Use of Multi-Meetings
Proposal for Improvement to NGO / UN Relationships
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A group of London-based NGOs met at the request of the NGO Standing Committee of the Conference of international Nongovernmental Organizations Approved for Consultative Status with UNESCO and agreed to transmit the following suggestion to the Committee. (The matter was duly considered at the March 1970 meeting and postponed for consideration at the June meeting). Published in International Associations, 1971, 6, pp. 354-359 [PDF version]
As a relatively simple change of procedure which does not imply any " massive structural reorganization "of NGO relations, each of the various " consultative status "NGO Conferences could be scheduled to take place at the same place during the same period, instead of being held in different places at different periods. In other words without in any way linking them together procedurally it would be quite possible to hold the plenary sessions in the same physical setting (e.g. in neighbouring conference rooms with a common reception /refreshment area) mainly as concurrent sessions with the possibility of joint sessions on substantive matters where these were felt to be useful (e. g. a briefing on development).
Resultant Organizational Flexibility
In the case of international NGOs a multi-meeting could be arranged every 1 or 2 years to bring together the NGO representatives which meet on such occasions as the ECOSOC/NGO Conference, the UNESCO/NGO Conference, or any other UN/NGO grouping where relevant. But the programme committee, which could include representatives of these bodies and of the relevant Specialized Agencies, need not limit the multi-meeting to sessions on the procedural aspects of consultative status. Substantive matter meetings of NGO representatives could also be scheduled so that the following range of possibilities is made available for use as required :
The attitude should be to maximize inter-NGO activity, and the possibility for NGO-IGO activity, rather than to set up barriers to it based on procedural or other criteria.
There could be times when it would be advantageous that participation of an individual NGO at multi-meetings should not be based on the consultative status criterion (except for admission to procedural or other closed sessions). This is no way affects the rules on the right to vote or speak developed for any particular session, open or closed. This policy :
Furthermore, this policy permits individual NGOs if they so wish to schedule meetings of their executive bodies on the occasion of such multi-meetings (whether within the multi-meeting framework or not), with the consequence that members of such executive bodies can both gain some understanding of inter-NGO activity and respond rapidly (if the executive meeting is appropriately scheduled) to questions referred upwards by the NGO's official representative at a particular NGO conference session.
The organization behind the multi-meeting need only be limited to the programme committee and arrangements for a reception desk, document distribution, interpretation and translation. (The latter tasks are usually undertaken by the Agency Secretariat concerned). An additional feature which could well be considered is charging a registration fee to those participants which are not registered as members of an NGO Conference. This could prove to be a very useful source of income, particularly if members of the general public are admitted.
The advantages of this proposal may be summarized as follows :
NGO consultative status conferences for those those NGOs in consultative relations with a Specialized Agency for which such a conference does not exist (Note that such conferences could be single session conferences within the multi-meeting framework. Such short sessions would not normally justify bringing NGO representatives together just for that purpose outside a multi-meeting framework).
A first step towards this might be an information service at the reception desk to permit NGOs to register topics in which they are interested with a view to contacting other NGOs, and possibly arranging a small meeting within the multi-meeting framework. New activities are in this way facilitated.
Conference Secretariats might enter into reciprocity agreements with regard to representation of NGO members at Specialized Agencies or meetings in the cities in which they are based. This could be particularly important with respect to regional activity (e.g. African or Asian Conference Secretariats). The disadvantages of the multi-meeting technique derive mainly from the problems of organizing adequate meeting space with simultaneous interpretation. Nevertheless, such practical aspects are surmountable and more manageable than the semipolitical/procedural/autonomy problems which arise if significant forma] changes to the consultative arrangement machinery are considered. In addition, a dynamic environment of this kind, in which more new people from the national level can each year be involved in international activity, is surely a desirable NGO goal.
It should be remembered that the plenary sessions of the main NGO Conferences, together or separately, are by no means large meetings when compared to the average international congress. It may be that the usual five day meeting period would be insufficient even with some sessions run in parallel but this must be offset against the number of additional, possibly evening, meeting sessions which could benefit from the multi-meeting framework (A table has been prepared showing the extent to which NGOs have multiple overlapping membership of several UN Agencies). An indication of the subjects discussed by some of the NGO groupings and the degree to which these coincide is given in the inset on page 357.
Examples of subjects being discussed by more than one UN NGO group
NGO Interdependence and Isolationism
Some UAI comments on the above proposal.
Most reports circulating at the international level, and most international conferences, stress repeatedly the importance of collective activity. A recent meeting of NGO's in consultative status with UNESCO, discussed the shortsightedness of governmental thinking on NGO activities with respect to NGOs and racism as typified by the UNESCO plenary resolution in 1970 requiring UNESCO to cut of contact with all NGOs with branches in South Africa by December of 1971. " What we do say is that Unesco should not associate itself with NGOs which are active in South Africa, "Tanzanian Delegate, 16 C/VR. 32 (prov), p. 34,
And yet at this very same NGO meeting, one NGO representative stated, with reference to the possible collaboration with " non-UNESCO "NGOs in consultative status with other UN agencies, " We don't have anything in common with them "Other NGO representatives and the representative of the UNESCO Secretariat agreed.
This comment raises a very fundamental question. At a point in time when the United Nations system is starting to recognize that every problem, and particularly development problems, is related to every other problem, when is it valid for one organization to assert that it has nothing to do with another organization ? Are NGOs now trailing behind the United Nations in the belief that each Specialized Agency deals with a neat group of problems unrelated to those handled by a second Agency. The Jackson Report showed very clearly how the subject areas of the "Specialized Agencies overlapped. If this is so, then many NGOs in consultative status with one Agency should also have consultative relations with others in order to cover all aspects of the problem which interests them (e.g. education from the cultural (UNESCO), health (WHO, UNICEF), rural (FAO), and workers (ILO) points of view).
Table showing degree of overlap in consultative relations
How can this overlapping of interests be illustrated in the row corresponding to that Agency indicates to underline the dangerous nature of the -comment the number of NGOs which also have consultative cited above ? After experimenting with a number of relations with another Agency (named in the row different approaches, the Table on this same across the top of the Table). Thus in the case of page was produced. This can be used in the follow the 175 NGOs with consultative status A or B with ing way. NGOs in consultative status with a given UNESCO : 61 (35 %) also have ECOSEC I or II, and III Agency can look for that Agency in the left hand (64 %) with ECOSOC Roster 47 (27 %) with ILO, column of the Table. Each square across the Table 36 (21 %) with FAO, 20 (11 %) with WHO 4 (2 %) with ICAO, 7 (4%), 7 (4%) with WMO, 5 (3%) with IMCO, 8 (5 %) with IAEA, 48 (27 %) with UNICEF, 9 (5 %) with UNCTAD, 5 (3 %) with UNIDO, 26 (15%) with the Council of Europe, and 9 (5%) with the OAS.
Similarly 42 % of the 132 ECOSOC I or II NGOs have consultative status with UNICEF. 34 % of the 107 FAO NGOs have consultative status A or B with UNESCO. 62% of the 77 UNICEF NGOs have consultative status A or B with UNESCO. And so on. This type of information raises a very interesting question with regard to the degree of justification required for cooperation between NGO groups. The comment cited above considered that UNESCO A/B NGOs had nothing in common with the other NGO groups namely that a percentage of 100% in the above Table was essential before cooperation was conceivable. But the essence of international cooperation is contact between groups with different but related fields of concern. When, for example, does it become justifiable to organize an international meeting or some sort of federation of national bodies ? Only when all potential participants agree or are concerned with exactly the same thing ? Each of the national bodies of a world wide association does not have the same perspective or priorities, but when does this justify one group saying of the other " we have nothing in common with them " ? Just how different do they have to be to be rejected or how similar to be accepted ? Is cooperation possible when the participating bodies are 80 % similar 60 % ? 40 % ? 30 % ? When should the possibility of cooperation be excluded ?
It should be possible for one group of NGOs to conceive of some joint activity with another group if 50 % of the NGOs belong to both groups. But again what if only 30 % belong to both groups ? Each of the bodies represented at an international meeting is not equally concerned with every item on the agenda and may even consider many to be of no significance but when does this justify setting up a separate meeting ? And what arguments do the central committees use in the case of the organization and the meeting to show the extent of common interest and justify a single joint activity how common does the interest have to be ? This is a consideration that each NGO must face with respect to its own members and potential members in different countries. This question may be approached from another angle. How many NGOs with a common interest are necessary before a viable working group is formed ? In the case of the UNESCO A/B NGOs, a working group of :
In the case of ECOSOC I/II NGOs, a working group of :
Now the working groups of both the ECOSOC and UNESCO NGO Conferences do not often succeed 20-30 NGOs. It would therefore appear that a figure of 15-20 % is an acceptable basis for cooperation, in the estimation of active NGOs. Yet another approach to the study of the limits within which international cooperation is justifiable is to consider the number of NGOs actually attending the NGO Conferences as compared to the number which could attend. In the case of ECOSOC NGOs, for example :
(Presumably 65 % of the NGOs entitled to be members consider that they have " nothing in common "with the 35 % which are members). Is the current period of social crisis a time for NGOs to be more exclusive or less exclusive ? How small must the percentage of common interest be before the possibility of international cooperation should be excluded?
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