This study provides international NGOs with a rudimentary framework for strategic planning in the light of the likely challenges of ambiguity and change awaiting them during the next decade. It examines a series of hazard domains – environment, urbanization, migration, and HIV/AIDS – within which NGOs can exercise at least a modicum of control. It identifies other variables well beyond the capacity of NGOs to manage, including combinations of crises that cut across these individual domains and, more broadly still, civilization-changing events.
NGOs are encouraged to be more articulate about the elements of the global future that they see as possible. Based on the kind of future that they affirm, they are encouraged to be more assertive in areas where they have the capacity to influence change and more circumspect in areas in which they can make little impact. The essential optimism of the humanitarian enterprise, properly grounded and reinforced by effective programming, offers an important antidote to the ambient “gloom and doom” approach to human futures.
The study presents three landscapes on which NGO activities are currently situated and examines likely developments in each over the coming decade. The global hazards landscape (Chapter 1) offers a selective review of the four major potential hazards domains. The analysis examines each domain individually and then in a series of scenarios in which they interact with each other, complicating the humanitarian challenge.
The international political and policy landscape (Chapter 2) explores the bearing of world politics and international policies on NGO activities. Included are such factors as the global war on terrorism, the strengths and weaknesses of the United Nations system, and the predominantly western and northern cast of the current humanitarian apparatus.
The non-governmental landscape (Chapter 3) examines recent trends in the humanitarian marketplace. In addition to the blossoming of civil society organizations, there has been growing donor insistence on a more quantifiable and results-based approach by NGOs and increased utilization of for-profit contractors and military forces. These trends will necessitate greater clarity among NGOs on their own comparative advantages and cost-effectiveness vis à vis their competitors.
In assessing these landscapes and plotting their courses, NGOs may learn from the lessons of the past decade, particularly in the conceptual and political contextualization of their work (Chapter 4). Recent breakthroughs in the area of public nutrition and livelihoods, reviewed for illustrative purposes, need to be taken forward.
The study offers some reflections on what the humanitarian practitioners and their NGOs may look like a decade hence (Chapter 5). NGOs are encouraged to become more curious about the future, more seized with the trends, more comprehensive and holistic in their visions of change, more mutual in interactions with southern institutions, more circumspect in their use of government resources, and more seized with the challenges of educating northern constituencies and of advocacy with public policy-makers.
Within the evolving reality of globalization – a mixed blessing from a humanitarian vantage point – an Epilogue appeals for a more serious approach to the universality of humanitarian action. Challenging the predominantly western, Judaeo-Christian nature of the international humanitarian project, the Epilogue encourages a serious effort to articulate truly global values, not simply to globalize the current western apparatus.
As each chapter begins with questions intended to provoke reflection among NGOs, the Epilogue concludes with informal checklists for use in strategic planning activities by individual NGOs and the NGO community as a whole.