Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the....

Contested existence notwithstanding, the overwhelming presence of businesses and the inevitable existence of non-governmental organizations have made dramatic inroads into our lives. Love them or hate them, both are here to stay in the pursuit of meeting their ambitious goals. Often working at cross purposes to each other, there exists an opportunity for businesses and NGOs to galvanize collective action for resolving environmental issues around the world though.

Good Cop Bad Cop is a splendid attempt that weaves multi-disciplinary insights for mapping areas for NGOs to engage with businesses. With contributions from sociologists, political scientists and economists, Thomas P. Lyon concludes that it is for the NGOs to understand whether they can effectively play either or both the role of a good cop (corporate partner) and bad cop (corporate critic). This typecast may, however, be discomforting for the NGOs.

It is easy to typecast NGOs because there is little systematic evidence that environmental NGOs are consistently effective. In fact, the authors have used aquatic mammals to categorize an incredible diversity of NGOs and NGO-like activity. Sea lion, Orca, Shark and Dolphin have been identified to reflect the nature of the NGOs. Sea lions are deemed to be very conscious of their funding sources and very unlikely to act contrary to the interests of their funders.

In contrast, sharks symbolize a considerable number of groups within the broader anti-globalization movement who consider violence legitimate against a broad range of targets. On the other hand, orcas carefully select their targets but can be unpredictable and at times confrontational. Dolphins are adaptive, willing to negotiate with businesses to encourage them to change their environmental stands. Will such characterization ease in building collaborations?

Contributors to the volume admit that there are numerous theories that deal with the behavior of economic agents, but none explains NGOs because they are often outside the logic of profitability and traditional politics. The growing recognition that environmental NGOs have moved from the fringes of power to the inside and are now able to exert more influence than ever before has led researchers to develop an understanding on their growing sphere of influence.

Good Cop Bad Cop makes a valuable and timely contribution to the emerging domain of private politics - in which private citizens and institutions aim at changing legislative practices and culture without being part of the electoral process. Using case studies of selected international NGOs, the book takes a critical look at their internal dynamics in making a case for emerging cooperation between NGOs and business for environmental change....Link

Good Cop Bad Cop: Environmental NGOs and their Strategies toward Business
by Thomas P Lyon (Ed) 
RFF Press, Washington/London, 282 pages, US$ 39.95.

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