NGOs, Social Change and the Transformation of Human Relationships

NGOs, Social Change and the Transformation of Human Relationships

Globalisation is changing society in a lot of ways, and distribution of power and authority are two such examples of change. There is a belief held by some that globalisation is not benefitting people in the way that it could, and that many people find themselves disadvantaged, while a very small number of people become incredibly wealthy. This will not be beneficial for society in the longer term.

Writing for Future Positive, Michael Edwards and Gina Sen argue that NGOs that want to focus on sustainable development really need to look at how to address this too. As the pair explains, on a very basic level this should be very simple. However, it is becoming apparent that:

“Making people ‘more competitive’ and increasing their voice on the political stage will not promote the changes we seek unless we all learn to use the power we gain in less selfish and self-centred ways.”

Indeed it is also argued that there is not really a way to compete ourselves into becoming cooperative with one another. This leads the authors to propose that there needs to be a shift in values, and that NGOs have a part to play in facilitating this transformation. This requires inner change as well as outer change, and both are closely linked to one another.

Personal Transformation Is The Basics of Economic Transformation

Edwards and Sen believe that all social systems have three basis for being able to operate. One is ethics and values, another is processes that support the system and the third is our personal feelings. We not only need to change the first two but also the third if we really want to bring about change that is sustainable. In fact, it is argued that any really social change can only really be brought about by recognising that change is needed across all three and tying the change for all three together. There is a need to examine the way in which society’s values are tied to institutional activities and subjectivity to drive change.

Yet it is also argued that this tying together of change in all three bases does not necessarily require “wholesale replacement” of ideas. After all, not all types of competition lead to selfish behaviour and not all societies are exploitative. The point the authors make is that it is not effective to only believe that change to economic systems is required, since clearly personal change is needed too. An example of an integrated approach to change where personal values were tied with other types of change is that endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi.

One of the major challenges with this, however, is that personal change is difficult on this level. There is a need to instil values that help to lower the importance of ego and which consider the greater good. A caring society will be difficult to bring about if people are focused too much on themselves, on what they have or do not have, and on jealousy of others. Changing this could have very considerable social implications, but of course, is very challenging. It cannot be forced. The change has to be willing, serious and deep, in addition to personal, and one needs to be aware that it takes a long time..

While it is explained that NGOs are not the most likely forces for individual transformation, there are suggested to be three ways that they can help. One is in their programme activities, focusing on a more equal distribution and more cooperative values among individuals that are involved. A second is given to be “constituency building” whereby scale, depth and sustainability is built with a view to making such innovations normal and not rare in society. This is again difficult, especially as encouraging cooperative behaviour among the masses is contradictory to the capitalist ethos that we are currently in. A third area where NGOs can help is through organisational praxis. It is argued that NGOs can help to drive a mass movement of change by exemplifying what they want to see in society. In other words, NGOs need to not just talk the talk but also walk the walk. It is suggested that a lot of NGOs currently do not do this, but that this point is starting to be felt and understood in such organisations.

Can NGOs really transform societies? We will see.