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Jem Bendell
Adjunct Associate Professor,
Griffith Business School, Australia

Founder, Lifeworth, Switzerland

Jonathan Cohen |
Principal, Stakeholder Consulting;
Author, Business Watch*

Tipping Frames: The Lifeworth Review of 2006
[ PDF: 2585kb | 54 pages ]

Appendices available in all PDF versions.

NGOs aren't God, AEI reports


Not everyone was happy about the trends toward reframing finance in 2006. Certainly not a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Adam Lerrick, who in August wrote in the FT that 'vigilante non-governmental organisations have become the de facto regulators of the flow of finance to the developing world.'32 His argument is that NGO influence on Western banks is making it more costly for entrepreneurs in emerging markets to access capital. Claims such as 'not a single dollar of multilateral funds is disbursed without NGO blessing' or that there is a 'fiat by self-anointed regulators from rich nations' make governing private finance seem so extreme and far from the truth that the argument could be ignored.

But three key issues arise. First, that financial institutions (FIs) need to demonstrate how their approach to extra-financial issues can be as much about innovating new financing for sustainable development in the Global South as it is about risk management. Hence, the work of initiatives such as New Ventures and Vantage Point are key.33 Second, that NGOs need to be clear about how their engagement with FIs is a means of enabling economic democracy, and ensure they give voice to and are more accountable to Southern constituencies. Third, that professionals in NGOs and FIs need to develop a moral counter-frame to the one put forward by organisations such as the AEI. Phrases such as 'NGO blessing' and 'self-anointed regulators' play to the framing that George Lakoff describes as 'Strict Father God', whereby people are rewarded through success in a free market governed by electoral representative 'democracy': working hard for yourself, and doing what you are told.34 Consequently, this framing suggests people should not develop their own ideas about rights and wrongs or seek non-governmental means to pursue them. AEI is saying to us, implicitly, that NGOs are playing God, and because they are only human are clearly getting it wrong. What might an alternative moral frame be? Perhaps that a Spirit, a God or a deeply natural quality is working through us when we take responsibility for the situations of others as well as ourselves. Imagine new ways of pursuing that. A 'Shared Spirit' frame, perhaps?

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31 Ibid.

32 Adam Lerrick, 'Good Intentions at the Expense of the Poor', Financial Times, 1 August 2006.

33 www.new-ventures.org and www.vantagep.org

34 George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant. Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2004).



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