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World Development Vol. 30, No. 9, pp. 1539–1560, 2002 Ó 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved Printed in Great Britain 0305-750X/02/$ - see front matter

PII: S0305-750X(02)00058-X

Women in Sustainable Development: Empowerment through Partnerships for Healthy Living
CLAUDIA MARA VARGAS * I University of Vermont, Burlington, USA
Summary. — This article seeks to take partnerships seriously. Specifically, it is concerned with the nature, opportunities, and challenges facing women’s nongovernmental organization (NGOs), which seek to make real contributions to sustainable development. It uses a case study of COFERENE, a successful women’s NGO in Costa Rica, to explore the nature of partnerships, the contextual factors that shape them, the successes that can be realized from their wise use, and the potential problems that may arise. There are lessons, both optimistic and cautionary, to be learned from COFERENE’S experiences. This article analyzes these lessons. In synthesis, partnerships are complex and demanding, though there are cases in which women’s NGOs have used them effectively to foster sustainable development. Ó 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. Key words — geographical focus: global, country specific: Costa Rica, sustainable development, partnerships, culture, nonprofits A woman said that her father was a street sweeper. If some people consider this a humble job, her opinion was that a person who has the job of picking up garbage is way superior to the person who throws away Author unknown garbage. 1

1. INTRODUCTION Although progress for women can be ascertained throughout the world in health, education, and labor, there is still much work to be done (Stromquist, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998; Wetzel, 1993; Wolfensohn, 1998; World Bank, 1999, 2000, 2001; United Nations, 1995a; UNDP, 1997, 1999, 2000). Sustainable development, an approach most prominently formulated by the Brundtland Commission Report in Our Common Future, affords women a significant public role. Defined as a development that ‘‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’’ (World Commission on Environment & Development, 1987, p. 4), it is fundamentally different from previous development models. Sustainable development, at its core, integrates economic development, social development, and envi-

ronmental protection. The 1990s UN summit documents underscore the fact that women’s participation is essential in advancing sustainable development. These documents not only recognize that women are heavily affected by poverty, environmental degradation, and lack of education and access to health care (Benera ı & Feldman, 1992; United Nations, 1995c–d, 1996), they also emphasize that environmental damage and poverty are intricately linked (Ahmed, 1998; Benavides, 1998; Cooper, 1998b; United Nations, 1992, 1995b,c, 1996; UNDP, 1999, 2000; UNRISD, 2000; Viezzer & Corral, 1998; World Bank, 2000). These international agreements on human centered sustainable development depend on the implementation of a set of principles. Among these principles, the equality and equity principles postulate the need to address discrimination based on gender (and other categories indigenous, age, disability, poverty, homelessness, or refugee status). The health and well being principle posits the need for a healthy population and a healthy environment. The partnership principle may be considered a way

* Final revision accepted: 12 April 2002.




to accomplish some of the other principles (Cooper, 1999). This essay explores how some women advance sustainable development through partnerships. More specifically, it examines the kinds of collaborative relationships that women’s groups have forged with public, private, nonprofit or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to create and engage in sustainable activities. These partnerships have facilitated environmentally sound, income-generating enterprises that promote healthy living. At the same time, these activities help them break away from social strictures in their private world, but especially in the public sphere (Friedmann, Abers, & Autler, 1996). This essay is organized in the following manner. First, it presents a definition of partnership, a more complex task than may be apparent. Second, it introduces a case study of a women’s grassroots organization, COFERENE, 2 in San Ramn, Costa Rica and considers the various o partnerships it has created to advance the organization’s mission to: (a) generate income for their families, (b) make women’s role in society visible, and (c) promote environmental protection. Third, it analyzes challenges encountered by women’s NGOs. Finally, it synthesizes lessons that can be drawn from the case study. An examination of these issues suggests the thesis that women play an essential role in advancing sustainable development through the creation of income-generating activities that preserve the environment and affirm the social fabric. In part, this is possible through creative partnerships with various sectors of civil society. Nevertheless, it is vital to be alert to both the liabilities and possibilities of partnerships upholding sustainable development. The case study presented was developed in Costa Rica. At the onset, it is useful to understand the contextual factors surrounding this case study. The second smallest country in Central America, Costa Rica has enjoyed a peaceful, stable social democracy since 1948. In the early 1940s, the government made deliberate decisions to create a strong welfare state by adopting redistributive policies and making social investments (Sols, 1996). After a brief ı revolution in 1948, the army was constitutionally abolished. While other Latin America countries spent about 60% of the national budget on arms, Costa Rica invested that same amount on health and education equally divided. It has enjoyed free and public education for men and women. The welfare state reforms

included universal health insurance, unemployment and retirement benefits, maternity leave, severance pay, minimum wage, child and women labor laws, and housing, all of which contributed to the creation of a strong middle class, and ‘‘the notion that social justice is the best agent of economic progress’’ (Sols, 1996). ı In the early 1980s, however, structural adjustment and free market policies imposed on Latin American countries (Friedmann et al., 1996) and on Costa Rica by international agencies weakened the welfare state and, if unrestrained, according to Melndez-Howell, ‘‘the country’s e independence and democratic tradition will be directly threatened’’ (1996, p. 16). The State made deliberate strides toward gender equality in 1976 with the creation of a women’s government agency, Centro Nacional para el Desarrollo de la Mujer y la Familia 3(CMF) within a cabinet office and appointed the first woman to a cabinet position in 1974 (MIDEPLAN, 1996, 1997). The first woman appointed president of congress was in 1982. 4 The Gender empowerment measure (GEM) rank for Costa Rica is 24, 5 characteristic of nations with high human development (UNDP, 2000, p. 165). The world recession of the 1980s as well as the war in Central America affected Costa Rica’s quality of life. This is evidenced by increased poverty, influx of large masses of Central American refugees, decreased funding for social services, high inflation, and negative growth rates coupled with pressure from international agencies to privatize (Sols, 1996); ı the end of the decade witnessed minor improvements in health and education. Although Costa Rica continues to provide its citizens universal rights to a free and public education, preschool, health care, and labor rights protection, it suffered diminished social safety nets and overall quality of life. In the early 1990s, however, the government adopted and advanced sustainable development policies. While these policies particularly affected women and children, the concern and commitment for gender equality resulted in significant legislation for the protection of women’s rights and promotion of equality. The State has in recent years begun contracting out social service delivery through NGOs in Costa Rica despite lack of regulation (Cooper, 1998a; MIDEPLAN & UNDP, 1998); Latin America presents a more pronounced pattern (Alvarez, 1999). But, there have been institutional policies to render accountability in



service delivery specifically through the National Evaluation System (MIDEPLAN, 1997), though it is an on-going challenge. While neoliberal policies were thrust upon by international financial institutions, the citizens resisted their implementation particularly regarding social services in contrast to what occurred in other countries, e.g., Chile (Schild, 2000). In the environmental arena, due to the economic development model based on export promotion along with economic structural adjustment, the country experienced ‘‘exacerbated rural poverty and environmental degradation’’ (Melndez-Howell, 1996, p. 16). Notwithstande ing these repercussions, government policies support a sustainable development model through specific policies such as lead-free gasoline, regulation of gas emissions, forest policies, creation of Certificates for the Protection of Forests, 6 continued support for the National System of Areas of Conservation, and generally strong environmental protection laws. The government also supports environmental strategies channeled through partnerships between government and civil society, e.g., integrated management of river basins. It is in this context that the case study unfolds.

The use of the term partnership denotes a more mutually interdependent nature in the relationship among the actors than one would expect to find in joint initiatives under contractual, principal-agent, or governing-governed relationships (1999, p. 4).

While this definition offers useful criteria, it is critical to explore the dynamics of partnerships among potential partners as well as the context in which they are sculptured. The next section explores the ingredients, parameters, limitations, and possibilities of partnerships. (a) The nature of partnerships Partnerships constitute cooperative actions characterized by: (i) collaboration between a government agency and the private sector, or between a nonprofit organization and a government agency, or between a private sector and a nonprofit organization, or between two nonprofit organizations; (ii) a venture in which each of the stakeholders contributes resources of one kind or another––expertise, funding, community trust; (iii) an endeavor in which all parties involved partake in the design and implementation of the joint venture; (iv) a mutually interdependent relationship through contractual agreements; and (v) trust among stakeholders (Fiszbein & Lowden, 1999; United Nations, 1995b, p. 112; United Nations Environment Programme, 1994). Essential to a partnership is room or space for negotiation on an equal level, an issue of contention among NGOs from developing countries who feel overrun by powerful international NGOs as well as by private companies and governments (Cooper, 1998b). Participating countries in the UN summits envisioned the capacity of crosssectoral strategies to engage actors from diverse background or interests towards sustainable goals. Accordingly, each actor brings to the table a particular expertise or perspective but together can promote sustainable development. Sustainable development partnerships may, for example, bring to the table a government environmental agency, a municipal government, and a grassroots organization. The agency may be in the position to contribute expertise, the local government access to a landfill, and the NGO labor and commitment. The arrangements arrived at become contractual agreements whether informally stated or formally articulated (Pye-Smith, Feyerabend, & Sandbrook, 1994, pp. 126–138). The nature of the agreements will reflect the power wielded at

2. PARTNERSHIPS: WHAT ARE THEY AND DO THEY REALLY MATTER? What, then, is a partnership, and, partnerships among whom? We can then consider what partnerships are instrumental in forging sustainability. A popular concept in the development literature, partnership has not been carefully defined, although it merits attention to understand its parameters, possibilities, and constraints. The term is often used as synonymous with networks 7 and coalitions but there are many ways of describing different types of relationships that do not tell us what partnerships really are (Cooper, 1997, 2000b). According to Fiszbein and Lowden, partnerships are:
[J]oint initiatives of the public sector in conjunction with the private, for-profit sectors, also referred to as the government, business, and civic sectors. Within these partnerships, each of the actors contributes resources (financial; human; technical; and intangibles, such as information or political support) and participates in the decision making process. The focus is on partnerships that primarily aim to reduce poverty, albeit with a range of specific activities as just outlined.



the table by each participating stakeholder. Sustainability may hinge on exploration of untraditional partners especially in contexts in which the welfare state has been eroded. An emerging significant stakeholder is civil society, but what do we conceptualize civil society to be? Agenda 21 recognizes the need for partnerships and the literature supports their creation between the state and civil society (Narayan, Patel, Schafft, Rademacher, & Koch-Schulte, 2000; United Nations, 1992, 1995b, 1996). Yet, there are many ways in which civil society is understood, and not all of them congruent with Western usages. According to Hann and Dunn (1996), the concept of civil society merits a broader notion of political society, one that creates space for nonWestern societies and those without a distinct state-society dichotomy:
All human communities are held together by shared values and ideals. This makes them all inherently political. In this sense it was naive of some Eastern European dissidents to imagine civil as a sphere free from politics. It is equally mistaken to diagnose changes in the global patterns of states and market in terms of depoliticisation (Hann, 1996, p. 23).

based on its economic resources, expertise, and decision-making capability affects the strength of the partnership. NGOs or public agencies negotiating contracts with a powerful transnational may be at a great disadvantage to get the best deal for a country or community. Public or nonprofit organizations whose financial or management wherewithal is dwarfed by a corporate giant may be at a great disadvantage. Similarly, big international NGOs may push domestic ones out of the loop through their expertise on bidding, contract management, or grant-writing. Another advantage for the private sector is that it does not have to deal with accountability in the same manner as governments or NGOs (Cooper, 1997, 1998b,c, 2002). (b) Some considerations of cultural overtones The nature of partnerships is also determined by the cultural setting in which they are formed. ‘‘[I]t is not enough simply to label such an arrangement a public/private partnership without a careful understanding of what such a partnership entails at the very fundamental level of culture’’ (Cooper, 1997; Cooper, 1998a, p. 32). Partnerships, take various forms depending on the culture, from an anthropological stance, in which they are formalized. Equally influential is the organizational culture of each potential partner. Transparency and accountability, for example, are not standards to which the forprofit sector or some nonprofits are held to answer, but are important for government agencies. In the rich cultural tapestry of polities, trust, transparency, and accountability may or may not play a sufficient role in establishing sound partnerships.
One of the salient features of the North America Third Sector has been its ability to attract the cooperation of individuals and corporations that are willing to give time and/or money. It takes place because people and corporations trust what these organizations will do and where their efforts will go and they trust because they have ways to make these organizations accountable, that is, they have a state that can make these organizations accountable (Smulovitz, 1996, p. 5).

In this conception, traditional societies are recognized as legitimate and essential partners in sustainable development endeavors (Hann, 1996, p. 23). But what conditions are conducive to successful partnerships involving broad conceptions of civil society? Why is there a need for partnerships in the contemporary globalizing context? Daniel Bell captures possible answers.
‘‘a return to civil society’’ is ‘‘a return to a manageable scale of social life, particularly where the national economy has become embedded in an international frame and the national polity has lost some of its independence.’’ This emphasises NGOs and voluntary associations working at the community and regional levels to balance the increasing centralisation of power in the international economy and the draining of initiative and control away from localities (quoted in Carley & Christie, 1993, p. 94).

While partnerships are not demarcated by strict parameters, advocates promote them in multiple and diverse conceptualizations (Cooper, 2000b; Linder, 2000; Linder & Vaillancourt, 2000; Vaillancourt, 2000a; Vargas, 2000b). There are also multiple conceptions of partnerships depending upon the sectors involved, the parties, and where the collaboration occurs. The power of each potential partner,

In contrast, in Latin America or other developing regions with inadequate transparency and accountability systems, donations of money or resources may be misinterpreted as ‘‘signs of stupidity or of extreme ingenuity,’’ according to Smulovitz (1996). Regardless of the cultural and organizational contexts, potential partners need to come to a negotiation willing to set the cards



on the table in order to create linkages (Andina & Pillsbury, 1998; Cooper, 2000b; Spigelblatt, 2000; Vargas, 2000a). While partnerships are affected by their context, they are also intended to be transformative, useful agents of change in sustainable development. Even so, partnerships may look and function very differently in different communities (Fiszbein & Lowden, 1999). One of the goals of some partnerships, for example, is to build social trust. Distrust may stem from lack of knowledge, misconceptions, or past experience with potential partners. ‘‘The act of working together can help break down these barriers and build trust’’ (Smulovitz, 1996, pp. 86–87). But, building and maintaining a partnership for this purpose may be easier said than done, especially in societies with deeply rooted human rights violations or long experience with repressive regimes; or for domestic NGOs dealing with powerful, international NGOs. Even when an organization desires to build partnerships, the community may have to overcome previous disenchantment with government or other sectors of civil society. Or, it may be that a potentially important grassroots organization may not have the management or leadership skills to develop or maintain linkages. This may attributed to socioeconomic and ethnocultural patterns restricting women’s sphere to the home, in which case it may be necessary to build capacity to facilitate linkages. Or the local culture may clash with the organizational culture or mission of an international NGO overwhelming small, local partners. Hence, it should be clear that cultural issues, both organizational and anthropological, influence the ability to forge joint ventures. Their nature and operations may be tinted by indigenous, traditional, or asymmetrical societal patterns (Friedmann et al., 1996). Cultural feasibility is particularly significant when gendered organizations are involved. (c) Partnerships and the gender dimension Gender analysis is important when exploring technical, political, and economic feasibility of partnerships especially in regions with significant gender inequality, e.g., Sub-saharan Africa, the Middle East, or Southeast Asia (King & Hill, 1993; Stromquist, 1998; UNDP, 2000; World Bank, 2001). Yet, it is also crucial not to fall into the trap of viewing women from those regions as powerless. A case from Bangladash, 8 a Muslim country and one of the

poorest of the world, illustrates this point with the NEMAP process initiated by a domestic women’s NGO. This bottom-up, community participatory process forced the World Bank and the Environment Ministry to rethink its decision-making approach. The consultative process, initiated and developed by women who were steadfast and unrelenting in the effort to get a flood plan suited to the community’s needs as clean water for their children. The NEMAP experience prompted the World Bank to change its top–down approach (Government of People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1995). Latin America presents the lowest gender inequality of the Third World, yet the indicators for rural women, especially indigenous women, are alarming (Psacharopoulos & Patrinos, 1994; Stromquist, 1992, 1998). Costa Rica, along with Cuba, Argentina and Chile, presents a more favorable profile. Women have done well in the public sector and in the fields of law and medicine, but those in the private sector, excluding those from the privileged class, have not faired well (Mendiola, 1989), and the agricultural sector is still problematic (Vargas, 1998). Nevertheless, political feasibility favored adoptions of policies to remedy gender inequality as exemplified by the 1990 ‘‘Law of Social Equality of Women’’ 9 and the 1996 law against domestic violence, Law no. 7586 (MIDEPLAN, 1996, 1997; Vargas, 1998). These legal mandates have been channeled through various government agencies, including the Women and Family National Development Center. The education and health indicators for females are at par, and secondary and higher education enrollments surpass those of males. It is the economic picture, however, that reveals gender inequalities: ‘‘the type and quality of labor participation and remuneration rates of women tend to be systematically inferior to those of men (about 90% of those of men in the first half of the 1990s)’’ (MIDEPLAN, 1996, p. 61). Costa Rica has made a commitment to sustainable development through the creation of the Costa Rican Council for Sustainable Development and a number of policies 10 (Vargas, 2000a). Specific strategies have been promulgated by various government agencies permeating social, environmental, and political actions (MIDEPLAN, 1997). A model inclusive of women, and other traditionally excluded groups, sustainable development along with gender equality policies found fertile ground for NGO with a gender agenda.



Notwithstanding these advanced measures, culturally, the country is still dealing with asymmetrical societal features affecting women, both in the public and the private spheres. As the global community, Costa Rica experienced a severe recession in the 1980s. In response, women took a more active role as they struggled to provide for their families. The 1980s structural adjustment polices along with their free market economic mandates eroded the previously strong middle class and impoverished the working class (Sols, 1996). As the ı safety nets deteriorated, women forged a space in nonprofit organizations to advance their rights and support their families. Some established creative partnerships with international gender based, human rights, or environmental NGOs as well as with public and private organizations; others with grassroots organizations fighting poverty (Friedmann et al., 1996). (d) Some guiding parameters for partnerships What then constitutes a partnership? In spite of their diversity, partnerships tend to present certain characteristics: (i) collaborative endeavors between or among public, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations; (ii) contributions by parties of some type of material or symbolic resources; (iii) space for genuine participation, negotiation, and decision-making; (iv) interdependence based on express or implied contractual agreements; (v) cross-sectoral cooperation often is a critical motive and influence; and (vi) risk is shared. Though challenges, complexities, and tensions are always present, there are successful partnerships. Let us explore how a women’s NGO has implemented the partnership idea in recycling and waste management endeavors. 3. THE CASE OF COFERENE, SAN  RAMON, COSTA RICA COFERENE, a grassroots organization, was founded in 1995 by 15 women, including its leader, previously an active member of a national women’s organization (Vargas, 2000a,b). Founding members chose an environmental mission that simultaneously allowed the women to generate income for their families. They embarked on recycling and management of solid waste at a small scale within their immediate community and closest urban center, a

population around 50,000. Members were from a mixed socioeconomic background but mainly from the working class, between 20s and 40s with a few in their 50s; and most were married. Some of the women had a secondary education, but none of the original members had higher education; neither did any hold jobs outside their home, except for a single woman. Though most had several children, none had access to institutional childcare. COFERENE generates a monthly income of about $1,100.00 for a staff of 13 including management. A model of a hybrid organization, grassroots and microenterprise, it is engaged in sustainable practices whose mission values the contribution of every member of society––women, persons with disabilities, the elderly, refugees and the poor.
A case in point is a drunkard I just met who is suffering from depression because his pension is too low. Yet, he still has so much to give. He was director of maintenance in government, and has a great deal of knowledge as a mechanic and society needs all those talents. However, we need training in capacity building to do all that. 11

In this sense, COFERENE is putting into practice the equality and equity principles of sustainable development. It continues to expand and strengthen its alliances to promote healthy living by reducing waste and consumption as well as promoting environmental education, elements in support of the health and wellness and education principles. It also seeks to make the environmental protection principle work in its community, region, and country. How have they built these partnerships? First, it is clear that the founder has excellent public relations and leadership skills. Her imagination sees no boundaries and her vision is of global, societal transformation. It is also true that she has found fertile ground in her community and in numerous organizations. Although her leadership ability is salient, it is also a cause of friction as other members are more concerned with immediate needs, organizational and personal, e.g., family demands. Nonetheless, the organization continues to xundergo changes as members shift focus away from personal gains to the advancement of the organization and its mission expanding its scope of operation. As the founder says, ‘‘initially at the regional level, then national, and eventually at the international level. . . without frontiers.’’



At this time, the microenterprise is financially self-sustaining, excluding the environmental education component. The management team changed mid-2001 as a new administrator was hired, a woman with almost 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. In December 2001, funding from the international organizations ended. Thus, future funding of all the sustainable development activities remain unresolved as February 2002. Traditionally a male domain, their activities challenged patriarchal authority and traditional maternal roles. Although the road has been arduous, these women continue to expand their activities and build on the cross-sectoral partnerships previously created. (a) COFERENE’s multiple partnerships: institutional coordinating challenges Since its inception, COFERENE developed cooperative arrangements, necessary for its survival. 12 Its first collaboration was with the Municipality of San Ramn in which COFEo RENE picked up the recyclable waste from its offices while the municipality loaned COFERENE one of its trucks to transport it, though initially the collection was done on foot. This arrangement eventually was affected by municipal fiscal constraints when the truck broke down. In spite of this setback, members resumed collection and recycling efforts by renting a truck from a community member, based in part on the success of their early partnership with the city. In 1999 COFERENE purchased a used truck and even though auto repair is not a strength of the members, they continue to recruit ‘‘lost talent’’ who do know how. 13 COFERENE’s unexpected success led the group to new challenges. With demanding labor and a growing call for their services, childcare became a pressing issue. A cooperative endeavor with IMAS, the welfare agency, ensued through which a social worker trained two members as early childhood education paraprofessionals. This was critical for three reasons. First, Costa Rica has demanding standards for childcare workers. Second, it provided the seeds for further cooperation with government ministries. Third, the social worker specifically supported these women as they confronted emerging gender issues. The group rented a small house and the childcare center opened its doors to its members’ children as well as to children of refugee women and children with special needs. Although the center

closed in mid-1998 due to lack of funding, other options were explored. In fact, a community member donated a plot of land to COFERENE to build a childcare center; another project awaiting funding. A full discussion of the numerous partnerships COFERENE has established in the last seven years would be too lengthy for this paper. A description of a few may, however, be instructive regarding the various joint initiatives launched by this women’s NGO. (i) Partnerships with public institutions COFERENE has partnered with the Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture, Mines and Energy, IMAS, 14 Social Security, 15 and institutions represented in the Intersectoral Commission on Health and Environment, of which COFERENE is a member. The University of Costa Rica (UCR), and the National Technical University place students from various disciplines as interns in COFERENE. Some students have written theses on the experience of the organization. Others contribute with computer technology, teaching art classes, or recycling tasks. More recently, COFERENE entered into a formal, long-term partnership with the San Ramn Municipality (discussed o below). (ii) Partnerships with nonprofit organizations As the organization grew, predictably, so did its management and accounting problems. Partnerships were established with two Dutch NGOs, GTZ and HIVOS, 16 which have supported COFERENE with management and accounting training or funding. A salient collaboration has been with the Union Costarricense de Iniciativas Comunales de los Desechos (UCIMID) (Costa Rican Union of Recycling Community Initiatives). In fact, COFERENE was designated to preside it during its first two years of existence; it is also a member of the Intersectoral Commission on Environmental Education. CEDARENA, 17 a law firm specialized on environmental law, ARCA 18 a local environmental conservation group, and COFERENE have continued collaborative endeavors. ARCA and COFERENE partnered in joint environmental education campaigns. In exchange, ARCA provided free consulting services. (iii) Partnerships with for-profit organizations One of the initial partnerships established with the private sector was with the company



that recycles plastic. A number of for-profit firms have negotiated disposal and recycling services with COFERENE, e.g., Coca-Cola and Kimberly Clark. This represents an unusual recognition of COFERENE’s work and success, multinational corporations negotiating with a small NGO. As one of these for-profit had need for expanded services, however, their power relation became salient as it offered to buy uniforms for COFERENE’s workers in exchange for organizing the multiple, small local NGOs involved in recycling into a single entity. (b) The educational dimension: reaching out to diverse communities for a healthy living In 1997, a member broke ground in her community by initiating an environmental education campaign. By 1998 the national campaign ‘‘For a Healthy Environment’’ was launched with the objective of raising consciousness. An environmental education newsletter she designed and wrote, provided both useful information and an outlet for her healing needs and personal development. These educational activities found receptive audiences in the schools, especially ‘‘in the rural areas where people feel forgotten by government officials.’’ 19 COFERENE negotiated with local schools collection of recyclable materials. In exchange, the schools received a percentage of the profit providing enough cash to purchase computers. In early 1999 the Ministry of Health signed an official document to acknowledge COFERENE’s contribution in the area of environmental clean up and waste collection. More important, the organization was awarded status as a full member of the advisory board of the Intersectoral Health and Environmental Commission. Both organizations jointly administer the coordination and implementation of the environmental education project. Other collaborative efforts include what have now become regular invitations to address graduate students, women’s organizations, and municipal government officials. Sometimes COFERENE is invited by communities to help initiate similar projects. In other cases, members of COFERENE have created informal partnerships swapping knowledge and expertise with women’s NGOs, e.g., with a women’s u group in the Tarraz Municipality, they exchanged their expertise in recycling for training in arts and crafts. Early in 2001, a national

women’s organization, La red de mujeres en accin (Women’s Network in Action) visited o COFERENE to learn from its experience and explore replication of some components. 20 (c) Pushing the boundaries of partnerships nationally and internationally Among the many projects in hand, COFERENE is currently exploring the creation of a Central American alliance of women’s NGOs engaged in recycling and waste management. Another proposal underway is a training center on waste management to serve Central America and other regional countries. This project has caught the attention of the Interamerican Bank (BID). The center would include a laboratory on production of organic fertilizers, a fruit tree nursery, and fruit processing through the use of solar ovens. Members are currently exploring the approach used by a women’s training center in Mexico on the use of solar ovens. 21 A visit in September 2000 was the result of a collaboration orchestrated with the Embassy of Mexico who arranged for the meetings in Mexico and provided the per diem while COFERENE negotiated travel expenses through other sources. COFERENE has also hosted representatives from a women’s group in Colombia engaged in solid waste management to explore a partnership in which the former contributes expertise on consciousness raising and group dynamics, and the latter on waste management. The Minister of Environment and Energy selected the founder of COFERENE to represent Costa Rica in a 2000 training course on the latest technology on plastic recycling held in El Salvador. Here she inquired about the existence of a waste management training center; none exists in Central America or the Caribbean. In the past a government official would have been designated. Because of their collaboration, COFERENE benefitted from the training while the ministry gained political feasibility (Cooper, 2000a; Cooper & Vargas, 1995) by supporting a women’s organization engaged in sustainable activities, a well received concept in Costa Rica (MIDEPLAN, 1996, 1997, MIDEPLAN & UNDP, 1998). (d) Multiple and more sophisticated partnerships with the municipality Not only has the municipal government been supportive since the inception of COFERENE,



but now seeks its support. To compete for the ‘‘National Healthy County Award,’’ the municipality sought COFERENE’s expertise on proposal writing. Their reciprocal cooperation built on trust has allowed room for participation and negotiation as they tap each other’s resources––accountability in the community and ability to write proposals (COFERENE), and available tangible resources (municipality). In the last few years the municipality gave COFERENE office and glass collection space in City Hall. The most significant partnership occurred in April 2000 when the Municipality and COFERENE entered into a long-term contractual agreement. The Municipality granted this NGO use of 1,000 squared meters of the municipal public dump for its recycling activities for 15 years; the contract is renewable thereafter. Through this venture, COFERENE will be responsible for doing the collection of recyclables at the county level, which is part of a larger endeavor for this NGO’s entrepreneurial arm. Requests from municipalities throughout the country interested in replicating this experience continue to flow, in one case at the county and provincial level. 22 In spite of this, it is important to point out that globally government and NGO partnerships are unique because ‘‘truly complementary relationships between the two are rare’’ (Narayan et al., 2000); likewise unique is the partnership between COFERENE and the Municipality of San Ramn. o
The greatest constraint. . . to doing effective work is the lack of channels of communication among communities, local intermediary NGOs, local governments, and district governments. There is an even wider communication gap between the intermediaries. . . and the policy-makers above them (Serageldin, Cohen, & Leitmann, 1994, p. 31).

agencies. So far, however, COFERENE has had strong and productive partnerships with the Municipality. (e) Looking ahead: the dreams of COFERENE Recently, two of the members completed a university international training program in home waste management. It was truly an honor for them because all other graduates had universities degrees. The Panamerican Health Organization (OPS 23) representative recognized them as the only two Latin American women who did not have professional degrees but whose expertise came from practice. For women with scarcely a high school diploma, this was empowering. ‘‘We were so proud to earn them and to sit next to college graduates with licentiate and master’s degrees.’’ 24 As the founder states,
We must have a futurist vision and look at the projections on waste generated by every person, whether in urban or rural areas, in Latin America. It is estimated that each person generates from 0.05 to 0.97 kg/day. When multiplied by an estimated population of 500 million, the potential for employment is great since 33% of such waste is recyclable. 25

Another dream is the creation of the previously mentioned training center in conjunction with the University of Costa Rica at one of the properties owned by COFERENE. Its creation would be significant since the community has a high incidence of teenage pregnancy reflective of lack of opportunities. The property is located in one of the best regions in fruit production––there the interest in the afore mentioned women’s group involved in solar oven technology. (f) Partnership pressures and challenges: specific and general It has been amply documented that tensions between work and home responsibilities particularly affect women and girls (Benera & ı Feldman, 1992; Friedmann et al., 1996; King & Hill, 1993; Stromquist, 1997; United Nations, 1992, 1995a; UNDP, 1998; World Bank, 1999– 2001). In this sense, COFERENE’s alliances are helping deal with women’s health issues. Through the University of Costa Rica (UCR), students who are required to do fieldwork present lectures on self breast examination, uterus cancer, and other health topics. These

Though intersectoral activities require coordination and open channels of communication, organizations, government or NGOs, rarely budget resources necessary to establish and maintain partnerships or alliances (Cooper, 2000a). In the case of Costa Rica, there is a legal framework to promote women’s civil engagement, though implementation is difficult, particularly in times of fiscal crisis and recession. Other contexts, especially countries with weak infrastructure and disenchanted civil society, may pose obstacles to collaboration between small domestic NGOs and government



practical lectures, enhanced through dummies, models, and visuals are delivered on site while the women recycle. Although these are preventive measures, now the members are exploring ways to offer primary health care on site, given the close link between environmental degradation and health. In partner with the UCR, university students do fieldwork while COFERENE benefits from the knowledge they bring on health to promote wellness in women’s private life as well as at the work place. The field of waste management, however, presents more serious and immediate health threats to women who are directly affected by lack of sanitation, pollution, contamination, combined with poor health and malnutrition. The increasing feminization of poverty has a definite impact on women especially for heads of households (Benera & Feldman, 1992; ı Commission for Social Development, 2000; Friedmann et al., 1996; World Bank, 1999– 2001). As such, they take whatever job they find, often in the informal sector, cleaning toilets or collecting garbage (World Bank, 2000). In the area of garbage collection, many women, and men, work as buzos 26 (divers). Working in hazardous conditions understandably makes them vulnerable to disease, since ‘‘the method of disposal of wastes is also life-threatening’’ (United Nations, n.d., p. 226). The Coordinator General of COFERENE is negotiating with the Ministry of Health to provide on site vaccinations––tetanus, flu, and others––for the diverse health needs of buzos, bringing a service to where the need is rather than waiting for clients to seek it out, particularly necessary since children often accompany parents. In Guatemala, and other countries, mothers carry their babies on their backs but ‘‘in Costa Rica women only take children 10 years old and older.’’ 27 Regardless of age or gender, however, unfortunately the repercussions are serious for children as well as adults, even affecting future generations. Organizations such as COFERENE experience pressures unique to their projects but others that are common to women’s NGOs. As an example, consider the importance of health and wellness issues and pressures to concentrate primarily on the microenterprise. (g) A hybrid organization: a limitation or a window of opportunities, or both? Originally established as a grassroots organization, COFERENE has become a hybrid

organization after formally splitting the organization into two, the NGO and a fully established microenterprise. International donors who have assisted COFERENE have exerted pressure to convert exclusively to a microenterprise and to give up the gender and social dimension of the organization. Because income-generating enterprises may provide a way out of poverty, international funding agencies have shifted focus away from strictly relief programs. ‘‘It is a strategy to move from a finance as charity enterprise to a finance as business enterprise’’ (Vargas, 2000a, p. 12; see also Johnson & Rogaly, 1997; MIDEPLAN, 1997; Narayan et al., 2000; Robinson, 2001; United Nations, 1995b; World Bank, 1998). This shift in focus by international donors from social goals to microenterprises 28 jeopardizes the sustainability of emerging NGOs. 29 Further, ‘‘Pressure from governments and international donors for quick service delivery, coupled with unstable, short-term financing appear to be undermining the capacity of NGOs, where they exist, to work effectively with poor communities’’ (Narayan et al., 2000, p. 165). These pressures, and intense competition for the same resources, place women’s NGOs dedicated to sustainable development––environmental protection, strengthening the social fabric, and generating income––in a vulnerable position. (h) Challenges in shifting from informal to formal sector activities A recent development toward this effort has been a generous grant COFERENE received from FUNDECOOPERACION, 30 a Dutch NGO. The grant for 40,000,000 colones (about US$130,000) was intended to capitalize the microenterprise until it became fiscally sustainable. Although this grant opened a number of possibilities for COFERENE, it also accentuated the urgency for management training for some of the members. Meantime, FUNDECOOPERACION required hiring a consultant, specifically a woman, to assist COFERENE with budgeting and accounting as well as to be the CEO of the new business. Income generated by COFERENE at its inception was supplementary for the members. The microenterprise must, however, meet legal requirements to operate in the formal sector, particularly strict in Costa Rica. Therefore, demands for cash flow compete with payroll obligations. 31 While building capital takes



time for any enterprise, the legal mandates continue. Insufficient administrative and technical feasibility further complicate matters. Political feasibility had been present as evidenced by the support from international funding as well as government agencies based on the chosen enterprise, recycling, a pressing issue for the country. But culturally this enterprise has posed two problems. First, collecting recyclable waste provoked family structures and the community to rethink the traditional role of women as housewives. Second, waste collection has been a strictly male domain, especially management of a portion of the public waste dump.

4. MORE GENERAL CHALLENGES COMMON TO WOMEN’S NGOS Well beyond the specific work of COFERENE, women’s groups have clearly contributed to sustainable development often using partnership as key modes of operation (Ahmed, 1998; Momsen, 1991; Pulido, 1993; Pye-Smith et al., 1994; Rodda, 1994; United Nations, n.d.; Vargas, 2000a–c). But, when thinking about partnerships, and distinctly women’s NGOs, there are some critical factors to consider: flexibility; the need for funding and microcredit; international pressures on grassroots organizations to become microenterprises; appropriate cultural, leadership, and organizational management; gender issues; and using a cautious approach to partnerships with the private sector. (a) Room for flexibility in the dance of negotiation A still-expanding organization such as COFERENE depends on a flexible approach to partnerships. In fact, its current partners allow it room to enter or retreat depending upon the project at hand. Because creativity and initiative are characteristic of partnerships, it is necessary to consider elements that can foster them, including time for coalition-building and for sustaining the relationship. But time pressures are often compounded with the need for fiscal survival. Survival pressures are constant for smaller women’s NGOs. Yet they must deal with multiple tensions, needs, and competing demands from potential partners. Synchronizing the organizational goals of potential partners is as

important as generating a set of understandings or a memorandum of agreements (Cooper, 2000b; Spigelblatt, 2000). What Spigelblatt terms organizational cultural mediation (2000) may be required to ensure that actors involved are speaking the same language––codification and de-codification (van Dijk, 1996)––and concepts or codes mean the same thing to all parties involved especially in cross-sectoral partnerships (Serageldin et al., 1994). A neglected area in management, and as a topic of research in the field, has been budgeting specifically to build and sustain partnerships (Cooper, 2000a). The time and effort invested in negotiating collaborative endeavors is more often an added responsibility inevitably stressing the people in an organization. Intersectorial partnerships complicate the rules of the game. Multiple jargons, specialized lexicon, or conceptual terms are assumed to be understood by all stakeholders. Government agencies in particular may be held to different standards or rules than for-profit or NGOs complicating the ability to forge partnerships; they may also have to navigate through legal mandates for transparency and accountability in quality of services. A small NGO such as COFERENE, may be unfamiliar with a number of these concerns as it embarks on partnerships. Whether a public or a NGO, however, these organizations rarely, if ever, allocate specific resources to create or maintain partnerships. There is also the need for capacity-building to advance collaboration. The ability to build a partnerships is developed by ‘‘on the job training,’’ and problematic for partners whose negotiating skills are not at par with those of seasoned ones. Trust in such a setting may shape the strength and depth of partnerships. For example, a private firm sought out COFERENE to intervene in organizing a number of small NGOs engaged in collection of recyclable waste. The firm wanted to deal with a single organization, however, in exchange, it only offered COFERENE to pay for uniforms for its employees. The uniforms represented a small token for difficult and complex organizational leadership, political savvy, time, and money. (b) The continuing challenge for funding or microcredit Sustained funding is a continuous challenge to local NGOs and microenterprises, regardless



of their commitment to sustainability. Microcredit for poor people is a tenacious challenge (Robinson, 2001; UN Chronicle, 1998). Poor women are rarely property owners and thus lack collateral for loans (Stromquist, 1998). They may also lack know-how on accessing credit, from the simple experience of going into a bank to opening an account. Ironically these activities are sometimes particularly complex and forbidding in the countries and communities that need them most, e.g., Guatemala, Bangladesh. Illiteracy further complicates getting credit distinctively for rural women (Dighe, 1998). Thus, geographic isolation, illiteracy, and lack of assets exacerbate accessability to microcredit (World Bank, 1998). Moreover, international agencies provide credit to national governments and funding rarely trickles down to communities or to the target group.
Most of the funding for NGOs is allocated to personnel and travel expenses. Only tiny drops of the funding ever gets to those for whom it was intended. This is complicated when a new administration takes over and identifies different priorities from that of the previous administration and terminates previous commitments or projects. 32

Even when funding is available, personnel expenses consume a large portion of the pot of money allocated by donating countries. In response, the UN Assembly adopted a resolution to alleviate poverty by ‘‘incorporating microcredit schemes in their strategies and support the development of microcredit institutions and their capacities, so that credit and related serviced may be made available to people living in poverty’’ (UN Chronicle, 1998). Until international development agencies generate appropriate policies this obstacle will continue (Robinson, 2001; United Nations, 1997; Vargas, 2000a). (c) International pressure to shift from grassroots organizations to microenterprises Affording women labor protection is still a serious concern in many parts of the world (Stromquist, 1998; United Nations, 1995a,d). Although COFERENE operates in a country with universal health care and fringe benefits, it is not a fully established business with secured and steady income or capital gains. The shift to a microenterprise is a step in the right direction to accord and strengthen labor and legal pro-

tection for the women involved. At the same time, providing these benefits may increase risks because of unsteady income or lack of capital to meet mandatory monthly fringe benefits. For organizations that depend on voluntary work, such as COFERENE, adhering strictly to the law may also jeopardize benefits from in kind contributions. To operate the business, COFERENE must now comply with Costa Rica’s labor laws, including payment of social security. The current labor code does not, however, have a provision for recycling collectors and sorters; neither does the Social Security system. Hence, COFERENE is negotiating an exemption from the stipulated minimum wage and a lower fee for fringe benefits until the microenterprise becomes financially solvent and, labor stipulations for these new type of workers are legislated. Success of this negotiation is unlikely since legislation would be required. A possible alternative might be contracting with employees for a flat fee. But, this would further erode gender equality in the tradeoff of income for fringe benefits. The coordinator general is trying to make the case for these new type of workers known to the International Labor Organization. A clear dilemma emerges: affording women a space for economic viability may undermine gaining legally accorded fringe benefits. (d) Orchestrating organizational, leadership, and cultural demands As should be clear from the discussion of COFERENE, women’s NGOs must address complex organizational, leadership, and cultural issues.
The managers COFERENE has had so far have not understood the needs of the organization. We believe that such a manager has to focus not only on management but also do fieldwork to truly understand the realm of activities in which we engage. Those we have had focus only on compliance with labor laws and minimum wage and fringe benefit issues, but do not understand what we do. Although all the management directors have been women, as required by the international funding organizations, the search continues for a good match. It may perhaps be more feasible to train one of our own members. 33

These three dimensions, cultural, leadership, and organizational capacity intertwine presenting interesting but taxing dynamics (no pun intended), 34 for women-only NGOs with a



primarily horizontal authority, limited education, and an organization growing in scope. (i) Organizational demands From an organizational perspective, there are several tensions at this level of development. First, the organization was created by members who are committed but who lacked management skills. ‘‘We started the organization, but we do not have management training. I only have a high school degree.’’ Second, unexpected growth has outpaced the technical capacity of members to meet managerial demands. The current administrator commented:
We truly have a vacuum in terms of management capacity. We need a strong administrative structure. I came here after working for 18 years with the first NGO ever established in Costa Rica. I worked there because I identified with its mission and I was motivated. However, I left it because it had become too commercially focused from its original ecological mission. I took this job with COFERENE because I believe in its humanitarian mission and philosophy, even though I have a difficult commute from San Jos e (about an hour away with normal traffic). However, we are now at a juncture and need a retreat where we can do an overall assessment on how to rescue COFERENE’s values and make its philosophy salient. 35

nature of the enterprise; not only to technical and legal mandates. More specifically, such a manager needs to respond to administrative feasibility while fostering long-term local organizational capacity (Narayan et al., 2000). This person also needs to respond to political feasibility of the organization, the internal dynamics, the external environment, and the international donors (Cooper, 2000a; Cooper & Vargas, 1995). (ii) Leadership challenges It is evident that COFERENE has exerted leadership since its birth. By choosing to dedicate their efforts to ‘‘collecting garbage,’’ members were trailblazers because waste management had not been a purview of women. As their vision expanded and as they experienced success, members created new projects through partnerships with various agencies.
Although we did not start with expertise in the recycling business, we have become specialized in the field of industrial waste management. We have become experts through experience and there’s a need for research on its impact. . . But it is a balancing act responding to the requirements of each funding agency or partner while also remaining loyal to our mission. For example, HIVOS’ concerns are in promoting new projects and disseminating the notion of microenterprises among other communities. For COFERENE it is to raise consciousness about the needs of NGOs to acquire capacity building skills. 36

Third, management support received from funding agencies has tied the organization’s hands in terms of finding a manager that understands the organization’s mission instead of one narrowly concentrated on technical aspects of management. A manager needs to understand and identify with the organizational culture of COFERENE. ‘‘Effective partnerships require not just changes in procedures but changes in mind-set, so that all partners––including external support agencies––see themselves as learners rather than experts’’ (Narayan et al., 2000, p. 161). Initially established by women with limited education, the organization’s authority is horizontal, predicated on a participatory process in which every member has equal say. A sanitized, elite, hierarchal business administration approach may easily collide in this context. Past managers have, perhaps subconsciously, rendered a message of inequality by neglecting to understand the organizational culture. Fourth, an organization without capital investment, may have to navigate through negotiations before it becomes financially solvent. Therefore, a manager needs to be able to respond to the culture and

In 2001, the organization was trying to gain entry into ‘‘Clean Cities,’’ a government’s program in which COFERENE would have the potential to serve five counties. This intergovernmental-NGO-microenterprise partnership involves the Municipality of San Ramn, the o Ministry of Health, and COFERENE, which would dramatically increase its service area. This cooperative endeavor would serve as a model partnership. COFERENE’s leadership penetrates, too, to the policy-making level through its participation in the drafting of a bill regarding mandatory recycling. This same bill would also allocate one colon per 1,000 colones to promote environmental education. The advanced training the founder received in plastic recycling places the organization in a leadership role in the field. 37 In February 2000, a special session was convened to determine the fate of the microenterprise. After an arduous process to create it within a legal framework, shares were divided among founding members, the group



contemplated the question of who should hold its ownership, ‘‘should it be in private hands or vested onto the organization?’’ Unanimously, they concluded that ownership should remain with COFERENE, ‘‘the mother organization,’’ and willingly signed over their shares contingent upon ‘‘a stipulation with specific criteria for membership, including the concept of consciousness raising on the need to have active members; otherwise, the organization dies.’’ 38 (iii) Organizational culture constraints A more complex issue to explore is organizational culture because of the contradictions that emerge. As the organization developed, the members envisioned growth and expansion through partnerships. But partnerships are created through negotiations, which has put these women right in the public sphere. Tensions among the members emerged regarding the amount of time they could dedicate to the enterprise without neglecting their family responsibilities. In other instances conflict erupted at home. And even when women had full support of their partners, the time required to sustain the organization and its partnerships translated into more than a full-time job. A significant issue for women entering the workforce is the added burden of the third shift (Benera & Feldman, 1992). Some tensions at ı home are being resolved favorably while others continue to nag (Bosch, 1998; van Dijk, 1996) as these women forge an organizational culture and balance the family demands; or as organizational culture intersects with anthropological culture. In some instances, the organizational issues are generic to any organization, as is the struggle for power. Women-only organizations are not immune to it, neither was COFERENE. A combination of these factors creates interesting dynamics inside and outside the organization with potential for growth but not conflict free. COFERENE, though, seems willing to pursue a path of consciousness raising as members tackle organizational as well as anthropological cultural concerns. Nevertheless, members continuously identify the intersection of organizational skills with gender issues as a salient challenge. (e) Gender issues weighing in on the development and sustainability of women’s NGOs There are multiple and complex gender dynamics, internal and external and societal or

cultural. ‘‘I am writing our experience to learn why women’s organizations do not develop as fast as men’s. Even when we support each other, it still takes longer.’’ 39 Breaking patriarchal structures is not an easy process in a traditionally male-dominated economic and political context, though COFERENE is attempting it at various levels. First, the organization was created by women who needed to contribute to family income as well as to change traditional housewife roles. The idea of leaving home to initiate income producing activities was in itself a major step. Second, equally daring, COFERENE was launched with a waste management mission, traditionally a male domain. On one hand, ‘‘women’s organizations such as this one reflects a patriarchal organization but more so a matriarchal organization.’’ 40 On the other, women’s traditional way of dealing with each other generated conflict within the organization. In some instances, it spilled outside the organization undermining its credibility and ethical feasibility (Cooper, 2000a; Cooper & Vargas, 1995). Meanwhile ‘‘feminists in funding agencies have insisted that membership be restricted to women only, and that the manager must be a woman.’’ Donors’ trust in these women’s ability is essential (Serageldin et al., 1994). Since the organization was established as a way for women to generate income without compromising their roles in the family, this position is a sensitive one. Some of these women view it as a form of discrimination against men.
I have worked in teams with men who are engineers, accountants, businessmen, and even with my husband, but always as a team. Only by working with men are we ever going to measure equality. How can we measure equality in knowledge and know-how otherwise? It must be based on interaction with men, not in competition with men, but by holding equal positions to men. It is in the interaction as equal partners that we find equality. However, we discriminate against women because we trip women on their way up. And we discriminate men because we cannot hire a man as a manager, even though I think we need a man in such a position at this time. 41

There is a spectrum of feminist positions in Latin America (Stromquist, 1998), though some women who have engaged in social justice activism are supportive of this view. (i) Women-only organizations Women’s interactions with each other has been a delicate issue to explore during trying



times for members of COFERENE and for the researcher. In a number of instances, however, almost instantaneously, we raised gender as an issue encroaching on the organization and its management. Theoretical implications in this regard are important to address, as more than one member underscored the fact that gender plays a significant role in women’s organizations. A possible traditional attitude of ‘‘women viewing each other as potential competitors’’ merits further research. An organization established on the foundation of cooperation and equality, sooner or later encounters this contradiction regarding leadership roles. Gender also affects interpersonal dynamics when evaluating performance. This becomes particularly difficult when there is an organizational need to offer ‘‘constructive criticism and support in an area of expertise by one woman to another.’’ In some cases, the feedback may be characterized as a personal attack. A response may be borderline character assassination. Learning how to give and receive feedback is necessary to preclude interpreting it as a threat or an affront to authority; or develop a capacity for criticism and self-criticism (van Dijk, 1996). A lack of gender identity may also lead to apathy and mediocrity: ‘‘If, when giving feedback, we say ‘Oh you poor thing’ or we stay in the organization because our friends are in it.’’ 42 For women who feel isolated, social reasons may be the motivator for their participation, as a way to break the isolation as were literacy classes for women in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Stromquist, 1997). Frictions of these nature, though identified as gender related, can jeopardize the sustainability of an organization, unless there is awareness and a commitment to resolve them, through an exploration of cultural (gender) feasibility (Cooper, 2000a; Cooper & Vargas, 1995). At this point, to respond to the conflicts members shifted attention to COFERENE’s survival instead of personal gains. This merits research on gender dynamics specifically on power struggles among women. (ii) Childcare concerns, husbands’ responses and family dynamics There is also the fact some of the husbands have directly worked in the organization as well as supporting their spouses at home. As a husband indicated ‘‘I support her fully, but it is difficult when my wife comes home late in the evening from working in the organization. My children (four) and I rarely get to see her or

spend any time with her.’’ 43 Bosch’s study in Chile revealed that the autonomy and self-sufficiency women attained by participating in income-generating activities affect family dynamics (Bosch, 1998; van Dijk, 1996). Wives who felt oppressed or in unsatisfactory relationships who go through a conscientization process, may be catapulted to end them. Others engage in a dialogue with their partners to negotiate and balance family, employment, and house chores demands (van Dijk, 1996). (f) A cautious approach to partnerships with the private sector Although partnerships may be viewed as a panacea for solving serious global problems, from environmental to poverty reduction, it is important to be cautious in terms of their reach. In some circumstances previously antagonistic or adversarial groups may have to deal with their animosities in order to engage in partnerships. An example of this is the empowerment-zone/enterprise-community initiatives in a US Southern state, (Gaventa, Morrissey, & Edwards, 1995). In this case the community not only had to deal with the tension between ‘‘economic opportunities and sustainable community development goals’’ (p. 121) but also with the sequella of past racial segregation. African-Americans were expected to come to the table to initiate collaborative relations with company owners who had previously engaged in bigotry and segregation. This case illustrates that partnering can be conflictive, whether in the United States or the international realm (Belshaw, Calderisi, & Sugden, 2001; Bennett, 1995; Boris & Steele, 1999; Cooper, 1998a; Lovrich, 2000; Salamon, 1999; Vaillancourt Rosenau, 2000a,b; Yamamoto, 1999; Yamamoto & Ashizawa, 1999). As indicated earlier, an effective partnerships needs to be build on trust and in a context in which there is transparency. This is not the rule for private firms. Therefore, building partnerships with private firms requires that they operate from a commitment to ethics, equality, equity, sustainability, development, inclusion, and human security (UNDP, 1999, p. 2). An antithesis is the criticized partnership fashioned between Nestle and the United Nations. Nestl e sponsored a workshop entitled, ‘‘Mechanisms of Support to Women’s Participation in Sustainable Development.’’ The workshop was held at Nestl’s International Research Center e in Lausanne, Switzerland in November 1997



(Linnecar, 1998). Such corporate sponsorship provoked a strong response from women’s groups because of the company’s marketing practices of baby food and baby formula in developing countries. Although pointing to disenchanted experiences with the private sector regarding social justice may not be so difficult, it is also important to recognize that there are businesses, perhaps too few, committed to sustainable development and who operate from an ethical stand. An example of that was the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Company whose social mission had been in three areas: women, environmental protection, and poverty alleviation. Unfortunately, it was acquired by a conglomerate in 2000. 5. PARTNERSHIPS, SO WHAT? This case poses some lessons. First, partnerships take time to build and strengthen. Second, organizations need to have the administrative capacity to do so. Organizational capacity to manage the partnerships merit serious exploration. As Cooper points out, the partnerships may be built on the backs of the personnel, or lack thereof, as an additional responsibility but not one that is factored into the positions or a project (2000b, pp. 23–24). This same issue perhaps partly explains the reluctance of government agencies to engage in some partnerships. Third, for partnerships to work, they have to be build on trust and reciprocity. Some mechanisms of transparency and accountability, even if informal, must be implemented. Fourth, women’s organizations engaged in alliances need to explore gender issues that will inevitably arise; some related to the domestic cultural context, others from the international context. If women’s organizations that need to pull together in order to overcome discrimination, turn that discrimination against each other, the energy gets diluted. Fifth, when engaged in solid waste management or other potentially hazardous work, considering specific environmental health risks for women and their children is vital. This is relevant for COFERENE’s line of work and other areas, from agriculture to craft work. Buzos face occupational hazards, more so women, especially when pregnant, and children who accompany them. Vaccinations are particularly urgent because of their additional vulnerability due to inadequate clothing––lack

of shoes or protective gloves (Mansdorf, 1998). ‘‘They also eat whatever they find in the public dump that they consider is still eatable; in some instances they even sell it in their communities.’’ 44 Hence, the potential for food poisoning and other toxicity factors combined with poverty, malnutrition, and lack of health care is extremely high (Chelala, 2000; Children’s Environmental Health Network, 1997). Environmental factors may seriously affect the health of adults and especially children working in public dumps. Hazardous sources may be from air, water, land, and food (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1999; Castiglione, 1999; Children’s Environmental Health Network, 1997; Chelala, 2000; Shannon, 2001). The sources of contamination are much greater in refuse dumps where garbage pickers work. Children’s still developing and maturing systems make them particularly at risk for major illnesses: (a) neurodevelopmental disorders from chronic contaminants toxicity; (b) endocrine disorders, (c) environmental asthma and respiratory diseases, and (d) childhood cancer. The accumulative toxicity effect jeopardizes children’s developmental milestones, particularly the development of the brain and immunological and gastrointestinal systems that may lead to neurodevelopmental disorders or death. For adults, health risks are associated with birth defects, strokes, urinary tract disorders, diabetes, eczema, anemia, and speech and hearing impairment as well as premature mortality from strokes and diabetes (Bove, 1999; Lybarger et al., 1999). Occupational hazards for child-bearing women as a result of exposure to metals and solvents is associated with 34% increase risks for central nervous system defects and health risks for the mothers themselves (Bove, 1999). As more women and their children engage in waste management, there is an urgency to research its adverse health effects both in terms of morbidity and mortality, particularly for pregnant women and children. The public health hazard posed by these activities coupled with longterm costs for birth defects merit a high priority on the political agenda. Hence, the need for ‘‘policies to create safety opportunity and sustainability’’ (Children’s Environmental Health Network, 1997). Collaboration with health care entities to make primary health services––including toxicity testing, diagnosis, and treatment––accessible at a convenient location is crucial (Ndure, Sy, Ntiru, & Diene, 1999).



6. CONCLUSION This article has sought to take partnerships seriously. Specifically, it has been concerned with the nature, opportunities, and challenges of women’s NGOs seeking to make real contributions to sustainable development. It has used a case study of COFERENE, a successful women’s NGO in Costa Rica to explore the nature of partnerships, the contextual factors that shape them, and the successes that can be realized from their wise use. There are lessons, both optimistic and cautionary to be learned from COFERENE’S experiences regarding the complexity of establishing partnerships. In synthesis, though partnerships are complex and NGOs present a mixed record globally, 45 they can be a vehicle through which women’s NGOs can be instrumental in fomenting sustainable development by generating income while protecting the environment and improving the quality of life of their communities through active participation in decision-mak-

ing and governance. This case study also supports the strategy that ‘‘gender advocacy should be focused on specific sectoral reforms––technical issues as well as processes––so that it is not so general that nothing concrete could be accomplished’’ (Ruiz Bravo & Monkman, 1998, p. 493). COFERENE did not start with a feminist agenda but one focused on the environment and sustainability. It continues with that mission with ‘‘an orientation on women though men are also members.’’ 46 Thus, it is not an NGO specifically concentrating on ‘‘engendering cultural change,’’ as Alvarez (1999) observes, but on a cultural transformation anchored on the concept of sustainable development and some of its principles: (i) equality and equity for women––as well as other vulnerable group, e.g., refugees, street children, the disabled, the elderly; (ii) partnerships and inclusion of civil society; and (iii) health conceived broadly to include persons in their natural contexts and environment.

1. Originally written in Spanish: ‘‘Una mujer comentaba que su padre era barrendero, si bien algunas personas consideraban humilde este trabajo, ella opinaba que la persona encargada de recoger la basura es muy superior a aquella que la arroja.’’ translated by the author. 2. COFERENE is the acronym for ‘‘Colectivo Femenino Rescatando nuestra Ecologa,’’ (Women Rescuing ı Our Ecology Group (author’s translation)). For more information, see its website: 3. Centro Nacional para el Desarrollo de la Mujer y la Familia translates to National Center for the Development of Women and Family. 4. Rosa Mara Karpinski, former member of Congress ı and first woman appointed President of the National Legislative Assembly (Parliament). 5. While Costa Rica’s GEM rank is 24, women hold 19.0% of ministerial and sub-ministerial level government positions compared to women in the following countries: rank 1 for Norway and 22.2%; rank 51 for Chile and 9.8%; rank 35 for Mexico and 6.6%; rank 99 and 3.7 for China; and rank 154, and 3.1 for C^ te o d’Ivoire (UNDP, 2000, pp. 165 and 264). 6. Certificates for the Protection of Forests, Certificado de Protecci n del Bosque (CPB), which pays a fee to o private owners of forest for the natural services of the forests. 7. It may be useful to distinguish between partnerships and networks. Networks are more commonly found in the private sector in which actors engage in a mutual business endeavor out of need. The actors, too, mutually share the risk. Hence, ‘‘the network is based on mutual interdependencies’’ (Cooper, 2000a, p. 19). Unlike private sector networks, partnerships are much more limited in scope and often involve local initiatives depending on the cultural and political context. Some nonprofit organizations are already operating as networks without knowing that they are constituted so as is the case in Canada (Cooper, 2000a). 8. Bangladesh ranks 146 on the Human Development Index (HDI) out of 174 countries; Costa Rica ranks 48. The 1998 GDP per capita for Bangladesh was $348 (US dollars) compared to $5,987 for Costa Rica. The Gender-related development index (GDI) for Bangladesh is 121 while for Costa Rica it is 46. Costa Rica’s adult literacy rate for females is 95.4 and for males is 95.3; Bangladesh rates are 28.6 for females and 51.1 for males.


WORLD DEVELOPMENT correspondence. Telephone conversation with the Secretary General regarding the experience in Mexico, September 2000. 22. Personal communication with Mara Isabel ı Ramrez Castro, Coordinator General, who is providing ı free consulting to the province of Prez Zeled n and e o various counties in it, April 2001. 23. OPS stands for Organizacin Panamerica de la o Salud (Panamerican Health Organization). 24. Personal communication with the President of COFERENE and the Coordinator General, February 2000. 25. Personal communication, February 2000. 26. Buzos, also called ‘‘scavangers,’’ are persons who work directly amidst garbage in public dumps rescuing salvageable recyclable materials––paper, plastic, glass, copper, tin, etc., and even food for themselves as well as to sell for profit in their communities. 27. Personal communication, April 2001. 28. Personal communication with the Coordinator General, December 1999, February and March 2000. 29. In 2002, one international funding agency received a five-year extension to finance social programs in Costa Rica though it had been anticipated that its mission was terminating at the end of 2001. Personal communication with administrator, February 2002. 30. FUNDECOOPERACION is the acronym for Fundacin para el Desarrollo Sostenible (Sustainable o Development Foundation). 31. These include payment of minimum wages, social security, pension, paid vacation, and disability fees. 32. Personal communication with Coordinator General, March 2001. 33. Personal communication with the administrator (this position is different from that of the director), March 2000. 34. Culture in this section is understood in terms of organizational culture and not from an anthropological perspective. 35. Personal conversation, March 29, 2001.

9. This law ‘‘enhances women’s possibilities to access public office by making gender parity compulsory in all electoral processes’’ (Sols, 1996) ı 10. Costa Rica was the first country to create a professional development program on sustainable development and integrated the concept in every subject matter in the K-12 system. ‘‘At the higher education level, some of the faculties of state universities have adopted a focus on SD for a dual purpose, development of teaching materials and research’’ (Vargas, 2000a, p. 388). 11. Interview with the Coordinator General, March 2001. In the interview with the researcher the idea of integrating him into COFERENE came up to help out with truck repairs. 12. A recent experience demonstrated that COFERENE survived a few months suspension of funding by two NGOs notwithstanding the severe stress the organization endured. 13. Telephone conversation with a member of COFERENE, March 1999. 14. IMAS (Instituto Mixto de Ayuda Social) is the welfare agency. 15. Social Security, known as Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS), is the national health care system. 16. La Agencia Alemana de Cooperaci n Tcnicao e GTZ-Alemania (German Technical Cooperation Agency), Coordinador Sectorial Regional para Amrica e ı Latina Ingeniera Sanitaria; HIVOS, Instituto Humanista para la Cooperaci n de los Pases en Desarrollo. o ı 17. CEDARENA is the acronym for Centro de Derecho Ambiental y Recursos Naturales (Environmental Law and Natural Resources Center). 18. ARCA (Asociacin Ramonense de Conservacin o o o al Ambiente) stands for San Ramn Environmental Conservation Association. o 19. Meeting at COFERENE, June 1999, San Ramn, Costa Rica. 20. Phone interview with Mara Isabel Rodrguez, ı ı April 2001. 21. Telephone conversations with three different members of COFERENE, May–August 2000, e-mail and fax

WOMEN IN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 36. Personal communication with Coordinator General, March 2001. 37. Personal communication Ramrez Castro, April 6, 2001. ı 38. Personal Communication Ramrez Castro, April 16, 2001. ı with Mara ı Isabel


42. Telephone interview with founder, March and April 2001. 43. Interview, August 1998. 44. Interview with Coordinator General, April 6, 2001. 45. NGOs do not rate well according to ‘‘a review of 81 Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA) reports that are based on discussions with over 40,000 poor women and men. The World Bank conducted these studies in the 1990s in 50 countries around the world’’ (Narayan et al., 2000, p. 3; see also Robb, 2002). 46. Personal communication with COFERENE, February 2002.


Mara ı


39. Communication with the founder of COFERENE, March 2000. 40. Personal communication with Mara ı Ramrez Castro, March and April, 2001. ı 41. Personal Communication with Mara ı Ramrez Castro, March and April 2001. ı Isabel


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