If you look around at the many human rights organizations, most were formed to intervene in urgent crises or to prevent pending tragedies. While stopping atrocities and saving humanity is a noble and necessary undertaking, though, ad hoc responses to media-selected celebrity causes is not necessarily the most effective use of humanitarian resources. Given the failure of states and international institutions in this task, one has to ask if there isn’t a better way.
While mobilizing remedial resources for displaced persons and refugees through institutions like the Red Cross and Red Crescent ameliorates suffering, prevention of atrocities remains an illusive humanitarian endeavor. With the militarization of humanitarian projects that has corrupted some big international NGOs of late, institutionalizing humanitarian efforts for the future requires that we rethink how we respond and reflect on how we might reform our humanitarian organizing.
With networks emerging as the new form of organization to address issues neglected by states and markets, we might want to consider how they can be institutionalized in order to provide continuity to efforts. Archiving collective memory and structuring learning and mentoring are key to that, but without the resources of states and markets, we will need to localize and link what we do and how we communicate in order to be effective. Like the failure of the giant, hegemonic model in government and industry, the failure of big international NGOs signals the time for a new organizing strategy. With the reemergence of Indigenous nations acting local and thinking global, perhaps civil society worldwide already has a template for survival.
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