What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
In 2000-2001 indigenous community leaders in Ratanakiri and other provinces in Cambodia, started to discuss how to provide inputs to the Land Law, which was then approved in 2001. In the following years they decided to form the Ratanakiri Natural Resource Management Network (RNRMN) and requested Community Forest International (CFI) to host a project that would support development for RNRMN.
The CFI project started in 2004 and subsequently RNRMN statutes were developed and recognized by the provincial government. This project has the following main activities: Community rights training and advocacy support; Extension and training to develop the RNRMN; Development of community-led indigenous media production to overcome language barriers and to support cultural maintenance and community rights; and Facilitating the development of community statutes so that indigenous communities can be registered as legal entities, thereby acquiring eligibility to own land collectively as stated by the Land Law of 2001.
Within the course of CFI project implementation, efforts were initiated to institute an indigenous organization that would continue and advance the project’s transitory development endeavors. On July 13, 2006, ICSO was registered officially with the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, with authority S.J.N 840. This proclamation allowed ICSO to operate and provide support for indigenous communities in Cambodia.
ICSO envision that “the Indigenous communities have knowledge, capacity, solidarity and a sense of initiative and ownership in order to manage their natural resources, improve economic, social and cultural affairs with effectiveness and sustainability through community organizations, managing development and directed by community organizations.” Its mission is “to support Indigenous People Networks (IPN) through building and strengthening the capacity building of organization/group members to protect natural and traditional resources rights.
Moreover, its shared values are as follows: working together with mutual respect and commitment to reach a common goal; affirming the dignity and the contribution of stakeholders in all their diversity; strongly believes that the needs and the rights of people can only be fulfilled with their active and informed participation and ownership; strongly believes that indigenous communities or communities working together communally have the right to follow their own language, culture and priorities within Cambodian development; and transparency, accountability, fairness and openness in all what is said and done, and accepts responsibility for individual and collective actions.
Tell us about the social innovator—the person—behind this idea.
Draw up attention and lesion learnt from ASEAN countries on indigenous experience by Mr. Graeme Brown, presently Chair of Governance Board. A general approach used throughout the project is one of participation by indigenous peoples with an aim toward increased empowerment and ownership of the process. This is in contrast to the prevailing practices in the recent history of governance in Cambodia, which has been characterised by top-down imposition of “development” and is considered to create disempowerment. As a result of this top-down approach, many people have weakened in their capacity to make decisions, give comments, to initiate and be active as of their customary law with the self-determination. This phenomenon has been noted throughout the world and has been seen to be only rectified by a slow participatory approach that encourages and promotes analysis, comments, initiative and mobilization.
In conducting all planning and activities, the overall intent of increasing empowerment and participation is maintained as a priority, As such, ICSO staff constantly endeavour to abide by a set of guiding principles in their work: . These include: (1) Go to peasant people; (2) Live among them; (3) Learn from them; (4) Plan with them; (5) Work with them; (6) Start with what they know; (7) Build on what they have; (8) Teach by showing, learn by doing; (9) Not a showcase but a pattern; (10) Not odds and ends but a system; (11) Not piecemeal but integrated approach; (12) Not to conform but to transform; and (13) Not relief but release.
Some of the major recommendations to governments by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, through the shadow reports based on convention of Economic, Social and Culture rights and Elimination Rational Discrimination,(researched and submitted by ICSO and others in 2007) have been that services and support to indigenous peoples need to be delivered as much as possible by indigenous peoples using indigenous languages and culture for their local and traditional communication. This is considered to be a priority even if the indigenous staff have limited capacity of general education and project management cycle. However, through ICSO’s capacity development and promotion of best practices, the ICSO indigenous staff gain more understanding on project management through the doing-by-learning approach and have steadily grown in their professionalism and effectiveness in working with communities.
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