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Structure and functions of INGOs


The Future of Leadership: reframing the unknown (Part #4)


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Because INGOs are so varied in size and composition and operate in so many different issue areas, it is difficult to summarize their features in a few words. We shall first try to describe what immediately meets the eye, the upper part of the iceberg, and then examine the submerged problem of their latent functions and importance for other types of social actor. Finally we shall discuss the role of INGOs in relation to certain problem areas.

4.1. Membership Composition

The composition of the membership of INGOs varies tremendously from organization to organization. It may consist of individuals, national organizations, governmental agencies or their officers, national branches, business enterprises, international regional groupings of organizations, international universal organizations, or any mixture of these. There are presently approximately a hundred INGOs which partly or exclusively have other INGOs as members either exclusively or in part. Needless to say, the size of the membership also varies appreciably. The International Committee of Food Science and Technology consists of 28 individuals while the International Co-operative Alliance is made up of more than 600,000 cooperative societies whose membership totals 224, 000, 000 people. Only three nations can boast of a larger population.

4.2. Activities of INGOs

One of the most important objectives of almost any INGO is to coordinate the activities of its members whether they are individuals or organizations in one form or another. Most international secretariats have little formal regulatory power, so the coordination usually takes the form of suggestions, exchange of views and information, and bargaining during organizational meetings. Exchange of information is also an important function in itself. An organization frequently serves as a clearing-house between its members f or the sector in which the INGO has competence. Some of them publish reference works, others compile bibliographical and documentation material. Scientific INGOs frequently administer the exchange of scientific data. A large proportion of all INGOs have their own periodicals which keep their members and other persons concerned informed about the state of affairs between their general conferences. On an average, such general meetings are held every second year while the executive boards meet more frequently, usually once or twice a year.

A few INGOs not only try to coordinate and encourage research among their members, but are also actively engaged in research projects themselves. Direct INGO involvement in projects has certain advantages when the research includes cross-national comparisons. A related pair of functions is education and training. A large number of INGOs organize exchange of scholars and students. An important part of the programme of the World Crafts Council, for instance, is to exchange apprentices and artists. INGOs also frequently provide opportunities for "on the job training" in connection with development aid programmes. Some of these programmes include education and training of the local population.

With respect to development aid, it is too often forgotten that national and international private nonprofit organizations and volunteers make a very substantial contribution to development. The Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that aid resources handled by nonprofit bodies exceed US $ 1 billion annually of which at least $ 700 million ($ 840 million in 1970) is raised from private resources (excluding foundations and missionary societies). For a comparison of aid flows to developing countries see Table 7. In 1968, some 25,000 people from developed countries were working as volunteers in the low-income countries. This figure had increased five-fold in six years and was then equivalent to nearly a quarter of all technical assistance personnel serving abroad under official programmes (22).

A limited number of organizations have specialized in training courses for diplomats and other civil servants dealing with international politics. Finally it should be stressed that INGOs educate a large section of the general public through their branches. This is done in study groups, at meetings, and conferences, and in a number of other ways as is well known.

The establishment and revision of technical standards is another activity of some INGOs. The need for standardization of technical equipment and measurement has been one of the driving forces behind the growth of international organization over the past hundred years and it has the side-effect of easing transnational communication in other areas. A related activity is the elaboration of professional and ethical codes and norms of operation. The World Medical Association, for example, is concerned with the ethics of medical doctors.

INGOs have often been described as international pressure groups, and this is perhaps the part of their activity that the political scientist will be most interested in. INGOs may focus on many different kinds of targets in order to promote their interest. Sometimes they try to influence national governments, but our impression is that this is practically always done through members in the respective countries. On the other hand, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are usually approached directly (sometimes on invitation) but there are instances in which INGOs have tried to influence the decision of an IGO by asking their national branches to exert influence on the respective governments. This latter approach seems more practical when an INGO tries to influence the content of an intergovernmental convention. Multinational business enterprises constitute another target of the political activities of some INGOs. They are of particular concern to international trade unions and consumer organizations, but other INGOs with a general interest in peace and development have also become aware of the mounting power of international business. (2 3) Finally, many INGOs try to influence the mass media. This is, of course, the case for most of those who seek mass support, but several limited membership organizations also wish to have their message distributed to a larger audience or to draw attention to specific problems. This may be done, for instance, in connection with the visit of a secretary general or a president to a national branch or local group.

Related to the pressure group activities is the consultative function many INGOs are performing, particularly vis-à-vis the United Nations, some of its specialized agencies, the Council of Europe and the OAS. About twenty per cent of all INGOs are formally given consultative status with one or more of these IGOs. Some of the problems involved in this relationship will be discussed below.

INGOs often serve as channels of information complementary to those of conventional diplomacy. Many organizations have good contacts and recruit members from the "grass roots" level, and they are less subject to short-term political considerations. This information may, of course, be used both positively and negatively.
In addition to serving as information channels, INGOs also serve, as recruitment channels. In response to a questionnaire, about five per cent of the secretary generals who had made up their plans for future employment, said that they expected to serve in IGOs. Others will be involved to a varying extent in international programmes. sometimes serving in developing countries. Experience from INGOs is, supposedly, useful for national civil servants who, to a smaller or greater extent, become involved in international cooperation on the governmental level.

Parallel to the recruitment function is the participation function of INGOs. (2 4) They make it possible for persons other than diplomats and high ranking civil servants to participate in international affairs (in the broadest sense of that term) . It is true that a stable leadership in member organizations of INGOs often monopolizes the international contacts so that it should be possible to increase the degree of participation by such means as greater rotation of personnel in delegations to conferences.

Although social clubs (perhaps unwisely) are excluded from inventories of INGOs, there still remains a number of organizations that has value expression as one of their most important functions. Value expression is also a significant by-product of the activities of many others. An example of an organization in which comradeship is particularly evident, is the International Association of Skal Clubs.

An explicit objective of many INGOs is to increase international understanding. This is done in a number of ways, of which increased participation is one of the more important ones. Other means such as information dissemination and exchange programmes have been discussed above.
Some INGOs are mainly protective, that is, they try to defend the interests of their members. The protective element may be strong in INGOs made up of minority groups (the Celtic League) or exile organizations.

Another INGO activity which deserves mention is the continuing attempt to integrate and formulate member concerns both for their own internal purposes and for third parties. This process goes on in all kinds of organizations, but one should pay special attention to it on the international level because, in addition to all ordinary causes of disagreement, there may be differences of opinion on the basis of loyalty to different nation states.

For a number of reasons nongovernmental organizations are often able to respond quickly to new needs created by changes in the environment (breakthroughs in technology, natural disasters, etc.) or by changes of policies or quality of services provided by government and business, either prior to an awareness of the need in government or business, or after their programmes have terminated or deteriorated. INGOs can therefore perform the function of "lookout" institutions for society. In this manner INGOs can serve as functional equivalents or substitutes of other actors.

Finally we want to mention that some INGOs see it as their duty to make relevant and interpret international programmes to national members or special constituencies. This is one way support for international programmes is mobilized.

The above presentation of INGO activities and goals is by no means exhaustive although we think we have covered most of the essential features.

4.3. INGOs, their actual and potential Impact

International nongovernmental organizations mean different things to different people. They are therefore called by different names and there is a lack of awareness of them as a class, as a whole. In this section we shall discuss the relevance of INGOs first to different classes of actors, and second, to different problem areas.

4.3.1. INGOs, functional for whom and in which way?
At the present time, and partly due to the lack of an elaborated interorganizational conceptual framework, too few INGOs perceive themselves as part of a network of actors (other than in the meta physical sense used when referring to the "international community") This network of organizations is constantly changing and evolving as different parts of it perceive and respond to new problems. Sub-networks of INGOs (perhaps in combination with non-INGOs) with a special interest in common come into existence for a period of joint action and are implicitly mandated to meet the challenge. A given INGO may be participating, terminating (or commencing participation) in any number of such partial networks. (25)

The lack of a network perception leads INGOs to be less functional for each other than they could be. There are, nevertheless, groups of international nongovernmental organizations that cooperate rather effectively with each other, particularly when they have a strong interest in the same relatively limited problem area such as care for the handicapped and training of social workers) . INGOs with very different objectives also sometimes cooperate in order to promote the interests of INGOs as a class and to improve their status in the international system. This seems to be one of the main functions of the conferences of INGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC and UNESCO.

The functions of INGOs for their members are manifold, but to a large extent these have already been covered above. To the IGOs, the INGOs are of importance in three respects. Firstly, INGOs provide pools of competence on which IGOs can draw in the execution of specialized projects. This is recognized in the consultative relationship. INGO information may be more detailed over longer periods of time or information which does not enter governmental channels for political reasons may be collected by INGOs which are thus able to detect problems long before there is any trace of them in the ordinary information channels of IGOs. A good example is the whole environment issue, of which aspects have been for many years the major concern of the following:
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (founded 1948),
  • European Federation for the Protection of Waters (1956)
  • International Association on Water Pollution Research (1962)
  • International Association against Noise (1959)
  • International Union of Air Pollution prevention Associations (1964) and others.

The United Nations is taking action on this issue following the UN Human Environment Conference.

Secondly, INGOs may carry out projects for IGOs under contract or carry on programmes which would otherwise have to be performed by IGOs. (Unfortunately, the current tendency is for an IGO to assess an INGO in terms of whether it contributes to the IGOs programmes rather than in terms of its effectiveness in tackling the problems the IGO and INGO have in common; in short, the INGOs are seen as satellites of the IGO.)

Thirdly, INGOs represent an extremely useful channel by which IGOs can influence special sectors of the public to support IGO programmes, for example, to create the political will to support development programmes. This leads some IGO officials to treat and assess INGOs as a new media to disseminate the current IGO message.

A fourth unrecognized function of interest to IGOs with social development programmes, is the extent to which increase in INGO activity in itself is a form of social development - - to the extent that social development may be interpreted as the complexification of the organization of a society in terms of number, variety and interlinkages.

The way in which INGOs are relevant for national governments depends not only on the nature of the INGOs involved, but also on the kind of national government. As in the case of IGOs, INGOs can provide the governmental sector with specialized opinion and technical information, and this will be particularly welcome when the government concerned does not have adequate expertise in a particular area. Furthermore, INGOs may channel funds, technical and other forms of assistance to governments, and this may be especially important when other national governments are, for political reasons, debarred from assisting.

What are the functions of INGOs vis-à-vis multinational business enterprises? We have already mentioned that there are international consumer associations, and we expect these to play an increasingly important role in line with the growing consciousness of consumers in many countries. They may serve as effective checks on these international manufacturing and service organizations that up to now have had the opportunity to "divide and rule" with respect to their scattered markets and sites of operation. International trade unions provide another kind of check on international business, although, according to some observers, they are not as effective as they could be. A difficult problem is, for instance, the tendency of multinational enterprises to exploit wage differences between countries in such a way that workers in high-pay and low-pay countries may find it difficult to formulate a common policy. In addition, several other INGOs which cannot be classified as trade unions and consumer organizations, are relevant for multinational business. Together they represent large segments of actual or potential markets and thereby provide channels of Information about products, advertising, and buyers' reaction to this. (The international motor organizations wittingly or unwittingly performs these functions vis-à-vis the international automobile industry.)

The INGOs themselves constitute an important market and have a significant effect on the tourism industry through the many widely dispersed international meetings to which they give rise. (26) Their presence in a country, or that of IGO offices for that matter, is not a drain on the host country, as used to be thought, but a minor source of foreign currency. The economic side-effects of the presence of many international bodies may, however, be extremely important in terms of, for example, use of the country's airline, hotel accommodation of incoming visitors, tendency to organize meetings in cities with many similar institutions, use of local services (printing, etc.) . In small cities like Geneva and Brussels with relatively large numbers of foreign personnel, their internationalizing impact on the society maybe quite significant. Brussels is unique as a host to major headquarters or regional offices of IGOs, INGOs, and multinational corporations.

To the extent that multinational corporations take a significant interest in their social and environmental context and the social consequences of their activities, INGOs can provide an appropriate channel for application of the resources (skills, communications channels, contacts, funding, etc.) of multinationals to social
problems. (2 7) This opportunity may prove increasingly significant for multinationals, given the growing business-career disillusionment of the young elites from which they attempt to recruit personnel for key positions.

A very important function of some INGOs is to be mechanisms for interaction and protection of competing businesses. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is a prominent representative of this category of INGOs, but there are many others. They work out standards, defend their common interests vis-à-vis governments, IGOs and the general public, and regulate competition. Multinational enterprises sometimes become members directly, but the usual practice is for their subsidiaries to join. It is very interesting that some of these INGOs serve as arbitrators in conflicts between business enterprises on the national and international level. An example of such an organization is the Inter-American Commercial Arbitration Commission. In addition many of these organizations develop expertise and sponsor research that is utilized by their members, that is, business corporations. International professional organizations also possess specialized knowledge that is used in business. Furthermore, the professional organizations, together with the international trade unions, serve as vehicles for multinational employee concern.
International nongovernmental organizations perform many functions that are very valuable to academics. We mentioned above their coordinating activities, research activities and information dissemination. The primary purpose of a large proportion of INGOs is simply to serve as communication channels between scholars. Furthermore, scientific INGOs provide academics with a channel through which they can make their research conclusions known to government, both on the national and on the international level. Finally, INGOs provide scholars with a means of formalizing the many "invisible colleges" (2 9), scientific milieus, and thus contributes to the universalization of science.

Next we want to consider what INGOs do for underprivileged persons. The organizations working in this area seem to be very responsive to any form of discrimination, social injustice or physical depravation. However, one side-effect of the very existence of these organizations, regardless of which issue area they are particularly concerned with, is to perpetuate a more or less elitist system insofar as they provide unequal status opportunities for those involved. If more thought was given to new forms of INGOs, this side-effect could possibly be counteracted.

Finally, INGOs contribute to the degree of pluralism in world society by providing isolated and special interest persons and specialists with a vehicle through which they can facilitate the information and furtherance of their activities. (A quick glance through any compilation of names of INGOs will convince the reader that some of the interests are quite off -beat.)

4.3.2. INGOs and World Problems

The importance of INGOs depends, of course, to a large extent on the degree to which they can contribute to the solution of grave world problems. There are, as we know, many of these, but the overriding one seems to be the absence of peace.

Like Galtung, we conceive of peace as the absence of violence, of which there are two sorts. (2 8) First, there is personal violence which becomes manifest when person A physically hurts person B (for instance, by shooting him during a battle). Second, there is structural violence which is analogous to exploitation and social injustice. This kind of violence usually occurs in a social structure which is set up in such a way that some people become rich (in terms of life expectancy, income, education, individual freedom and what not) and other people remain or become poor. This relationship may or may not be realized by the members of such a social structure. The net result of both kinds of violence is a reduced quality of life and/or shorter life expectancy due to untimely deaths.

INGOs can and do contribute to the reduction of violence in two different ways. (30) They can take direct action aimed at preventing war and reducing social injustice, and they can contribute to both ends by their mere existence without any deliberate efforts to promote peace. Given two different kinds of violence, this leaves us with four distinct ways in which INGOs contribute to peace:


(i) They do many different things to prevent wars between nations. Indeed, 45 per cent of a highly representative sample of INGOs considered that "to work for peace between all nations and peoples in the world" was one of their objectives. Among the different strategies are: Peace research and education, political action, exchange of persons and information and deliberate attacks on national loyalties of members and non-members.

(ii) Fifty-one Per cent of the same sample stated that they worked "for social and economic development in the world", and have already discussed some of the ways in which this is done. An important trait in this picture is the transfer of know-how to developing countries. The problem here is that aid to development is often felt as an attempt to super impose Western culture in non-Western societies. The scepticism against INGOs in some developing countries is probably sound and should be taken very seriously.

(iii) The very existence of a network of INGOs have an effect on the structure of nation states. Conflicts between nations or groups of nations frequently lead to the termination of most forms of interaction between them. This has at least two consequences. The opponents become less functionally dependent on each other, and their negative perceptions of each other become mutually reinforced. The setting is ideal for overt conflict behaviour (war) .(31) It seems, however, that interaction through INGOs is less easily stopped than, for instance, trade and diplomatic relations. Although there are difficulties, INGOs relatively frequently penetrate the wall between the Warsaw Pact and NATO countries, they frequently include both Arab and Israeli members, and representatives of divided countries meet more often in INGO settings than one would expect by chance. (32) one reason for this is that INGOs constitute a multilateral form of inter action. It is often hard to withdraw from or resist becoming member of an organization in which adversaries are members because it is most likely that it includes quite a few "friends" too. Another reason is that INGOs are non governmental. They do not get much public attention, and delegates to meetings and conferences do not have to participate in whatever official capacity they may have.

(iv) To what extent can the structure of the INGO network contribute to the reduction of structural violence on the world level? First of all, being represented in INGOs may be a coveted goal in itself, an indication of the prestige or status of a nation. Second, being represented in many INGOs makes it easier to obtain what is currently a highly regarded asset - specialized information. In addition, it may be easier to get funds for certain purposes and so on. Thus, to the extent that the distribution of the value "INGO -membership" is less skewed than and uncorrelated with the distribution of other values in the international system, say GNP per capita, the INGO system contributes to the estab lishment of social justice between nations. Empirical investigations show that the number of INGO memberships is less unevenly distributed across nations than most indicators of social, economic and technological development, and the correlation between the number of representations and these indicators is positive and moderately high. Consequently, INGOs make a contribution to social justice through their activities although this is somewhat counteracted by their membership distribution.


Other problems
INGOs are also important to society in the process by which new values are generated by the emergence of new problems and in the process by which society debates which problems are of overriding importance. They also keep a watchful eye on other potentially- significant problems. INGOs clamour for social recognition of the (often obscure) problems around which they were created. It is in this respect that they appear to perform a function for the psycho- social system analogous to aspects of population dynamics, which maintains the variety of a gene-pool and thus provides the best guarantee of racial survival. Efforts by any one organization to coordinate other bodies to force them to subscribe to a particular value system, or to force them into any position of dependence for needed resources, information or. recognition lead to a reduction in variety. These need to be carefully assessed for patterns of structural violence carried over with elitist -imperialist thinking habits.

4.4. Ignorance about INGOs and other Problems
In this section we shall first deal with the problems arising from the wide-spread ignorance about INGOs which is to the detriment not only of the nongovernmental organizations themselves, but also to those persons and institutions who are unable to benefit from the services INGOs provide. Then follows a discussion of some other problems of INGOs not directly related to ignorance about them.

4.4.1. Ignorance about INGOs and its consequences

The general neglect of INGOs takes many forms. Starting with the legal ignorance, we observe that INGOs are practically excluded from consideration in international law because of their lack of de jure status (33) despite the fact that they are well established de facto.

Although apparently trivial, this lack of legal status is sufficient to convince wide segments of society, particularly governments, that INGOs do not exist -- thus blinding governments to their social significance.

In effect, INGOs are forced to function as international "outlaws", and this weakens their ability to interact effectively with many official bodies. It also creates many kinds of practical problems in connection with taxation, recruitment, status of personnel, receipt and transfer of funds, and the like.

Secondly, there is scholarly ignorance. We have to admit that there is a regrettable tendency to exclude INGOs from "systematic" analyses of the international system and from comparative studies of organizations. (34) This leads to oversimplified typologies of actors in the international system and of possible forms of organization, both of which in turn result in poor awareness of organizational ecology. Another consequence is insensitive predictions about the future of world society and the construction of unrealistic models for the same future. The same ignorance shows up in the poor education of students and briefing of government delegates and administrators as well as in the biased coverage of text books. (3 5) If INGOs are at all mentioned, the emphasis tends to be on isolated organizations or categories of organizations without recognizing the many interorganizational relationships in the INGO network and to the IGO network. In the case of applied research with policy implications such as some peace research, there is with a few notable exception little awareness of the potentialities of the INGO system as an agent for change. In many countries there is a tendency not to make use of national NGOs in governmental programmes and thus to avoid using the international contacts provided by the related INGO system. This leads to inefficient use and development of available organizational resources.

Many IGOs give some kind of official recognition to INGOs, but the recognition is extended only to a small proportion of the international nongovernmental organizations and usually on a bilateral basis. For administrative purposes IGOs tend to ignore the network of INGOs as a phenomenon of the social system they are trying to develop and instead treat a select group of INGOs as an administrative problem. In particular IGOs are short-sighted in their desire to monopolize competence in certain areas thus placing an unnecessary strain on their own administration and budget instead of seeking to delegate programme activity to the competent part of the INGO network where resources and support may be more readily available. Indeed, the fundamental problem for IGOs is to define an area of competence for INGOs without destroying their sense of commitment and thus depriving society of valuable organizational resources. However, the tendency of IGOs to give a shallow recognition to a small proportion of the INGOs leads to a kind of divide and rule strategy which means that the INGO system is fragmentized and polarized around a few IGO agencies. At the same time, IGOs perceive INGOs as satellites and query the relevance of many aspects of their programmes which do not directly reflect or support the current short-term political interests of the intergovernmental agency.

We have tried to summarize our arguments in the attached diagram

4.4.2. Other Problems of INGOs

It is often difficult for INGOs to stimulate interest on the part of members via regional and national branches, particularly interest in international activity. There seems to be a tendency for some leaders on the national level to monopolize international contacts, or to fail to relate international cooperation to the activities and problems of rank and file members. As a corollary it is difficult to pursuade national organizations to allocate significant resources to international activity. The focus of action tends to be at the national level.

Another problem some INGOs struggle with is the incompatibility of national members. In different social systems functional equivalents of national organizations may have different relationships to governments particularly with regard to the degree of governmental control, funding and staffing. National sections in different countries may perform ranges of functions that only partially overlap such that the non-overlapping features tend to result in suspicion and incompatibilities probably lead some governments to hesitate in facilitating interaction between their national organizations and the equivalent INGOs. In particular, in some non-Western cultures there maybe difficulty in locating organizational forms natural to that culture which could relate to a given INGO. (36) There may be resentment of any imposition of a new Western style organization, and a lack of any socio-anthropological skill to match very different styles of organizations, or to create or adapt an INGO appropriate to them. Most INGOs require the same basic administrative services and facilities, but because of their restricted budgets, they are forced to use minimum facilities, which are often inadequate and insufficient. Because of great sensitivity to
their independence and autonomy of their programme, they are reluctant to pool services and facilities in order to increase the efficiency of their administrative operations. This is partly due to an inability to distinguish between the objectives of the organization and the facilities and professional skills required to achieve them.

Because of a combination of factors, INGOs individually or in small groups tend to think of themselves as operating In an international vacuum. They are often surprised to find other organizations with similar programmes or whose programmes are in some way affected by their own. There is, at present, no method to determine and facilitate the most appropriate inter -organizational contacts.

Because of a narrow conception of socio-economic development in which "social" is restricted to factors contributing to "economic" growth, IGOs, and particularly the UN system, accept isolated INGOs as instrumental to development without being able to respond to the network of INGOs as a feature in itself, a new stage of psycho-social development. Consequently IGOs do not seek to improve the functioning of the INGO network independent of immediate governmental concerns, thus relegating INGOs to a form of "third world" status vis-à-vis governmental and business organizations.

In conclusion, the nature of the problems to which INGOs are exposed places them in a vicious circle, in that the problems force them into a state of progressively greater inefficiency, preventing them from getting off the ground operationally. The inefficiency is seen as justifying the non-participative policies of intergovernmental organizations which in effect contribute directly to the inefficiency of the network. The IGOs are then, as in the case of UN development programmes, surprised to be faced with the seemingly unrelated problem of public apathy and lack of "political will" for development. (37)


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