Civil society lessons from America

Posted by Emeka Umeagbalasi | 26 July 2013 | 3,701 times

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Having successfully participated in the US State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on “NGO Management” – Class of June 2013 – it’s my pleasure to share my experience as well as the lessons.

This very enlightening programme is designed for NGO leaders, staff and volunteers as well as those working for social and business enterprises and government institutions – for the advancement of their professional skills and international exposure. 

It covers educational and cultural exchange sessions, workshops, under-graduate, graduate and post-graduate level tutorials in several US universities on non-profit organisations in the USA, etc. There are also visits to respected think tanks like the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS); lectures on US democracy and struggles for civil rights movements; sightseeing; visits to White House and Capitol Hill, to mention but few.

In all, my class received tutorials in over eight American universities while six states, namely, Washington DC, Washington State, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan and Missouri, were covered in the three weeks intensive and extensive programme.

One of the great lessons learnt from the prestigious programme is the strong partnership and collaborative culture existing between the Government of the US and non-profit organisations in efforts to develop and sustain the US society, unlike in Nigeria where cat and mouse relationship still beclouds relations between the government and non-governmental organisations.

There are about 1.5 million non-profit organisations in the USA including social enterprises and religious bodies. The IVLP is instituted and funded by the US Government but organised by selected and reputable non-profit establishments on behalf of the US Government. Another great lesson is the giving culture of US citizens despite her country’s social stresses arising from economic meltdown. This is opposed to the “give me” culture in Nigeria. In 2012 alone, American citizens made a total donation of $312 billion to charities.

The third lesson is the success story of the IVLP, which is subdivided into NGO Management, Volunteerism, Financial Crimes, International Law as well as Diplomacy and Entrepreneurship, among others. Since 1963 when the prestigious programme was instituted, over 50,000 international societal agents of change have participated, out of which, 325 have ascended to plum political leadership positions in their countries. One of such world leaders who have benefitted from the IVLP is the current Chinese President, Mr. Xi Jinping, who participated in the programme 27 years ago. Mr. Jinping became his country’s president and chairman of the central military council via China’s National Peoples’ Congress in May 2013. Lessons learnt from the programme are inexhaustible more will be related in future write-ups.

The lessons learnt shall impact positively on the operations of the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety).  The impact of the trip shall be reformative, transformative and constructive in application. We at Intersociety now have a reformed vision, mission, values, motto and programmes. We have also adopted two basic programmes of Democracy & Good Governance and Peace & Security. Our Democracy & Good Governance programme involves popular elections and electoral reforms, accountability in public governance and anti-abuse of office. On the other hand, our Peace & Security programme involves security & safety and alternative dispute resolution. Our reformed profile will be made public in a couple of days. It is also available at  

Looking into the world history of activism, the first international NGO was Anti-Slavery International formed in 1839, and post-World War II NGOs were created for the betterment of the lives of the immediate and larger societies for whom they worked.

NGO works that do not impact positively and directly on the grassroots are ballooned and evaporative. Any NGO that disconnects itself and fails to work from the grassroots exists only to enrich professorial, doctoral and other academic students in their research libraries and laboratories. Such an NGO is dead on arrival. NGO leadership is more than local, national, regional and international workshops and seminars attendance, benefiting from academic scholarships and obtaining chains of academic degrees and wooden object awards. It is also more than mastership in coining programmes that disembowel the vaults of charities in Europe and North America through the collection of fat grants.

Sadly, many of the NGOs including over 40,000 recognised by the UN and millions of others operating in 193 independent countries around the world have lost focus of the very idea behind the invention of NGOs. In Nigeria, for instance, 60 percent of founding members of the country’s rights NGOs are from the South-East zone but domiciled in Lagos, yet the zone still parades the most visionless and tainted elected political officials in the country. The zone’s political landscape and leadership are still dominated by political rogues and brigands. With the exception of Anambra and Imo states, fought for and liberated by few radical NGOs in the zone, others are governed by those with crooked electoral mandates.

This is because many of Nigeria’s NGOs are evaporative, academic and ballooned. Despite having access to the best technical expertise and funders in Europe and North America, they may be best described as “professors and doctorate degrees holders without students and constituency classrooms.” They are seen as “libertarian rights activists” who are far from “egalitarian rights activism.” They are also like an average Nigerian clergy man that prays outwardly for solutions to social problems but prays fervently inwardly for such problems not to go so that deliverance tithes tied to the problems will not cease coming into his pocket.

Granted that an NGO is a “nimble” and a competent social evaluator, which analyses creatively with innovative ideas, messages of NGOs must reach the grassroots and get them better informed to make themselves active members of the society. This explains why our motto is “taking the civil liberties & the rule of law campaigns to the grassroots for direct impact and betterment of their lives.” Intersociety; without fear of being accused of boastfulness, is one of the most grassroots-oriented NGOs in Nigeria. We are also an unrepentant messenger of “no democracy & good governance, no human rights”!

•Comrade Emeka Umeagbalasi (shown in photo) is Chairman of the Board of the International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law (Intersociety).

Source: News Express

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