Ngos, the Government, and the Private Sector in Chile

15 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 1997

See all articles by Carlo Dade

Carlo Dade

The Inter-American Foundation

Date Written: May 1996


Relations between the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Chile are growing and improving as a result of the recent democratization of Chilean society and accelerating global integration of its economy. Both groups are just now coming to terms with these changes and are seeking to adjust their relations with each other and this new society. Yet, historic distrust and antipathy between the two groups remains a significant problem.1 A culture of distrust and disinterest among the Chilean private sector toward nonprofit work and volunteerism is another factor from the past that continues to affect relations. Although the situation is starting to change, at present, historical animosities remain strong. Democratization is introducing public participation and debate into realms that were until recently the sole province of state fiat. In the environmental area this is manifest in the Basic Law on the Environment. This law is an evolving experiment to develop environmental policy and regulation. The law which originally encouraged environmental assessments (EAs) for large projects, has recently been amended so that they are now required. More importantly, the law codifies the right of public participation in this process. This is compelling new considerations into project planning as groups that were ignored in the past must now be brought into the development process. Global integration is forcing consideration of issues such as the harmonization of environmental regulations with NAFTA standards. More significantly though, integration, in the form of joint ventures, is introducing the concept of business responsibility in environmental and social concerns to the Chilean private sector. While this has not changed its historic animosity toward NGOs, it has brought a realization that working with NGOs, especially the new breed of NGOs, is possible. This new breed of NGO is the result of a transformation within the NGO community. Older confrontational organizations that are products of the anti-Pinochet movement and rigid in their hostility to the private sector are becoming marginalized by, or evolving into, more moderate organizations. The means by which older NGOs are being marginalized is funding. The newer groups are starting to attract funding from domestic sources including the private sector. This is something that the old-line NGOs have never been able to accomplish. A second consequence of global integration and democratization has been to force the private sector to rethink, and in many cases consider for the first time, how it can work with civil society which has concomitantly, engendered the demand for this new type of NGO. The Chilean government mirrors the historic conflict between old-line NGOs and the private sector. Both groups exercise influence with those in the government sympathetic to their views. Though the business community seems to have an advantage in this regard, it is not absolute and political influence can shift depending upon the constituency behind the issue at hand. This exercise of influence is also unilateral. NGOs and the business community lobby the government but the government has little influence with, or control over, the two groups in return. The government has turned to NGOs for advice in drafting environmental legislation and developing social assistance programs. In the health and housing sectors, for example, the government continues to rely upon NGOs to identify areas of need and develop innovations in service delivery. The report identifies and discusses the most important characteristics of the NGO and business communities in Chile. It then discusses NGO funding issues and concludes with an analysis of future prospects. Included are two case studies that illustrate these. Annexes contain a list of prominent NGOs and sections of the Basic Law on the Environment dealing with citizen participation in environmental assessments.

JEL Classification: Z0

Suggested Citation

Dade, Carlo, Ngos, the Government, and the Private Sector in Chile (May 1996). Available at SSRN: or

Carlo Dade (Contact Author)

The Inter-American Foundation ( email )

703.306.4341 (Phone)
703.306.4365 (Fax)

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