Thursday, 28 October 2010

Progressio's plight

The news of the precarious situation that the humanitarian agency Progressio now finds itself in with the government cutting funding must be a source of regret for all Catholics.
It faces a potential shortfall in funding threatening 15 jobs in the organisation at home and abroad.
Progressio has a proud record stretching back over 70 years to its founding in the 1940s by Cardinal Hinsley.
Originally called the Sword of the Spirit, it was renamed the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) in 1965 before its most recent metamorphosis into Progressio four years ago.
A major strength of the organisation has been its ability over the years to read the signs of the times. It provided aid via sending out skilled workers overseas but also developed an education and advocacy role at home. The latter function brought international injustices to the attention of politicians, opinion formers and media.
The development of the education and advocacy role, under the leadership of Mildred Nevile, saw the organisation again well ahead of its time, doing something that would later be copied and effectively taken over by the big agencies like Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD.
Attending the then CIIR conferences in the 1980s and 1990s there was a feeling that they really had their finger on the pulse of coming developments. It was the place to be if you wanted to be ahead of the game.
One notable initiative saw renowned US political thinker Noam Chomsky invited to address a conference in the early 1990s.
There were also important initiatives on the drugs trade and the importance of trade unions as central structures in building community. It was borrowing from the south to inform the north.
Important relationships were built with those in struggle across the world from Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the ANC in South Africa. CIIR had strong links with those involved in liberation theologians like Gustavo Guttierez, Jon Sobrino and Albert Nolan.
In the latter 1990s, the organisation did seem to start losing its way, getting bogged down in managerialism and seemingly non-plused by the spirit of the new Labour government.
Inward looking structural reorganisations took up too much time and emotional energy. The organisation also came to rely more heavily on government funding.
At the close of the century there was the problem of the changing role of the organisation, with the big agencies increasingly doing their own advocacy and education work and the link with the Church growing ever more tenuous.

Things though have steadily improved over the past decade under the leadership of Christine Allen. Progressio, as it then became called, seemed to rediscover the ability to read the signs of the times. It began speaking out on controversial issues like the use of condoms in Africa. It saw the crucial nature of the environmental argument and started to take a lead on some of the more controversial aspects like the need to stop terminator gene technology.
One of the pleasing things about Progressio is that it practices what it preaches. The latest annual report indicated that it had cut its carbon footprint by 25 per cent as a result of reducing flying and other measures. So it is walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
It has also moved to restore links with the Church, with its campaigns officer focusing on this work.
Progressio has ofcourse been mistaken over the years to allow its dependency on funding grow to the 60 per cent level it now finds itself. Relying on government funding in such a way is always precarious and also opens the organisation up to accusations of co-option. The non-governmental label gets tainted.
It must though be hoped that the present crisis is but a wake up call regarding matters such as funding. Progressio does seem to be heading in the direction, importantly regaining much of its prophetic role. What must also be hoped is that the Church reacts with generosity to its present perceived plight. For many years now Progressio has been the poor relation to CAFOD, particularly in terms of the funding it receives from the Church – an almost exclusive CAFOD preserve. There does though have to be room in the Church’s remit for two such vital organisations reaching out across the world. It must be hoped that the Catholic in the pew and their representatives in the hierarchy realise what an important organisation they have in Progressio and react with the requisite generosity in order that it can continue doing its vital work.

No comments:

Post a Comment