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Does social media mean NGOs can campaign AND collaborate?

I think it probably does.

But it’s not going to be easy.

Most NGOs, as discussed by folks working in corporate responsibility, fall into camps of either campaigner or collaborator.

Those that try to do both have often struggled.

They have been undermined by other NGOs who are against working with business, or by others even inside their own organisations.

Sometimes partnerships have gone wrong, making some NGOs cynical about taking part in others.

But it has worked sometimes. There some emerging case studies.

Nestle and Greenpeace, Oxfam and Unilever to name a couple. There are others, which can sometimes include trade unions.

I think “campaign and partner” is too hard to do.

But “campaign and collaborate” is possible.

“Shame and praise rather than just name and shame” as one commentator puts it in this recent Financial Times article.

Who is doing this so far? I see two NGO groups, at least from my UK/English speaking world perspective, plus a trade union, who are perhaps beginning to work out the right balance.

These are Oxfam, Greenpeace and the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation.

There are others of course.

Check out this quote from the FT recently, it’s quite telling with regard to a tactics evolution:

want us to be challenging, investigating and exposing bad practices
when we can – but also collaborating and supporting companies that are
trying to lead the field and promote good practice,” says Mark Goldring,
Oxfam’s new chief executive. “We do a bit of each, and that’s the way
of our future.””

Others, such as WWF and Save the Children, have erred more towards business than perhaps they should.

And folks such as Amnesty International or Action Aid prefer to keep a more separate role as campaigners.

Is this new, uncomfortable middle ground the right place to be for an NGO with a campaigning bent?

It’s hard to say. Personally I like the diversity that is emerging.

But all NGOs should maintain a bit of “edge” as they collaborate, or risk becoming PR like outfits adding credibility to incremental improvements with their press release quote praise. That’s not so helpful.

The key to this change, and making campaigns short so that practical collaboration on fixing problems can begin, is social media.

Think about it as a super early warning system for your business. It can work that way.

It’s the medium that helps you stop that snowball rolling down the top of the mountain and becoming an avalanche at the bottom. 

So two trends have emerged in the last few years:

1) Some large powerful campaign groups are becoming more solutions-oriented, but by no means all.

2) Social media is both assisting them in engaging business fast, but also aiding aware businesses that a problem may be emerging, so it can be quickly fixed, to avoid missing that snowball on the mountain.

Here’s the “takeaways” for managers:

A) Recognise that NGOs are changing, diverging even, and that you need to stay up to date on who is thinking what, and their internal political issues might be. “NGO Mapping” helps, but is not sufficient alone.

B) Brief, engage and monitor your corporate social media monitoring teams and services. This is so they can help you spot that snowball on the mountain before it becomes an avalanche. Don’t assume they understand the issues, can respond properly or even recognise a problem. Training them is vital to avoid risk.

I’ll stop here.

As always, interested in reader comments, thoughts, rants and discussion…