By Carmina Flores-Obanil
After having worked for three years as the Asia Regional Coordinator at the Coalition for Human Rights in Development, in May 2020 I transitioned to a new position, as International Coordinator for the Community Resource Exchange (CRE). The three year pilot project of the CRE, hosted by the Coalition, promotes a new model of working together, by systematizing collaborations and encouraging communities to co-create strategies to advance their struggles in the context of international investments and development projects.
Through this exciting new role, I am looking forward to continuing working with communities and building on my previous experiences working for and with national and regional civil society organizations. My longest serving role before the Coalition was with a national peasant-based research organization. Over a period of 15 years, I had the privilege of working with and learning from leaders who are farmers, indigenous peoples, rural women, and fisherfolk. The work gave me the opportunity to better understand agriculture, agrarian and indigenous land issues.
Coming from a farming family, I can trace my roots to land. But what drove me most was the farmers resisting profound injustice, and having the opportunity to contribute to the struggles they were in. Some of the key leaders I worked with have died or have been killed because of these struggles. But I am still in touch with others, and am forever grateful for the lesson they taught me: to never underestimate the aspirations of a struggling community, because if they want it then they’ll find a way to do it.
In my previous role at the Coalition, I have focused on two distinct but interrelated strands of work. As the Asia Regional Coordinator, I worked with Coalition members, partners and communities in the region to advocate for policy changes within international financial institutions in Asia, particularly with the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank .At the same time, I also had the privilege of coordinating the Coalition’s Community Engagement Partnership (CEP) work, an initiative to provide support to grassroots communities by creating linkages and leveraging the expertise of our members and partners.
The work in both areas was at the same time frustrating and hopeful. It was frustrating to see how communities are left with little to no space to determine their own development paths. More often than not, they have to bear the brunt of development projects they do not want nor need, imposed on them in the name of development and progress. But I was also hopeful as I saw communities advancing their struggles with any means they could, employing strategies, and leveraging allies, to empower themselves and fight against the development projects they never wanted, never losing hope even in the face of adversities. Working together with brilliant and tireless communities and their allies for change is what gives me most hope!
This is why I decided to work for the CRE: the frustration reinforced the urgency to advance these struggles even further and the hope inspired me to keep working together and build new alliances. I am especially keen to be in touch again with these communities I’ve worked with before my work with the Coalition and those I’ve worked with when I was still overseeing the CEP. It is humbling to see community leaders doing all they can to push their fight and I want to share that commitment. Some of the cases I worked on before are still active cases, with several languishing in courts. Many of them could benefit from being linked to legal organizations that can help them. Community level work is both challenging and frustrating but when done properly, under the leadership of communities, it can be truly rewarding.
The pandemic has shown us how crucial connections are to all of us. And it is connections that are at the heart of the CRE. I believe that through this role I can help build a system to facilitate collaborations and connections that will last beyond us in the Coalition. What are my hopes for it?
I am hoping that through the CRE I will be able to connect and make linkages with communities, Coalition members and partners that will strengthen our respective capacities. I know that this is where I can find people with similar values and vision, and thus we can work together to move forward and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, especially under the leadership of communities who want to take the driver seat of their own development.
I am hoping that the CRE will be instrumental in strengthening existing relationships. But I am hoping that the CRE will also pave the way in forging new and meaningful relationships among and between communities, civil society organizations, networks, and coalitions that haven’t worked together before but would benefit from doing so. There is so much expertise out there, from the communities to the CSOs, and I have seen that facilitating connections can make a profound difference.
In the end, I hope that we can build through the CRE a system, a network of like-minded and values-driven well-connected communities, CSOs, and networks, and that those connections are leveraged to collaborate with communities that need them most. Then perhaps, I can say I have done my share and that it will go beyond me or the Coalition.