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The World Network of Organizations: a symbol for the 1970s

Contribution to a discussion on new styles of organization management(1972).

The World Network of Organizations
Network of Organizations
Organizational Ecology
Styles of Organization
Nature of the Network
Network Action Strategy

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Contribution to a seminar discussion of the Union of International Associations (Milan, May 1972) on new styles of organization management appropriate to the more complex social environment of the future. Published in International Associations, 24, 1972, 1, pp. 18-24. [PDF version]

Interdependence of Organizations

There is a widely prevalent tendency to think of organizations, particularly international organizations, as functioning within the social system like billiard balls on a table. In this view, they may "knock into" one another, but essentially they are completely unrelated to one another -- there is no permanent organic relationship between them.

This view resembles that which lies at the base of current environmental problems, namely that each factory can function in its environment as though its products had no significant effect on other parts of nature. In the past two years, however, it has become widely recognized that man exists in a very delicate and complex equilibrium with his environment --- any industrial activity may have consequences for any other. Each factory functions in a web or network of dynamic relationships with other factories, via the processes of the natural environment. To what extent is it recognized that every social activity of man -- the domain of most INGOs -- may have significant consequences for any other social activity ? It is, in fact, impossible to predict which organizations will give rise to problems by their actions, which other bodies wilt be affected, and which bodies will then be in the best position to undertake compensatory action. All social entities -- INGOs, IGOs, groups, national or local bodies, movements, and individuels -- are bound together in a delicate web of interdependent social relationships, in which each is autonomous and at the same time, dependent on the actions of others. It is a truism that "No man is an island unto himself" but it is not so widely recognized that none of man's organizations can function in isolation. This is clearly recognized for one field in the following extract from a speech by Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the League of Red Cross Societies, at the 15th International Conference on Social Welfare :

One of the most important trends in the field of international voluntary service in recent years has been the recognition that social development cannot be pried loose from economic and political development and that the work of volunteer organizations cannot be isolated from other aspects of social work. Prognostics for voluntary service must be seen as part of a whole. It is already outmoded to look on community social services . as an entity in itself : It is part of a socio-economic whole... From now on U.N. programmes will not be considered individually. Priority will be given to a total approach by every country to their own development planning, with harmonised progress, and, hopefully, no competition between different agencies and ministries about priorities, people and money. The same will apply to our planning -- we shall no longer promote only the programmes we favour,

The excessive stress placed on the autonomy of organizations masks the links between them. Excessive focus on one type of link -- the consultative relationship with UN agencies -- de-emphasizes the many other links, formal and informal, between organizations of many types, thus rendering impossible any balanced understanding of the social system.

Can INGOs -- recognized or unrecognized by the UN system -- adopt any course of collective action which is so shortsighted and procedure-oriented as to expressly favor only isolated international organizations whilst ignoring the immensely complex world network of organizations of all types which stretches from the individual to local, national and international bodies to include the potentially highly-significant inter-INGO groupings ?

Two alternative views of an ordered network
Two alternative views of an ordered network

For that matter, can the UN agencies afford to encourage any action which fragments INGOs Into unrelated agency-oriented groupings at a point in time when the global crisis is completely multi-disciplinary and demands the utilization of every available resource ? Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social phenomenon? Is it not an unexplored global, network of organizational resources -- of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has not yet been effectively related to the peace / population / food / development / education / environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions ?

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