A new kind of UN

We can’t leave the future in the hands of corporations and governments

Marco Visscher | October 2005 issue
Human rights, humanitarian aid, democracy, environmental protection, the right to healthcare and education, the rights of women, children, employees and animals, the right to contraception and the right to information—these are some of the most notable achievements of the past century. And it’s clear that in every case these changes were not initiated by government officials, business leaders or political parties, but thanks instead to organised actions by groups of ordinary citizens.
This inspired Jacques Attali, the French founder of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to take a radical step: calling for a worldwide assembly of citizens groups, also known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), modeled on the United Nations. He believed that more than any existing institution today, this new body would be capable of tackling the biggest challenges of this century.
In the visionary journal New Perspectives Quarterly (NPQ)(Winter 2005) Attali argues that governments, political parties and corporations are playing an ever-smaller role in addressing the daunting challenges of poverty, democracy, the environment and public services. After all, globalisation has made nations highly dependent on one another. This means that various international agreements like GATT (General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs) create an obstacle for national governments in solving global problems. The same goes for companies, which often have a lot of influence on the world through their technological and financial innovations—but they often simply aren’t interested in creating a sustainable world. And finally, traditional sector of civil society—political parties, trade unions, mainstream churches—have seen their influence declining for years.
Attali predicts that one day the power of NGOs will be greater than that of political or business leaders. He writes: “Much of the fate of our planet depends on the role of NGOs in the future.” After all, these new organizations are geared towards making the world a more livable place. They fight for the advance of democracy, freedom of speech, protection of women and children, the the right to shelter and employment, access to credit, the protection of biodiversity, languages and culture.
Countries become members of the United Nations and the interests of corporations are represented by numerous influential organizations, which is why Attali is focused on launching a worldwide organization of citizens groups. In NPQ he proposes institutionalizing an annual summit of NGOs at the United Nations and making it an independent body. By coming together these citizens groups could shape a common agenda for the next fifteen years and then set to work in cooperation with governments and business. Because governments can’t do it alone and NGOs often work with tight budgets and a lot of volunteers, Attali suggests implementing a tax break for people who devote time and energy to work for such organizations. Companies could give paid leave to staff wishing to put in some time at an NGO. And any country that interferes with the work of these organizations could be cut off from development aid or receive other international punishments.
Attali declares, “NGOs have demonstrated their capacity to have an impact on the world. And now the world needs them more than ever. Let’s take the next step and formalize their role in global governance. It is time to do so because time is running out. Our future is too important to leave to governments and corporations alone.”
The American progressive weekly The Nation (January 24, 2005) also foresees a new chapter for NGOs. Authors Michael H. Shuman and Merrian Fuller recommend citizens groups put less effort into fundraising and more into understanding market forces. The search for subsidies and donations takes a lot of time, money and energy that is better spent contributing to society, they contend. Moreover, many organizations often tap into the same funding sources, creating counterproductive competition. In order to be truly successful, the American weekly concludes, NGOs need to learn how to pay their own way.
This concept isn’t entirely new. The Red Cross manages to keep itself afloat by getting volunteers to donate blood and selling it to hospitals, girl scouts get money by selling cookies and The Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. has supported its groundbreaking environmental work by selling their State of the World book series. And yet the conviction prevails that money should come from foundations, philanthropists or government agencies. Of course the notion that NGOs should be selling products or services generates immediate resistance—worries that the temptations of the free market will quickly push ideals aside.
Shuman and Fuller see social entrepreneurs as the answer. This new breed of activist is idealistic but shows an enterprising spirit. They know how to balance the books and aren’t shy about approaching banks for a loan. The aim of social entrepreneurs should be to break even on their activist activities, and if there are profits, invest them in good causes. Shuman and Fuller predict that increasing numbers of citizens groups will have to integrate elements of the free market into their strategy in order to be truly effective in their efforts.
 

Solution News Source

A new kind of UN

We can’t leave the future in the hands of corporations and governments

Marco Visscher | October 2005 issue
Human rights, humanitarian aid, democracy, environmental protection, the right to healthcare and education, the rights of women, children, employees and animals, the right to contraception and the right to information—these are some of the most notable achievements of the past century. And it’s clear that in every case these changes were not initiated by government officials, business leaders or political parties, but thanks instead to organised actions by groups of ordinary citizens.
This inspired Jacques Attali, the French founder of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), to take a radical step: calling for a worldwide assembly of citizens groups, also known as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), modeled on the United Nations. He believed that more than any existing institution today, this new body would be capable of tackling the biggest challenges of this century.
In the visionary journal New Perspectives Quarterly (NPQ)(Winter 2005) Attali argues that governments, political parties and corporations are playing an ever-smaller role in addressing the daunting challenges of poverty, democracy, the environment and public services. After all, globalisation has made nations highly dependent on one another. This means that various international agreements like GATT (General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs) create an obstacle for national governments in solving global problems. The same goes for companies, which often have a lot of influence on the world through their technological and financial innovations—but they often simply aren’t interested in creating a sustainable world. And finally, traditional sector of civil society—political parties, trade unions, mainstream churches—have seen their influence declining for years.
Attali predicts that one day the power of NGOs will be greater than that of political or business leaders. He writes: “Much of the fate of our planet depends on the role of NGOs in the future.” After all, these new organizations are geared towards making the world a more livable place. They fight for the advance of democracy, freedom of speech, protection of women and children, the the right to shelter and employment, access to credit, the protection of biodiversity, languages and culture.
Countries become members of the United Nations and the interests of corporations are represented by numerous influential organizations, which is why Attali is focused on launching a worldwide organization of citizens groups. In NPQ he proposes institutionalizing an annual summit of NGOs at the United Nations and making it an independent body. By coming together these citizens groups could shape a common agenda for the next fifteen years and then set to work in cooperation with governments and business. Because governments can’t do it alone and NGOs often work with tight budgets and a lot of volunteers, Attali suggests implementing a tax break for people who devote time and energy to work for such organizations. Companies could give paid leave to staff wishing to put in some time at an NGO. And any country that interferes with the work of these organizations could be cut off from development aid or receive other international punishments.
Attali declares, “NGOs have demonstrated their capacity to have an impact on the world. And now the world needs them more than ever. Let’s take the next step and formalize their role in global governance. It is time to do so because time is running out. Our future is too important to leave to governments and corporations alone.”
The American progressive weekly The Nation (January 24, 2005) also foresees a new chapter for NGOs. Authors Michael H. Shuman and Merrian Fuller recommend citizens groups put less effort into fundraising and more into understanding market forces. The search for subsidies and donations takes a lot of time, money and energy that is better spent contributing to society, they contend. Moreover, many organizations often tap into the same funding sources, creating counterproductive competition. In order to be truly successful, the American weekly concludes, NGOs need to learn how to pay their own way.
This concept isn’t entirely new. The Red Cross manages to keep itself afloat by getting volunteers to donate blood and selling it to hospitals, girl scouts get money by selling cookies and The Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C. has supported its groundbreaking environmental work by selling their State of the World book series. And yet the conviction prevails that money should come from foundations, philanthropists or government agencies. Of course the notion that NGOs should be selling products or services generates immediate resistance—worries that the temptations of the free market will quickly push ideals aside.
Shuman and Fuller see social entrepreneurs as the answer. This new breed of activist is idealistic but shows an enterprising spirit. They know how to balance the books and aren’t shy about approaching banks for a loan. The aim of social entrepreneurs should be to break even on their activist activities, and if there are profits, invest them in good causes. Shuman and Fuller predict that increasing numbers of citizens groups will have to integrate elements of the free market into their strategy in order to be truly effective in their efforts.
 

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