Sat, Aug 25, 2001 - Page 8 News List

NGOs need to develop initiative, resources

By Eric Huang 黃榮墩

The domestic economy is in a slump, and unemployment in Hualien is particularly serious. Many families find themselves in dire straits, and many people are becoming desperate, leading to an increase in crime. Many social welfare organizations are also suffering from lack of funds even as demands on them rise.

Social welfare organizations, however, have greater resources and a greater capacity to face difficulties than do the unemployed. These resources come from society at large, through donations. So when society needs help -- in aiding the jobless or others hurt by a poor economy -- for social welfare groups to say they can't help is unacceptable.

In 1992, the German steel, electronics and mechanical industries were facing grave transformational issues, creating massive unemployment. Many voluntary organizations emerged to help the people who were laid off, among those, Atlantis, a non-profit organization.

Atlantis made ample use of local science and technology resources to provide the unemployed with professional training, giving them the skills not only to install solar-powered heating systems and wind-powered generating equipment, but to provide thermal-power integration as well as the integration of electric-power systems. They trained men and women from different areas and ethnic groups to create environment-related job opportunities. They gave seminars to reinforce people's knowledge of the environment and natural resources, thus creating a reference model for local job creation.

Taiwan's situation is different. When the 1997 Asian financial crisis broke out, the methods normally used were to discard the employees and give up the business. Local industry did not have the ability to handle such problems. Whether in Japan's integrated community planning or in Europe's social economy, existing foundations were not easily abandoned but instead used to create new opportunities.

Taiwanese society has now been forced to abandon the pursuit of excessive economic development and to return to a simpler social situation. There's nothing wrong with valuing what capital we already have, and we shouldn't be eager to abandon it.

Initiating and maintaining social welfare is an important task of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In the past, many people believed that social welfare organizations should not operate for profit. But operating as a business and operating for profit are not necessarily the same thing.

Social welfare organizations may not work for their own profit by corrupt methods, but they should actively develop their own enterprises in order to generate revenue. When the economy suffers, and the maintenance of employment mechanisms operated by society is threatened, social-welfare organizations must not place themselves outside of the problems; they must face the issues.

In particular, voluntary civic activities and democratic methods should be combined with excellent service conditions to create a work model in which both the participant and society can benefit. This is the only way to realize voluntary services and fulfill the various needs of society.

The thinking of many local administrators -- who believe public service enterprises should not seek profits -- is outdated. How, then, should we expect NGOs to develop a social economy? The central government wants to speed up the development of local industry. I'm afraid that the largest obstacles are officials who abuse their power, and the lack of self-confidence among employees of social welfare organizations.

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