In 1987, “International Year of the Homeless, HIC ceased to be the Habitat International Council and adopted the name Habitat International Coalition.
This was a substantive change after which HIC was no longer an institution operating in function of the annual meetings of the United Nations Human Settlements Commission as its nongovernmental counterpart. HIC would then proceed to strengthen its autonomy establishing its own objectives and international action strategies.
HIC no longer presented itself as the NGO Alliance or NGO Committee on Human Settlements, instead to conform itself as a Coalition integrating NGOs, social organizations, and other actors committed to popular habitat in the world.
This change was accompanied by modification of its statutes, relocation of its headquarters to what we call the poorly-paid countries (euphemistically referred to as the developing world), and a substantial broadening of its membership in said countries.
2. What does the change from Council to Coalition mean?
According to the dictionaries, Council is defined as a board or meeting of persons who have the mission to direct, guide, administrate.
But it is also defined as consultative body. That was in fact its role in relation to the Habitat Center (UNCHS) and the UN Intergovernmental Commission during HIC’s first ten years of existence.
Coalition, on the other hand, comes from the Latin coalescere co – with; alescere grow. Grow together within a body.
In Spanish, the authoritative dictionary of the Academia de la lengua espaola, defines coalition as confederation, league, union, and the formation of a coalition is defined as uniting or confederating some with others for a given purpose.
We may recall that the revisions that changed HIC”s name originated in English, and it is interesting to see how the Appleton dictionary defines this word.[i]
Various meanings are offered for coalition:
i. grow within a body
ii. union within a body
iii. combination of interests
iv. temporary political alliance
These definitions therefore imply union or linkage of diverse entities in one body in which are articulated the specific interests of its members, in order to act for a common goal.
3. Who are these diverse entities in HIC? What specific interests motivate them? What binds them together for a common purpose?
HIC brings together organizations of diverse origins, scales, and natures:
- Social organizations and movements, associations, cooperatives, etc. that unite inhabitants struggling to implement their rights to the city, land, and housing. Within HIC they represent the social struggle against injustice and social exclusion. Their central objective is social transformation.
- Civil or nongovernmental organizations, unions, etc. that unite professionals and technicians who act in solidarity with peoples causes and who orient their work to support habitat production and social management processes. To HIC hey contribute their innovative, critical, and socially committed professional practice. Their specific objectives are oriented toward personal and group realization in professional practice capable of making an impact in the construction of a more just and equitable society.
- Academic groups, researchers, and technicians focused on urban and housing issues and others, such as the environment and gender, that cross the broad field of human habitat. These groups develop, experiment, and disseminate social, technological, architectural, and other related technologies in support of processes in social production and management of habitat and related fields. They bring knowledge to HIC on such concerns as the growing deterioration of human habitat, the impacts of public policies, and numerous other fundamental issues which are vital to orient our strategies and activities. They aim to contribute their academic labor in support of social and political processes toward social transformation.
- Organizations and activists interested in promoting, defending and guaranteeing the fulfillment of the human rights linked to habitat, in particular in relation to the homeless, the evicted and displaced, women, and societys most vulnerable sectors. Within HIC they represent the strategic focus in its struggle for just, democratic and sustainable cities and villages. Their interest centers on focusing attention on and promoting the agenda of the rights to the city and to housing at the international level in support of those who most suffer the consequences of the dominating and excluding model imposed on us at the global scale.
Many of the actors linked within HIC exercise critical action opposed to the global trends. They may develop innovative experiences that place into practice new options toward the construction of that other possible world, or they may lobby for or open spaces for interaction with States, multilateral entities and other international actors, in the struggle to implant inclusive and distributive policies.
These are some of the ingredients contributed by the diverse entities and actors that bind our Coalition and drive our progress in the formulation and application of a shared strategy, that is open and flexible enough to include everyone, while also firm and clearly oriented to guarantee effectiveness.
4. What is the added value obtained by organization as a Coalition? What are the internal implications?
The wealth of this Coalition of the many in HIC is not limited to the linear sum of knowledge and multiple fields of experience and activity. Broad possibilities for their complementation or synergy are also opened.
Uniting social organizations, NGOs, academics, and other actors within a Coalition is a wealth shared by few international civil organizations.
The defense and promotion of the human right to housing and related rights that we pursue has been complemented and expanded by HICs capacity to struggle for the fulfillment of this right, be it by influencing public policies or by its members capacity to promote and drive programs and projects in organized social production of housing and other habitat components. It undertakes this in direct linkage with social organizations and movements which in turn act politically and build responsible citizens capable of actively participating in and directing complex housing processes.
Faced with the trends toward homogenization, social fragmentation, sectorization, individualism, and universal imposition of a concentrating and excluding model, HIC responds uniting the different, maximizing their diverse capacities, knowledge and resources; managing the complexity of their initiatives; linking the organizations that integrate it within a broad collective; and building from and with the people for whom it works, not one closed model but rather a broad spectrum of dynamically interacting networks and of activities and interventions, based on recognition of and profound respect for diversity and plurality.
This collective construction, in a permanent process of transformation and enrichment, should not place any of the sectors that integrate it above the others. Social movements, NGOs, academic groups, and human rights activists, each from their own specific field of action and perspective and with their own particular objectives, meaningfully contribute to imagine and drive this construction. That is why each of our member organizations, large or small, has equal weight in the decisions made and in the Coalitions activities and development. The only difference resides in their will to work and their commitment to the collective and its activities.
This demands that we recognize, accept and respect our differences origin, culture, motivations, fields of action, etc. and focus on and encourage our strategic commonalities. Only that way will it be possible to join forces and capacities with a superior shared purpose, to grow organically as a collective and achieve powerful and effective impact on the reality we aim to transform.
5. What is HIC not?
HIC is not a group of friends. HIC maintains a structure, objectives, strategies and programs that require a minimum of formality, decision-making bodies, individuals or entities in charge of coordinating, facilitating and promoting its activities, and operators in the diverse fields in which it carries out its daily work.
HIC is not just an organization of members who expect services and products in exchange for their fees. Rather it is a Coalition of diverse actors who share objectives and action commitments to others.
Its members are expected to be heedful to contribute in activities determined by the collective through its direction bodies, which in turn represent the concrete work in the regions, committees and thematic networks.
To be a member of a Coalition such as HIC implies commitment to its objectives, self-organizational capacity, and responsible participation in its activities.
HIC is not a finance agency. The Secretariat and regional offices constantly receive requests for financial support for projects, travel, events, etc.
Each organic body of HIC (regions and committees) as well as its Secretariat manages autonomous finance and is responsible to raise the funds necessary for its operation and projects.
Those funds may occasionally finance activities, travel, and events, but they are always derived from the programs and projects undertaken by the Coalition.
Rather than requesting resources from HICs operative bodies, HIC member organizations are expected in the immediate future to be capable of sustaining at least a significant part of its costs through work, in-kind contributions, fees, and other supports.
HIC is not a virtual network for information and correspondence exchange or for dissemination of political or motivational messages. It is a Coalition that owes its existence to concrete social processes and that is therefore constituted for action.
HIC uses the electronic communications media as a support tool, but not an end in itself.
It is therefore indispensable that we immediately establish an effective policy of linkage and communication oriented by HICs three strategic objectives: strengthen popular processes, influence public policies, and internally strengthen itself in order to achieve the first two objectives.
HIC is not an intermediary agent between the communities with which it works and public and multilateral institutions, to facilitate and cheapen their programs.
HIC is committed to social processes oriented to transformation of the conditions that continually augment poverty and the depredation of the planet, within the limited field of habitat within which it operates.
HIC must interact with the multiple actors who impact in the field, but its strategic allies are the social movements and organizations struggling for the right to the city, land, and housing, within a perspective of the transformation of global society.
HIC is obviously also not a professional lobby group, an organization focused on political mobilization, or a consultancy agency.
HIC has no more owners than the whole of its members. HIC members often send letters inviting HIC to be present at events or to take initiatives, implying that HIC were its Secretariat or regional or committee coordinators. HIC is all of its members and we must all assume the responsibility to maintain the presence of the Coalition and assume responsibilities within its collectively adopted objectives and strategies.
How does HIC work?
The HIC operative structure is conceived as a minimal apparatus to support and facilitate processes driven by its members and approved by its decision-making bodies. HIC does not intervene in even the most dramatic cases of human rights violations or in projects of great interest in which its members and articulated social processes that require its intervention are not involved.
The decision-making and support bodies do not invent projects. Rather, they decide on and intervene in those promoted by a significant national or regional group of HIC members in conjunction with communities, organizations, and social movements that demand the project.