chapter  1
14 Pages

Lilliputians or leviathans? NGOs as advocates


What did my 15-year-old daughter have in common with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss, the rapper P. Diddy and Nelson Mandela in 2005? They all wore white ‘Make Poverty History’ wristbands, as did all of her schoolmates at the secondary school she attended in Oxford in that year. The wristbands were so ‘cool’ that peer pressure to have one was intense. Being publicly seen to be a supporter of a non-government organisation (NGO) or of a campaign supported by NGOs has become trendy in parts of the Western world, whether you are a prime minister, model, rock star or school student, or one of the world’s greatest human rights activists. While wearing a bit of plastic may seem to be tokenism, the advocacy work of non-government organisations has become an increasingly important global phenomenon. So important is it that former US president Bill Clinton recently ranked the influence of NGOs, along with the extension of democracy and the internet, as one of the three global changes since the demise of the Cold World which give ordinary people the capacity to effect change in the world:

There will always be problems in the world. . . . But because of the rise of non-government organisations in a world that is more democratic, in a world where the internet gives people more access to information, we don’t have the excuse that we can’t do anything about the problems we care about because the people we voted for in the last election didn’t win.