Archive for Internationalism

The Future Economy of International Activism


[Note: This post was published prematurely by mistake. It has been changed to reflect that Jonathan Glennie did not in fact work for PBI in Colombia (he worked with them as a member of a separate organization). Significant copy edits were made. –BD]

One aim for this blog is to tie activism and economics more closely. Not because I want to inject economic concepts into activism as much as the reverse, or at least to show how serious economic thought and social change or solidarity work are intertwined.

A recent commentary in The Guardian does this well. The former Colombia office manager for a Christian Aid chapter says Peace Brigades International, known for a style of solidarity activism called “protective accompaniment”, is “An NGO fit for the future”. And while I don’t know if he’s right, I like that Jonathan Glennie is looking ahead and encouraging basically radical innovation in the world of international activism.

Glennie starts with a rather odd assumption:

Assuming (and hoping) that the world’s poor countries continue to do relatively well economically, as they have done for the past decade, gradually the problems will become less associated with absolute lack of money.

By “gradually”, he must mean really gradually, with a patient eye for optimism most non-NGOers could never muster. But in any case, Glennie crucially doesn’t miss foreseeing a potential counter-shift based on inevitable effects of climate change or the probable costs of energy and resource price spikes.

The future challenge for international NGOs will be to discern the new threats to the interests of the poorest and most marginalised that emanate from an increasingly unequal, volatile and resource-scarce world.

Gratifyingly, Glennie put human rights in perspective, suggesting NGOs should do what he claims Peace Brigades attempts to, which is “make the links between attacks on human rights defenders and certain development models that lead to displacement and environmental degradation.” He explains:

In my experience, those countries that are most vociferous in their support of human rights defenders are the ones that go cold when questions are raised about their own corporate interests that lie at the heart of the problem. Canada and the UK are prime examples. They will go out on a limb to stand up for human rights, but suggest that it is their own mining companies that are causing the problem and you might as well be talking to a wall.

Most NGOs are incapable, owing to mission constraints and structural ineptness, to ask the big questions essentially hitting on why they exist in the first place. Their mantras more or less boil down to “treat the symptoms”, implicitly ignoring the cause.