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Significance of the World Network of Organizations

Next Step in Inter-organizational Relationships


Part G 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.

There is a widely prevalent tendency to think of organizations, particularly international organizations, - as functioning within thesocial 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 year, 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 socialactivity 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 will be affected, and which bodies will then be in the best position to undertake compensatory action. All social entities - INGOs, IGGs, groups, national or local bodies, movements, and individuals - 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 in one field as shown by 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 compétition 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?

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 problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources - of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has notyet 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?

It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to. focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns. (The terrain is now charted and populated so that the previously isolated frontier posts can now band together to survive as a community.) The nature and complexity of interdependence between plants and animals in nature has been the theme of the whole environment /ecology issue and the 1970 European Conservation Year. Perhaps this interdependence, still only recognized with great difficulty, between extremely different organisms can be used as a parallel to illustrate the nature of the interdependence between organizations of different typesand social function. This social interdependence has yet to be recognized with precision despite frequent use of such terms as the "international community." A century ago it was precisely this theme of interdependence between natural organisms which was forcefully stressed amid much controversy with texts such as the following :

"Many casesare on record showing how complex and unexpected are the checks and relations between organic beings which have to struggle together in the same country... I am tempted to give one more instance showing, how plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, arebound together by a web of complex relations." (Charles Darwin. The Origin of Species, London, 1859)

The example showed how two species of flower were fertilized with the aid of humble - boos whose nests were attacked by field-mice, which were in turn preyed upon by cats.

"Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district... A corollaryof the highest importance may be deduced from the foregoing remarks, namely that the structure of every organic being is related, in the most essential yet often hidden manner, to that of all other organic beings, with which it comes into competition for food or residence, or from which it has to escape, or on which it preys."

With this perspective, what can be said of the relationship between such social structures as governmental, and nongovernmental, profit and nonprofit, formal and informal organizations, movements, periodicals, mass media, etc? Is enough yet. known of organizational ecology, namely the chains of interdependence between social organizations of totally different types, to be able to determine which actions of one type of organisation will directly or indirectly affect the operations and even the survival of which other types of organizations responsible in society for other functions?

"The program of a large organization, whether intended or not.... affects a wide sector of the organization's environment, one much wider than the organization may understand to be its surrounds...Organizations that wish to deal responsibly with their social surrounds must bo be its surrounds...Organizations that wish to deal responsibly with their social surrounds must be capable of eliciting and evaluating responses from those who realize that they are affected hut who ore ordinarily silent, and from those who are affected but may not realize it..." (R. A. Rosenthal and R.S. Weiss, Problems of Organizational Feedback Processes.)

In view of the ignorance of these inter-organizational processes and of the ecological role of different categories of the social flora and fauna:

"We think that anybody who wished to sort out "necessary" and "superfluous" or "justified" and "unjustified" NGO's so as to prove the alienation that there is an inflation of international organizations (in the deprecatory sense) would find it rather hard to define his criteria and would have to claim for himself the foresight of a prophet before making his judgement in a great many cases. Furthermore, even the smallest, lowliest, and oddest NGO's may well bo regarded as an expression of the genuine longing of their members for more international contact, understanding and cooperation. Such longings should be taken seriously because human motivation and psychological factors of this kind are of considerable importance for the whole present and future development of international organizations." (Alexander Szalai. The Future of international organizations, New York, UNITAR, 1970. Paper presented to a seminar on organizations of the future.

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