by marc on May 31, 2013
Today, a treat for the reader. Instead of my meandering approach, I’ll spare you the long-winded digressions and the spectacle of my beating a dead horse. Here, a few short(er) posts.
1. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In a land with only one horse, even a lame nag looks like Secretariat. And so the political leadership of the world piles human hope and diplomatic muscle into a Geneva conference on Syria. I certainly wish Kerry and Lavrov well. In the realm of impossibility, even a half-baked solution seems like E=MC2.
The reality is that the Syrian conflict poses an existential threat. Seems to me that the rush to self-destruction challenges the value of liberty, or freedom or democracy. Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” makes for a great battle cry. It sounds profoundly noble. But at what point should either Assad or the Syrian opposition surrender? Not militarily defeated but a recognition that the price of victory is too high. That is not, obviously, a question for me to answer.
Yet I am reminded of King Solomon (in the Koran, Sulayman), a wise man for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. When faced with two women each claiming to be the mother of an infant, he threatened to cut the child in two. The true mother, who loves her child, cries out that she would rather see it pass to the other than perish at the sword.
2. A lot of magazines dealing with the NGO/charity sector cross my desk. The recent cover of Charity Times holds the title “Measuring Impact”. That is the not-for-profit sector’s equivalent of “Twenty Days to Sixpack Abs”. I mean, is there even one issue of any health journal that does not include an article about how to get better abs? Is it really possible that there are literally thousands of ways to say exercise regularly and eat less? Apparently, there are. I vote for a new research agenda: Measuring the impact of articles on measuring impact.
3. NGO. It is as much a title as an acronym; as much a declaration as a status. What does it mean in a world where those bearing the NGO label are massively funded by governments? And where governments dictate so many of the terms of engagement? I mean, if 75% of your field expenditure is financed by the likes of DFID, ECHO and USAID, the label of NGO seems deceptive. Ditto where half of your management team used to work for the government.
NGO is an anachronism, a mark of distinction from days gone by, created by the UN to distinguish state actors/bodies from citizen groups. Those distinctions are now hopelessly blurred.
Defining oneself through negation is a tricky business. (If I had paid better attention at university, I might even remember what Sartre had to say about it). Lots of organizations are non-governmental. Technically, the Mara gangs and the International Fan Club of Rihanna would qualify as NGOs (probably more NG than CARE or even MSF). But for many organizations that are not governmental there is no necessity or identity to be found in distinction from government. No confusion between the Mara Salvatrucha and a delegation of foreign ministers (I know, I know, between the Mara and typical governments there is an identical imposition of a monopoly of violence to further economic interests, but that’s another blog, one which includes digressions). So it raises the question of whether times have changed. Do we now need additional acronymed credentials?
In honor of the tectonic shift towards social entrepreneurship – the transformation of the development NGO into a patron of the free market system – and marking the recently well-promoted “collaboration” between Glaxo SmithKline and Save the Children, I hereby initiate NCO. Non-corporate organization. To create distinction from organizations promoting corporate interests. And for places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and (soon enough) Syria, how about NMO? Non-military organizations. To create distinction from organizations that are directed via belligerent funding to achieve “soft” military targets (talk about a gap re measuring impact!). A bit clunky on the tongue — “As an NGO/NCO/NMO, we believe…” — but the distinctions are vital.