Written by: Graeme Trayner, Brunswick Research, London
Jane Adlam-Cook, Brunswick Research, London Thomas Wimmer, Brunswick, Berlin
Ten years ago Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) represented the dominant, if not the sole, voice dictating the world’s corporate responsibility agenda. New research by Brunswick, however, suggests that NGOs no longer enjoy a unique position in the debate, and in consequence their relative influence is waning while that of business, consumers and the media is increasing.
This was the most important outcome to emerge from in-depth conversations with approximately 70 NGO global leaders1. The conversations also pointed to new opportunities for partnerships between businesses and NGOs and suggested that corporate participants should now claim a more assertive leadership role in joint initiatives to solve social and environmental issues.
A decade ago NGOs were more confrontational and adversarial in their engagement with companies. In contrast, a majority of NGOs now tell us they wish to work with businesses as partners, recognizing that enlightened companies have adopted many of their values and can help them achieve their goals.
NGOs believe they can deliver a “halo” effect (especially for companies on the defensive) and contribute on the ground expertise and an ability to “get things done”. They expect companies to use their influence with government and share expertise; some also see a role for direct funding.
Of course a number of NGOs still believe they must maintain a more confrontational stance. They argue that this is the most effective way to further their agenda, and that entering into partnerships, especially those that involve direct funding, will compromise their independence and weaken their influence.
1 Conversations, face-to-face or over the telephone, with members of NGO executive boards in the US, UK, Germany, France, India and China. Participants were a diverse range of organisations of varying sizes, including global development charities, campaigning groups, think tanks and grassroots NGOs. Areas of focus include the environment, health, human and labor rights, consumer protection and economic development. The interviews were conducted during the spring of 2008