Don’t Get Disempowered!

Don't Get Disempowered!How a Human Rights Movement gets disempowered?
By Sunil Babu Pant, Blue Diamond Society

Activists from the ‘global south’ hear, far too often, from our donors that we should ‘Learn how to become professional, make your NGO management efficient’.

Let’s decode what “becoming professional” means and what “efficient management means”:

1) Professional means a person engaged or qualified in a profession. ‘Profession’ is the key word here, and donors would like to make sure that you become a ‘professional’ activist, and want to see you taking it (human rights work) as a profession.

2) Efficient management means performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort. For conventional NGOs this means achieving targets, writing professional reports and submitting it in a timely manner. To really understand the “danger” of becoming efficient, you must compare it with effectiveness. Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right (no matter how far you have moved away from human rights ‘activism’ to be part of an efficient management team).

As soon as a well-meaning group of activists start the process of becoming a NGO, the problem begins. No matter what is said at the outset about the ‘NGOs being free to act the way they have envisioned’, the truth is that the NGOs are deeply indebted by donors, well-funded NGOs are even worse. This is start of a ‘professional’ submission to a system that repeatedly dis-empowers and controls the movement, denies the freedom of a human rights movement to do what it is supposed to do, all slogans of ‘grassroots-led and empowerment’ not-upheld.

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Privilege or Participation

Privilege or ParticipationAlthough the World Health Organization (WHO) has failed over the last 70 years at its charter mission to realise the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standards of health, it has succeeded in assuring that the WHO itself enjoys the highest attainable standards of privilege, well hidden from public view by its lack of transparency. A recent article in the Washington Post (see below) revealed that the annual travel budget of the WHO was in excess of $200 million each year, more than the total amount they spend on HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

The WHO is mandated to serve first and foremost those that are the most vulnerable, the billions of poor or marginalised, and people struggling to survive life-threatening diseases or life-changing disabilities. Instead, it seems to first make sure that it serves its own interest and those of the 193 governments (Member States) that have complete control over the governance of the WHO. As the oversight of the WHO is in the hands of these Member States, including hundreds of governments with long histories of high-level corruption, a culture of  institutional impunity is allowed to go unchecked, while transparency is limited. Five star hotels and first class travel are just some of the many privileges and perks provided to long term staff, as well as substantial tax-free salaries. Meetings are held in luxury settings around the world, with a mix of the international and national elite in attendance to declare that these important gatherings are essential to improve the health and well-being of the world.

Those that the WHO should prioritise, the people most affect by health inequities and most in need of their right to health, are excluded from participating in the governance of the WHO. Their community organisations also have no say in how the WHO manages its programmes or spends its funds, which mostly come from governments through taxation of the public. As seen at other UN entities such as UNAIDS, the inclusion of representatives from these most affected communities ‘at the table’ contributes to increasing the accountability of the institution. Without the participation of the most affected communities, it’s almost impossible to fully monitor programmes or ‘follow the money’ to see what the WHO is doing on the ground, or in the air.

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