Rapporteur's Report

by

Dr. Thomas J. Ward
Dean of the International College
University of Bridgeport



From September 25th through September 28th the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations convened in Bangkok, Thailand for its 2003 annual conference.  With representation from 147 NGOs and 50 countries, WANGO  chose the pursuit of “an ethical and caring society” as the conference theme, building on the focus of the 2002 Conference which was “Culture of Responsibility and the Role of NGOs.”

Written and oral presentations at this year’s Conference noted the increasing role played by the civil society in assisting populations, governments and multilateral organizations to address central problems facing humanity.  Increasingly, the role played by civil society must be factored into the political and economic equations of the present and the future.  NGOs are gaining growing recognition for providing expertise and in depth understanding of the “on the ground” realities of today’s unique social, political, and economic problems.  NGOs are gaining recognition for their ability to deliver unparalleled levels of efficiency and cost effectiveness in their provision of goods and services to needy populations, making them the logical partner or coordinating impetus for the completion of many of the tasks which governments and regional and international organizations strive to achieve. 

NGOs have played a crucial role in defining and addressing international and regional agendas in diverse areas including the delivery of health services, for the furtherance of a sustainable environment, and for impeding human rights violations. The abstract of the Opening Plenary Session of the conference, NGOs as Advocates and Agents of an Ethical and Caring Society, noted that “NGOs impact” on “how multinational corporations do business and how governments, large and small, conduct their affairs” and that, excluding the World Bank and the IMF “…NGOs now deliver more development assistance than the entire U.N. system.”

Indeed, since 1970, NGOs have often defined the moral agenda, setting the world stage with Amnesty International, the International Campaign to ban Landmines, and Doctors without Borders numbering among the NGOs having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the contributions that they have made toward reducing injustice and human suffering.  As has been noted in this Conference, “the non-governmental sector serves as key advocates and agents for bringing about an ethical and caring society.”  

However, NGOs like other aspects of modern society should be held to strict standards and should act within defined standards of ethics, accountability, and transparency.  During this Conference, it was pointed out that even such well known organizations as the International Red Cross and the United Way have come under fire for inappropriate accounting procedures and for misuse of funds in recent years, pointing to the need to address this matter at a time when NGOs come more and more to the forefront as a standard for vision, leadership, and integrity.   

The first two plenary sessions of this year’s Conference were convened at the United Nations ESCAP headquarters in Bangkok.  Taj Hamad, Secretary General of WANGO, noted that this year’s Conference coincided with the opening in New York of the 58th UN General Assembly where more than 90 heads of State gathered, expressing their support of the UN’s mandate to champion the cause of world peace and etch out a future thrust for the world’s premier international organization. 

In Bangkok, the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO) gathered to discuss in their opening plenary the role of NGOs as advocates and agents of an ethical and caring society.  In the second plenary the focus of the session was the concept of human security and the role that NGOs can play in furthering human security. 

In the opening plenary it was pointed out by the session’s first speaker, Dr. Juree Vichit-Vadakan, that the role of NGOs is increasingly central and that the social pressures emphasizing economic success as the bottom line have led to downplaying the importance of sustainable development, as well as environmental and cultural preservation, and service to others,

She noted that civil society can serve as an agent of change because it fosters values and continues to sees the poor and the marginalized as a central constituency which is often forgotten by other sectors of society. 

Dr. Vichit-Vadakan emphasized that, to foster a more caring society,  NGOs must learn to work with the media and inform of their activities as well as take advantage of venues for political engagement to accomplish their goals. 

The Plenary Session’s second speaker, Thai Senator Mechai Varavaidya, spoke of the role that the UN can play in lending its imprimatur to supporting an increased role for NGOs.  The Senator pointed to governments establishing a double standard in the registration protocols, as well financial constraints placed on NGOs as compared to upstart businesses and other corporate entities.  He recommended that that there be a designate of the UN Secretary General to make known the UN support for an increased role to civil society because of the ongoing resistance to NGOs in some countries. 

He spoke also of the need for NGOs to have their own source of financial support.  NGOs may need a separate business arm to donate profits to the NGO’s operational expenses.  NGOs cannot depend on governments for support.  Such reliance can lead to an unhealthy politicizing of NGOs. 

Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman of WANGO’s International Council and the third speaker, pointed toward the responsibility of NGO leadership to be exemplars and to the need to foster character development within the NGO community.  He spoke of the role of NGOs as a social conscience while noting that the human conscience serves as the measure to differ between acts of altruism and selfishness.  Character, it was noted, is built not on official convictions but on a lifestyle consistent with such convictions.  An ethical and caring society is not an institution but is always defined through a human face. 

Reverend Kwak stated that universal standard and order originate with God and the great religions, and that the family is the foundational social institution through which we develop ourselves.  The family is the primary institution for the formation of character and for the teaching of ethics and unselfish love.   

Reverend Kwak noted that, through international organizations, regional cooperating, international transport and communication, our world is becoming increasingly one.  However, what is lacking is “the heart of being one family and yet this is our destiny. Without a heart of true love, we can not solve the differences that divide people by race, culture, class, and ethnicity. Nor can we solve HIV, environmental, and ethnic strife either.”  Whether black, white, or yellow, when we are hospitalized with an ailment, we are all treated in the same way and with the same medicines. “The root of all solutions lies in the recognition of our common humanity and our common roots.” 

WANGO, Dr. Kwak noted, needs examples of ethical and caring communities.  He noted that WANGO founder Dr. Sun Myung Moon has the constant vision of having a parental heart toward others.  Through fostering such familial care and concern, any NGO’s relevance will grow and it will be better prepared to contribute to the building of a better and more prosperous world.                  

The second plenary session on human security noted in its written abstract that “Traditional security paradigms have focused on the state as the referent of security, and mainly the state's ability to counter external threats” whereas “in the human security conception, the individual is the primary referent of security.” 

In opening this session, Dr. Noel Brown, the session Chair, lamented that global human insecurity is the world reality.  He noted developments in the United States such as a Department of Homeland Security and the proliferation of surveillance cameras, as well as the growing number of gated communities with restricted entry, serve as reminders of such insecurity and as indicators of the need to address this  challenge..

The first session speaker Mr. Francois Fouinat, Executive Director of the Commission on Human Security explained that human security is often related to freedom from fear and freedom from want -- two of Franklin Roosevelt’s four freedoms.  Mr. Fouinat pointed out that this includes freedom both from pervasive threats to people's lives and safety, as well as freedom from threats to their economic and social well-being.    

In briefly tracing the trajectory of the work of the UN Commission on Human Security, Mr. Fouinat noted that its goals were threefold: 

1) Educating the public on human security; 2) using human security as an operating paradigm to analyze the social conditions of a given society; and 3) development of a concrete program of action. 

The commission has undertaken research in 6 areas:  1) Conflict victims (especially innocent victims such as children and the elderly; 2)  refugees; 3) the challenges facing war torn societies; 4) economic insecurity when it leads to abject poverty; 5) access to basic health service; and 6) education and curriculum reform to foster dialogue and understanding. 

Mr. Fouinat noted that, through using human security as a working paradigm for promoting social well-being, it becomes clear that governments must begin to reorder their policies and priorities.  This can only happen, he felt, with the support and insistence of civil society. 

In a second presentation, Mr. Dana Dillon of the Heritage Foundation reported on the challenges and progress in the war against terror, noting that military and financially steps had been successfully taken to slow terrorism.  He pointed to various indicators of this, demonstrating that progress had been made, while noting the role that civil society will need to play in addressing the challenge of rebuilding nations and more just social institutions. 

The final session speaker Dr. Sarah Michael, Fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, described ways in which NGOs contribute to human security.  She noted that NGOs contribute to human security because of their ability to mount a rapid response to threats to human security.  She likewise stated that NGOs develop successful responses with far less overhead funding than government initiatives.  NGOs are willing to take risks and to address threats to human security that others would prefer to circumvent.   

For Dr. Michael, the three most common obstacles that NGOs face are: 1) The lack of donor aid or restrictions on it; 2) government antagonism toward NGOs; and 3) the fact that transborder threats often fall outside of budgets.

 In his closing remarks, the session Chair, Dr. Noel Brown, pointed out that to achieve the UN Millennium goal to halve poverty by 2015, resources are needed that are currently being diverted to military purposes. 

Plenary Session Three, NGOs & Ethics: Toward an Ethical Culture in the Governmental, Corporate, and Civil Society Sectors, was chaired by Mr. William D. Lay, Director of the WANGO NGO Code of Ethics Initiatives.  As explained in the written abstract to this session, “NGOs share with the governmental and corporate realms a social responsibility to address the extraordinary challenges of our time and follow the highest ethical calling.” 

Mr. Lay has prepared and distributed his preliminary efforts in this initiative.  At the WANGO General Assembly of the membership, it was emphasized that project should advance in a timely fashion because of the great need for it. 

The first speaker at this session, Dr. Alan Fowler, President of the International Society for Third Sector Research and author of Striking a Balance, described the factors making such discussion of ethics and NGOs particularly germane at this time.  This included the absence of an endemic value system in the market economy but a strong focus on self-interest. 

Dr. Fowler also pointed out that voluntarism is adversely affected when pessimism about society becomes a prominent social theme. He also noted that today there is seemingly both a lack of ethical role models and an ethics vacuum, partially resulting from contention ABOUT WHAT should serve as the foundation of moral values.  Should it be shared religious values or shared human values, given that the two have been known to collide with each other?  

Dr. Fowler offered preliminary thoughts about shared moral values and, as well, a possible operating paradigm for furthering an ethical culture based on an interplay amongst government, the corporate world and civil society, with civil society serving as a driving force to foster and monitor ethical practices.  In the question and answer session, Dr. Fowler also referred to the family as the starting point for fostering a more ethical culture. 

In a second presentation, Mr. Robert Dobias of the Asian Development Bank spoke of its strategic agenda, which includes sustainable economic growth, inclusive social development and the encouragement of good governance.  He traced the process whereby NGO participation in ADB activities has advanced since 1987.  He noted that whereas in 1991 8% of ADB loans had NGO involvement, this had increased to 52% by 1999.  For ADB, there are four elements of good governance: accountability, wide participation, tracking or predictability, and transparency and he described the steps being taken by the ADB to monitor them in NGOs operating in tangent with the ADB. 

In the third presentation of this session, Dr. Tunku Abdul Aziz of Transparency International, noted the global decline in the ethical standards of public behavior…and affirmed that honesty, integrity and social responsibility must be embraced by those who have responsibility in modern society. 

He made reference to the WANGO Conference venue of Bangkok, pointing out that this had been the epicenter of East Asia’s financial disaster of the late 1990s, pointing out that this serves as a reminder that unbridled excesses have no role in the business of today’s world nor can they have a place in today’s NGOS. 

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The Annual Conference also included a well-organized series of interactive and breakout sessions that dealt with problems such as the trafficking of women and children, UN reform including the creation of an inter-religious council, sustainable development, human rights, and the future of Microcredits as well as training sessions on fundraising, conflict resolution, management and leadership skills, and ways of fostering better NGO-government working relations. 

At this year’s WANGO General Assembly business meeting, the Ghana WANGO chapter was welcomed as the newest national chapter.  Support was expressed to proceed with Mr. Lay’s efforts to create an NGO draft code of ethics.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Hamad introduced participants to the African expression Wagarugu, meaning to come to see and then report back to others.  This became a metaphor for the conference.  The Secretary General asked that those who had attended kindly share the WANGO experience with others.