Forum new quality? The answer was only one: the lot of recommendation letters would be decisive. What would become of them? Would they go to the bins in decision-making institutions? Would they get stuck in the long-forgotten drawers of public officers? All the groups were requested to indicate whom the results of their work were addressed to. At the final plenary meeting, all the participants knew which local or state government institutions were the addressees of recommendations: the Sejm subcommittee for cooperation with non-governmental organisations, local authorities, ministries, immigrant communities, organisations for immigrants, and still others.
Let us go back to the very definition of a non-governmental organisation for a moment – it is
a non-profit civic body, acting on its own initiative for the benefit of a specific area of public interest. If it is a platform created by citizens, how come that its voice is not easily heard by politicians and does not strike a chord with their sensitivity?
At one point, I started to wonder what the motives of professional politicians are. What incentives work with them? What do the fact cats of politics feed on?
This group strives to make a good impression only when elections are coming. All would be fine (sometimes only seemingly) if such promises were fulfilled before the elections.
The perspective that their work will be judged is the most important test for them (unless
a politician is a statesman or an involved citizen). Why couldn’t the Forum, out of concern for recommendations, which are prepared with so much effort, create an “artificial” pre-election atmosphere so that politicians feel similarly uncomfortable (and simultaneously motivated to act and resolve problems)?
It is important to send e-mails and letters with recommendations and the signatures of the organisations present at the Forum. Only then will we find out what actions must be taken in
a particular situation. Has there been any response or not? This is what determines future actions. Should we practice soft or hard lobbying from now on? How do public offices communicate with the world: by mail, in writing or by telephone? All these elements should be somehow combined. No institution can turn a blind eye to them.
We have to keep on knocking to many different doors. We have to find the right department, division and room; then look for a person responsible for the given problem in the Ministry X, institution Y or office Z. We have to target such institutions and bombard them with questions. Sejm sessions have developed useful practices in this respect. Eventually, someone will feel guilty and a meeting will be organised. That is the whole point of it – to sit down and to talk. But maybe this method is not universal. After two Forums in Cracow and Lublin, it is high time we changed our tactics in order to become more effective. It is important to answer the question of what will become of sensible recommendations.
This is how I see the future of the efforts the group made during three days. Otherwise, despair will set in. What is the point of all deliberations if all this will come to nothing, or to nada, as the Portuguese say. Lobbying is a must. This is what all communities do. Business communities have their semi-secret methods.
The third sector has the voice of people at its disposal. Since it is closer to the society, undertaking actions out of office, such a practice may yield good results. Recommendations include not only questions and complaints but, more and more often, proposals and resolutions of specific social issues. First of all, we must focus on our goals! And do so effectively! Actually, if there is no social life without crossing boundaries, we have to talk.
By Mamadou Diouf
Translation: Anna Orzechowska