Through the Looking Glass
Several Colombian businesses, with foresight and comprehension of their responsibilities, have been spurred by their country's harsh reality to develop, support, and/or finance non-profit organizations specialized in assisting the processes that are being constructed from the base of civil society—foundations.
For example, foundations such as Actuar Bolívar in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast and Alto Magdalena in the Southern Andes of Colombia have been creating methodologies and working with citizens displaced by violence. The focus of this effort is the management of grief—both for the loss of loved ones and due to the displacement of citizens from their land—and the execution of dignified assimilations into a new society.
The Foundations HOCOL, the non-profit organization of the Hocol oil company, and the pipeline Oleoducto de Colombia (ODC) have concentrated their efforts on the strengthening of grassroots organizations made up of leaders, mothers, professors, craftspersons, etc. and Schools for Democracy. This focus seeks to strengthen the capacity for mobilization, participation, collective construction, and the quest for an improvement in the quality of life. This effort is complemented with programs for strengthening institutions in which mayors and local or regional governments are trained to improve decision-making and to create spaces for dialogue for a collective construction that ethically includes and benefits everyone.
It is important to stress that these foundations have been working for several years in an isolated fashion in the development of knowledge, methodology and experiences.
Members of Colombian civil society had the opportunity to participate in an academic conference in November 2002, organized at Harvard University by PONSACS (Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival) and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. This exercise changed paradigms, challenged thinking, generated alliances and its creativity was a welcome surprise to its participants.
This conference created a space for participation among high Colombian government officials, universities, diverse peace think tanks, union leaders, Colombianists and foundations that generate knowledge, methodologies and development programs on democracy, quality of life and peace.
To see ourselves from the viewpoint of the academy, to be recognized and to understand ourselves through the experiences of Harvard professors, to be able to reflect on our own experience through those with similar experiences and to share successes and frustrations created a space that will always be our best reference point for learning.
The results are today a reality. The HOCOL foundation and the Universidad de los Andes have begun a process of documentation of experiences and methodologies to create case studies.
In addition, the foundation País Libre is interested in sharing its know-how for the handling of thousands of cases of kidnappings.
The office of the High Commissioner for Peace and Coexistence of the Presidency of the Republic is evaluating the experiences of the School for Democracy and the strengthening of grassroots organizations in order to duplicate the experience in other regions.
The conference at Harvard was only a beginning: we Colombians who had the fortune to participate in the experience in Cambridge will continue to work as a group to generate ideas for the participation of civil society in the progression toward peace.
Ramiro Santa is president of the HOCOL Foundation and a member of the board of directors of the Alto Magdalena, Fundación ODC, País Libre and Corporación Actuar Bolívar Foundations.