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An NGO Collective Long-Term Objective

Published in International Associations 24, 1972, March, pp. 151-154. Revised extract from: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change: the information system required (1970)

Joint action, however tentative, needs to be guided by some insight into the direction in which it is desirable to move. Where do NGOs want to be 10 or 15 years hence? What do NGOs except to be achieving at that time ? What mechanisms do they expect to be using ?

These are questions worthy of very careful study. Similar studies have been made in other fields which have noted the, possibilities of dramatic changes in organizational life generally. How can an NGO act now to ensure that it will be relevant to the problems of the near and more distant future ?

As an indication of how such an objective is formulated, the following is cited from the preface to a study by the Committee on Bibliographical and Documentation Services. (Chairman L. Larry Leonard), of the needs of members of the International Studies Association (USA) :

Those in quest of a more effective information system in their field can now be guided by an image of the ideal drawn in bold strokes by the National Academy of Science's Committee on Information in the Behavioral Sciences under the Chairmanship of David Easton. The ideal is here portrayed as a 'computer analogue of the available, intelligent, and informed colleague'.

Such an ideal colleague would read widely, have total recall, evaluate what he read; he would be able to reorganize materials, recognize fruitful analogies, and synthesize new ideas. In addition, the ideal colleague would always be accessible and available to all, either in person or by phone. Finally, he would be aware of the general interests and current problems of each scientist, and he could adapt both the content and style of his communications to each researcher's knowledge, skills and habits.

To approximate this ideal, and perhaps one day achieve it, requires the fashioning of a complex of components incorporating computer and telecommunications technology

This shows the scholar's ideal environment. Could NGO's define their own ideal working environment as a guide both to their own actions and to those of the governmental bodies with which they are in contact ?

It is curious that NGOs, who are so forward thinking with respect to the desirable changes that need to be made in the world, are so reticent and apparently lacking in courage on the question of the impact of these changes on their own methods of organization, operation and cooperation

- whereas paradoxically it is the organizations which are least concerned with the future of the world as such (rather than for their own benefit) that are most creative and imaginative in the evolution of new and more adequate organizational forms. Advocators of change should be more than willing to prepare their organizations and mode of operations for the consequences of the changes they advocate - or else find their resolutions faced with the retort . Physician heal thyself . It is precisely this remark which may emerge from the debate within the UN on the function of NGOs and the consultative relationship. In the following sections an attempt is made to summarize some of the features of an ideal NGO working environment to stimulate debate on these matters.

Legal rights

The activities of international NGOs should be facilitated by international conventions covering such points as the following :

Organization rights

  • international legal status (whether 'recognized' by UN Agencies or not) and special status in the countries in which it has its offices.
  • right to be informed of programmes, problems and organizations affecting its area of subject, programme or problem competence.
  • right to exercise activities in other countries.
  • right to negotiate and be represented at governmental meetings on its special field of competence.
  • right of participation in the formulation of programmes to combat social problems which are its special field of competence.
  • right of its national member bodies to participate fully in international programmes.
  • right to inviolability of offices as well as correspondence and telephone conversations.
  • right to protection of funds and assets against intervention by public authorities.
  • right of access to media of mass communications.
  • right to protection against any discrimination in matters of affiliation and activities.
  • right of access to voluntary coniliation and arbitration procedures.
  • right of members to further education and training.

These rights should be recognized as a natural extension of human rights, necessary for the adequate protection of the latter. (This list, with the exception of the first two points, is an adaptation of that established by the Committee on Trade Union Rights of the International Labour Conference, 54th Session (1970) in a resolution on trade union rights and their relation to civil liberties. The ILO Director-General is instructed by the Governing Body to o undertake further comprehensive studies and to prepare reports on law and practice in relation to these rights with respect to trade unions.

See also: The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Human Organization; an experimental extension of the, Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man International Associations, 1971, January, p. 7-26.

Rights of NGO staff

  • rights to certain privileges and immunities during the course of their service with the NGO, particularly with respect to travel documents, residential requirements, taxation, social security andpension rights.

The international conventions required should not function so as to favour the creation and continued existence of permanent organizations (tending to decay into a series of memorials to old problems but should be structured so as to facilitate the formation and operation of ad hoc, transient, short-life bodies constituted and dissolved rapidly in response to specific problems. Hopefully legal recognition of both national and international bodies can be automated to the point at which (possibly provisional) registration of both the organization and its interests can be made at one of many computer terminals (such as will be found in post offices) in a manner somewhat analogous to the current automated issue of flight insurance contracts at air terminals.


  • transient nature of organizations linking a rapid ly-changing network of bodies and individuals
  • need for rapid legal recognition
  • need for sophisticated weighted voting procedures to permit the existence of more complex organizational patterns (on this point see International Associations, 1970 February, pp. 67-79).

and the relationship of all three to the future world-wide computerized information system, require careful reexamination of the legal concept of * organization, in relation to the rapidly evolving operational definition - particularly in so far as an outdated legal concept could severely retard, rather than facilitate, the evolution of organizational forms adequate to the problems and opportunities of the future.

e evolution of organizational forms adequate to the problems and opportunities of the future.

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