To succeed in development collaborations, perseverance and sustainable relationships are required. That is one of the conclusions that FUF laureate Anna-Karin Gauding after 35 years of work on sustainable development in Chile. Here she summarizes the laureate lecture she gave in May.
In this text, I will focus on projects I have been involved in and run during my 35 years in Chile. In 1990, Chile went from dictatorship to democracy. Being part of that transition was exciting and demanding, but above all a great privilege. From being a dialogue partner and aid broker for 13 years with Diakonia in Latin America, I became a partner and project formulator. It gave a different point of view.
Endurance is a way of creating sustainable relationships and I argue that both of these components are needed for sustainable development. You only become credible as a partner when the relationship is sustainable and transparent. But often reality does not look like that, as the following example shows.
Boliden and companies' lack of social responsibility
The year I came to Chile (1984), Swedish Boliden sold 20,000 tons of heavy metals to a fantasy company in the city of Arica, northern Chile. The human rights organization SERPAJ (Servicio de Paz y Justicia) reported that toxic metals were dumped there and poisoned the population. In the 80s, dictatorship prevailed in Chile. There was a lack of environmental legislation that regulated the handling of hazardous waste. Today, however, I call for a moral social responsibility - despite the fact that Boliden no longer has legally responsibility.
Cancer cases, birth defects and miscarriages among the population are reflected in statistics and in testimonies. Arica is a current example of a lack of coherence between sustainability and practical posture.
Short-term projects with long-term goals
Another example is all new programs for innovation and collaboration, which often have short-term formats but are expected to lead to independent, locally funded activities. In the 90s, they wanted to "sew together" Swedish and Chilean companies and institutions. There was beautiful talk about partnerships for knowledge and technology exchanges through study visits and conferences.
Of course, positive synergies can arise at these meetings, but funding rarely allows for follow-up and bridge-building. One week is not enough for sustainable cooperation. Over the years, I have seen skilled lecturers who travel the world, hold PowerPoints and receive applause. But my experience is that this very rarely creates real change, often more needs to be done.
Sustainable relationships despite short-term projects
Some projects I have worked on have had long-term goals but have been short in format: pure point initiatives or at best two-year funding. Perseverance in the relations has nevertheless promoted a broad, lasting network of contacts. Their common denominator has been an investment in cooperation between academia, the public and private sectors, in which Swedish organizations have also been involved.
I have worked with municipal waste management for almost 30 years, mainly in Chile. There, different municipalities have collaborated to solve common problems. For ten years, I coordinated a large number of study visits between Chile and Sweden. Visitors could then see with their own eyes that change is possible. Many of the project participants today are municipal environmental managers, well versed in circular economy and with knowledge of various waste techniques. Today they formulate their own local projects.
A project that in retrospect should be seen as sustainable is the construction of a cultural center in an exposed area of Santiago in the 90s. It would serve as a model for other centers in the country. Democracy organizations would lead the project together with the municipal board and the Swedish organization I coordinated. It was no easy task. The local organizations survived in the opposition spirit from the dictatorship and did not want to see the municipal government as a partner. The center was built, but with a sharply cut budget. Today, the center flourishes with several hundred visitors daily and a highly vibrant cultural scene. It has become a sustainable alternative to a life on the streets with drugs, alcohol and crime.
A project for democratic governance in Chile and Colombia, funded by the Palme Center, is another example that has borne fruit after several years. Here, the actors were both public and private. When evaluators were sent to Colombia after just one year of work, to stay a single day in one of the resorts, they gave the thumbs down. No continued funding. But the fact is that the project contributed to a change in the approach to democratic governance. As one of the participants said: a new way of thinking has taken place in their DNA, and is inherited. Many of the participants today have significant assignments in organizations at all levels of society.
En two-year effort for sustainable tourism in a poor province in southern Chile has sprouted on a number of new projects for sustainable local development. The climate issue has become important and ahead of the COP25 climate summit in December, a seminar with international experts is planned. A university collaborates here with the municipalities and other local organizations
Common denominators and lessons learned
The success of the projects rests on cooperation between local and regional authorities, universities, companies and local organizations, with the support of Swedish organizations. Is it then possible to identify common success factors?
1. The importance of zealots
Over the years, zeal has become a concept in Spanish: alma de fuego. Fiery souls are needed to drive good initiatives forward when processes face adversity. And the zealots need to be able to work together in teams.
2. Opportunities for sight turns
The importance of visual aberrations cannot be overemphasized. If a program is well organized, a single study visit can reshape the participants' views on the possibilities for change.
Sustainable development work rests on least three legs: cooperation between public institutions at different levels, private entrepreneurs, civil society organizations and academia.
4. Flexibility in projects
International development work often places stringent demands that do not take into account difficulties that may arise. Budgets must allow continuous correction of erroneous hypotheses and methods. Quantity often takes precedence over quality in accounting and often the qualitative changes are not even included as a variable. Deeper qualitative changes are not noticed after a couple of years, sometimes you only see the fruits 20 years after the effort.
5. Bridge builders are needed
It is seldom budgeted for the coordinating role in projects, especially if the financing refers to short-term initiatives. But bridge builders are needed to establish and maintain the contact areas, especially in international projects where language and cultural differences are to be bridged. Many efforts have run into the sand precisely because there was a lack of bridge builders.
6. Solidarity gestures and empathy provide lasting relationships
A show of solidarity and time for human encounters provides a satisfaction that no material compensation can outweigh. It is about human understanding and we all need to practice listening to and meeting each other in our mutual pursuit of better living conditions in the world.
With the climate crisis becoming increasingly acute, we must not only act resolutely and NOW, but also ensure that the earth survives with humanity on board, in humane, lasting relationships. Horizontal knowledge exchange and partnerships are therefore more important than ever. We must be able to act together. We must let go of the ego's need for confirmation. Only with sustainable and enduring relationships can we achieve sustainable collaboration.