¡Hola! ¿Cómo tu ‘ta? It’s a pleasure to write to you from the bustling capital of the Dominican Republic where I can catch a glimpse of the native Royal Poinciana tree or the Caribbean Sea from my library carrel at Biblioteca Juan Bosch.
My motive for visiting this eastern Hispaniola nation is to seek greater understanding of its nonprofit, NGO, and civil society sector(s). The World Bank classifies the Dominican Republic (DR) as a middle-income country with most recent data reporting that 41 percent of its population lives in poverty (2013). My current research focuses on the intersection of civil society groups and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). From MDG update reports we see that the Dominican government perceives those organizations which enhance education, deliver job training, and/or support job creation provide the most direct answer to poverty reduction. However, my field work shows limited engagement from public administrators that would provide practical encouragement to these public-benefit organizations.
In further focusing my research topic I analyze how the respective organizations use collaboration to reach their project goals. My interest is pragmatic. I am interested to know how the local organizational culture balances tension between long- and short-term goals. Working in tandem can bring efficiencies and potentially expand the depth of outreach, yet the time spent building and maintaining such social ties may be counterintuitive to investing in immediate community needs. Overall my interviews have uncovered an organizational culture that welcomes synergy during distinct projects whenever the organizations find themselves working in like areas. That is to say, collaboration is a bit more reactive than proactive yet generally utilized and rarely formalized.
Unexpectedly, I have found that the most formal collaborative efforts (in the capital district) relate back to government interaction. Currently an alliance of NGOs is writing a proposal to edit the ley del voluntariado (volunteer law). This legislation serves to protect the rights of volunteers and collect national statistics on voluntary efforts around the nation. Implemented in 2013, the law demonstrates an effort to secure global trends in voluntary service into the Dominican lifestyle. However, the Alliance has gathered evidence that the reporting requirements create an undue burden for nonprofit staff. With limited funding in the sector already causing a great deal of reliance on volunteers, to require extensive reporting without comprehensive public administration brings greater loss to the communities and issues in question. The Alliance holds open discussions for its collaborators to voice their concerns and collectively brainstorm solutions. It then chooses discussion leaders to present the mutual proposal to the National Center for the Development and Promotion of Not-for-profit Associations. The Alliance hopes to continue to produce reports that focus on modifications to laws affecting nonprofits as well as recommendations to the government system that oversees registration and accountability measures in the sector.
Being in country to speak with professionals and observe their working environment has been invaluable to this investigation. From finding myself caught in tapon (traffic congestion) on the way to a meeting to locating only outdated information on a public ministry website and then needing to visit the respective office, I have a greater appreciation for the feats these civil society groups overcome to produce their meaningful work. I thank the CLACS Field Research Grant community for this opportunity.
Megan Beddow is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Latin American & Caribbean Studies and a Master of Public Affairs at IU.