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Mexico City - 1996
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2nd INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE - MEXICO CITY - 1996
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ISTR Second International Conference
El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City
July 18-21, 1996
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Mexico City Conference A Success

Article from "Inside ISTR" Fall 1996, Volume 4/2

One of the most important purposes of ISTR is to facilitate comparative research about the Third Sector by promoting the exchange of ideas and research findings and encouraging discussion across the divides of disciplines, geography, history and nationality. ISTR seeks to fulfill this objective by organizing biennial conferences bringing together Third Sector scholars and practitioners from around the world. From July 18 to July 21, 1996, over 275 participants representing 50 countries met at the occasion of the Second International Conference of ISTR at El Colegio de México in México City. 

Building a scientific community

In his address to the conference participants at the opening ceremony on Thursday night, the conference chair reminded the audience that by organizing international conferences, ISTR contributes to building an international community of Third Sector researchers. Metaphorically speaking, such a scientific community is no less than an intellectual "commons." Commons are constituted by the interaction of institutional arrangements and the physical condition of space. Conferences play an important role in building intellectual commons, by making this crucial interaction between institutions and space possible. Due to the impact of information technology, the power of physical settings-- embodied for instance in the ancient Greek polis or medieval city squares -- has weakened in that we could have virtual conferences via the Internet. However, only real conferences which take place in physical settings -- and not virtual ones -- will give visibility and credibility to our intellectual commons and provide the opportunity to Third Sector scholars from around the world to enter into a collaborative effort. It is exactly this interaction between institutional arrangements and physical space which was occurring at El Colegio de México during the Second International Conference of ISTR. 

At the México conference, the intellectual commons of ISTR found its authentic physical expression in the spectacular architectural setting of the conference site. El Colegio de México, a research and teaching institution in the social sciences and humanities, is located in the southern outskirts of Mexico City. The campus of El Colegio consists of several concrete buildings facing onto a piazza situated in their midst and creating a breathtaking public space. During the conference it provided a natural venue for the conference participants to meet informally after a seminar session, or formally for a reception or a public address. However the true space created at the conference was not of more physical nature, but was -- to use an expression of Hannah Arendt -- the space of appearance. This space is created wherever individuals gather together "in the manner of speech and action." Its existence is secured whenever Third Sector scholars gather together for the purpose of discussing and deliberating about matters of their scientific concern. It constitutes one of the noble tasks of ISTR to assure that this space of appearance be continually recreated at universities, research centers and colleges all over the world. 

The institutional aspects of the intellectual commons of ISTR rely on a multitude of committees, boards and preparatory groups within our organization. A special recognition goes to the International Conference Committee (chaired by Antonin Wagner), the ISTR Secretariat and its Executive Officer, Margery Daniels, and the Local Planning Committee under the able leadership of José Luis Méndez (México Coordinator). Together, these preparatory groups developed an extremely attractive and multifaceted conference program. Its focal points included various plenary and mini plenary seminars as well as about 50 parallel sessions at which altogether well over 150 individual papers were delivered. 

The Deputy Secretary of Political Development of the Mexican Federal Secretariat of the Interior welcomed the participants. He stressed the importance of the Third Sector for Mexico and the fact that currently the Mexican Congress and the federal government are going through a discussion and reform of the legislation regulating the sector. 

A conference with many program highlights

One of the many highlights of the conference was the keynote delivered by Estelle James, currently the lead economist of the Policy Research Department of the World Bank. As one of the pioneers in the field, Estelle James gave an overview of the development in the field of comparative nonprofit sector research since its rebirth about 15 years ago. She reviewed the research agenda which at that time was dominated by economists and by the role of the nonprofits in providing services and noted that the early work included only a small comparative perspective and little rigorous work on the Third Sector and development. James pointed to the growth of the sector around the world with the creation of major research centers, journals, and textbooks, vastly expanded research interests, and the founding of ISTR to bring these researchers together. She notes that the agenda has grown substantially to include interest in nonprofits and development, and in nonprofits and civil society. Due to more research in numerous countries, the data is now better, and we should be able to get improved answers to our underlying questions about the raison d'être and behavior of Third Sector organizations. Other tensions and problems including "trust" and "accountability" still remain, and James cautions that as scholars we need to maintain objectivity and continue to be critics of Third Sector organizations. 

In her keynote, James acknowledged that a remarkable progress has been made by Third Sector research in collecting data internationally and in quantifying the sector based on the System of National Accounts (SNA). Recently, efforts by Gabriel Rudney, Helmut Anheier, and others are pushing for an expansion of SNA through the development of satellite accounts for the Third Sector. A special panel at the conference was dedicated to the issue of Satellite Accounting. Contributors from the U.S., France and Switzerland explored the applicability of satellite accounting for their respective countries. At the same time they demonstrated the capability of the method for reporting comprehensive economic data on nonprofit institutions internationally, thereby facilitating comparative research. 

Highlighting the Third Sector in Latin America included two plenary sessions. The first organized and moderated by José Luis Méndez focused on "Development, Participation and the Third Sector in Latin America." Luis F. Aguilar, a prestigious Mexican professor and high civil servant, referred to different ways the Third Sector has been looked at in Mexico and stressed the point that in Latin America the "public sphere" should not be conceived (only) as the government, but also the current ample and diverse Third Sector. Colombian professor and international consultant, Manuel Rodriguez, discussed the importance of the role of NGOs in many aspects of contemporary Latin American life, focusing on one: environmental policy. 

The second was the keynote speech of Victor L. Urquidi, professor emeritus of El Colegio de México, who discussed the fact that the environmental issue has been neglected in Latin America. He noted the key role that the Third Sector is called upon to have in changing the drive toward development to one aiming at sustainable development, if Latin Americans and the rest of the world want to be able to survive in the future. 

At the ISTR conference, additional important accents in the field of comparative nonprofit sector research were set by the research group that runs the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project. With the recent completion of Phase I of this project, the initial foundations for a systemic, cross-national data base on the nonprofit sector have been put in place. At a plenary seminar, "Towards a Comparative Theory of Nonprofit Organizations and Sectors," Lester M. Salamon and Helmut K. Anheier expressed the hope that, based on these data, it should now be possible, for the first time, to subject existing nonprofit sector theories to more serious testing and to determine what the preconditions for a vital nonprofit sector really are. What emerged from this seminar is the conclusion that many of the standard nonprofit theories are too one-dimensional to account for the tremendous complexity of the phenomenon of nonprofit economics in a comparative perspective. At a minimum, explanations of cross-national variations of variables describing the Third Sector must move away from a focus on the nonprofit sector alone and embrace the complex interactions of a whole set of institutions and actors as well as the historical development of societies all over the world. 

The second was the keynote speech of Victor L. Urquidi, professor emeritus of El Colegio de México, who discussed the fact that the environmental issue has been neglected in Latin America. He noted the key role that the Third Sector is called upon to have in changing the drive toward development to one aiming at sustainable development, if Latin Americans and the rest of the world want to be able to survive in the future. 

At the ISTR conference, additional important accents in the field of comparative nonprofit sector research were set by the research group that runs the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project. With the recent completion of Phase I of this project, the initial foundations for a systemic, cross-national data base on the nonprofit sector have been put in place. At a plenary seminar, "Towards a Comparative Theory of Nonprofit Organizations and Sectors," Lester M. Salamon and Helmut K. Anheier expressed the hope that, based on these data, it should now be possible, for the first time, to subject existing nonprofit sector theories to more serious testing and to determine what the preconditions for a vital nonprofit sector really are. What emerged from this seminar is the conclusion that many of the standard nonprofit theories are too one-dimensional to account for the tremendous complexity of the phenomenon of nonprofit economics in a comparative perspective. At a minimum, explanations of cross-national variations of variables describing the Third Sector must move away from a focus on the nonprofit sector alone and embrace the complex interactions of a whole set of institutions and actors as well as the historical development of societies all over the world. 

The panel, "Women, Philanthropy and Religion," presented the preliminary results from the Center for the Study of Philanthropy's International Project on Women and Philanthropy. According to Kathleen McCarthy, project director, one of the issues that has been vigorously debated over the past decade is whether religion should be included in the nonprofit equation. Are sacramental functions "of public benefit" and if so should they be included in our definitions and our depictions of the nonprofit sector? This is an important issue in terms of the knowledge base that we are developing, on that has profound implications for our comprehension of both the scope and nature of nonprofit activities and the significance of philanthropy.

The project's findings reveal that whether one looks at Korea, Australia, India, or Brazil, religion has been a driving force in facilitating--or limiting--the growth of philanthropy. Panelists from Ireland, Australia, Palestinian areas, India, Brazil, Korea, and the United States discussed their research and the extent to which the predominance of different religious systems opened a space for women's participation in the provision of nonprofit health, education, and the welfare services and in social advocacy. 

The panels on "comparative theory" and "women, philanthropy and religion" demonstrate that nonprofit organizations should not be treated as isolated phenomena floating freely in social space, but that they ought to be understood in the broader context of a complex set of historical forces and institutional patterns. Recognizing history and institutions as important explanatory factors of the nonprofit phenomenon, the two concurrent sessions together signal an important development in our field of research, emphasizing the "social origins" of the non-profit economy and thereby integrating Third Sector research into the analysis and understanding of society at large. 

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