highly unlikely group of institutional bedfellows: Amnesty International,
Al-Qaeda, Oxfam, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions,
and the Roman Catholic Church. The din of philosophical cacophony
notwithstanding, these organizations share a number of common characteristics.
All function independently of government control; none is a business
run for commercial profit; and each reaches across borders to attract
members motivated by a particular cause or area of concern that
the organization embraces as its reason to exist. As different as
they are in mission and method, all five fit the description of
an ascending player in contemporary global power and politics: the
transnational non-governmental organization (NGO). With increasing
frequency, we see citizens from around the world acting on their
beliefswhatever those beliefs might beand making personal
commitments through transnational NGOs, says political science
professor Margaret Hermann, director of the Maxwell Schools
Global Affairs Institute. While we may support or oppose the
aims of particular organizations, there is little doubt that the
transnational NGO is proving itself a viable means of bringing the
energy and expertise of talented, dedicated individuals from many
countries directly to bear on chronic problems and long-term needs
all over the world.
of Tosca Bruno
a Maxwell School project administrator, meets with children
of ethnic minorities in Vietnam. At the time, Bruno was on the
World Bank staff, working as a liaison to non-governmental organizations
In her role
as co-chair of SUs Citizenship and Governance SPIRES group
(see side bar Building on Strengths, below), Hermann
is working with faculty members from across campus to refocus, revise,
and expand Syracuses research, curricular, and service priorities
to reflect the growing role that transnational NGOs play in a broad
range of global activities. We want to make Syracuse University
the place where scholars and people with career interests in transnational
NGOs want to come to study, Hermann says.
the familiar public and private sectors, which have dominated international
development for centuries, transnational NGOs constitute what is
now called the third sector in global politics. Some
45,000 such organizations are registered with the Union of International
Associations, but some estimates put the true number in excess of
300,000. Despite phenomenal growththere were perhaps a few
thousand NGOs a century agomost Americans lack a clear understanding
of these organizations or the range of their undertakings.
an unmistakable generation gap in awareness regarding NGOs. Its
truly amazing, she says. Ask a classroom of students
under age 30, What is an NGO? and most get excited,
mentioning the names of several or indicating that those are the
organizations for which they would like to work. Try the same question
on a roomful of 50-somethings and one gets a very different kind
of response: Why do they matter? What do they do? Its
still governments that determine what happens. The students
know about the profound economic and cultural impact of transnational
NGOs around the globe, but their parents, alumni, and others need
to know this, too. Steven Lux G96, a member of the SPIRES
team who works with Hermann, agrees. Each year, increasing
numbers of students and recent graduates express interest in directing
their careers toward NGO work, says Lux, who has worked for
transnational NGOs in Southeast Asia that focus on rural development,
health care, and education. Syracuse is creating an extraordinary
opportunity for themand for itselfby addressing the
growing research and professional needs of the NGO community.
When a transnational
NGO gets the mass media spotlight, it is usually in connection with
a humanitarian crisis caused by war or natural disaster. This has
fostered a widespreadand erroneouspublic perception
that the primary work of third-sector organizations is disaster
relief. Hermann emphasizes that despite the visibility of such efforts,
they represent only a small fraction of what transnationals do.
NGOs have made themselves a potent factor in the way things
get done in the world today, she says. They are involved
in collaborating on economic development strategies for communities
in India and Brazil, fighting AIDS in South Africa, and defending
human rights in Syria. You can find NGOs from the Arctic Circle
to the South Pacific pursuing environmental goals, helping to set
up educational systems, and immunizing children in villages and
is a project administrator for the SPIRES team. Like Lux, she comes
to Syracuse as an experienced third-sector hand. During six years
of service with the World Bank (an intergovernmental organization
backed by governments), Bruno worked in Hanoi from 1997 to 2001
as a social development advisor, acting as the banks liaison
with Vietnamese and international NGOs. She also advised the Vietnamese
government on ways of creating a legal and policy environment that
would encourage and enable NGOs to work there. Previously, Bruno
worked in Cambodia for PACT, a transnational NGO that helps local
civil societies grow and effectively manage themselves. A
lot of Americans think NGOs are the same as not-for-profits,
but theres much more to them than that, Bruno says.
I think the term civil society organization is
more accurate, because when we talk about studying them, we make
it clear that we look at more than just nonprofit status.
To make her point, she cites an array of NGO types,
including transnational faith-based organizations, international
labor unions, worldwide philanthropies, and even transnational organized
crime groups and terrorist gangs. It is important to remember
that not all these groups are working for the public good, but that
is all the more reason why they need to be studied, Bruno
says. She believes that any realistic definition of the transnational
NGO must remain flexible enough to account for its continuing evolution.
G03 spent more than a decade working for NGOs in India before
earning an M.P.A. degree at the Maxwell School. She is currently
living in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she serves as governance advisor
for Oxfam GB (Great Britain). Our work at Oxfam comes from
a rights-based approach, she says. We believe that all
people have social and economic rights, as well as political and
civil rights, under international law. Therefore, we provide humanitarian
aid and support development initiatives. In countries around the
world, we work with partners, helping local organizationsusually
other NGOsby providing financial, technical, and capacity-building
Oxfam and the transnational NGOs it often works with, such as Action
Aid, Save the Children, C.A.R.E., and Mercy Corps, offer distinct
advantages for people who want to help alleviate or solve global
problems in local places. An NGO usually has a clear agreement
to work with a certain part of a population in a country, such as
the poor or the women or the physically challenged, she says.
This gives us more space to be innovative in our work.
A recent Oxfam
project promoted the creation of womens shuras (councils)
in Afghan villages. The shuras give women a place to discuss
concerns and participate in community planning and development.
This is extremely important in a culture that doesnt
encourage women to be in public spaces, George says. At
the shura, women help decide simple, practical things, such
as where the outlets for drinking water should be placed or how
girls in the village should get to school. According to George,
NGOs can react to problems more quickly than governments, which
usually require cumbersome procedures. Moreover, transnational NGOs
can reach the underprivileged without being considered partisan
or politically motivated.
The very qualities
that George and many of her colleagues find so effective are cause
for alarm among others. Critics point out that in bypassing traditional
political channels, these transnational NGOs are not accountable
to the public and, as a result, can give short shrift to government
practices in the name of efficient development. Writing on this
controversy in The New York Times last January, reporter
Jon Christensen noted that within the NGO community even the
majority who think that NGOs should be accountable do not agree
on how to accomplish that goal. Syracuse faculty members,
working through the transnational NGO initiative, are addressing
the issue of NGO accountability as well as other problems in need
Fields for Research
Stuart Brown, professor of economics and international relations,
is chairing the transnational NGO initiatives effort to establish
a comprehensive research program. According to Brown, it is not
just the general public that lacks information on the third sector,
but the academic community as well. Despite the proliferation
of transnational NGOs, relatively little is known about how they
function as organizations or interact with governments, intergovernmental
organizations, private corporations, or each other, Brown
says. There is an enormous amount of research to do, not the
least of which should be directed at defining just what an NGO is,
and the relevant criteria for assessing its effectiveness.
Brown has a particular interest in transnational networking in the
former Soviet Union and other central and eastern European countries,
where local NGOs are dependent on the funding and resources of transnational
NGOs from outside the region.
NGO initiative has formed a number of working groups, in which more
than 50 faculty members from a wide range of disciplines are exploring
particular spheres of third-sector activity. For example, the gender
and globalization group, co-chaired by professors Susan Wadley (anthropology)
and Beverley Mullings (geography), is examining transnational labor
problems faced by low-income women, such as a lack of mobility that
prevents them from following the jobs when sudden shifts
in labor markets occur. The two-track diplomacy group, chaired by
Bruce Dayton, associate director of the Global Affairs Institute,
considers efforts of citizens organizations to bypass governments
and directly manage seemingly intractable international problems
in such places as the Balkans, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland.
professor Rogan Kersh chairs a group seeking to define transnational
citizenship, which Kersh believes is a much misunderstood concept.
The transnational aspects of citizenship do not imply a world
state, nor do they call for the dissolution of traditional
national boundaries, as some people believe, he says. A
transnational perspective begins with the recognition that many
peoplefrom cosmopolitan elites to migrant workers to asylum
seekersregularly cross territorial boundaries. We are seeking
to understand what kinds of rights and protections such people require.
the example of Mexican immigrants living in the United States. During
the late 90s, the Mexican government abandoned a long-held
policy and began granting dual citizenship to migrants, allowing
them to vote in Mexican elections, even if they have become U.S.
citizens. While Mexico has liberalized its view of transnational
citizenship and the Bush administration has made several proposals
to normalize the status of Mexicans working in the United States,
some American states feel pressure to restrict such rights. California,
for example, has considered measures restricting the rights of resident
aliens to health care, education, and even drivers licenses.
As mobility across international boundaries increases, the
distinction between citizen and alien increasingly
blurs, Kersh says. The notion of transnational citizenship
acknowledges this blurring. We need to focus on these matters as
they become increasingly relevant to current global realities.
College of Law professor William Banks is leading a multidisciplinary
team of six faculty members in teaching Perspectives on Terrorism,
the first new course to gain inspiration from the NGO initiative.
The graduate-level course is cross-listed by the College of Law,
Maxwell (history and political science), and Newhouse (communications).
Our work on the SPIRES program helped shape this course and
Im hoping it will become part of an NGO certificate program
that will be offered to professionals and doctoral students,
says Banks, founding director of the College of Laws Institute
for National Security and Counterterrorism, one of SUs newest
research centers. My interdisciplinary teaching and research
in the areas of counterterrorism and national security have, of
course, intensified since the 9/11 attacks and so I deal with what
you might call the dark side of NGOs.
in Perspectives on Terrorism includes information on such violent
transnational NGOs as Al-Qaeda, which is held principally responsible
for the 9/11 attacks; Hammas, which is behind most of the suicide
bombings in Israel; and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Force of Colombia,
in English), which is funded by drug lords. These organizations
are non-state actors in international politics and they
are not engaged in legitimate business activities, Banks says.
Therefore, they qualify as NGOs, along with the well-known
charities and cultural foundations.
The Academic Plans Strategic Partnerships for Excellence
In Research and Educational Success (SPIRES) were created
to build on the strengths of SUs most productive and
prestigious academic programs and to clear the path to the
frontiers of research and graduate teaching. This is best
accomplished through the innovative use of existing resources
and by maximizing the advantages that SU has already established.
Two central emphases of the SPIRES are collaboration among
students, faculty, and staff, and investment in world-class
research projects and graduate training.
are currently four SPIRES under way: Citizenship and Governance
(which includes the transnational NGO initiative); Collaborative
Design; Environmental Quality; and Information Management
and Technology. Strong internal and external partnerships
in these areas are critical to SUs future. They will
increase sponsored research, assist in faculty recruitment,
enhance graduate education, provide more opportunities for
undergraduate research, drive curricular changes, and provide
the skills necessary for 21st-century citizenship and personal
success. While SU will undertake any number of initiatives,
the SPIRES are purposefully designed to transform the institution.
Spirit in the Age of Globalization
The complex, interdependent relationships that characterize the
contemporary world make it impossible for nation-states to perform
all necessary tasks effectively. But as the growth of the transnational
NGO phenomenon indicates, more people than ever are becoming involved
in changing the worldand changing it in ways that match their
own visions of what is fair, good, and just. They express universal,
eternal values in many of these organizations: improving agriculture
among the hungry, bringing educational opportunity to the ignorant,
and building health care systems for populations at risk. In some
cases, they are organized around a single issue, such as protection
of a forest or the removal of land mines, while in other cases they
act on particular values growing out of their religious or political
beliefs. By expanding our knowledge of these organizations
and creating awareness of the opportunities and pitfalls they present,
the work of this SPIRES team dovetails beautifully with our aim
of offering each student who comes to Syracuse University every
chance to become a productive citizen of the world, says Vice
Chancellor and Provost Deborah A. Freund.
It used to be
said that to help the hungry, it is better to teach them to fish
than to give them fish. According to Steve Lux, in the age of the
transnational NGOs, that metaphor needs updating. If you want
to help the hungry these days, you also need to make sure they have
access to the fishing pond, he says.
The world is
ready for the transnational NGO and Syracuse University is preparing
itself to train the next generation of leaders of these organizations.