Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Governing NGOs

I just read an interesting op'ed by Jacqueline McGlade, the Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA), where she promotes a new Internet interface her agency has developed to enhance public mobilization on climate issues.

McGlade says that the challenges of climate change are so great, and the timescale so tight, that "we can no longer wait for governments and businesses to act." " The EEA wants to"empowe[r] citizens to engage actively". An idea the BBC describes as "people power".

Good stuff. [Though, I'm not sure one more interactive website will provide all the power needed]

But what strikes me most in this article is how the establishment is increasingly adopting advocacy approaches that were pioneered by the NGOs. The most obvious example of this is perhaps the UN Millennium Goals Campaign with its website looking more like a grassroots initiative than something cooked by UN bureaucrats in New York. [The New York bureaucrats had the wisdom to hire former NGO advocates who are the chefs cooking the advocacy campaign]

The time is long gone, when there was almost imprenetrable tick walls between the NGO world, the Government world and the Business world. Now we've got paper walls at best. It's probably a natural development, because there is more flexibility and freedom today to move from one of these worlds to another. You can be one day the President of a country and later the Chair of the Board of a large international development NGO; an NGO leader on Tuesday and Environment Minister on Wednesday; etc. [And I'm not talking of all these former leaders recycled into CEOs of their own foundations; nor of President Sarkozy who's hyperactivity gives the impression sometimes that he's running his country as if was an NGO]

[The generational shift counts too: advocay NGOs have always been part of the political landscape in the entire adult lives of all professionals and politicians who are now in their fourties]

This is a new situation for the NGO, which are presented with new challenges as a result. If to the layperson, NGO action does not look so different from the action of public administrations, what incentives remain to support NGOs if we're already paying advocacy campaigns through our taxes?

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