Schumpeter said that ‘the function of the entrepreneurs is to reform or revolutionise the patterns of production by exploiting an invention or, more generally, an untried technological possibility for producing a new commodity or producing a old one in a new way, by opening up a new source of supply of materials or a new outlet for products, by reorganizing an industry’. I will argue that the NGO have much the same function in society.
In this case I define the NGO as a relative small organisations, which is bound together with a purpose of societal change either domestically and/or internationally.
Like the entrepreneur is the function of the NGO to create new knowledge and question old habits in society. Both of them know their area of expertise much better then most and deal with the challenges of their micro-cosmos every day.
The NGO is often poorly organised and under managed but they cope with this challenge through a clearly defined mission and a sense of common purpose. And just like the entrepreneur there are plenty of challenges, which needs to be addressed administratively but gets handled through sheer footwork.
While many people in business look upon the NGOs as a pest that just makes life hard they should welcome the actor as a friend but a critical one. In business you will find plenty of people who will tell you what you want to hear but the NGO will almost certainly tell you what you should improve and were you have done wrong. I would not say to the NGO that they should partner up with business because then they loose their legitimacy and ability to be critical. But they should like the entrepreneur be welcomed at an arms length.
Business has for year scanned the market for new competitors and ideas. We all know plenty of stories about you innovative people having the business should for millions if not billions of dollars. But they would only have been able to create their brilliant designs if they were outside the corporate sphere on the inside they would only have been crushed under the weight of corporate naysayers. They thought and believed in their ideas and were willing to take a risk in pursuing their dream come true.
The NGO functions in much the same way, they are only effective if they are in opposition. If they get surrounded or encapsulated by too much structure they will only be less effective they do not exist for the sake of excising (as could be said for many other organisations) but they do so for because they want change. In business innovation it is the idea of creating something that other wants and the fulfilment of appreciation by others and for the NGO it is about making this place we live in a little bit better in the small niche were they are active.
In many countries there is a possibility for new entrepreneurs to get help in the starting phases of their project. This help is made available in order for the entrepreneur to be able to handle all the red-tape and hopefully make it possible for them to start a successful business. When they clear the first stages of creating a business plan and maybe even producing a prototype of the product they will if they are lucky be able to attract a angel or venture capitalist who will provide the funding needed in order to make the final transition from small scale to large scale production.
If we are to cope with the challenges of globalisations we need to produce organisations that will challenge the governance of the organisations on the global market. We have seen and continue to see that corporations are left with self-governance or governmentality and no stat or interstate enforcement of international proclaimed ethical or governance standards.
I have seen plenty of NGOs that have pursued the money that business can provide but through the process looses their soul and purpose as an independent observer. To me this is the very hearth blood of being a NGO is to be able to claim that they are free of close ties to private or even governmental organisations and the only reason why they can claim to be independent. If they can’t do this in a convincing manor they will have no right to criticise under the shield of the NGO banner. In my mind they would rather be names as lobbying companies who tries to influence key decision makers to see things their way, basically putting them in the same booth as tobacco, farmers, oil and weapons cartels.
My suggestion would be that we support the NGOs in their efforts to be even better just like we do for the entrepreneur. And just like the up-and-coming small business the NGO needs support in order to acquire the skills needed in order to become even better at what they do. They need to be educated and to some degree finances or at least be able to identify streams of funding which will insure their independence.
We need the NGOs critical voice in order challenge our perceptions of reality and our already established norms. Were would we have been on food safety, human rights, child labour, dangerous drugs and environmental issues if it had not been for the resilience and independence of the NGO.