Key Trends and Their Implications for URM

(Factors that may affect the future work of the Christian Conference of Asia-Urban Rural Mission [CCA-URM] were identified and published in the interim report of the CCA-URM evaluation team that met in Tagaytay City, Philippines, in December 1994.)


As we move toward the 21st century, we can project certain trends that appear to be irreversible. However, it is not advisable to project the future simply on the basis of extrapolating the dominant past and present patterns. We should be open to the possibility that current secondary and less obvious factors may become more crucial in the future.

Globalization and Regionalization

The process of globalization (and regionalization) is driven ever more rapidly by technology, especially of telecommunications, and by finance and trade. The dominant players are the transnational corporations (TNCs) rather than the nation-states. Some countries though play a more dominant role and benefit more than others. There is also a "changing face and color of capital" as Asian TNCs, other than Japanese, compete more actively with TNCs from North America and Europe.

Globalization and regionalization tend to undermine the notion that the nation-state is the main integrating institution and locus of power. It also forces nationalism to redefine itself if it is to play a progressive role. Compared to TNCs and the economic institutions, the regional structures for states and civil society are less developed, and the pressure and strain on local and traditional communities will continue to increase.

For URM, these global and regional forces imply that, while continuing to emphasize organizing in local communities, we need to assist the people at the local level develop their capacity to understand and respond to globalization and regionalization. Unlike previous decades when the focus beyond the local was mainly the national level, the focus in the future must include both the national and global contexts (starting with the regional) with the local-global linkages not necessarily mediated through the national.

There is, thus, a greater need to build up URM's regional network of exchange and practical cooperation across borders, including the development of regional platforms of action.

As for the movement of people, migration is a structural issue that needs to be approached in both the receiving and sending countries.

Expansion of the NIC Model of Growth

Rapid economic growth, especially industrialization, is predicted to continue in Asia, especially East Asia, Southeast Asia and China, for at least the next decade. Whatever the political system in individual countries, the economic growth model is capitalist, and there is widespread elite consensus on the desirability of this model, using the Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) as benchmarks. This model accepts that growth is uneven and inequitable, although economists argue that rapid and steady growth reduces the number of those who are absolutely poor. Other critical points are the sacrifice of the environment and questions about the sustainability of this type of growth.

This implies that there will be new challenges for workers as TNCs integrate their operations across borders and governments compete in lowering labor and environmental standards. The environment and development will be a more important issue, especially in power generation projects and high-polluting industries. Rural-urban migration and the growth of megacities will become more rapid.

The current dominant model of economic growth tends to sacrifice agriculture, the rural economy and farming communities. Food security is already a distinct issue. Indigenous people and communities also demand more attention, not just as victims, but as sources of alternative visions of development.

Communities and Movements in Transition

As the dominant model of economic growth tends to homogenize the privileged upper one-third of the population and as the integrating capacity of the nation-state weakens, local communities will react in two ways. One is to assert primary identities, ethnic and religious, within national borders. The other is to identify with transborder identities, again mainly ethnic and religious. These are both vulnerable to exploitation by political leaders who channel them to fundamentalist and sectarian positions. It may include a wholesale rejection of secular modernization since the growth model itself is flawed and is accompanied by an erosion of the community and an increased sense of disempowerment.

Social and political movements that have built up their capacities in the past two decades are undergoing reorientation and recomposition. Since URM-related groups tend to interact with these movements, the debates, disorientation and divisions, on the one hand, and rebirth, on the other, are necessary contexts of URM renewal.

The double challenge for URM is to tap the resources of Christian faith in the service of larger communities of resistance, empowerment and solidarity and to dialog with other religious faiths and secular ideologies towards wider ecumenical communities. URM's network itself should be part of these communities of solidarity.

Democracy and Empowerment

The dominant growth model tends to be accompanied by variations of authoritarian politics, not necessarily in the form of outright military dictatorship. Given the high-handed pressures from the West, there is a defensive recourse to "cultural specificities" on the issues of human rights, democracy and related development issues. While these are also self-serving, they touch on a valid point: the pluralism of models of democracy and development. The issue of pluralism addresses also the question of minorities and minority rights.

URM has considerable achievements in empowering communities and sectoral movements as part of the struggle for democratic governance. The challenge is to deepen democracy from resistance to new forms of participation, especially in post-dictatorship states, and to democratize the development process itself at both the local, national and regional levels.

Militarization is still an issue, particularly in some countries, and is a problem in the region as a whole with its increased capacity for arms proliferation.

Alternative Models and Transition Strategies

The critique of previous alternative models of development, especially socialism and nationalism, does not mean that there is no more need or possibilities for alternatives to the dominant model. In fact, there is more need now for the deepening and renewal of such visions, incorporating the insights especially of the environmental and women's movements about power, hierarchy and sustainability. There is also a need to explore such alternatives at more than one (usually national) level.

Even more important while the modeling process is undergoing refinement are transition strategies that move beyond survival and resistance to engagement in debate and negotiations with the dominant powers and their projects. Constant to both is a renewal and nourishment of the spirit and social energies since the transition is fraught with problems and challenges and clarity on a consensus on alternatives is not on the immediate horizon.