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Principles of Transnational Action

An attempt at a set of guidelines for international NGO action (Part #1)

To avoid confusion, repetition, and sterile debate in governmental or nongovernmental assemblies, some clear statement describing the open society into which we see ourselves moving is required, together with some description of the nature, functioning and interrelationship of the social entities which are seen as having their place in it.

The following propositions were, in their original form, distributed to participants at a seminar of the Union of International Associations (Milan, 1972) as an attempt to bring together various insights, some of which derived from other working papers or from views expressed by the participants in other contexts. The intention was to provide a starting point from which some form of statement could be built up to provide a first set of guidelines to the desirable 'style' of voluntary and non-governmental action in the future.

In its present form, the text has been restructured and clarified in the light of comments made. In addition, a set of action proposals has been related to each paragraph.

A. Range of organizational styles
Implications of the use of 'transnational'
Organizational network
Coordination and mobilization
Relationship with governmental bodies
Relationship with multinational business enterprises
Issue areas
Social development
Participative opportunity
Communication and facilities
Responsibility and rights

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A. Range of organizational styles

1. Different styles of organization may be used in different cultures and political systems to accomplish the same ends. Such organizations may be either governmental or non-governmental, profit-making or non-profit, permanent or ad hoc, etc. They may even be replaced in some societies by periodical readerships, radio audiences, demonstrations, 'invisible colleges', legally- binding agreements, information systems, or informal movements of opinion.


  • improved and more comprehensive organizational typologies are required, sensitive to organizational styles in different cultures;
  • study required of the manner in which organization styles can substitute for one another in different settings.

2. Different organizational styles at the national level give rise to equivalent styles at the transnational level. Transnational organizations of different cultures may therefore be organizationally incompatible, although having equivalent functions with respect to their own cultural systems.


  • study required of new organizational forms which could link currently incompatible styles of organization.
  • it may well be time to abandon the misleading term 'international non-governmental (non-profit) organization' (INGO). 'International' has increasingly the sense of 'inter- governmental'; 'organization' is associated with formal legally- constituted, and, increasingly, with heavily bureaucratized bodies. 'Non-governmental' needs to be dropped, because many varieties of mixed or 'intersect' organizations are increasingly important, particularly in developing or socialist countries, also in some cultures or language systems, 'non-' may well mean something very close to 'anti-'. In addition, to define 'X' as 'not-Y' is a plain confession of inability to conceptualize 'X'. The abbreviation 'NGO' is meaningless to the uninitiated and particularly to the many bodies in that category at the national level. A term such as 'transnational association networks,' has a more positive, dynamic connotation and takes the socially unrealistic stress off organizations as independent units.
and takes the socially unrealistic stress off organizations as independent units.

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