Guest Blog By Daniel Perell: What role for the NGO Major Group?
By Daniel Perell: One of Two Global Organizing Partners for the NGO Major Group
Many readers of this blog are no doubt very aware of both the role and challenge of being an organizing partner for the NGO Major Group. As I understand it, all the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders are responsible for building the structures which will deliver the substance, as well as refining the substance itself. This can be likened to being responsible both for building the pipes as well as ensuring the quality of the water they will channel. Pure water with no mechanism for delivery and a perfect mechanism with no water are equally useless.
Therefore, we need to be working equally on both of these issues. Fortunately, this is something NGOs having been doing since the first groups unified to amplify their voices. NGOs have as much experience as anyone in overcoming barriers to entry and in finding creative solutions to administrative challenges while concurrently working for the betterment of communities around the world. In order to ensure that what we deliver to the UN is an accurate reflection of what we are seeing and learning on the ground, we must work together to create a functioning structure and to utilize it well.
One of the most exciting elements of this moment in the NGO Major Group is that there is no right answer. We are at a time when experimentation with new platforms and new ways of organizing are most welcome. Do we use social media? And, if so, how? How do we engage with the Regional Commissions, the national reviews, the Commissions and Forums that feed into the HLPF, and a whole host of other spaces? I don’t know. Let’s find out!
Most of the other Major Groups and Other Stakeholders represent certain (and often overlapping) constituencies – among others, indigenous people, children and youth, women, people with disabilities. These groups face barriers to fully participating in the decisions that impact their lives and they are important repositories of knowledge based on history and lived experience from which we can all learn. But the NGO Major group is not a constituency in the same way. It is filled with organizations working to advance issues oftentimes directly linked to these groups: participation, poverty eradication, fostering equality, defending the environment, promoting and protecting human rights, and a host of other issues.
Then what is our role? Some have suggested it is to act as a hub for interlinkages. Others have said we should focus on issues of NGO participation. Perhaps we are the ‘principled voice’ that sets a bar below which Member States, the United Nations, the private sector, and we ourselves should not be permitted to fall. Maybe it is all of these things in different measures at different times.
The following things are clear in my mind at this moment:
1. The Organizing Partners must work hard to uphold the highest standards we can. This includes through transparency, participatory decision-making, humility, detachment, and maintaining the integrity and dignity of both the group and its members. This is no small task, and I hope my fellow Organizing Partners will join me in learning how to do this.
2. We must expand the circle of participation. If what we present to the UN is meant to be an accurate reflection of who we are, we must avoid presenting a distorted image of ourselves - one that advantages certain prominent voices, for example. We will work to make the platforms as user friendly and broadly available as possible (please join the google group and fill out the survey!).
3. We need your assistance. Do you have an hour a week you can spend helping to create/maintain a Facebook page? Can you help translate documents and notes to reach more populations? Please volunteer!
4. Understanding will be key. Those of us engaged in this have complicated lives balancing the needs of our families and communities with what is happening at the global level – and we come from diverse backgrounds and perspectives. The Major Group may operate in fits and starts. But we are here for the long run and just as we forgive the toddler who falls when learning to walk, we must be given permission to explore, make mistakes and learn.
Thanks very much for taking this initiative, and in general I’m very agree a lot with the content. Although I would also mention the role UNDESA/NGLS plays, which can be supportive or destructive for the MGoS system. The last few years it was quite destructive, as they organised their own parallel participation models; It was if they were building their own and another pipe line construction parallel to ours (MGoS), sometimes making connections but not always and with loose end of pipes (where is the participation going?). To say at last HLPFs there was no accountability and following up on our the advocacywork we should do as MGoS. It becomes more and more a "token democracy". Where it gets more important to count the amount of MGoS respresentatives in the room and the minutes we speak, instead of the quality of our paricipation in the longer term process: guarantee continuity, be to the point, added value on the discussions, taking the HLPG home = continue working on national levels, etc.
So, I think that the MGoS system will only work if it is self organising (which we are) and that that principle is fully acknowledged and respected by UNDESA/NGLS too. So they should not organise parallel online consultation forms for speaking slots on behalf of MGoS, but respect the self organising principle of the MGoS. I really hope that for next HLPF our input is stronger and more political. Thanks and good luck in your new role! Leida Rijnhout (former Global NGO OP for 10+ years and current EU OP NGOs)