Critical mass

Today's cover story is a big-think piece (right).

It looks at tectonic shifts in the geo-political affairs of the human race due to the maturation, multiplication, and linkage worldwide of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Whew, don't let that mouthful scare you off.

Thanks to the recent World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, the stature of NGOs went critical in the popular imagination. They are now widely perceived as world-transforming independent social, political, scientific, and humanitarian entities by virtue of the sheer force of their numbers and the instantaneous, continuous, global communication links they have established. The Internet, the jewel in the crown of information globalization, allows them to strut on the world stage.

Jessica Mathews, a leading expert on the subject has written: "The range of these groups' work is almost as broad as their interests. They breed new ideas; advocate, protest, and mobilize public support; do legal, scientific, technical, and policy analysis; provide services; shape, implement, monitor, and enforce national and international commitments; and change institutions and norms."

Their true number, she says, from the tiniest village association that helps women start their own businesses in India to large international groups like Amnesty International or Greenpeace, should be counted in the millions.

NGOs can also be viewed as an idea, a middle way between capitalism and socialism. They represent a philosophy to improve the human condition at a time when the rights and interests of individuals, or the exploitation of the environment, can fall between international boundaries.

NGOs push and prod governments. Their presence will be felt in the current decade.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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