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Expanding people's spaces in the globalising economy

Global Dialogue, September 5-9, 1998, Helsinki, Finland

Network Cultures' international team has been invited to attend and participate actively in an important international conference called : " Expanding People's Spaces in the Globalising Economy "..

In the invitation to it, IGGRI and the Finnish NGO KEPA wrote :

" Many people are experiencing the negative effects of the globalisation process which is why diverse struggles and movements, locally rooted, are resisting the forces of free trade. (...) We, the citizens of the world, can make a difference by employing creative solutions, and building networks that extend both to and beyond the halls of power and fame. (...) We want to answer a few basic questions. How is the globalisation process affecting the livelihoods of people at the local, national and global levels ? How is it affecting our environment, livelihoods, social security, political rights and cultural diversity/identity ? What can we do and what are we doing ?

The two inviting NGOs were IGGRI and KEPA. IGGRI (The International Group on Grass Roots Initiatives) is one of the international actors willing to challenge the current global situation. The IGGRI process, established as a result of the Grassroots Initiatives Strategies programme (GRIS) run by SID (Society for International Development), was registered as a network in 1985. It is a gathering of researcher/activists linking grassroots movements and formal development institutions. IGGRI members have met both in connection with international conferences and during informal gatherings for the past 13 years. The present agenda of IGGRI is to become more proactive, to create new possible scenarios and patterns of organisation as well as finding ways of communicating with international organisations. One of the very active members of IGGRI is our own president Luis Lopezllera Mendez, of Mexico.

KEPA was founded in 1985 as the Service Centre for Development Cooperation. It is the coordinating organisation of 180 Finnish NGOs.


This outstanding Sri Lankan intellectual and social activist, professor at the U.N. University, recalled that the hope existed in the 50 and the 60ies that, between neo-classical theory and the communist ideology, some formula would emerge to build a united and more human world. Unfortunately, this belief, which was largely shared, did not materialize, he said. Yet the irrelevance and irrationality of existing policies started to shock citizens in the 70ies. Some wondered about alternatives. " Marxism and capitalism would soon appear as two twin pilars of " The system " inflicting top-down solutions on people below. Those people suffer or are threatened by material poverty, alienation, dehumanization ", Wignaraja afffirmed. Let us note, in passing, that this speaker thus ignores any distinction between " marxism " as a sociological and economic tool (which can be considered partly valid), and leninistic communism (which most people consider totally abhorent).

The speaker indicated that this is why IGGRI tried to have a better view on people at grass-roots level. IGGRI discovered that :

  1. people are efficient and able to overcome difficulties and crises;
  2. when organized, they can increase their efficiency. " Growth, humanity, justice are not trade-offs quote ";
  3. people's spirituality is central in their ability to resist and be creative.

Punna Wignararaja said that the IGGRI network (of which he was an initiator) saw there was not only a social crisis but also an intellectual crisis : the old paradigm was not acceptable anymore.

Today, he added, the challenge is that the System has its agenda and will do everything to press it upon people. The people react, yet in a diverse, pluralistic way and not according to some elegant alternative, unified model. Can they gather into a counterveiling power ? We need counterveiling powers not just to stimulate participation and empowerment but also, Punna suggested, to achieve " a new social contract ". We need a new social contract, not drawn from a-priori theorizing but nurtured from peoples' practices and ideas. We then may have not a win-loose formula but a win-win game at last.

This introductory speech certainly put some very crucial questions to the audience. Four days of discussion were not too much to come to grips with them.


Susan George is a world reknown radical author, director of the T.I. (Transnational Institute). " Although I am often criticized for pessimism, I feel more hopeful today than before ", she said. Globalization is mostly bad news but the good news is that " the gang who claims to run the world, IMF-WTO-WB, the Davos crowd, are not knowing what they do. Their legitimacy is crumbling and this is offering us a window of opportunity. They panic, not we !

By globalization, Suzan George means not the centuries-old internationalization of finances. What she means is the effort to write a Constitution for the world. This was possible due to the collapse of the USSR ... The Soviet threat had obliged the Western leaders to have a welfare State and to claim they wished to eradicate poverty from the world. Now, this incitement is gone. And so has gone the will to really fight poverty. The main actors and architects are W.T.O., IMF and W.B. Most of the world trade is carried out by transnational companies (T.N.C.s) and therefore those T.N.Cs dictate the rules. The MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investments) would, if approved, give a Bill of Rights to M.N.C.s and do away with the remnants of national sovereignity. Lobbyists and P.R. experts work to give the impression that there is no alternative to this ideology. They have read Gramsci on intellectual hegemony. Suzan George said.

In a bold effort to synthesize the situation, Suzan George addressed the question : " What do they want ? ". Her answer, rendered here as faithfully as we could note while listening to her breathtaking address, sounded as follows :

  1. Competition : this is the rule. The survival of the fittest is the normal state of affairs. If you happen to be ill, not efficient, handicapped, you are out.
  2. Privatization : even the services crucial to life (water, transport ...) are to be taken away from public authority. State is to be limited to its judicial and police role.
  3. Flexible labour markets : no rights for workers, a replay of 19th century England. Down-sizing, getting rid of employees is the motto.
  4. Cultural uniformity : it is easier to produce the same things for everybody in the world. Everybody must be turned into consumers.
  5. Totally free investment : profits must be freely repatriated. No accountability, no control ! Companies respond only to (majority) shareholders.

This is a hegemonic, quasi " religious " system : the " dogma " cannot be questionned. Paradise is expected. Growth and M.N.C.s will lead to it some time in the future. The president of Nestlé repeats this mantra " investments create jobs, improve social and environmental standards ". He accuses critics of M.A.I. of expressing " wild critique ".

Today, the situation as seen by Susan George is thus. If you are part of the riches 20% of mankind, you will gain. If not, you will loose. The enormous transfer of wealth from poor to rich is offering no solution to the terrible question about what is to be done with the loosers. 1/3 of mankind will gain. The others ? It is not clear, she said. Should they disappear ? Will they survive ? How ?

" People's space - their espace vital - this is the key issue ", Suzan George hammered with conviction. " We can win this battle. The bastards have gone too far. They are incompetent and they loose their credibility ! ". This was the crux of her powerful and inspiring message.

Suzan George went on by saying that, today, people understand better what is going on. In the 80ies we were a little lost as changes were too fast. Offering some reasons for hope, she said : " We can also win because we have the numbers. 2000 people at Davos is not a very big slice of humanity ! We have the numbers but we need organization. We cannot count on our governments, who are caging in and give up their citizens. International organizations all push for more globalization. We are alone but we are the majority ! "

Suzan George added that we need alliances towards the bottom and the top. The middle classes are now the anxious classes : unemployment is there. She concluded with a few suggestions :

  1. Tax M.N.C.s to reduce social distancing.
  2. Work in trans-border ways by sector, affinity, trust ... as MNCs do this all the time.
  3. Let people never be deceived by deregulation.

Deregulation is a trap-word. We need rules and MNCs know it and want to impose their own rules, e.g. via MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment). We must suggest other rules, was the message.

And the speaker added : " Beware, cornered animals are very dangerous ". She compared MNCs with vampires in the old folk legends. Vampires are strong, have long teeth, live in nice castles and live off peoples' blood.

So do MNCs. But there is one weakness in all vampires : if you shed light on them, they shrivel away ! We need light to expose MNCs.


Orlando Fals Borda is the well-known Colombian promotor of P.A.R.(Participatory Action-Research). In his address, he said : " Modernity and development must be deconstructed. They are alien to people, to their cosmology and aspiration, to their wit and humour which constitute a counter-hegemonic force to counterbalance the assault of neo-liberal ideology. We need more than instrumental reason : heart and head must move in tandem to reconstruct our lives. It is in this spirit that Participatory Action-Research was launched (see " Cultures and Development " no. 27/28, March 1997). P.A.R. is a holistic method, Orlando Fals Borda said, based on dignity and a strong determination to understand and to change the situation. Lots of struggles come to the fore today, including cultural struggles. And that is hopeful.


Our friend Majid Rahnema is the author of the " Post-Development Reader " (a useful collection of texts by authors close to our Network) and a respected radical intellectual from Iranian descent he said : " Working on povery, I found it is absurd to qualify countries as 'poor'. Poverty does not exist and is only a reflection of others who consider themselves 'not poor' and 'rich'. He confessed that development had been his big conviction. " My generation perceived our countries as 'poor', not seeing how rich we are " he added. " We ourselves, intellectuals, started : we told our people that richness was not in what they were. I dis-valued them. I talked to them about development and modernity. We neglected peoples' wisdom, ethos ". And he added : " We paved the way for today's globalization. We (the development experts) prepared people to accept it. Development must stop intervening in other peoples' affairs " he concluded. Pondering wisely on the present catastrophe, he asked : " How can we bring back each one of us to their space and explore our richness ? ".


Sulak, our Thai friend and an engaged Buddhist said : " When asked by Mr. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, I answered " The economic crisis in Thailand is a heavenly message. Going for help to IMF is un-Buddhist because it promotes globalization. The globalization process is in the same logic as colonialism and development ".

In his softspoken ways, our gentle friend added : " Today, Bangkok is polluted and ugly although it used to be clear and beautiful. We have deviated tragically. But people begin to take to meditation again. We need a holistic spirituallity, a grounded view, to empower people for social struggle and transformation of life. 'The Center for Sustainable Communities' is one such place, the only one of its kind in South-East Asia.


In a first summary, made after the introductory addresses referred to above, Smitu Khotari said that several struggles seem to be fought in this globalizing world. He mentioned ten types of struggle presently in process :

  1. Struggle to be heard, resist being neglected.
  2. Struggle for justice at home, nation- and internationally.
  3. Struggle of human spirit (including value systems, campassion, interdependence, etc.) against looking at human beings as animal with needs.
  4. Struggle for diversity v. monoculture and the cloning of life.
  5. Struggle of wisdom v. information; we are swamped and Internet will not stop the devaluation of wisdom.
  6. Struggle of shared values v. devaluation of nature, relationship, life.
  7. Struggle of the cyclical v. the linear.
  8. Struggle of generosity v. selfishness; divine sacrifice.
  9. Struggle of deepening democracy v. virtual democracy.
  10. Struggle of building community v. fragmentation and alienation.


The following days were spent in seminar discussions. The happy Finnish habit of enjoying sauna baths together helped to foster conviviality and mutual confidence and a more " holistic " participation than just at the level of brains. A number of meaningful rituals were also included, some hindou and some christian. Bhuddist and christian meditation were also available. Interesting exhibitions of articraft and of on-going solidarity campaigns were to be seen in the corridors, as well as a very rich choice of publications by the more than 200 participants.

As one of the important conclusions of this particularly successful and challenging conference, a statement came out. It is called " Statement by Participants in the Gathering on Expanding People's Spaces in a Globalising Economy at the Hanasaari Culture Centre in Espoo, Finland (4-9 September 1998) and Other Like-minded Persons ". It goes like this :

The Nature of the Hanasaari Statement

The statement which follows is not a consensus document reflecting the lowest common denominator of agreement. It rather reflects some of the salient concerns brought to the table at this gathering by grassroots activisits and others from over 40 countries struggling to build a more just, sustainable and democratic world. It is also not a statement by the gathering as a whole but only those who have chosen to sign it. And they have endorsed the general thrust of the statement while not necessarily agreeing with every single proposition in it. Nor is it confined to participants in the Hanasaari Gathering. Other persons who share these concerns are invited to sign on. Among the signatories are Luis Lopezllera Mendez, president of the South North Network Cultures and Development, Orlando Fals-Borda, Vijay Pratap, Judith Bizot and many others. To sign on, send an cipanu@igc.apc.org with " Endorse Hanasaari Statement "

The Global Problematique

Globalisation - i.e., corporation-driven integration of the world economic system - has brought an unprecedented shift in power, as state sovereignty has been eroded by giant multinational corporations and financial institutions, the biggest of which are now larger than most nation-states. Indeed, the gross domestic product of Finland, the 39th largest economy in the world today, is dwarfed by the gross incomes of Mitshubishi, General Motors, Ford and half a dozen other giant corporations.

Concurrent with this shift, the world has been experiencing ever deepening environmental degradation, widespread unemployment and economic insecurity, displacement of peoples and cultures, violence against women, pandemic poverty, an unravelling of the social fabric, and an assault on democratic institutions and spiritual values. The situation is becoming so deseprate that the founder and current director of the Davos World Economic Forum warned recently of a mounting backlash against globalisation that " can easily turn into revolt ".

This problematique has drastically shrunk people's spaces over the past half century and especially the past two decades as the global concentration of wealth and power has accelerated. The rate of capital accumulation of the top 200 corporations is truly stunning. Measured as a share of world GDP, the assets of this group of corporations has grown from 17 percent in the mid-1960s to 24 percent in 1982 to over 32 percent in 1995.


It is the economics of power, not the power of economics, that drives modern market forces. This single most significant market force today is the corporation. Similarly, the global process we are experiencing today is not the power of globalisation but the globalisation of power.

But this problematique has also provoked resistance by those at the bottom in both South and the North who have all too often been squeezed the most by globalisation, especially women. Local bonds of solidarity and cooperation have helped poor communities in all parts of the world to survive. Their experiences offer exciting promise for the future in the determination of those communities to shape their own destiny as we seek to expand people's spaces in a bottom-up process of what might be called people's globalisation. In country after country, women are in the vanguard as this process moves forward.

We also recognize the vulnerability of the giant corporations and financial institutions which dominate today's global political economy. The contradictions in neo-liberal economic policies have been sharply exposed in recent months by the financial crisis in South East Asia, the recession in Japan, and the near collapse of the Russian economy. Key players in this house of cards have shown how stupid and short-sighted they can be, driven as they are by greed and the insatiable demand for continued growth.

Some next steps

The central task before us is finding ways to expand people's spaces in the global political economy in the face of these contradictions. That search must take into account the reality that people's spaces are many and varied and there is no single path to achieving this goal. With that qualification in mind, here are a few of the next steps which we believe will help move us toward the goal of expanded people's spaces.

  1. Peoples throughout the world are being alienated from their spiritual roots by the dominant forces of materialism unleashed by giant corporations in their never-ending quest for bigger markets. This quest is redefining cultural values, as human beings everywhere are being turned into global consumers. The challenge before us begins with our inner selves as we see to reclaim our cultural heritage and redefine spirituality in relation to life and struggle. We must learn once again how to preserve and share our own stories, not those manufactured for us in the marketing department of some remote corporation.
  2. Participatory Action Research (PAR), which seeks to link popular and academic knowledge in popular struggle, assumes renewed importance as we seek to expand people's spaces in a world increasingly ruled by giant global corporations. PAR is a positive approach to social change which celebrates traditional values and relationships within the framework of programs of political and economic action to resist the forces of globalisation.
  3. Democratic values and institutions are under severe attack in our globalised world. Corporations, the principal agents of globalisation, are fundamentally anti-democratic. Therefore, a major challenge in expanding people's spaces is revitalizing democratic decision-making at all levels from the community to the nation and the world. But we must be wary of the formal trappings of democracy which often hide the concentration of power in few rather than many hands. Our objective must be real democracy which means empowerment of the people.
  4. Some of us believe that, in the Gandhian tradition, we have a moral duty to resist through non-violent civil disobedience injustice through the usurpation of the peoples' ownership of the means of production by global corporations as we work to decentralise systems of production and consumption. Still others of us argue that giant global corporations are beyond control by the state and that therefore the only logical strategy, if we are to build a more just, sustainable and democratic world, is to work towards dismantling the 1000 largest corporations on the face of the Earth.
  5. We categorically reject and will work energetically to defeat the Multinational Agreement on Investment which the Director General of the World Trade Organisations is alleged to have called " the constitution of the single global economy " but which we regard as a bill of rights and freedoms for transnational corporations and a charter for corporate rule of the world.
  6. We heartily endorse and will work with equal energy to achieve the goal of Jubilee 2000 : Cancellation of the unpayable debt of the world's poorest countries by the year 2000.
  7. We applaud efforts by the poor to organize themselves and build links with poor people's movements around the world in order to resist their marginalisation and exploitation in a global political economy controlled by multinational corporations. We must lend all possible support to these efforts.
  8. As resistance to globalisation has grown in recent years, networks, coalitions and alliances of popular movements have multiplied. The time has come to link these formations in order to speak with stronger voices in the struggle against global structures of power. We therefore urge that the first steps be taken toward creating a global people's forum, not as a single event or place but rather as a framework for connecting and strengthening the many existing forums and networks. Its objectives should include exposing the human rights, environmental and spiritual imapcts of globalisation, identifying appropriate frameworks for resisting these impacts and for revitalising democracy, and building broadly based public support for the actions needed to achieve the foregoing goals.



We are proud to offer to our readers a challenging note from our Nepali friend Dipak Gyawali. This was presented as a concept note to the Conference " Expanding Peoples' Spaces in the Globalising Economy ", held at Hanasaari Cultural Center, Espoo, Finland, 5-9 September, 1998. Dipak is a powerful intellectual and social activist whose political stands have had their impact in Nepal.

Certain words acquire unquestioning legitimacy which closer scrutiny can challenge. Development is one such expression, and sustainable development even more so. In post-democracy Nepal, after decades of unchallenged supremacy of Development and agencies propagating the same, it is being grudgingly accepted that one man's development can often be another man's degradation. Globalization is another such word, which, thankfully because of strong critique from the alternative movement, never achieved the same overwhelming supremacy in social theology as Development. However, the same set of socio-historical forces that (mis)used Development is using Globalization as the new mantra of salvation where the consequences may be just as serious or worse. There are ample reasons to believe that it is being used to further the agenda of market expansion in the name of efficiency, a corollary of which is destruction of diversity.

In critiquing Globalization, it is important to step back and consider the institutional background against which this process is being played out. In connection with the South at the end of the XXth Century, the relevant context is contained in the phenomena of the informal economy and the loss of nation-state as an institutional resource. Understanding these two factors is necessary before prescribing strategies dealing with Globalization.

Informal World

Informal economy dominates the South. In other words, an overwhelming majority of the population of the Third World is outside of the formalized " national economy " in which it is either unable to participate or can participate only under unequal and demeaning terms. Southern population can be divided into " omnivores " versus " ecosystem people " and " eco-refugees " depending on how they are able to capture global resources (Gadgil and Guha, 1995). Omnivores are those rich in the South whose resource catchment is the entire planet (no different from the Northern rich). The others form the bulk of what is known as the informal world, and either live in teh villages where most of their needs come from within a few tens of kilometers of their homes or in the margins of islands of prosperity such as the slums of overcrowded cities. In India, the population of the latter is more than 80% while that of the former is less than 20%. (...) Globalization in these areas of the informal economy has meant two things : first, it is the entry of heavyweight market (or urban) players which further marginalize those in this already fringe-area ; and second, it serves to severe the moral need for the resource users to carefully husband the resource base through long-term, intergenerational custodianship.

Loss of State as Institutional Resource

Nandy (1996) describes the phenomenon of simultaneous or multiple identities. In India, the Anthropological Survey lists some 600 communities that cannot be identified with any one religion. In the case of South Asia, attempting to homogenize the identity of such diverse people that fall within 2000 languages and 20,000 castes and subcastes is an exercise in repressive power of the state. Because the evolution of the nation-state has been different in Western Europe and in the South, nationalism in the South has become one of the major tactics for organizing the majority of the people for reproducing state power, in the process alienating the vast collage of minorities (Ahmed, 1996). The impact of this process has been the growth of a " security state " where the security apparatus is increasingly used against diversity-seeking minorities. Another consequence has been the hijacking of Development to benefit the class of omnivores.

This alienation of the state from the masses in the South has led to the failure of Development. After four decades of development aid, the net flow of resources is from the South to the North and not the other way around, it being the bottom-line indicator of its failure. While development doctors diagnose ills in Southern societies for this failure (conjuring up such terms as " low absorptive capacity ", " weak institutional base ", etc. and essentially blaming the victims of Development), Foreign aid has become addictive to the state structures of the South even when there are signs of increasing aid fatigue in the North. The gap between the intended and actual beneficiaires, between intent and performance, is too wide to be ignored.

To enforce the Omnivore's definition of Development - with which an inceasingly clamorous set of voices is not in consonance - the repressive power of the state is used with increasing frequency. (...)