Chapter 3:
Organizational Issues, Goals and Strategies

There is not a right or wrong way to go about ESC rights work. However, the effectiveness of any organization is predicated upon its ability to identify clearly the issues or problems it aims to tackle, establish goals for addressing them, decide on priorities among these goals, and develop strategies for addressing them. This process is that much more important in a field such as economic, social and cultural rights, where relatively few resources or models have evolved and considerable challenges remain to achieving the legitimacy of these rights.

The development of an organizational strategy for work in economic, social and cultural rights can be thought of as the result of finding a "fit" among:

  • the overall mission of the organization or program, what it intends to accomplish;
  • the external issues the organization or program has decided to address, as well as any potential challenges or limitations it may face; in other words, consideration of what is needed within its context and what is feasible for the organization to accomplish given the community/constituency/country within which it works; and
  • the organization's strengths and weaknesses; that is, what is the organization capable of doing, what resources are available within or to it, and what capacities does it have or can it reasonably obtain? 41

The context within which organizations work, the specific issues/problems they face related to ESC rights, and the capacity of organizational staff or members are all dynamic, necessitating con- sistent monitoring of the work and its effectiveness. Thus, while a clear definition of the mission and its relationship to issues, goals and strategies is critical to the effectiveness of any organization, flexibility and an ongoing assessment of its work are equally important.

At times, since systematic work on ESC rights is so relatively new, groups may often have to "muddle along," assessing and building upon what they learn through trial and error. If the work is discouraging, they can remember that because the work they are doing is pioneering, goals and time lines set at the beginning of the work may be unrealistic; they may need to narrow the focus or adjust time lines in response to difficulties they encounter.

The following examples illustrate the strategic thinking and approaches two organizations have taken to their ESC rights work.

Example: FLAG and its Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Program

Mission/organizational goals

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG)42 , founded in 1974, is an organization of volunteer lawyers throughout the Philippines who provide their services free of charge to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights. Its vision is to create just social structures to facilitate develop- ment towards the full realization of human rights. FLAG follows a philosophy of developmental legal advocacy (DLA), whose objective is to remedy injustice, not merely by enforcing the law, but also by changing it as well as the underlying social structures which perpetrate or sustain injustice and inhibit development. FLAG has three central goals:

  • To help people help themselves through raising their awareness of their own power to act, encouraging people to organize and act collectively and making full use of legal advocacy's educative function
  • To politicize legal aid and involve clients in identifying the specific social structures and forces which have caused their legal problems, and to work with them to create both legal and social solutions
  • To contribute effectively to development and justice by seeking to vindicate collective rights, recalling that FLAG's role is purely supportive of the poor, the dispossessed and the disenfranchised who must ultimately rely on their own organized efforts to gain justice and benefit from development


President Ramos introduced a national development plan entitled "Philippines 2000." The plan comprises macroeconomic and sectoral policies and strategies involving changes in credit and monetary management, agro-industrial development, human development, infra-structural development and development administration. Philippines 2000 was released in 1992, and by 1996 FLAG had already identified three emerging trends which have detrimental consequences. Prime agricultural lands are being converted to agro-industrial lands, foreshore land is being converted to tourist resorts, and the development program in certain parts of the country has been accompanied by militarization. These trends are resulting in the dislocation and forced displacement of farmers, forest communities and fisherfolk, loss of livelihood and food sources in these regions, and large- scale destruction of natural resources.

FLAG's members throughout the country have handled many cases related to these trends. Most alarmingly, the number of urban poor approaching FLAG about evictions and demolitions of homes has drastically increased. FLAG has also found the case-by-case legal aid approach which it had heretofore been using did not work in this situation, and thus the poor have no practical legal recourse or remedy in most of these cases. FLAG felt a pressing need to develop a systematic and effective approach to these problems.

Internal capacities

FLAG's members are skilled in utilizing law as a tool to seek justice and working with people to learn about their problems, critically analyze legal and social structures, educate them on their legal rights, and facilitate their recognition of and ability to advocate for themselves. FLAG also has significant experience using a human rights approach. FLAG's National Board felt that despite its lack of experience working on ESC rights and the relative lack of elaboration of these rights, FLAG does have the capacity to learn about and develop a clear approach to problems of an economic, social and cultural character using a rights perspective.

"The Fit"

FLAG designed and implemented its Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Program (ESCRP), a holistic and comprehensive human rights approach to addressing the problems of poverty and inequality it encountered. ESCRP has six essential tasks:

1) define the core contents of the rights to food, health, housing, and education and the absolute minimum entitlements that spring from each right;
2) establish a normative model or blueprint of legal standards;
3) determine state obligations;
4) establish mechanisms of enforceability and justiciability;
5) develop indicators to monitor the government's compliance with its obligations and to assess programs of action and progress in the realization of ESC rights; and
6) mobilize and generate popular support towards the immediate realization of economic, social and cultural rights.

FLAG developed a task force approach to defining the rights, one which involves a broad range of people, including individuals from affected sectors, governmental representatives, professionals working in the area of concern, as well as other actors who play a role in defining the nature and implementation of policies concerning the particular right. The task forces are committed to fulfill- ing the first three objectives of ESCRP. FLAG's Economic Social and Cultural Rights Program builds on the organization's vision, the problems and contextual realities it encounters, and the organization's knowledge of human rights and legal structures and remedies.

Example: Developing Initiatives for Social and Human Action (DISHA)

Mission/organizational goals

DISHA43 is a development NGO which works with tribals and poor people in Gujarat state, India. Guiding its work is a philosophy of development which involves: a) enabling the poor to fight exploitation and alter the power relationships in their favor at the local level; and b) influencing the allocation of resources in order to improve their economic and social conditions. Founded in 1985, DISHA undertakes a broad range of activities, including organizing and unionizing for collective action as well as helping to build grassroots institutions to undertake income generation projects, awareness campaigns and non-formal educational activities.


Despite reports by the government of Gujarat claiming that significant budgetary allocations were being directed to poor and tribal communities, the lives of the people in these communities had not visibly improved over the years. DISHA became skeptical about the actual expenditures of monies and was interested in learning about the relationship of the budget to poverty and poor areas. DISHA began by asking, "How is the budget developed and who decides where the money is being spent?" For instance, substantial resources are spent on police -- transportation police, border police, public safety police, and so on. Why was it decided to have so many police? Each Indian state has some liberty in making decisions about, for instance, whether more money is spent on education than on industrial development. The challenge for DISHA was how to learn about and influence this decision-making process.

Organizational Capacities

In 1989 DISHA's director began to explore whether DISHA might be able to analyze the Gujarat state budget. Although the director was not an economist -- holding a post-graduate degree in geography and previously working as a union organizer -- he had experience reading charts and interpreting data. DISHA did not have any staff experienced in analyzing budgets, but with the director's technical skills and the computer expertise of another staff member, it decided it could reasonably develop its own capacity to undertake this work.

"The Fit"

DISHA now undertakes a budget analysis program as a regular activity. The program provides DISHA with a comprehensive picture of the regional development undertaken by the State. Consistent with the organization's goals of enabling the poor to fight exploitation, alter power relationships and influence the allocation of resources, DISHA analyzes the State's budgetary allocations and expenditures and disseminates information about the budget and budgetary process, as well as its analysis, to policy makers, members of the community and the press. It also organizes training programs to teach other NGOs about how the state government budgetary process works. DISHA has contacted many NGOs within the state and in other states to share this information and the skills it has developed. Its budget analysis program has sharpened DISHA's vision and definition of development, programs to be undertaken, demands to be made, strategies to be generated, as well as the need for strengthening grassroots organizations and other people's organizations.

41. Strategic Planning Workbook for Nonprofit Organizations, Wilder Foundation, 1986, pp. 11-12.

42. Also see boxes in chapter 1 and chapter 5 for descriptions of FLAG's work.

43. See also box in chapter 6 and Appendix D for more information about DISHA's budget analysis work.



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