NPOs, NGOs invaluable as creators of dialogue

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

Nikkei Weekly, July 8, 2013

The devastating floods that have struck Germany and other parts of central Europe in the past weeks have shown the value of nonprofit organizations and the work they do. Millions of people have been displaced and thousands more have been stranded. The task of helping these victims goes beyond the capabilities of governments alone. During times like these, it is NPOs and nongovernmental organizations that step in and allow dialogue between all parties involved. These organizations use their small sizes and highly focused natures to help the people who need it most.

Dialogue is critical in world affairs, and though its use between businesses and nations is constantly highlighted, it is the NGOs and NPOs that use dialogue the most to effect true change.

These organizations, which range in size from several individuals to enormous concerns composed of dozens of multinationals, spend billions of dollars across the world to fight critical social and societal issues.

In a technologically advanced world where not all nations advance at the same rate, the role of nonprofits is more important than ever. This makes dialogue between nonprofits, governments and businesses just as critical to our collective progress as a world society.

For commercial businesses and government organizations, the goals are much more broad: a company has its shareholders to report to; a government its citizens. An NPO reports to the people who provide the funding or run the organization. This allows the groups to have laserlike focus on an issue, and send negotiators across nations to engage in dialogue on special issues.

If a community or minority group is underrepresented, nonprofits are often its main representatives in government and business. Environmental issues also are mostly in the realm of NGOs and NPOs. However, their presence ensures that all stances over these issues are given fair hearings.

Imagine a world where the Nobel Prize does not exist. Though this may not be everyone’s idea of a dialogue-driven organization, the value of dialogue that takes place at the Nobel’s various events around the world is immeasurable. Though many still disagree with the decision, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 not only allowed him key dialogue time with political leaders and academics, but also promoted peaceful dialogue across the world.

The environment cannot speak for itself, so its voice is often spoken through nonprofits. If a chemical factory is leaking dangerous levels of toxins into the environment, if an oil company has spilled millions of gallons of crude into the ocean, it is the nonprofits who take up the cause. These groups can communicate with multinational corporations about the scale of the damage the companies are causing, and also help them navigate the dangerous world of fixing the problems they have created.

Many impoverished nations lack a strong voice in the international community. This is where charities step in. Groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation not only provide millions of dollars to help impoverished people and impoverished nations, they foster dialogue between the leaders of those nations and the leaders of companies that can help deliver food and technology.

The work that NPOs do for the impoverished and underrepresented is of great value. But even more valuable is the work they do for places in the international community.

The United Nations, for example, works with hundreds of NPOs and NGOs and even runs several of its own nonprofits. For example, UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, sponsors educational, wellness and medical programs for children around the world. By including unique representatives from business and civil society into their efforts, the U.N. and other governmental organizations can better represent their interests, and gain capable partners in the fight to improve society.

Recently in the United States, dialogue between nonprofits and the government was of great help in a major crisis. Immediately after the bombings in Boston, NPOs began working with police and other first responders to help in any way possible. This included locating, identifying and connecting victims to their families.

Within days, multiple NPOs had been set up to assist these families in coping with the crisis financially, physically and mentally. Without these groups and their work, the tragedy in Boston would have resulted in much more damage to the public consciousness and caused greater suffering for the victims.

Without organizations like these, not only would the dialogue never occur, but the very knowledge of the plight of the impoverished might never be made public. Dialogue might be the most powerful tool in modern society, and it is only made more useful with the influx of technology. Thanks to NPOs, NGOs and other charitable organizations, thousands of weak voices can be heard and given the benefit of the wealth of the corporate world. Without dialogue, those voices could be lost.

Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global visions community.