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CESE promotes debate about institutional strengthening for grassroots organizations in the Cerrado

Aspects such as financial organization and the adoption of good communication strategies are fundamental for the institutional strengthening of grassroots organizations.  However, less operational characteristics are also essential.  Examples include the exercise of collective leadership, democratic methodology, the empowerment of diverse members and the recognition of one’s own mission.

On the mornings of 28, 29 and 30 April, the Institutional Strengthening of Grassroots Organizations and the Anti-racist Struggle were the themes of workshops run by the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE)  in partnership with the Ibirapitanga Institute for members of these organizations.  The above were some of the aspects featured in the debate, regarded as essential to improve the way the groups structure their operations.

The workshops constitute another stage in the project “Strengthening Cerrado organizations to tackle racism”, whose main focus is tackling structural racism by strengthening sustainable food systems in quilombola and traditional communities in the Cerrado.  The schedule includes joint activities with grassroots movements and will continue until October.

These meetings aimed to provide an arena for organizations’ self-assessment.  The idea was to debate those aspects that should be maintained and things that could be improved, as well as to challenge participants about their approach to inclusive themes when projects are under development – these include issues related to young people, race, gender and similar matters.  About 17 organizations participated in the meetings.

On the first day, participants debated those aspects desirable for a strong organization. From an administrative point of view, strategic communication (internal and external) and financial organization were considered extremely important.  “It is necessary to know how to communicate within the organization itself, with other partners, political subjects, with society,” said Olga Matos, one of CESE’s Projects and Training Advisors and a workshop trainer.

She noted that the organizations must be ready to confront, rather than to depend on the traditional corporate media. “How do we use communication to win over hearts and minds to these disputed narratives, such as the fires in the Cerrado? The media does not promote our agendas, does not speak our language.  We need to protect ourselves from the criminalization of the struggles.”

Rosane Fernandes, also one of CESE’s Projects and Training Advisors and a workshop trainer, recalled the need for organizations to seek out sustainability.  “Organizations don’t need to be rich, but they have to think about ways to mobilize resources, not only the financial. They could have a good support network. This will strengthen the organization within the political field,” she noted.

She also warned of the need for in-depth knowledge about the institutions that say they are supporting your cause.  “CESE, for example, has criteria for receiving funds.  Sometimes it could be a company that is destroying the environment, but is looking for an activity to provide a false image of commitment and social responsibility.”

From the perspective of the heart of organizations and the motivations each is guided by, members of the movements noted the need for non-centralized, democratic, collective leadership based on mutual respect between members; the capacity to self-assess; representation, the inclusion of women, young people, children, schools and discussions about race; grassroots work, and other aspects.

On the second day of the workshop, an arena was provided for self-assessment and the recognition of the organizations’ qualities and challenges.  This focused on things that are being run efficiently within each organization and need to be maintained, but also what could improve.  The conversation also revolved around how much the organizations are able to debate issues of gender and race internally.

The third and last day was reserved for a conversation about instructions for the development of projects. A group was also set up – including young people who were present at the meetings – to consider the inclusion of young people within the organizations in a more active and organic way.

Sônia Mota, CESE’s Executive Director, also attended and talked about the importance of CESE’s participation as a partner in the struggles of organizations from the Cerrado.  “We know that the biome is intentionally made invisible so that its riches can be further exploited, to advance into the territories.  It is important to have this opportunity to strengthen these institutional dynamics, because, in the end, you are the guardians of the Cerrado.”