The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in world and country politics has always been vibrant and widespread and has grown in importance since the 1990’s. Many NGOs through the years have fought for transparent political processes and political accountability, and developing a democratic culture among citizens. It seems to have become even more important in the past few years.
We have a proven track record as nonprofits in addressing the fallout out of the stupid, senseless decisions, policies and actions of political entities – in Darfur, the present refugee crisis, the Balkans, Rwanda, Apartheid, etc. As individual nonprofits, we also have a proven track record of forming limited partnerships with other same-goal nonprofits in addressing the irresponsible decisions of our governments – Failure to provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to affected population, Viable Social Grant expansion, etc.
So we have proven ourselves effective in cleaning up the messes of our political leaders. Furthermore, we promote change and implement social action partnerships in areas which directly affects ourselves and like-minded organisations. But to what level are we playing a democratising role in our countries today.
Nonprofit organisations (NPOs) in many countries are facing more and more political scrutiny from country leaders and countries leading political parties. But this does not seem to be a two-way process. Quite rightly most NPOs have values and policies that excludes individuals and the organisations promoting or getting involved in party politics.
However, it seems that most of us have taken that to mean we have no role or responsibility in the broader day-to day decisions that affect the universal rights of our individual country’s citizenry. We either do not respond, respond after the fact or respond according to our individual party political affiliations.
Party politics and political affiliation, is not the business of the NPOs. The manner in which party politics and political decisions impact on our clients is our business. We also need to remember, that as much as we have vision and goals, our clients do not come in little boxes that nicely fit into whatever the NPOs’ main business is. Yes, they represent a specific group - children, women, disabled, refugees, transgender, unemployed etc. But they also come from communities, families, live in a country, they form part of a national, continental and global citizenry.
Who are we to decide where our client’s rights begin and end. The ill-advised decisions of our politicians have quite often have an impact on our NPO clients according to the specific ‘group’ we have ‘allocated’ them to. However, it always has wider community, social, economic, political, environmental etc. impact. In literature, the instances where NPOs should play a role in developing community cohesion and providing opportunities for civic participation is increasing. Some writers say that NPOs are identified as central to effective democracies - both in maintaining democracy and establishing democracies.
Social action in NPOs must not just focus on addressing the needs of special closed groups - either as individual organisations or same-goal partnerships. We must not just focus on addressing impact of political decisions after the fact. We must not just see our client as a person with a ‘special’ problem that we happen to address.
We see what is happening in the world - terrorism in cities, civil wars in countries, climate Change, armed conflict, unemployment due to unsound country economic policies, poverty and debt, hunger proliferation of nuclear weapons, population increase, infectious diseases, concentration of wealth among the top earning one percent in the world - and the list goes on. In this time when change is needed more than ever - is the nonprofit and non-governmental institutions addressing these aspects as a constituent body or unit - or are we contributing to it by being self-interested, goal-limited individual silo’s.
We have to move away from being nervous and timid in addressing political decisions and policies –and be clear we are addressing the impact of decisions (as opposed to supporting/attacking specific political parties). We need to be clear that politics in fact is a ‘dirty’ word - so much more the reason for us to get involved. We need to see our clients as a global citizen and at least have an opinion of all aspects that are or will be affecting the client (wider than the ‘problem’ group we have put him in).
We need to keep in mind of the many instances where the universal actions by the nonprofit and non-governmental field (as one constituent unit) have forcefully impacted on the gross contempt of client community’s rights - the fall of apartheid, Poland in the 1980’s, in civil rights movement in America and others.
- Pauline Roux is managing partner at the Organisational Puzzle.