Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Are you going to join us?

A friend asked, during the post-election rallies in Freedom Square, “Are specific subject people--environmentalists, women’s rights, orphans--ready to join the major movement to deal with democracy issues?”

Raffi Hovannisian with Ambassador John Evans at PFA conference

I was reminded of Raffi Hovannisian’s keynote in DC at the PFA Armenia-Diaspora conference, when he said: “It may be easy to sit in Armenia, to offer policy prescriptions as an NGO, one in the environmental realm, the other one in human rights, the other political party on foreign policy and Turkish-Armenian relations, to gather in Washington and elsewhere, where we have very sharp minds concerned about the future of Armenia, and asking the question: ‘well, how do we realize that potential?’ With each one continuing in his own narrow pathway, her own little project--which is very important, don’t get me wrong, a significant contribution to Armenia and its future--but one which misses the bigger picture; which does not allow for a bridging of the divide and a joint political, societal solution to Armenia’s problems.”

There was more than a passing glance from Raffi in my direction, and my initial reaction was that issues such as environmental protection should not be an afterthought or something we can’t afford to deal with now. How could he make this implication about ATP’s mission, which he presumably supports along with most forward-thinking people? After further reflection, though, I realized he was right. The governance challenge--more commonly referred to as corruption in civil society circles--is the underlying driver of many broader issues such as deforestation. If we are ever going to get ahead of the issue, we will have to join the larger movement to improve governance.

And yet, our mission is so important and narrow in focus that it has allowed us to achieve very tangible results: more than 4.2 million trees planted since 1994. At the same time it precludes us from putting tree planting on hold and entering the political stage.

So the question for all of our organizations with a targeted mission becomes, how do we bring the issue of national governance back to our specific mission, niche, or area of expertise? How can we contribute to the issue in a meaningful and substantial way, without taking focus away from our core programs?

But just as important, this is a two-way street. Political figures have to bring these important and narrow issues into their own platforms, since they have a direct impact on the well-being of the families that make up our nation. Aside from the well-used rhetoric designed to enlist popular support at political rallies, what exactly are their plans for environment, women’s rights, and orphans?

Raffi, to his credit, has raised concern with unsustainable mining, and his Heritage Party spearheaded the Teghut declaration at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2012, but it has to go well beyond that for all political figures and civil society actors. Let’s pledge to do our part in the NGO sector, and ask the political leaders about their platforms on our issues.