Four big trends that advocacy NGOs need to watch

June 3, 2010

     By Duncan Green     

It’s obviously that strategic planning time of year again. Owen Barder recently posted his top tips for up and coming megatrends that should shape thinking in advocacy NGOs and last week I spent a self-indulgent morning doing my crystal ball thing with Traidcraft, an excellent UK NGO currently immersed in some long-term navel-gazing, (sorry I mean strategic planning). So what were my top tips to a

strategic planning essential tool

strategic planning essential tool

small, relatively nimble (at least compared to Oxfam) UK NGO with a history of innovative advocacy and campaigns work on issues such as responsible investment, fair-trade, EU trade policy or Labour Standards in food and garment supply chains?

1. It’s the technology, stupid: even before Craig Venter brought us God 2.0, it was obvious that a) science and technology will continue to be crucial (for good or ill) in the future path of development and b) NGOs are frequently so keen to highlight the threats of new technologies (which are often very serious), that they forget to think about potential opportunities. So who’s going to do some initial thinking around how to minimise risks and maximise pro-poor benefits from IP, nanotech, GM, geo-engineering, or indeed synthetic life? Washington based ETC offers an interesting model of a small NGO doing advocacy work on a range of science-based issues. Light Years IP is another, specializing in making the intellectual property system work for poor people (they triggered the Ethiopia Starbucks row in 2006.)

2. Age of Scarcity: we are banging up against systemic limits on a number of environmental issues: water, soil, atmosphere. Living within those limits will require a combination of regulation and innovation. NGOs have a big role in ensuring that such processes bring opportunities and inclusion for poor people, rather than exclusion (both outcomes are possible).

fairtrade mortgages anyone?

fairtrade mortgages anyone?

3. Informal and non-stuff economies: NGOs have rather patronisingly assumed that campaigners and others in the North can only get their heads round internationally traded goods – coffee, clothes, bananas etc. But in their daily lives, people are entirely used to dealing with the service economy (insurance, mortgages, pensions, hairdressers). Time to shift our focus in recognition that trade is increasingly in services (non-stuff) and the financial system has become so huge and destructive that we really can’t avoid talking about its impact on development?

4. Migration: too politically hot a potato for many NGOs, let alone politicians, but an essential source of highly stable finance to poor communities around the world (running at three times the volume of global aid, growing a lot faster, and barely dented by the global financial crisis). When are NGOs going to start talking about migration as a development issue?

Owen went for climate change, communications technology, the post-bureaucratic age and cash transfers/safety nets. Let’s do that wisdom of crowds thing – add your own candidates here….