I.1. Policies in an
framework of action to fight poverty in an urban
organizations within local support networks
simplistic perceptions and strengthening local support networks
II.3. Support for
organizations and follow-up for their initiatives
institutions and the State: regulation and the public arena
and the public arena: a place for conflict
III.3. The State
and the municipalities
III.4. The civil
society-State relationship is at the core of policies
development NGOs. Mediation and support
contribution of NGOs
limitations of NGOs
V. General framework
V.1. Problems often
encountered in “well-intentioned” strategies
V.2. The general
framework of action
available in the printer friendly PDF format.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce this new publication in the
Policy Paper Series on the theme of "Policies to fight urban poverty: A
general framework for action". This study is the outcome of the project
"Cities: management of social transformations and the environment", the
first research-action project undertaken, from 1996 to 2001, by the MOST
programme. The project's coordinator is Geneviève Domenach-Chich, who is
in charge of MOST's urban settlements unit, a UNESCO focal point for
follow-up to Habitat 11.
The objective assigned to the Cities Project was to "encourage
initiatives designed to improve the quality of life and encourage citizens
to play their role in the urban environment". The Project was implemented
as part of a strategy to fight poverty and benefit the neediest urban
populations. Its three specific aims have been:
- To encourage and support initiatives taken by inhabitants to improve
their living conditions (access to drinking water, waste disposal,
creating income-generating activities, organizing public spaces within
neighbourhoods and upgrading the built environment);
- To strengthen the capacity of local actors, particularly young
people and women, via training activities;
- To encourage partnerships between non-governmental organizations
(NG0s), community-based organizations (CB0s), citizens, municipalities,
the State, the private sector and the academic world with a view to
strengthening urban governance based on participation and democratic
It was implemented as part of follow-up to the Habitat 11 Conference
held in Istanbul in June 1996, in two pilot sites:
Yeumbeul-Malika in the suburbs of Dakar (Senegal) and jalousie, a
district of Port-au-Prince (Haiti).
In 2000-2001, Denis Merklen, the author of this publication, made an
external evaluation of actions carried out in the two sites. The
evaluation attempted to answer the following questions, which are closely
related to the objectives of the Cities Project:
- How does the project contribute to the training of local actors in
the fields of social and environmental management?
- How does the project, which aims to improve inhabitants' living
conditions, trigger a development process? How does it facilitate the
transition from an anti-poverty strategy to a development
- How does the project contribute to the construction of democratic
culture and a sense of joint concern for the common welfare via
partnership between the people and their elected representatives, and
hence to narrowing the gap between people and the State?
- How does the project relate to power relationships between local
The observations, analyses and recommendations contained in the
evaluation highlight the relationship between the objectives of the Cities
Project, its implementation, the methodologies used and the results
obtained, emphasizing two major points:
- the actors and the relational frameworks of a development
project in the urban environment
The report begins with an analysis of the type of action carried out by
neighbourhood organizations and their local support networks, which embody
the principal social capital of inhabitants and also propagate democratic
culture. It goes on to emphasize the irreplaceability of public
institutions and the State as mainstay and architect of the public arena
and thus of the democratic resolution of conflicts. The report sheds light
on institutions as regulators of social life, a role that neither
neighbourhood associations nor development NGOs can take over.
- the added value of the Cities Project
This added value can be categorized under three major headings:
legitimacy, catalysis and research-action.
- As part of an "action-reaction" process, the Cities Project aims to
create a kind of momentum for participation (catalysis);
- The project confers legitimacy on development actors (supporting
local inhabitants' initiatives and their grassroots organizations,
encouraging the State to fulfil its due functions) and on a kind of
democratic action (legitimacy);
- Through a process of collective planning and interplay between
action and conceptualization, the Cities Project aims to build a fund of
practical knowledge and to produce conceptual and methodological
frameworks which should provide useful guidelines for urban development
The study presented here extrapolates from the Cities Project a
conceptual and methodological framework that could be applied in other
development projects tackling the problem of urban poverty, thus ensuring
the transferability of the Cities Project. It includes recommendations for
action that allow us to move away from the false "either-or" options
regarding development projects: micro/macro, State/civil society,
research/action. Through recommendations intended for political
decision-makers and social actors, this study is a contribution to the
MOST programme's major ambition: to build bridges between research, action
and the world of political decision-making.
Executive Secretary of the MOST programme
Director of the Division of Social Science
Research and Policies,
All the international bodies agree in designating the growth of poverty
as a major problem and its eradication as a challenge. UNESCO describes
poverty as a “long-standing scourge on mankind” and states that “today
there can be no more important and central challenge for the world
community than the fight against poverty” (UNESCO 160EX/13, 2000). This
recognition of the growth of poverty and of the need for a response, which
emerged in the public arena in the 1990s, is a positive development when
set alongside the tenor of debates in the 1980s. There is an urgent need
to intervene with effective policies, and the living conditions of whole
populations render any other justification for action superfluous. This is
the plea put forward by United Nations agencies such as UNDP (UNDP, 2000)
and UNESCO (UNESCO, 2000) and by funding bodies including the World Bank
(World Bank, 2000) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB,
I.1. Policies in an urban environment.
One of the main factors influencing poverty-related social
transformations is rapid urbanization of the type observed in various
regions of Asia and Africa and in certain Latin American countries. Though
the most serious situations are generally found in rural areas, poor
people migrate from the countryside and are increasingly concentrated in
cities. The urban environment thus constitutes a specific field of
We shall explore this field of action for policies to fight urban
poverty, focusing on its specific features. This will enable us to define
the types of actors likely to be involved and who might be mobilized, and
also possible courses of action. We shall focus our proposals on a
general framework of action designed to identify the main
contextual factors, the types of actors mobilized, the main guidelines for
policies and their relational framework.
The guidelines put forward in this document constitute a
methodological framework. They should not in any circumstances be
regarded as “the” strategy to fight poverty. Nor should they be considered
as representing a choice between the macro and micro levels. Policies in
an urban environment cannot replace general policies at national and
international levels. The latter are concerned with, for example, problems
of external debt, north-south relations and the role of States in relation
to globalization. National-level policies will refer to economic
development, inequalities, job insecurity and public education. UNESCO has
recalled the important role of international bodies in moving from
“poverty eradication actions with and for the poor” towards “a broader
level, bearing on the dynamics of society as a whole” (160 EX/13,
The absence of energetic and significant action to help poor and
marginalized people living in large cities has two types of adverse
outcomes. First, the urban poor are obliged to devise for themselves ways
of life and strategies that focus almost exclusively on adapting to their
situation and not on transforming it. On the one hand, such people take
refuge in their community; on the other, they explore the city, the place
where all resources are concentrated, with the detachment of those who
know they are outside the channels of production, circulation and
consumption. Second, government inaction, whether it is the result of a
lack of capacity or of purpose, further discredits the State, whose
legitimacy is already undermined by the effects of economic concentration
and increased trade autonomy. And yet the State remains a pivotal
structure for the construction of sustainable solutions for social
I.2. General framework of action to fight poverty in
an urban environment.
The present document is a contribution to “UNESCO’s strategy on
development and poverty eradication” (160 EX/13: paragraph 12.a). It
presents a general framework of action for the formulation and
implementation of policies to fight poverty in an urban
environment. As a methodological guide, its proposals have two main
thrusts. The first bears on the roles of the actors. The importance of
neighbourhood organizations is highlighted, as is also the role of
democratic participatory processes which empower poor people to become
protagonists in policies at both local and national level. Also defined
are the two pivotal functions of the State: regulation of social life and
institutionalization of the public arena. As part of the second thrust,
the methodological framework proposes setting up a neighbourhood
organization/State/NGO relational framework to provide guidance for
the planning and implementation of policies to fight poverty.
This document is a contribution to another priority area within
UNESCO’s strategy (160 EX/13: paragraph 12.e): the development of “field
projects that are to be demonstrably innovative”. It draws on the major
lessons learnt from the evaluation of the project “Cities: management of
social transformations and the environment” , a research-action project implemented from 1996 to 2001
as part of UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme.
The Cities Project makes a major contribution by placing neighbourhood
organizations at the core of public policies for social and environmental
management in an urban environment. It also emphasises the State’s pivotal
role. In most developing countries both these types of actors need
support. Setting up ongoing processes of communication between State and
civil society is seen as the key method of policy implementation,
providing a way of enhancing innovatory initiatives and of coping with the
conflicts inherent in poverty eradication.
II. Neighbourhood organizations within local support
There is abundant evidence that neighbourhood organizations play an
important role in promoting social integration, especially of marginal
populations living in large cities in developing countries. When other
backup is weak or non-existent (e.g. job opportunities or social welfare
provision) people rely for protection on organizations that have emerged
from local support networks. The importance of these organizations is not
always recognised at State level and by the institutional system. They are
often seen by governments as destabilising factors and by technocrats as
an obstacle to planning, whilst political parties consider them merely as
Neighbourhood organizations should be supported and recognised as
actors in development policies and in policies to promote democratic
culture. Experience has shown that they possess a large capacity for
initiative in the context of development projects and that they constitute
an excellent tool for the management of social policies.
In a wide range of contexts, neighbourhood organizations have shown an
often surprising capacity for improving human settlements and for social
management. One instance is that of the asentamientos, squatter
settlements in Buenos Aires and Montevideo, which have evolved into built
neighbourhoods with high levels of collective facilities (Merklen (a),
2000). Similar developments have occurred in most big South American
cities, e.g. the “Villa El Salvador” neighbourhood in Peru (Franco, 1993).
These movements, which reflect the emergence of an autonomous collective
acceptance of responsibility, usually fight for public recognition on the
basis of a broad degree of participation and mobilisation. In Argentina,
for example, neighbourhood organizations have provided backstop support
for people coping with emergencies like the galloping inflation of the
early 1990s and more recently the job crisis. They have also given impetus
to numerous projects to provide access to drinking water and electricity
supplies, build creches and community canteens and set up dispensaries. In
its two interventions in Haiti and in Senegal, the Cities Project
strengthened local organizations, considerably improving the local quality
of life (drinking water supply, drainage, improvements to urban buildings)
and encouraging the implementation of a participatory framework.
Despite the often manifest suspicion of governments and technocrats,
for more than a decade voices have been raised to stress the potential of
neighbourhood organizations. However, such attestations, especially those
from NGOs and international organizations, have not so far led to any real
recognition of this social capital, nor an acknowledgment of its true
FIRST RECOMMENDATION: Policies to fight poverty must
draw on the considerable social capital that neighbourhood organizations
represent. These organizations make significant contributions at
four levels, which should underpin strategies in an urban
a. Initiative. Neighbourhood organizations possess a
great capacity for initiative and creativity in implementing courses of
action geared to their context and needs. This capacity is the fruit of
people’s in-depth experience and knowledge of their own environment.
Moreover, such organizations are not subject to institutional constraints
and hence enjoy a large degree of flexibility. Lack of resources
stimulates the imagination, often resulting in courses of action geared to
the community’s needs and capabilities. Such initiatives need to be backed
up by technical input and resources for their implementation. The first
objective of development policies should be to support inhabitants’
b. Participation. Participation of stakeholders has
been recognised as an essential component of policies to fight poverty
(UNESCO, 160 EX/13, paragraph 6.b). Not only is this a sine qua non of
democratic policies, it also promotes the efficiency of public policies
 . The community is a key level for organizing interactivity,
creating a favourable environment where people can more readily be
mobilised. Participation has an instrumental effect, maximising the impact
of policies and the productiveness of the means employed.
c. Democracy. Neighbourhood associations have
succeeded in developing processes and structures involving a high level of
participation, thereby promoting democratic culture. Features of life in
many neighbourhoods often include the election of their leadership by
secret ballot, the choice of delegate groups for each housing block, the
holding of periodic assemblies and the setting up of horizontally
organised committees. The neighbourhood can be a key environment for
developing the practice of direct democracy. At this level, participation
is ontological and not instrumental, and is vital for the growth of
democratic culture. However, the promotion of democratic practice
within neighbourhood organizations should go hand in hand with the
latter’s incorporation into measures to further decentralisation and local
democracy. The promotion of democracy in neighbourhood organizations
should receive State recognition
d. Social management. As a corollary of the
three preceding points, the community is an excellent level for the
management of decentralised social policies. Naturally and historically,
the local community constitutes the primary level for the organization of
welfare and assistance (before this is professionalised and taken in hand
by specific institutions). Numerous instances could be cited: the setting
up of creches and community schools, promotion of preventive health care
practices, assistance via the organization of canteens and consumer
co-operatives, social activities like the introduction of women’s
collectives. To inject greater dynamism into self-managed experiments,
there will need to be linkage with the State level.
II.1. Transcending simplistic perceptions and
strengthening local support networks.
Though organizations can be a valuable asset in the fight against
poverty, they are often locked into defence mechanisms and the need to
respond to the distress of local populations. These processes hinder their
incorporation into development projects. Neighbourhood organizations are
often caught between two fires. First, they are subject to the constraints
of a community system of which they are the public manifestation and the
mobilised section. Second, they are engaged in ongoing discussions with
institutional actors situated outside the neighbourhood, especially the
State. We shall analyse the first process below. The relationship between
neighbourhood organizations and their socio-political environment will be
dealt with when we examine the role of the State (cf. infra,
III. Public institutions and the State.)
Neighbourhood organizations are the mobilized section of a human group
(the neighbourhood) which is underpinned by a local support network. The
nature of this network is a factor that determines the potential of local
organizations for action and for their inclusion in a democratic process
This fabric of local support characteristic of the urban poor and
socially excluded can be represented metaphorically in terms of “social
clusters” (Ndione, 1987). This striking image accurately encapsulates the
structure of a local society whose building blocks are groups of various
kinds attached by stalks to a common trunk. Family, lineage, ethnic
groups, neighbourhood associations and brotherhoods are the constituent
clusters of Senegalese neighbourhoods. Within each cluster are
micro-societies whose ground-rules are traditional or customary,
religious, family- or association-focused and which lay down a series of
hierarchical procedures. The cluster image is a key to understanding the
fragmented yet interconnected nature of local society.
Mobilisation of populations therefore requires that consideration be
given to people’s multiple affiliations, i.e. one person will usually
belong to several groups. A young person may, for instance, be part of a
supportive family, belong to a brotherhood, respect a hierarchy based on
custom or lineage and be a member of a local association concerned with
children’s education or sport. These multiple local affiliations
constitute people’s main rampart against social disintegration. People
tend to belong to as many clusters as possible. This survival
strategy is comparable to a comprehensive insurance cover enabling people
to cope with sickness, unforeseen expenses such as weddings, funerals or
births, temporary lack of funds or a house fire.
At the community level, the groups overlap like circles in the
intersections in a Wenn diagram. This collective expression of the
above-mentioned phenomenon of multiple affiliation provides an insight
into the role of the various actors and agents in social life. All forms
of group action are superimposed, and while each level retains a certain
degree of autonomy, affiliation to local support networks (often family-
or religion-based) determines the complexity of the social fabric. This
pattern of community relations constitutes the substance of the primary
support which Robert Castel has defined as “systems of rules which
directly link members of a group on the basis of their family,
neighbourhood or work affiliations and weave networks of interdependence
without mediation by specific institutions” (Castel, 1995: 34ss).
Regulations are made on the basis of people’s inclusion in their
territory. Locally-based communities organise social welfare for the needy
by mobilising the economic and relational resources of their family and/or
local environment. The existence of such roots is the key to understanding
how people survive in societies where poverty is often dire and
The traditions and characteristic features of each people take on their
fullest importance in local support networks. In this context, policies to
fight poverty must show maximum flexibility in project implementation. In
Haiti, for example, voodoo is to a large extent a form of social cement,
whereas in Senegal this role is played by brotherhoods or ethnic groups
and in Latin America it would probably be assumed by the parishes of the
Catholic Church and by networks based on cronyism. In some Brazilian
cities a considerable incidence of Macumba/Catholicism syncretism would be
In the suburbs of Dakar we observed that the ground-rules of community
life prevented women’s groups from playing a full part in the development
process. These groups, which are part of a process of circulation and
co-operation based on a tradition of tontines -- self-help funds
administered by women notables -- pursue a variety of economic activities
which are incompatible with the accumulation process which is
indispensable for integration into the market. Sooner or later all the
funds injected by development projects disappear into the maze of
grassroots support networks.
To turn to another point, we observed that, in Port-au-Prince,
neighbourhood associations have begun to keep order in the neighbourhood,
overtly taking over from the legal system and the police. This development
is to a large extent a response to the non-existence of the State (the
current situation of Haitian society) but the fact remains that this use
of power could well become totalitarian, as has often occurred. It has
been observed on many occasions that neighbourhood organizations can
exercise power over inhabitants in a manifestly arbitrary way. This is
often imperceptible to an outside observer. In some neighbourhoods of the
Argentine capital, for example, we have observed forms of community
control that were often incompatible with individual freedom in its most
basic form  . These observations must be borne in mind in order to
avoid pitfalls linked to an excessively simplistic image of neighbourhood
associations  .
Two risks are then apparent. First, aid earmarked for a development
project may be used by neighbourhood associations to further their own
ends within the community. This is usually an obstacle that has to be
overcome when “hunting” type behaviour (which will be described below) is
very deep-rooted. Second, the project may serve to strengthen
organizations run according to criteria that are incompatible with
The social mobilisation which development projects aim to support is
caught between two different poles of attraction. On the one hand, there
are the cultural traditions and local support networks which are
indispensable in current survival conditions. These are the foundations of
local participation structures. On the other, there are the State and
political system. The participation in social life that is supported and
to some extent initiated by policies to fight poverty is based in
neighbourhoods that are already organised. In Haiti, for example, young
people’s participation is to some extent the product of grassroots
traditions that have grown up during a history of resistance to and
co-existence with a totalitarian authority. In one sense, therefore, the
mobilisation upon which all development projects depend is bound to be the
heir of local support networks, partly resulting from the culture of
survival and resistance, partly rooted in community life, partly governed
by religious traditions, partly the offshoot of family structures, and
partly the product of political traditions at the grassroots level.
These local inclusion  structures and these underlying legacies
are responsible for the vigour of the neighbourhood’s community life. But
at the same time, they may restrict its potential to move towards a
culture of citizenship. One way in which this legacy and these structures
might evolve could be via political involvement (in the sense of becoming
part of the public arena).
II.2. Neighbourhood organizations.
On the basis of these local support networks, neighbourhoods acquire a
range of organizations which perform a dual function. First, they
represent the neighbourhood in the public arena and in relation to the
State. Second, they launch and organize a variety of initiatives within
the neighbourhood. Their action has a twofold purpose: they fight to
improve living conditions; and they seek recognition, defend an identity
and promote various values.
To an outside observer, neighbourhood organizations are the most
visible form of collective action. They are in close contact with local
support structures and the neighbourhood culture. Neighbourhood
organizations thus work simultaneously with local networks and with
institutions that possess the resources they need and which represent the
society’s universal values. Consequently, they perform an important
function as mediators between inhabitants and institutions, whilst at the
same time forming part of the neighbourhood.
SECOND RECOMMENDATION: The two main areas in which
neighbourhood organizations are active – improving living conditions and
building a neighbourhood identity – must be at the core of policies.
Neither of these two areas should take priority over the other. Only local
actors will be equipped to determine this priority.
a. Improving quality of life. Action here has two
aims. First, improving infrastructures and urban services in general (e.g.
drinking water supply, drainage, electricity, public lighting, transport,
urban waste treatment) and upgrading buildings ranging from the urban
framework (e.g. squares and other public areas, bridges, pavements, roads,
staircases) to housing (house repair, extension and building). This field
of action includes the urban environment, which is often rundown and
insalubrious. Since the poor are usually relegated to marginal areas of
the city, there are often major environmental problems (e.g. flooding,
rubbish dumps, overcrowding, contamination, pollution).
Second, action to promote community life and to provide backup for
family life and disadvantaged persons. Neighbourhood organizations often
engage in social work, providing a vast range of welfare services. This is
classic community work, e.g. creches, canteens, schools, dispensaries,
association HQs, health care, leisure activities for children and young
people, theatre groups, football teams. Groups engaged in economic
activities are often found at this level, e.g. women’s groups, micro
production projects, consumer co-operatives.
b. The struggle for recognition. Action is designed to
promote integration, the defence or construction of a neighbourhood
identity, public recognition and ending outcast status. Activities include
giving names to streets and numbering dwellings to provide legal evidence
of residence, cleaning up streets and removing rubbish dumps. These
aspirations explain why seemingly disproportionate projects may be
proposed, e.g. the construction of a football stadium in the middle of a
shantytown. In point of fact, such initiatives strengthen people’s sense
of belonging, and may help them to feel proud of their neighbourhood.
Similar feelings motivate the desire for legal title to property. Though
squatting is linked to “practical” difficulties, it is often felt to be
shameful and is a source of insecurity.
II.3. Support for organizations and follow-up for
It is clearly by design that neighbourhood organizations centre their
action on improving quality of life and fighting for recognition. There
are three reasons why they act in this way:
1) These aspirations are closely linked to the survival and
reproduction of persons and households; these are not strictly private
matters. Survival is organised at community level.
2) The organizations’ local character. Neighbourhood organizations need
to be able to garner the fruits of their action for the people they
3) These two areas concern the neighbourhood rather than individuals.
Action focuses on the identity of individual persons and their local
inclusion and on the neighbourhood’s social cohesion. Achievement of these
goals (e.g. a postal address or one’s domicile noted on one’s identity
card) “normalises” the neighbourhood by absorbing it into the city and
integrating it into regular procedures. The struggle is about making the
transition from inclusion in a community to social integration via
recognition from public institutions and participation in social life.
The main guidelines for a policy to fight poverty in an urban
environment must cover this ground, despite the complexity and extent of
the urban phenomenon, and the many facets of the fight against poverty.
From the viewpoint of a strategy to fight poverty, the demands of
populations may sometimes seem superfluous
 . As we shall see below (cf. infra) it is necessary to look
further than the concept of “poverty”. First, because this concept does
not cover all the social problems found in poor neighbourhoods. Second,
because injecting an “anti-poverty” slant into development policies is
incompatible with the complexity of the action that must be taken.
Empowering the poor must be the aim of policies to fight poverty.
THIRD RECOMMENDATION: In order to strengthen
neighbourhood organizations, policies to fight poverty in an urban
environment should do two things: transfer resources and introduce a
a. Empower neighbourhood organizations by transferring
resources to them (e.g. training, technology transfer, general supply of
resources, building of premises).
b. Set up participatory bodies linking neighbourhoods and
public institutions controlling resources and the power to regulate social
life. In particular, set up a relational framework with the State.
Policies clearly need to be grounded in an in-depth knowledge of
local support networks and cultural traditions if they are to be effective
(in terms of goals and methodologies). Development NGOs and local
governments can play a leading role in this field, given their field
FOURTH RECOMMENDATION: Policies will aim to promote
democratic culture. Support for inhabitants’ initiatives and backing for
local organizations should remain the core of policies to fight poverty.
Actions should, however, bear in mind two points so as to avoid a
community-biased approach: an effort to promote democratic practice and
support for local culture.
a. Neighbourhood organizations should be encouraged to promote
democratic practice and guidelines for action by following two lines
Encouraging local organizations to participate in the public
arena. A distinctive feature of neighbourhood organizations is that they
are non-partisan. They nevertheless have a role to play as a voice of
civil society. Participation in public life should help neighbourhood
organizations to overcome limitations linked to their local purview and
dovetail them into processes of citizenship. There must be a move away
from getting “something for my neighbourhood” to projects forming part
of the universal context appropriate to the promotion of citizenship.
The aim is to enrich the public arena.
Encouraging relations between local organizations and inhabitants
of the neighbourhood. It will be necessary to promote legitimate forms
of representation when investing neighbourhood organizations with
authority and to promote collective mechanisms for constructing these
forms of representation and supervising the exercise of authority.
The aim is to promote democracy in the neighbourhood without
disregarding or denying the identity of inhabitants.
b. Support for neighbourhood organizations should be
provided via both culture and development (Hermet, 2000). While the
enhancement of inhabitants’ traditions and projects calls for constant
attention to “culture” and its particularities, promoting democratic
culture must encourage the introduction of “universal” values to avoid
merely reproducing local traditions and networks. Policies to fight urban
poverty must avoid two facile alternatives: the scorn for neighbourhood
organizations and simplistic, community-biased approaches.
Policies to fight poverty should eschew scornful attitudes and
contribute to strengthening neighbourhood organizations, recognizing the
distinctive cultural and social characteristics of the populations
concerned. The community level should be protected from the negative
effects of policies claiming to encourage social promotion and from the
effects of indiscriminate integration into the market which, as experience
has shown, has often led to the destruction of local ways of life, leaving
populations vulnerable rather than integrated.
Furthermore, the promotion of democratic practices and values should
make it possible to avoid simplistic approaches that often cause policies
to fail and, albeit unintentionally, strengthen the undesirable aspects of
a community-biased approach.
III. Public institutions and the
State: regulation and the public arena
The Cities Project experiment sheds a searching light on the State’s
role in development projects, corroborating observations made elsewhere
 . The first step in Cities Project action strategy was to provide
support for neighbourhood organizations. This initiative was followed up
by awareness-raising among government authorities and by bringing together
neighbourhood organizations and the State. This second stage was vitally
important since it involved institutional recognition of the experiment
and marked the start of commitment by the public authorities
 . The process tested in this way is satisfactory and appears as
an innovative alternative. It is a process that starts at grassroots level
with support for initiatives originating with local organizations, leads
in the first instance to the empowerment of these organizations and then
aims to involve the government and the State. The process does not, of
course, rule out the development of a relational framework initiated by
The State has a pivotal role to play in the protection of citizens, for
ethical and other reasons
 . A strategy to fight poverty, especially in an urban
environment, must take account of State involvement in two areas: the
regulation of social life and the institutionalization of the
In big cities today, institutions perform an indispensable regulatory
function, irrespective of the specific form they possess in different
countries. State involvement is vitally important for development projects
in an urban environment for two reasons. First, improving the quality of
life depends on resources (such as drinking water) that are managed or
need to be regulated by public institutions. More generally, the
development of a poor neighbourhood cannot be organized by a community
acting unilaterally; it must be part of an integrated economic and
political urban blueprint.
Second, no democratic process is possible without State involvement.
The emergence of neighbourhood organizations as actors in the democratic
process is contingent upon the political context and its history, which
are often marked by autocratic or nepotistic forms of government or by the
weakness or even absence of the State. Furthermore, participation cannot
develop without the formation of a broadly-based public arena in which the
State’s function is irreplaceable.
Examination of the State/neighbourhood relationship (taking both above
points into account) highlights what must be a core feature of any
development policy: “Encouraging the State to fulfil its due functions”
(Hermet, 2000). At this point, strategies to fight poverty necessarily
become political, in the sense that they involve setting up mechanisms to
produce legitimate authority.
Solving problems in the urban environment necessarily calls for
institutional regulation. Desirable though it is for people to play a part
in improving their quality of life, it is clear that big cities cannot
function without societal regulation that goes much further than the
community-based framework of individual neighbourhoods.
The State’s role is highlighted “by default” when it fails to find a
remedy for malfunctioning urban services
 . It has often been noted that the sustainability of development
projects in poor neighbourhoods depends on the water company (for
standpipes) and the town hall (for refuse collection, emptying cesspools
and latrines, etc). These examples illustrate a constraint that affects
all development projects involving services and infrastructures in an
urban environment. It is impossible for individual communities to solve
problems in such fields as transport, drinking water, drainage,
electricity, education and public health by taking unilateral action. In
large cities with millions of inhabitants and a complex economic activity,
social life requires a type of regulation that can only be provided by
Technical problems such as a spasmodic water supply are an indication
that standards and mechanisms for regulating social life are lacking.
Urban services are dependent on institutions. This being so, policies to
fight poverty must aim to strengthen relations between local actors and
the institutions representing society as a whole, namely the State. The
State is involved in its capacity as “a system of public institutions”
(thus clearly distinguishing it from the government).
The situation regarding institutions leads us from the example of
services on to another problem, namely the identity of the neediest
people. In developing countries, institutions often do not regulate
important areas of social life, or do so inadequately: laws and rules are
not respected, there is a parallel economy, urban chaos, inadequate
policing, etc. Everyday experience can be summed up as follows: you
work, but half your pay is not declared. Social security may be
provided for by the Constitution but it is never actually delivered.
Children go to school but they learn no skills that can be regarded as
useful. In many cases the problem is not so much that modern institutions
do not exist but that in practice they leave gaps that are filled by other
kinds of social welfare providers like those found in run-down
neighbourhoods. In other cases, it is clear that institutions have broken
down or simply do not exist. To compensate for the fragility of
institutions, local support networks step in to do the State’s job and
community-based regulation replaces social regulation.
This institutional fragility is closely linked to the attitudes and
behaviour of neighbourhood organizations and of members of local support
networks. Economic and institutional fragility helps to sustain a “hunting
culture” which is typically found in run-down neighbourhoods and
exemplifies a type of relationship between individuals and society which
functions in cities.
People living in insecure circumstances leave each day the refuge of
their neighbourhoods to make a foray into the city, which they regard as a
forest harbouring all kinds of opportunities. In this situation,
individual lives and collective action can be described in terms of “a
search for a niche, for space left free by institutions which are unable
to guarantee social integration. In a world dominated by instability and
risk, there is no place for the culture of the farmer who has to organize
his life around natural cycles. So groups and individuals behave like
hunters, combing the city and its institutions on the lookout for
opportunities” (Merklen [b], 2000)
 . Perhaps today they will make a good catch: a menial job,
assistance for the association from the town hall, a loan from an NGO, a
handout from the Church or from a marabout, something to sell on the
market, a windfall from a tourist. They perceive the city as a world where
every opportunity must be snapped up. Since planning is non-existent and
social regulation is inadequate, people living in poor neighbourhoods
learn to try their luck whenever they see an opportunity offered by gaps
in institutions whose fields of activity are ill-defined.
Policies to fight poverty must contribute to the establishment of
social regulation mechanisms capable of combatting insecurity. First,
because insecurity and a fatalistic approach to the vicissitudes of
existence often lead to terrible suffering, akin to that caused by poverty
and need. Second, because situations in which the poor are at the mercy of
events and take refuge in hunting-type strategies are inimical to
participation and the creation of political bonds. The hunter has a
pejorative image of the politician, whom he regards as a corrupt
administrator of the State, which is itself perceived as a machine
concentrating and arbitrarily distributing resources. Both in
neighbourhood organizations and in individuals we can see the development
of a culture of contingency, instant gratification and living off one’s
wits. There is no attempt made to fit in with standards and institutions
that work badly. Their aim of the groups and individuals is immediate,
material, tangible profit. The hunters sometimes behave like crafty
poachers or like Jorge Amado’s Capitães da Areia, who roamed
through the city of Salvador from its periphery in search of bargains and
When the State is a weak regulator of social life and fails to play its
role as a safety net for the neediest members of society, it coexists with
the appearance of marginal forms of social behaviour
 . This institutional situation and the behavioural trends that
result from it influence the long-term evolution of development as well as
the sustainability of development projects. Local support networks
structured like “cluster societies” act as a counterpoise to the informal
sector and institutional instability. This diagnosis radically modifies
the field of action of development projects in an urban environment. It
means that action must focus on the linkage between State inadequacies and
marginal culture. This is why a strategy based either on the State or on
civil society, as if the two were interchangeable, is not appropriate. A
policy to fight poverty which backs up neighbourhood organizations and
aims to strengthen civil society inevitably requires a strong State and a
solid institutional system.
When a development project relies exclusively on the dynamism of civil
society, it is very likely to encounter a defensive, mistrustful attitude
on the part of the population. If they are not dovetailed into
institutions, neighbourhood organizations will often tend to make their
participation conditional on the more or less tangible profits they can
derive from it. When this happens, organizations incapable of becoming
self-reliant make constant requests for assistance. They will only act
when there is a prospect of obtaining funding or practical support. In
these conditions a project cannot make any lasting impact.
FIFTH RECOMMENDATION: Policies to fight poverty will
aim to strengthen the regulatory role of public institutions and the
State. This recommendation has two objectives: enabling institutions to
work and helping to reduce insecurity.
Promoting the smooth running of services and institutions
directly concerned with physical living conditions in poor neighbourhoods.
For example, it is not enough to install a small number of standpipes or
even a drinking water supply network. Access to drinking water will need
to be institutionalized by legislation, by setting up a water company when
one does not exist or by providing back-up when it is underperforming or
malfunctioning, by setting up a public regulatory and supervisory
mechanism  .
b. Helping to
reduce insecurity. The eradication of insecurity is not only a
means of relieving distress caused by uncertainty, it also involves the
inclusion of individuals within tightly knit social bonds. These bonds
provide the support (Castel, 2001) required for training responsible
individuals. The aim of this aspect of policies to fight poverty is to
prevent the individual from being left with no other support than that
which a poor community can provide.
III.2. Democracy and the public arena: a place for
One major problem facing development projects is the all too often
observed phenomenon that the poor are suspicious of politics and
politicians. Whilst at the end of the 20th century democracy is a
generally accepted perspective, it is clear that needy people feel
“distant from the public arena and the affairs of society”. This
distancing, which is often created by political cronyism and the State’s
loss of legitimacy or simply by the absence of democracy, has been
amplified by structural adjustment and its corollaries. “Since the State’s
resources [are] now limited, access to the State, which was hitherto the
speciality of politicians, is a less important issue than it was before.
It makes more sense to focus one’s demands on other areas or to formulate
them in different ways” (Coulon, 2000: 85). In this context, policies that
seek to buttress the organizations of civil society may aggravate this
weakness which induces people to turn to NGOs and international bodies on
the grounds that they are more credible and efficient. This approach
further undermines people’s confidence in a State which is already
discredited. During implementation of the Cities Project in Senegal we saw
that the amount of money invested in it represented more than ten years’
budget of one of the three county boroughs. How could the different
parties fail to feel that an NGO and an international organization had
come to do something that was an unfulfilled duty of the State? In short,
how can a development project in an urban environment be prevented from
adding to the State’s loss of legitimacy?
Past experience has shown the dangers inherent in projects geared to
supporting civil society (to the detriment of the State, though that is
not their avowed intention). Non-governmental development actors have all
too often confused government with State. They have set out to promote
“governance against the State”, reasoning in terms of micro-governance
(Hermet, 2000: pp. 159-175). Seeking to counteract the adverse effects of
a vertical exercise of political power, they have ultimately further
weakened the State’s authority, leading to an even greater fragmentation
There is no point in trying to fight poverty without being ready to
cope with the conflicts that solutions will inevitably spark off (Øyen,
1999). In an urban environment, people systematically make the State the
target of their complaints, even when they are in conflict with another
social agent (e.g. the owner of land where an unauthorized settlement has
The State is the only democratic conflict-solving body. As a result, it
is the institutional promoter and watchdog of the public arena, not
because it holds a monopoly on the public interest but because only a
strong State (in terms of legitimate authority) can co-ordinate actors
within an enlarged public arena. In this context, democracy signifies
communication between the State and civil society, the State marshalling
the scattered voices of society and then restoring them to society in
institutional form (Durkheim).
Furthermore, poverty-related problems or problems concerning a
population’s quality of life are often connected with the activities or
interests of very powerful economic organizations (e.g. an economic
activity that pollutes water or absorbs an urban area’s workforce in
unacceptable conditions). A legitimately constituted government, emanating
from a functioning public arena, will provide the needy with their only
chance of being heard. It is, of course, also a check on the arbitrariness
of corrupt authority. In other words, the problems of poverty cannot be
solved without a body equipped to handle conflict, which must exist prior
to the introduction of social regulation mechanisms.
The preceding remarks require elucidation. As part of its function as a
social regulator, integrating and protecting needy and marginalised
populations, the State is a normative and executive institutional system.
At this level, a policy to fight poverty must focus on strengthening
linkage between neighbourhood associations and local government (e.g.,
municipalities), certain ministries and public utilities and other public
institutions (public health and education). In relation to the public
arena and democratic process, the State is represented by government,
parliament and the other political authorities. Neighbourhood
organizations and development NGOs must achieve recognised status as
actors within the wider public arena. As a consequence, linkage with the
State must be strengthened in a strictly “political” way.
III.3 The State and the municipalities.
By virtue of its proximity and its contact with populations, local
government plays a major role in policies to fight poverty. It is the
natural host institution for participation by neighbourhood organizations,
especially since municipalities are defined in most cases as the city’s
government. However, “policies to fight urban poverty” are not exactly the
same thing as “urban policies”. There are many areas in which the local
state has to give way to the State and vice versa. A strategy to fight
poverty will find the right mix between these two terms for each
situation. All the same, we must beware of over-simplistic approaches that
restrict policies to local action.
Improvement of quality of life cannot be perceived solely in terms of
distribution of goods and services. Such improvements must form part of a
collective right and of comprehensive legal regulations accompanied by
institutional mechanisms (engaging the responsibility of the political
authorities, i.e. the State) to back them up. Failing this, there is a
risk that populations will continue to experience different forms of
paternalism or cronyism.
III.4. The civil society-State relationship is at
the core of policies
While it is important to distinguish civil
society from the State, it is pointless to treat them as two separate
entities... ...Civil society only flourishes where civil liberties are
dovetailed into political liberties and where there is interdependence
between the actions of individuals and communities and government
Fragile institutions are often the result of a low level of economic
development combined with a varying number of political factors.
Consequently, policies to fight poverty must incorporate measures to
strengthen institutions (in countries where the State is weak) and to set
up machinery for civil society-State participation and communication
(where there is a gap between public institutions and the population).
SIXTH RECOMMENDATION: The State has a major
role to play in protecting the needy and providing a public arena for
handling conflicts. Policies to fight poverty must encourage the
creation or enrichment of the public arena. Action will focus on two
Promoting the recognition of neighbourhood organizations as
legitimate actors in the formation of the public arena.
Setting up facilities for discussion and participation as features
of public policies.
Four guidelines ensue:
a. When policies are
focused on civil society (support for grassroots initiatives) they will be
designed to bring in local government and involve the State. This is
indispensable if policies are not to widen the already-existing gap
between people and the public arena. As a first step towards abolishing
the tension that often exists between population and authorities, an
action system could be set up involving neighbourhood associations, the
development NGO and municipalities. Subsequent action at a higher level
should be dovetailed into a regulatory legal framework and should provide
a template for public policy. Failing this, the best outcome to be
expected is a micro-project that is successful but has no major
b. NGOs and international
bodies (UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, etc.) have a crucial role to play in
legitimizing local and State organizations, with a specific place being
earmarked for each actor.
c. Support must be
solicited from the State (where necessary) in its dual capacity as
regulator of social life and watchdog of the public arena. State support
will be channelled particularly but not exclusively into local government
capacity-building. The involvement of government bodies at the national
level is recommended to prevent policies from being limited in scope and
so that “social” aspects are not dissociated from the sphere of citizens’
d. Mechanisms for
communication between the State (especially but not exclusively at
municipal level), the NGO and neighbourhood organizations will be set up.
These mechanisms will be central to structures for managing policies to
IV. Local development NGOs. Mediation
Development NGOs have been described as “a relatively small group” of
intellectuals belonging to a certain “middle class” and often trained
abroad. Progressive by inclination, these people have set up NGOs which
endeavour to serve as structures providing mediation between the excluded
majority of the population, on the one hand, and international bodies and
State machinery on the other. These groups “have always had great
difficulty in working out their relationship with the political
authorities and with the majority of the population, which is organized on
bases that are largely outside their grasp” (Pouligny, 2000: 566). This
leads us to define their role and analyse their limitations.
IV.1. The contribution of NGOs.
The role of NGOs can be a key factor in policies to fight poverty
because the management of a development programme needs on-going follow-up
among local populations and actors. The NGO’s role is to facilitate
communication between the needs and interests of populations (represented
by neighbourhood associations) and public institutions. It also involves
providing support for neighbourhood organizations. NGOs are often
responsible for embodying in a development project the needs expressed by
SEVENTH RECOMMENDATION: Development NGOs’ contribution
centres on three main activities: supporting neighbourhood
organizations, establishing a momentum of communication, taking part in a
a. To support neighbourhood
organizations. NGOs will perform an essential function, establishing
methods of action and operational policies and strengthening neighbourhood
organizations. This will be done in four ways:
· Drawing up development
projects based on the needs expressed by neighbourhood organizations,
transferring the requisite capacities to empower populations.
· Developing training
facilities in several fields (technical, management, IT, crafts,
· Training local
organizations in project conception and social and environmental
· Providing resources
(e.g., premises, communication and transport facilities, computer
equipment) by developing relations with funding and co-operation
b. To promote an on-going
communication process. In the context of a strategy to fight poverty,
this means setting up policy management systems in which co-operation and
participation are the keynote of decision-making. This component is
designed to meet two objectives: democratising neighbourhood
organizations and expanding the public arena. Remaining outside the local
power system, the NGO will seek to set up mechanisms enabling the actors
concerned to introduce arrangements for solving conflicts that arise from
the transformation of social hierarchies.
c. Take part in the research-action
process. Because of its intermediary position, the development NGO has
special insight into the correlation between different orders of
knowledge. It acts as a mediator between the skills of the politician, the
scientist and the people at large.
NGOs will aim to produce knowledge as a spinoff of experiments that
occur. Facilities must exist for disseminating and possibly reproducing
this knowledge. To this end, the NGO must promote co-operation between
academic researchers and grassroots actors.
The main value of intervention by NGOs is communications-focused;
it results from the introduction of discussion opportunities open to all
the actors. This method permits development along mutually
agreed lines, e.g. extending local experiments to other groups and
neighbourhoods or setting up collective management bodies grouping the
different actors. This does not in any way imply neutrality or the concept
of anti-poverty strategies as non-conflictual (i.e simplistic or
In societies where the chasm between elites and the rest of the
population is too deep, intermediary structures are few and far between.
In these conditions, NGOs sometimes provide one of the few points of
contact and avenues of communication between the centre and the periphery.
NGOs thus assume a mediation function.
IV.2. Some limitations of NGOs.
Nevertheless, NGOs are subject to certain constraints
1. Material resources. A policy to fight poverty must be
designed to promote the autonomy and empowerment of the needy. This being
the case, the “mediation” role to be played by development NGOs cannot be
restricted to distributing resources or providing services in situations
where people cannot cope and where the State is powerless or indifferent.
In the field of humanitarian action and poverty alleviation NGOs can, for
example, be found providing medical care, distributing food and medical
Development NGOs, by definition, rely on the resources they can obtain
from funding agencies. As organizations, they are to some extent
bureaucracies which need financial backing in order to exist. In other
words, they have no alternative but to seek funding. As a result, they
tend to think of themselves as managers positioned halfway between the
possessors of resources (funding agencies) and needy populations. This is
a fatal error. Experience shows that NGOs must be extricated from this
“Celestina”-type role in which they attempt to bring together two social
sectors which are separated in practice by a social divide and by the
concentration of resources. To pursue this line of approach is to
perpetuate the bonds of dependence and assistance.
2. Legitimacy. The question of NGOs’ legitimacy has often been
raised. Who do they speak for? Who do they represent? (Morvan,
2000). To avoid this type of question, they must position themselves as a
third party which is helping to construct the main relationship between
populations and the State. If they do this, they will not be taking the
place of neighbourhood organizations, political parties or State
structures. NGOs must see themselves as “facilitators”, opening up access
to rare resources and instituting relational processes. They must abandon
the claim they sometimes make that they are the sole representatives of
V. General framework of action: Policies
to fight urban poverty as the product of a relational
V.1. Problems often encountered in “well intentioned”
A number of limitations and dangers are contained in strategies to
fight poverty, and in the very concept of poverty, engendered by the way
in which most of these policies are implemented (Merklen, 2001). Four main
problems can be distinguished in the current tenor of policies to fight
The concept of poverty often restricts possible strategies in
the field of social action. How is the “war on poverty” waged? Food,
“welfare” or clothes are handed out, dispensaries, primary schools and
community canteens are built, benefits are given out in exchange for
community work, living conditions are improved by providing drainage or
access to drinking water, etc. Three guiding principles often govern
action strategies. At State level decentralization is advocated,
focusing is the key word for defining objectives and, at the
implementation stage, participation is advised as a stepping stone
to good governance. It can already be said, however, that after more than
ten years’ systematic implementation of these policies, the balance sheet
in terms of poverty alleviation is clearly negative at all levels.
Why is this approach followed? Because the image of a “poor” person is
that of a person (or a community) who lacks something: “To be poor is to
be hungry, to lack shelter and clothing, to be sick and not to be treated,
to be illiterate and receive no education” (World Bank, 2000a). The
argument is that since poor people lack something, it should either be
given to them or they should be helped to acquire it. One of the most
widespread consequences of this approach is the fragmentation of social
policies. “Target” populations are “focused on”: women, children, the
disabled, old people and alcoholism, young people and drugs, slums and
delinquency, peasants and the land. . . . As if there were no common
denominator between them.
The poor, then, are tagged as members of problem categories and it is
on these grounds that they are called on to “participate”. And to improve
the accuracy of targeting and to be more responsive to the demands of
participation, it is necessary to be close to the grassroots. Hence
The concept of poverty is an inadequate tool for making an accurate
diagnosis of the situation of the neediest people. It encompasses and
thereby obscures other social problems of paramount importance for
policy-making. One of them is the deficit of social integration which
turns people into dropouts. As we have pointed out (cf. supra), it
is often this type of deficit rather than poverty that gives rise to
“hunting” strategies. The fight against poverty would be more effective if
it included the concepts of vulnerability, instability and
insecurity. It would then be responsive to the situation of people
who lack the security of a stable job or ownership. Vulnerability is
manifested in constant instability and the need to live from hand to
mouth. Some poor people may be thoroughly integrate -- this is the case of
low-paid wage-earners, for example. Their difficulties can be solved by a
wage increase. The idea of vulnerability expresses problems of social
integration and reflects the weakness of the social bonds that are thought
to encourage personal development.
The more we concentrate on the fight against poverty, the more we
relegate to obscurity and oblivion the forces and processes that lead
people towards poverty or keep them there. Why does each day see a
rise in the numbers of the needy on every continent? Why is this happening
in relatively rich countries like Argentina as well as in very poor
countries like Bolivia? These questions are outside the frame of
anti-poverty projects because it is generally accepted that neither
economics nor politics are mentioned in discussions about poverty.
There is no mention of hierarchies or conflicts. Two major
issues are usually absent from expositions and policies contained in
documents advocating a “fight against poverty”. When diagnoses are made,
it is never said that the poor are poor because they are part of social
hierarchies and the ways in which these hierarchies are reproduced (and
resources are concentrated). Strategies never take into account the
conflicts inherent in the modification of hierarchies and processes (Øyen,
2000). Where will society find the resources to increase the share of
product earmarked for education? How can pauperisation be halted without
undermining the labour market and security of employment? How can peasants
be given access to land? How can the environment and natural resources be
protected without regulating the activities of the big companies that
exploit these resources? These are issues that are generally mentioned in
recommendations for a struggle against poverty, provided no questions are
asked about the conflicts inherent in tackling them.
We thus propose a general framework of action for policies in an urban
environment which will take these difficulties into account. The proposed
framework is one of the most valuable results of the Cities Project
1. Poverty will not be
treated as a problem concerning needy persons but as a problem concerning
the society in which these persons live.
2. This starting point
leads to recognition of the existence of poverty-generating processes that
must be checked. These processes are connected with a hierarchical social
3. It will be
impossible to eradicate or alleviate poverty without transforming
hierarchical relationships. These transformations inevitably involve
The proposals put forward here thus provide a methodology for action in
an urban environment, without overestimating the scope of this type of
action in projects aimed at eradicating poverty, i.e. at the complex
transformation of societies and of their reproduction mechanisms.
V.2. The general framework of action
On the basis of evaluation of the Cities Project and the accumulated
experience of development projects in an urban environment it is possible
to identify the types of actors present in most contexts. They include 1)
local organizations (neighbourhood associations, women’s groups, community
schools, dispensaries, voluntary-sector restaurants, etc.); 2) the State
(understood as the various levels of government and the system of public
institutions); 3) development NGOs; 4) international bodies (bilateral
co-operation agencies, United Nations agencies and credit organizations,
co-operation agencies and funding agencies). Any development project must
draw up intervention strategies in the context of the power relationships
within this system of actors.
Each national framework has its own pattern of actors and inter-actor
relationships. We recommend that this distinctive pattern of actors and
relationships be taken as the general framework of policies to fight
poverty in an urban environment.
General action framework for policies to fight poverty in an urban
The diagram shows the various types of actors (in the white bubbles),
their positions and their relationships. Inside the main State bubble is a
Local Government bubble (special link with local organizations). The State
bubble also includes (in view of the general significance of the word
State) ministries and public institutions, as well as the standards
resulting from democratic action.
The grey boxes contain the contexts of urban anti-poverty policies.
Neighbourhood organizations appear as emanating from the local support
network, while the State and international organizations form part of the
wider context of economic and political relations or information
The lines denote relations between the actors. Two types of link are
emphasized. First, the neighbourhood organizations-State relationship, the
aim being to promote democratic process and autonomous activities. Second,
the mediation role which must form the matrix of the development NGO’s
action. Near to the latter, the international organizations are
represented. Their interventions fit into an “action-reaction” rationale,
insofar as their action is mediated by governments and NGOs.
The approach to policies to fight poverty presented in this diagram is
that of an exercise in mediation between a wider context and a local
population structured by its local support networks and represented by its
neighbourhood organizations. The micro/macro dichotomy thus loses its
This General Action Framework should be used to prepare specific
diagnoses and strategies for each situation. In other words it is a useful
template. In each situation, a number of precise questions must be
answered and upon these strategies will depend. We insist on the
importance of constructing a relational framework, the core of which will
be the Neighbourhood Organizations-State relationship. In such a
situation, how much weight should be given to the State and how much to
local government? Should international bodies give priority to helping
NGOs, the State or neighbourhood organizations? Such questions cannot be
answered via a one-size-fits-all framework and rightly so.
The answers to these questions will be influenced first by the
diversity of local or national situations, and second by people’s history.
Developed societies contain many examples of weak community organizations
that find it hard to get established. This is not surprising since their
role has been obscured by economic progress and, after two centuries of
continuous action, public institutions have taken the place of community
spirit. The situation is quite different in poor countries where the
institutional deficit and State inadequacies are glaring and as a result
community organizations are very strong.
It is also observable that there are variations in the democratic
content of neighbourhood organizations. In countries (e.g., Uruguay) with
strong democratic traditions and structures, neighbourhood organizations
may contain an element of democracy, helping to broaden the public arena
and renew the democratic system. The situation is totally different in
countries with a paucity of democratic experience
 . It is therefore wrong to attempt to transpose a model deriving
from a specific experience (as often happens from the West to the South or
One general observation can be made, however. The progress of
capitalism and of State organization in Europe have led to the gradual
disappearance of most community organizations and, more recently, of those
rooted in working class culture. Mass unemployment and a “new poverty”
have reappeared, affecting the poorer strata of the population, who now
find themselves deprived of any means of integration and are in situations
close to “disaffiliation”, to use Robert Castel’s celebrated term. The
family and community support structures typical of working class
neighbourhoods have weakened and the jobless are dependent on the State
and deprived of organizational backup. In these circumstances a demand for
less State and more “civil society” seems legitimate and understandable
 . This type of situation is less pronounced in Third World cities
where, generally speaking, community structures are relatively strong.
Neighbourhood organizations therefore need to be recognized as valid
actors in the political system and as a demand for responsibility on the
part of the governed. In this context, State and civil society seem to be
involved in a process of simultaneous development rather than of
contradiction. The issue is not to strengthen “State or civil
society” but “State and civil society”.
In such a context, each group of actors must find its own answers to
questions about the relative weight of the State or the NGO, for example.
In other words, it is important to regard the Framework of Action
as a relational framework motivated by a spirit of communication.
Actors motivated by such a spirit should be able to find their own answers
to questions of this type which are not in any way “technical” or
“scientific”. The answers will be political and will emerge from the
resolution of the conflicts inherent in poverty alleviation.
For this reason, policies must dovetail into a strategy to fight
poverty and a strategy to build democratic culture. The two are
indissociable. If policies to fight poverty are not to reproduce a
framework of dependence they must have a dual objective: improvement of
the quality of life and promotion of the exercise of citizenship. Poverty
will not be eradicated without the construction of legitimate, democratic
government. In the last resort, the existence of poverty, whatever form it
takes, is symptomatic of corruption of the democratic order of societies,
when it is not the direct effect of an absence of democracy
Documents produced within the framework of the MOST/UNESCO Cities
MERKLEN, Denis: Three Cities Project evaluation reports:
· Évaluation du projet sur « Les Villes : gestion des
transformations sociales et de l’environnement » UNESCO. Le Projet
Jalousie : « développement intégré d’un bidonville haïtien ». Denis
Merklen, CEMS-EHESS, Octobre 2000 (PDF format).
· Évaluation du projet sur « Les Villes : gestion des
transformations sociales et de l’environnement » UNESCO. Le Projet
Développement Social de Quartiers à Yeumbeul et Malika, dans la banlieue
de Dakar, Sénégal. Denis Merklen, CEMS-EHESS, Juin 2000 (PDF format).
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Denis Merklen is a sociologist at the Centre d'Études des Mouvements
Sociaux de l'École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in
Paris. He is specialised in management of social policy; collective action
in poor and marginalized areas; and social development. He has been a
consultant with various governmental and international organizations and
has worked for UNESCO, UNDP, the OEA and the Inter-American Development
Bank in Argentina, France, Haiti, Senegal and Uruguay. He is the author of
Asentamientos en La Matanza. La terquedad de lo nuestro (Buenos
Aires, Ed. Catálogos, 1991) and has published numerous articles in
specialized magazines and collective books. At present, he teaches at the
Universities of Paris V and Evry (France).