2002 Southeast Asia Regional Conference on CSROs Opening Remarks

Eugenio M. Caccam, Jr.
Associate Director
Philippine Business for Social Progress

We welcome you to this regional conference. Our venue is quite far, but it turned out to be a wonderful one. We hope it could inspire us all to make this workshop both productive and enjoyable.

About three (3) years ago, a group of Civil Society Resource Organizations (CSROs) in the region came together in the Philippines to find ways in making their efforts sustainable, and achieves impact. Thus was born the CSRO Project with the help of the Synergos Institute.

For two (2) years, we have developed and been running workshops on financial sustainability and institution building in the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand. In the process, the small group that came together to the Philippines in 1998 increased their membership and consequently their reach. However, as we address the issue of financial sustainability there is also the issue of accountability and demonstrating results to the public in general and to those who support us in particular. Now, this conference is the culmination of the 2nd year of the CSRO project, and it will focus on the twin issues of sustainability and accountability. Experiences of members and other civil society in the region, which had experiences in these fields will be presented today.

In closing, let me say thank you to the group for giving PBSP the opportunity to be the lead organizer for this conference. Together with Synergos, we thank Sasakawa Peace Foundation for supporting the three-year CSRO Project. For NOVIB and Ford Foundation for additional support for this conference. On a very personal note, thanks also goes to Ms. Rory Tolentino, as the former Executive Director of PBSP. She maintained the vision that PBSP should be active in the region, and should reach out, work and share experiences with its colleagues. Our gratitude likewise goes to Ms. Somying Soontornwong of the Thai Fund Foundation and The Asia Foundation for anchoring this conference. With us also is Mr. David Winder of Synergos Institute, who will also give some background about our activity today. Again, welcome and thank you very much.

David Winder
The Synergos Institute

As always, it is a great pleasure to be in Thailand or in Southeast Asia. I would like to thank our Thai host -- the Thai Fund Foundation -- for all the work they've done and for making this meeting possible. I can't name everybody, but I know in this kind of meeting a huge amount of work goes into the preparation. An enormous amount of thought has gone into setting the agenda up, and some arm-twisting done for people to make presentations. A huge amount of job was done in putting the conference together.

Before we launch into the discussion, it is useful to remind ourselves of why we are here. Some may be wondering about the term C-S-R-O. The history goes back to 1995 when Synergos Institute partnered with a number of organizations in Southeast Asia to map the universe of organizations that were mobilizing financial resources and using these resources to strengthen civil society. Sasakawa Foundation funded the research activity. I am pleased that Ms. Yayoi Tanaka is here with us today. She had been with the project since the very beginning. About 60 organizations were identified in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia that fit into the category defined. In the recent update, it brings the number of organizations' profiles to 100. Many of the organizations' profiles are with us today.

In searching for a term to describe these organizations, Civil Society Resource Organizations (CSROs) came up. The term is a mouthful but has a number of advantages over grant making organizations. It best describes organizations, which are doing more than simply giving grants. Above the giving of grant, these organizations are providing leaders in their communities, who assist in searching for solutions to deeply rooted problems of poverty and environmental destruction, or issues on women, youth, farmers or urban communities. But whatever or wherever CSROs are working, these organizations are proving to be more and more critical in providing resources and leadership in search of solutions to problems of society. Fortunately, a number of donors -- bilateral donors, foundations, and NGOs in Japan, Europe and North America appreciate the critical role that CSROs are playing in the region. They are providing financial support. I am pleased to see many of the bi-lateral organizations/donors here with us today. This is a great opportunity to dialogue.

The discussion on the CSROs in the early days pointed to a number of needs for institutional development. Those early researches showed a wealth of experience already in the region. In the first meeting, Synergos collaborated with PBSP and other organizations to organize a series of events for CSROs to exchange experiences and look at the past, then learn and build from those experiences. Valuable supports were provided by various organizations in putting together this meeting. They include Chulalangkorn University in Thailand, the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Thai Fund Foundation. In Indonesia, Bina Swadaya has been a close ally. Together, peer learning activities were undertaken. Synergos recognized that the best learning does not come from specialists but from practitioners. In the next day, it will become apparent what a wealth of experiences the CSROs in the region have. This process started with a number of meetings with CSROs that were held in 1997 and early 1998 in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, culminating in the 1st Regional Conference of CSROs, which was held in May 1998 in Tagaytay City, Philippines. The year was memorable as this is the fall of Suharto. Our Indonesian friends hardly made it to the conference. It was good that two were able to come. These early meetings were focused on resource mobilization; how to raise more resources so that they could implement their visions-missions and work with larger number of organizations. Topics of earlier discussion also include: the issue of building a sustainable financial strategy, of mobilizing resources for program operations and for building endowments.

In September 1999, another meeting was held in Manila, focused on endowment. There was clearly an increased interest in how to grow endowment and invest effectively to continue to expand programs.

All the meetings held provided rich opportunity for exchange of experiences, capturing them and sharing them more broadly.

Today is another great opportunity for us to come together for the 2nd regional conference on CSRO. We will look into the challenges facing us now, namely:

  • How to apply our human and financial resources to have a maximum impact on the problems of poverty and environmental destruction. Here we will look at how best to strengthen the civil society organizations and empower organizations at the community level, then see the usefulness of measuring impact of our work.
  • How to strengthen the accountability of the CSROs. Linked to this is how to create a more favorable legal/tax environment in our respective countries.
  • How to build synergies between sector and the government; between our sector and the market. Two panels will focus on these issues.
  • How to develop effective relationship with the Official Development Agencies (ODA) in ways, which forwards the agenda of both sectors. That will be the concluding panel.

As we explore these issues, solutions and challenges, we turn for inspiration to the members of this group. Many of you are grappling with these challenges and coming up with creative solutions. We would be sharing those in the next days.

Once again, this is a great opportunity to learn from each other and develop systems for on-going communication. We hope we could come up with ideas and suggestions for follow up in each country. A bit ambitious is the country plans this conference hopes to produce. We need to see what are the major issues in each country and how to move the discussion forward. They may vary from country to country depending on legislation regarding non-profit organizations.

Also, we've taken advantage of this event to add on another small workshop, which will take place in Bangkok on Thursday. The workshop is the Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) workshop, which will explore concept on ABCD, and how it can be used to support sustainable development of people's organizations. The main issue is: how to identify and mobilize local assets to support people and community organizations. Synergos invited CODE International Institute of CANADA and two representatives from SEARSOLIN, Philippines.

On behalf of Synergos, I express my thanks to our host, the Thai Fund Foundation and the staffs of PBSP, who were able to fine-tune all the arrangements. Also thank you all for making time to get away from your busy schedule. I know the Philippine delegation has something of a challenge to get here yesterday. Fortunately, they made it. I am sure you're not going to regret coming here to share experiences.

Lastly, our gratitude to Sasakawa Peace Foundation, NOVIB and Ford Foundation, which are generous to provide support. With this, I formally open the panel discussion.