Barriers, Hurdles & Holes

Mar 3, 2017

A 2009 paper entitled “Barriers and Solutions” by a masters student in Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, Angela Zettler, introduced some of the barriers and solutions NGOs face when attempting to impact global policy by working with the United Nations. She reviewed the challenges of access that are financial, geographical and associated with the accreditation process for non-profits to the UN.

And there are more, even less visible barriers that have less to do with what is out there, and more to do with what is in our heads and hearts. These include how NGOs go about their work at the UN and the assumptions they hold.

This is no small topic, but important to address if NGOs wish to be successful—whatever that may mean to them. So here I will shine a light on two points that will come to the fore sooner or later for social entrepreneurs as they seek to impact global policy. And it is important to note that these points can be game enders for some NGOs. And ending efforts to outreach at the UN does not in any way diminish the value of what the NGOs is doing or accomplishing. It may simply be that having UN aspirations (whatever they may be) may not be strategically needed or useful at any particular time, and leaving those endeavors for another day or for others to do may be the very best leadership decision an NGO can make.

That aside, if NGOs do have little doubt about the value of their products/services and are committed to bringing them to the global level, then the problems they face simply need to become hurdles that can affect their strategy but should not remain insurmountable barriers and reasons why they cannot have significant impact.

Once NGOs understand a few very important points about the UN, then their strategic plans can come together. But what are these factors that few people talk about, or are commonly held myths we haven’t cleared up? Today we will look at just two.

  1. The United Nations is not a globally purposed (meta-humanity) entity but one that is premised on self-national interests. It is an organization of members that are nation states. It is not a global government. It is, exactly as it says in its charter, “to maintain international peace and security…. develop friendly relations…achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character…to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common actions.” It is a place where nations gather centered on their national interests, not on global priorities unless these nations decide to subsume their national interests to the larger good. Now when does that happen?
  2. NGOs are not members of the UN, even when they have consultative status with ECOSOC or are invited to international conferences. Rather NGOs are selectively-tolerated guests—until they prove themselves otherwise.

There are more, but these are some of the big ones.

The first entails an often a slow to come to the fore realization because the desire for world peace and prosperity for all is such a built-in desire for many who are attracted to the UN. Even many a diplomat can spend years at the UN only to find that it will never be what they hoped it would be—a place to work for the betterment of the world.

No, it is a place to negotiate national interests. Sure there is an inter-national backdrop and in that environment, it is more obvious how inter-connected all nations are, but nevertheless, the actionable basis of the UN is member state inviolability. Not global or meta-humanity* inviolability. And there are some rules to this work and many a rule is bent—or at times broken—in this process. The United Nations may be an organization that helps otherwise disparate nations function as a global community of sorts, BUT it is not an entity that creates a human republic that acts in the best interests of humanity as a whole and planet earth and all its ecological systems.

Is there good news?

Yes, there is good news a-plenty! True, the barriers to global impact are real and there is a minimum viable set of resources (MVRs) required by any NGO to give them a chance at impacting policy. These MVRs are themselves variable, making no one mix of resources definitive across the board. But there does need to be a certain energy and capacities reached to be able to meet the Member State’ representatives on their level and interact meaningfully.

Today, I will leave it there. Suffice to say, the UN is a place for organizations and groups, not just individuals unless they have behind them, organizations and groups aplenty.

*Defined in United Nations Unlocked to differentiate between actions based upon nations and actions based upon the health, well-being, sustainability and durability of all humanity and planet earth.

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Barriers and Solutions Article