Interdependence and Isolationism
Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships
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Part E of: Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships. Notes on the problems associated with the current crisis in the relations between intergovernmental and nongovernmental bodies, with particular regard to the United Nations Specialized Agencies and the consultative status arrangement. Distributed by the Union of International Associations as UAI Study Papers ORG/1.
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 sta- tus with UNESCO, discussed the shortsightedness of governmental thinking on NGO activities with respect to NGOs and raecism as typified by the UNESCO plenary resolution in 1970 requiring UNESCO to cut off contact with all NGOs with branches in South Africa by December of 1971.
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).
How can this overlapping of interests be illustrated to underline the dangerous nature of the comment cited above ? After experimenting with a number of different approaches, the Table on the -following page was produced. This can be used in the following way. NGOs in consultative status with a given Agency can look for that Agency in the left hand column of the Table. Each square across the Table in the row corresponding to that Agency indicates the number of NGOs which also have consultative relations with another Agency (named in the row across the top of the Table). Thus in the case of the 175 NGOs with consultative status A or B with UNESCO : 61 (35 %} also have ECOSOC I or II, III (64 %) with ECOSOC Roster. 47 (27 %) with ILO, 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 8 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 dc 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
(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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