Power and Governance

Shifting powers structures and increased skepticism is challenging institutions. How can the network continue to build trust against this backdrop?

The past decade has shown the fragility and inability of today’s global governance mechanisms, an interlocking system of competing sovereign states, international organizations like the UN, and non-state NGOs and corporations, to address adequately world issues such as climate change and environmental degradation. Many have observed that the scale and capacity of nation-states is insufficient for the problems facing the increasingly globalized world today, too big for local accountability and too small to deal with issues requiring global intervention. At the same time, forms of cross-border governance are changing and increasing in strength and effectiveness (the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative, ASEAN, and the rise of regional free trade areas in West and East Africa are examples).

The private sector is also increasing in power and influence, potentially driving a trend for alternative forms of governance, with many companies wielding more influence on global issues than most countries, most recently recognized by the Danish Government appointing an ambassador to Silicon Valley. A few international humanitarian organizations have followed suit, with Amnesty International and UNICEF appointing representatives to the Silicon Valley to engage for influence and partnerships. The private sector, responding to an increasing consumer social consciousness, has also invested in areas of social impact that are usually seen as a ‘public responsibility’, and taken on increased roles in delivering humanitarian and development aid, further questioning the governance roles played by nation states and humanitarian organizations.

 

Increasingly, cities are also asserting their geopolitical power on the world stage, with megacities becoming powerful influencers by themselves. Greater city-level governance and pan-city networks have gained wider acceptance as another model of global governance. This view holds that cities are re-emerging as political forces on the world stage, able to address problems more nimbly at the local level and to network across national boundaries to face global challenges. Foreign direct investment is being injected into cities of emerging markets as the confluence of urbanization and a large youth workforce are seen as attractive investments.

Amongst the mosaic of newly forming pockets of power and influence, is the reality that trust in global institutions (including government and humanitarian organizations) is at an all-time low. The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer paints a picture of a broken global system with little hope for things to improve. Humanitarian organizations are caught in this web of distrust – a long way from 2001 when they were considered a rising influence. 53% of global respondents showed trust in humanitarian organizations, a large decline from a peak of 66% trust in 2014. In the last year alone, high profile scandals involving corruption and sexual abuse have only heightened these levels of distrust, with the public and donors calling for new accountability measures and investigations.

This backdrop is contributing to fueling a rise of social movements and fringe groups, pushing back against issues of power and elitism. Enduring economic stagnation and increasing mistrust of politics are driving populism, nationalism, and cultural and religious clashes. It is indicative of increasing skepticism in government and bureaucracy among many democracies and youth especially. It would be a mistake however to overestimate the recent surge in nationalistic sentiment across Europe and North America, as deteriorating global crises and time itself may yet provide conditions for greater institutional enforcement and legal structures at the global level. At the same time, national governments in the global south are taking more assertive roles and questioning foreign involvement in domestic affairs.

If the trend toward heightened nationalism continues amidst a declining relevance of global governance (including declining significance of UN systems) and slow or non-existent intervention from global powers in crises, we could see national crises spiral significantly, or remain ignored or forgotten. Furthermore, restrictions to the delivery of aid from international organizations by states suspicious of foreign intervention, and their own gaps in domestic regulation and procedures necessary to manage outside aid, may exacerbate crises and lead to gaps in the coverage of needs.

 

Considerations and Tension Points for the Red Cross and Red Crescent

  • As expectations change about how governments relate to their citizens, how are perceptions of National Societies – and of their auxiliary role – likely to change?
  • How does the IFRC network engage with local governments and the private sector to develop new approaches to addressing humanitarian and development need? Are our efforts at advocacy, representation and partnerships reflective of shifting power structures?
  • Are the structures of the IFRC member network and decision-making processes in line with broader social and political shifts? Are financial and organizational structures previously established to serve north to south flows suited to the shifting dynamics of global power and influence?
  • How will RCRC engage with governance mechanisms and structures to ensure that support continues for low profile crises?
  • With issues of credibility and trust deepening, how should the Secretariat and National Societies continue to build trust within this complex backdrop of significantly different constituencies – communities, donors, partners?

What are the possibilities?

The auxiliary role affords National Societies the opportunity to remain close to national governments.  However, our trusted brand and unparalleled scale also affords access to the major private sector players and provides an opportunity to ‘bend the trillions’ in addition to ‘spending the billions’, if that trust can be maintained. An extensive infrastructure through the branch network ensures a foundation through which both citizen/community level and city level engagement can fruitfully deepen, but will require new models and thinking. The global network and representation through the IFRC and member National Societies gives the organization the potential to influence global forces while mobilizing effectively around a localization agenda.

What are your thoughts?

Are there other elements to this trend that we should be considering?

How do you think it will affect vulnerability and the Red Cross and Red Crescent?

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