Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PRIV: Profile of an Institute

**Disclaimer: the content of this blog, outside of this posting, does NOT, in any way, represent the attitudes and opinions of the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela**

– Organization Profile –

We are an independent, non-profit and politically neutral institute based out of Caracas, Venezuela, that is working for the betterment of all humankind.

I. Guiding Philosophies

The underlying goal behind all the work undertaken by the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela is to make Prout a living reality in today’s world. Prout is the abbreviation for the Progressive Utilization Theory, which is a socioeconomic alternative that was conceptualized by the Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar (1921-1990) beginning in 1959. Prout is not a rigid economic doctrine, but a collection of principles that can be applied according to the requirements of any given place and situation. It is a model that opposes all forms of domination and exploitation and rejects capitalist economic growth as an end in itself. Instead, Prout proposes economic democracy, decentralization, participatory democracy, regional autonomy and self-sufficiency and takes the wellbeing of all living beings as the primary purpose of social and economic life.
While maintaining its foundation of several core macroeconomic principles based on economic democracy, each community needs to develop according to the requirements and aspirations of the local people. Some of these macroeconomic policies include: limits on salaries, wealth and land ownership to reduce the gaps between the rich and poor; state control of key industries to allow a more equitable distribution of a nation’s natural resources and wealth; and cooperative management of certain economic sectors such as agriculture.

Proutist theory is very comprehensive. Our institute focuses on the following core activities:

- Strengthening Cooperatives to improve the quality of life
- Promoting Economic Democracy to unite people
- Consciousness Raising to elevate human potential

II. Getting To Where We Are Today

We believe that strengthening cooperatives is the most valuable practical contribution that our institute can make in Venezuela at this time. Our initial work has focused on the Barlovento region of Miranda state, which is located about 100 kilometers east of Caracas. Due to its wealth of natural and cultural resources, Barlovento presents an incredible opportunity for economic growth. The area possesses very fertile land, with the cultivation of high quality cacao and plantain; it has a unique cultural wealth of Afro-Venezuelan music and dance; and its beautiful coastline has created a rapidly growing tourism industry.
Barlovento represents the highest concentration of Afro descendents in the country, whose ancestors were transported from Africa in the 18th century as enslaved workers. Years of domination have generated some inherited habits of subjugation, such as waiting to be told what to do, yet remaining resentful of authority. Both internalized and structural racism have resulted in high levels of unemployment, poverty and crime, declining levels of agricultural production and the absence of community groups and other social organizations. Historically these problems have been compounded by the national government’s general policy of neglect towards the region. We believe that all of these factors call for an appropriate and progressive model of development for Barlovento.

The importance of understanding and addressing the implications of the collective psyche at work in Barlovento, or any other region, cannot be overstated. It has dramatic effects on how individuals see themselves and how they relate to the outside world, two elements of self that will influence what they believe to be their own potential and the capacity for change within their community. Prout emphasizes the importance of creating a society where each person’s individual potentials can develop and thrive. To make this vision a reality, our institute makes consciousness raising a key priority in all of our work. In his preface to “After Capitalism: Prout’s Vision for a New World”, Noam Chomsky clarifies the link between our mission and the social conditions that exist in Barlovento by explaining that:

Slavery, the oppression of women and working people, and other severe violations of human rights have been able to endure in part because, in various ways, the values of the oppressors have been internalized by the victims. That is why “consciousness raising” is often the first step in liberation.

In the early part of the decade, Barlovento saw an extraordinary number of new co-ops start up, largely because of new forms of government assistance, such as a body of cooperative law, direct financial support and educational and training programs. Unfortunately there has been no follow-up to these initiatives to bring full circle the process of assessment – training/education/consultation – reassessment, and in this way create a more reciprocal and ongoing relationship. This has resulted in a substantial amount of cooperatives that have either stopped working or are barely surviving, plagued by inefficiency and internal problems. The long-term success of any development program hinges on constant reevaluation of the impacts or deficiencies of a particular strategy and the ability to make adjustments along the way.

III. Methodology

When conceiving a new project or conducting research, our strategies and approaches vary depending on the community we are working with. Local economic and social conditions and the values and lifestyles of the individuals and groups within the community or region must be considered. Throughout our research and project implementation we make a conscious effort to remain grounded in humanism and respectful of the community that we are working with. We realize that we do not possess all the answers and our primary role is to act as catalysts for change, nurturing the community’s own capacity to create unique solutions to their own particular problems. In this role, we strive to present new and effective ideas, alternative approaches to solving recurring problems and a wide variety of skills training and individual and group capacity building.
These principles of humanism and change through unity are equally employed in our other work. Positive communication based on mutual respect and understanding is crucial in any situation in social, political or economic life. Protecting our political neutrality is an important consideration when networking throughout Venezuela; however, this does not mean that we avoid establishing relationships with people and organizations on the political extremes. On the contrary, we strive to act as a bridge between traditionally divided sectors, connecting with and reaching understandings with pro-government and opposition groups alike. We wish to see divergent groups unite in support of programs and projects that aim to improve the quality of life in Venezuela and address the deep-seated problems that continue to plague society, such as poverty and corruption.

True and lasting change can only happen when individuals, families and communities all make the decision to commit to a new collective vision, whether it's a small-scale project or a more widespread socioeconomic transformation. Therefore, an integral part of our work is to establish and maintain relationships with people based on respect, mutual understanding and the common desire to create an egalitarian society with a more efficient and locally-based economy. Each relationship is a unique and reciprocal learning process. On a micro level, our strategies are constantly being fine tuned as we continue to learn from cooperative members about their struggles and successes.

Apart from our ongoing research and project development, our institute also remains engaged in public discourses on the national and international levels. We frequently give educational talks about Prout theory and participate in conferences that address themes in development and social justice.

The following list provides an idea of the methodological foundation that we rely on to develop our own capacity and to strengthen cooperatives.

- Review national and international research on cooperatives and cooperative training programs.
- Implement a needs based assessment of cooperatives and related public institutions that would examine current conditions of cooperatives.
- Analyze available public and private documents in the country, including statistical analysis of quantitative data.
- Interview and consult with key leaders in the cooperative movement in Venezuela, from both public and private sectors, to discuss their experience and opinions.
- Design a survey questionnaire to get a representative view of the challenges, successes and needs of Venezuelan cooperatives. This will also assist in the categorization of cooperatives for analysis purposes and future work.
- Analyze and triangulate data from diverse sources in order to determine the precise needs and perspectives of relevant public agencies, cooperative members, and affected communities.
- Consult with cooperative experts in Venezuela and in other countries to discuss the analysis of data to determine possible components of an effective and culturally sensitive cooperative training program.

During the past two years we have implemented these strategies to broaden our knowledge base of the co-op situation in Venezuela by networking at all levels of civil society. We’ve established strong relationships with government organizations such as SUNACOOP (National Superintendent for Assistance to Cooperatives), semi-government organizations such as GestiĆ³n Participativa, and universities such as the Central University of Venezuela (UCV). More recently, through a joint learning project with the Universidade Federal de Minais Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, we’ve broadened our network of support into other sectors of civil society. We hosted 21 university students and their professor for an intense six-week educational program called “Project for Economic Democracy”, through which we made contact with individuals and groups representing healthcare, education, media and Community Councils.

We also developed a detailed, 85-question survey that we conducted with cooperative members in Barlovento along with interviews and informal discussions. These methods were a tremendous help in obtaining the necessary statistical and qualitative data to formulate a more concrete and quantifiable representation of all aspects of a cooperative enterprise. This research also facilitated the filming and production of our 2007 documentary film “Another Life is Possible: Cooperatives in Barlovento, Venezuela.” Through this project we were able to establish positive relationships with many of the communities and cooperatives in Barlovento, as well as gain a deeper understanding of the daily realities that people face in this region. This work has been indispensable in providing a solid foundation for follow-up research and future projects currently in development. In the area of training and education we will continue to collaborate with outside experts and cooperative members in the following areas:

- Creating a positive work environment and a healthy group dynamic based on mutual respect, trust and transparency.
- Organizing and conducting an effective group meeting.
- Methods and principles of non-violent communication.
- Maintaining an organized and efficient accounting system.
- Developing and implementing a strong and sensible business plan.
- Strengthening leadership capacity among all members.
- Instilling and encouraging cooperative values and principles.

We are also continually engaged in strengthening the network of support and cooperation that exists among the different cooperatives. Since most cooperatives face many of the same non-technical challenges, knowledge sharing becomes imperative towards this end: what worked as a solution to a particular problem in one cooperative may work for another. Strengthening the local economy and bringing more autonomy to any region also requires creating supply chain links between cooperatives. For example, if the materials needed by a manufacturing cooperative can be supplied by another cooperative in the region, then more money will be reinvested in the local economy.

1 comment:

Igor said...

Hi Brother, Namaskar,

nice blog man!

Send me e-mail for change new ideas.

I`m coordenate of prout group in Minas Gerais, Brazil.


See you.