NGOs and private sector link up in cyberspace

Bangkok Post, 17 February 2005, by TUL PINKAEW

An initiative to bring together the public and private sectors to promote biodiversity, conservation and economic development was kicked off yesterday as the world’s first network of cooperation was inaugurated.

“Perhaps we can speak of two sides of a coin, or two parts of a duet. What is key is that the two parts, namely non-government organisations (NGOs) on one side and the private sector on the other, must be considered together,” said Paul Wedel, executive director of the Kenan Institute Asia (KIAsia), a Thai-US non-profit development organisation headquartered in Bangkok that is spearheading the move.

The NGO and Private Sector Cooperation for Sustainable Development Network will provide “virtual” common ground for corporate and NGO groups from Asia and the Pacific to meet and share information online and explore internet communications through web conferencing and website partnerships.

NGOs, Mr Wedel said, can learn to better understand corporate intentions and identify areas of common interest. They are able to explore partnerships with the private sector to strengthen their own management skills, secure volunteers to carry out projects, cultivate funding sources, and strengthen advocacy efforts.

Businesses, on the other hand, will gain knowledge and networks to fully implement strategies that incorporate social responsibility. Alliances with NGOs, especially those engaged in service delivery and other operational work, provide years of hands-on experience at the grassroots level, he said.

“Some NGOs perhaps have a mind set about companies that is negative. Some company managers have a mind set about NGOs that they just create problems and solve nothing,” said Mr Wedel. “In part, this because they have a relationship only when there is a problem. We want to get communication that is more regular, that is not tied to a conflict, so when there is a conflict they have a basis of trust.”

After online contact has been firmly established, he said, the network will encourage workshops on NGO and private-sector cooperation.

“Multinational companies have been working on upholding social issues for a long time, but Asian companies are still lagging behind, and for the project to work it must have the cooperation of local companies that are doing the polluting and destroying,” Mr Wedel said.

Paiboon Wattanasiritham, former chairman of the Community Organisations Development Institute (Thailand), and a member of Thailand’s National Economic and Social Advisory Council, said only a few local business enterprises have signed up to join the network.

Mr Paiboon said the government did not trust NGOs and their international donations, therefore forging a partnership with local companies would be key to providing ongoing funding while foreign firms could offer assistance in other forms such as sharing case studies.

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