Volume 14 Number 5
Everybody Matters on a Shrinking Planet
01 October 2001
Good governance starts with individuals, discovers Paul Williams.
'The world is smaller than it has ever been. Its six billion citizens are closer to each other than ever before in history. Each of us is increasingly connected to people we will never meet...' So starts the introduction to the UK Government's White Paper on International Development, Making globalization work for the world's poor.
This 'shrinking of the planet', often known as globalization, has been enormously accelerated by the advent of the internet and e-mail. They place access to almost unlimited information, and the power to make instant decisions, just a click away. 'Click. Book. Fly', says the Swissair advert.
If globalization is to work for and not against the majority of the earth's people, good governance is fundamental. At the second Agenda for Reconciliation session at Caux, 'Globalizing responsibility', good governance was defined as involving accountability, transparency and participation—right across the board, in organizations (professional, church or community-based, non-governmental), financial and business institutions (national and international) and governments (local, regional and national).
Conference participants from 59 countries and an amazingly wide range of backgrounds had been invited to explore 'the importance of the individual in the context of the global community'. The conference took place not long after the July summit of leading industrial nations, when demonstrators took to the streets of Genoa to assert that globalization leaves ordinary people marginalized and 'disconnected'. So I began the conference wondering how far individuals could really make a difference. I was soon to find out.
Examples of people taking action on good governance came from some unexpected sources. Jim Carlton, who has just stepped down as Secretary-General of the Australian Red Cross, spoke of his efforts to secure a more client-friendly and open culture across the organization. 'It needed a shake up,' he said. 'There was conflict between the board and the management and within our state divisions. We had some very good professionals working with us, but none trained in management skills. People were protective of their own area and their own information base.' Over seven years he had worked to bring about a new culture of cooperation, information-sharing and open decision-making.
Toru Hashimoto, Chairman of the Fuji Bank in Japan, recalled the shock waves caused when, in 1991, an internal fraud totalling US$2 billion was exposed in his bank. 'I was convinced that, beside the fact of the crime itself, it indicated something more generally wrong with our management.' As well as strengthening internal controls, he instituted courses on moral education for all the bank's employees. He visited each branch office to hold dialogues with staff, which resulted in the adoption of a new code of ethics and customer service.
Nobody was denying the downsides to globalization and the urgent need for some form of international regulation, including multinationals. Dieudonné Oyono, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Cameroon on Good Governance, described to me how the initial one-year structural adjustment programmes demanded by the World Bank 'took away almost the entire social sector' of his country's budget. In an effort to turn the economy around, the government cut subsidies and the pay of public servants. 'The World Bank and IMF wanted to help solve our problems: the diagnosis was right but the medicine was too often harmful,' he said. A more satisfactory three-year programme, from 1997-2000, had earned Cameroon a debt reduction of 60 per cent and they were now on course for a 90 per cent reduction. The money 'saved' could be used on health and education.
As soon as she had returned home from college in the US, Jerotich Seii threw her considerable energies into a programme encouraging women in Kenya to play a greater role in public and political life. 'Women have carried the impact of everything unpleasant that has ever taken place,' she said. 'They are the real movers and shakers in both local and national life. We in Africa have to clean our house ourselves. I have found my particular broom.'
Her 'broom' is her work for the Education Centre for Women in Democracy (ECWD) where she is Programme Coordinator for regional development. She points out that only nine out of Kenya's current 222 members of parliament are women. 'ECWD runs education and capacity-building programmes at village and national level,' she explains. 'There is still a lot of cultural resistance in Africa to women being in politics. Right now we have 60 women ready to run for parliament or their local councils in 2002. These women are thirsty for training. They want to understand the factors affecting issues like health, education and agriculture that really matter to them.'
Not content to confine their work to Kenya, Seii and her friends act as conveners of Women Direct, a network of similar organizations in 10 countries from Eritrea in the north to Tanzania in the south. It organizes conferences on subjects such as political participation, trade, women's rights and peace building.
As her day job Prof Olga Zimenkova-Ametistova teaches comparative and international private law at the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Relations. Her voluntary work is as President of the Ernest Ametistov Human Rights Centre, named after her husband, who died in 1998. He had been a reforming Justice of the Russian Federation Constitutional Court, well known for his championing of human rights and his courageous voicing of dissenting opinions.
'Only through educating the young generation can Russia have a civil society and good governance,' she said. 'Through our lectures we are trying to fashion another face of Russia. For the first year (1999) all our lecturers gave their services free. Now we have obtained some funding. We do not advertise our courses. The students (there were 40 last year) just find out about them and come.' The Centre also carries out research on human rights and is in the process of establishing a correspondence training course.
Also raising the banner of human rights under difficult circumstances is Sheikh Parvez Imroz, a lawyer attached to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. 'It is very difficult for civil society to grow in Kashmir because of the armed conflict,' he said, 'but we are carving out a space for it.' He is Chairman of the Public Commission on Human Rights and Convener of the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, an umbrella body comprising 15 NGOs. 'The beauty of a country is more in the peace and welfare of its people than in its scenery.'
Delegates from Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania told of 'clean election' campaigns they had helped to run in their countries. 'People say that politics is a dirty game. Why should we have to put up with that?' asked Devine Amattey from Ghana.
I seemed to find people round every corner who had been motivated to engage in some area of our global village—the 22-year-old community leader from a hillside shanty town in Colombia who had started her social work at the age of 10; the editor of a Kenyan daily who gives one day a week to demonstrating organic farming in villages; the former British Conservative MP who now devotes his time to development education.
Most of the people I talked to had started by applying the principles of accountability and transparency in their personal and family lives. If good governance starts at home, it can then go further.
'Supposing,' Igor Ene, a young executive from Moldova, mused aloud from the conference platform, 'we could have one year as a normal society in my country! Teachers would teach, professional people and workers would work, police would keep order, politicians serve, people obey the laws and everyone pay their taxes.' Perhaps, he conceded, it might take a couple of years to prepare people for such a great change. But what an experiment it could be and what an example it would provide.