Current Location : Home -> Comments  
The Role and Function of British NGOs in International Cultural Exchanges
                                              Zhang Shengjun

As the world¡¯s first country to launch industrial revolution, the UK had once been at the peak of global power for a long term and exerted great influence on the shaping of modern international and diplomatic systems. The development of British NGOs boasts a long history and the civil society of the UK is highly developed. In terms of international cultural exchanges, the UK has formed a relatively mature management mechanism of cultural diplomacy, in which NGOs and relevant government departments have established cooperative partnerships on an equal basis, brought into full play the function of NGOs, and organized diversified cultural exchange programs with remarkable effects. The practices of the UK provide a good reference in this area.
I. The unique trinity system of decision making, management and operation
As the leading actors of international cultural exchanges, NGOs are responsible for the formulation and implementation of strategies in this regard. The government would, via the Foreign Office, offer financial support for NGOs so as to guarantee their daily operation. The reason why British NGOs play such an important role should be attributed to their unique operation system. Based on the principle of the check and balance of power, this system includes institutions with the functions of decision making (official), management (semi-official) and operation (non-official). In this system, official institutions are mainly responsible for developing policy guidelines, supervising and monitoring international cultural exchanges, and these functions are mainly shouldered by the Department of International Cultural Relations of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The so-called semi-official institution is in fact a non-governmental organization-the British Council. Established in 1934, it was developed from an NGO ¡°World People Association¡±, and is in charge of comprehensively integrating and coordinating international cultural exchange activities so as to cope with the fierce competition and challenges from other countries such as France and Germany. The British Council has been the most influential institution for cultural exchanges in the UK by now and has remained an NGO since the very beginning. The non-official institutions mainly develop or undertake projects and organize activities on their own in the process of conducting international cultural exchanges. The trinity operation system of international cultural exchanges ensures close cooperation between the British government and NGOs, which has reduced the risk of cultural aggression caused by excessive government intervention, and invigorated the international cultural exchanges of the UK.
Besides its media function, the British Council also plays an important role in policy orientation. In fact, in some countries, the representative of the British Council at the same time also serves as the Cultural Counselor of the British Embassy. The footprints of the British Council can be seen all over the globe. It has established 191 branches in more than 110 countries and regions. The focus of work and allocation of fund and assistance of the British Council are completely decided by the diplomatic policy orientation of the UK.1 The Department of International Cultural Relations of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the pivot of the system of international cultural exchanges, whose major responsibilities include: first, formulating policies, signing agreements of international cultural exchanges and funding projects for international cultural exchanges; second, serving as a coordinator between the government and NGOs, especially the British Council, work and keep the focus in line with the orientation of the British diplomatic policy through funding and examination; third, offering direct guidance for the Dinsion of Culture and Education of the British Embassy or Consulate, and coordinating the relationship between the UK and UNESCO. Despite the limited duty and power of this department, it is an important platform for the cooperation between the government and NGOs in terms of information sharing and coordination.
II. Focus on Capacity Building of NGOs
With a developed civil society and a long history, British NGOs are important in guiding, advocating and promoting international cooperation which can be attributed to its long-term focus on the capacity building of NGOs. As early as in 1601, The UK issued the world¡¯s earliest law on charity¡ªthe Charitable Uses Act, which not only defined the scope of charitable organizations for public interest, emphasized the features of public interest welfare, charity and non-governmental nature of these organizations, but also proposed a legal framework to encourage and support non-governmental charities, as well as the legal basis of collecting for public interest via various means of donation from the society. The third way theory of the UK argues that the existence of a positive civil society is very beneficial the nation can not replace or drown civil society, instead it should establish better cooperative partnership with civil society. Maybe just guided by such an idea, the UK puts great emphasis on the fostering and training of civil society, especially the frequent NGO capacity activities, including consultation, project management, issuing publication and educational documents, guiding skills and investigation.
In carrying out capacity building of British NGOs, three points deserve our attention and can be drawn upon. The first is the capacity of policy advocacy, including policy analysis,
the timing of making plans and deciding on the topic for advocacy, how to organize great events for advocacy or effectively promote the formulation of relevant regulations and policies in commemoration of big events and how to make the advocated policy more practical, feasible and easy to operate. The second is the focus on training of small NGOs. Due to their constraints in funding and resources, small NGOs cannot compare with large ones in terms of implementation capacity. However, they are of unique advantages in collecting public opinions. The small NGOs are encouraged to study strategic management via inter-departmental learning and share the management experience of other organizations and departments. The third is the focus on the training of NGO leaders and the dissemination of organizational culture of NGOs. The International Training and Consulting Center for NGOs, with its headquarter located in Oxford, is an institution aimed at training NGO leaders from developing countries. Each year, NGO leaders from all over the world come to London and Oxford to take part in diversified training courses, such as training for trainers, influence evaluation, organization development, advocating and policy influence, project monitoring and evaluation, capacity building for partners, civil society and advocating skills, the initiative of supporting the South, etc. These training courses offer fresh ideas with interactive forms, attracting leaders of non-profit organizations from all over the world. Each year, the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organizations(ACEVO) invites leaders of non-profit organizations from developing countries to London, to discuss leadership skills, strategic planning and personal stories, and share experiences of running non-profit organizations. Under this framework, every year, NGO leaders from Asia, Africa and Latin America come to interact and share experience with NGOs of the UK, making positive contribution to the promotion of the culture of NGOs.2
III. Highly internationalized NGOs are very conducive to the cultural exchange activities of the UK
The non-governmental organizations of the UK are very developed and highly internationalized. Focusing on the development of domestic civil society, British NGOs have strong networks and global influence in international cooperation, thus playing a strong facilitating role for the UK to carry out international cultural exchanges. The UK has formed its networks with international NGOs as the basis not only because they advocate international humanism and altruism, but also because of the following measures taken by the government and NGOs of the UK.
First, the British government sets up special funds supporting overseas development of NGOs. The British government usually, according to concrete needs, sets up special funds for supporting NGOs and encouraging civil society to participate in international cooperation. The government also designs specialized regional plans and designates specialized activity fields, in an effort to help British NGOs go abroad and influence the whole world, thus offering all-round service for national diplomatic affairs. For instance, the Department for International Development once set up a joint fund for sponsoring British NGOs in aiding the most underdeveloped regions of developing countries. The fund adopted the ¡°one-pound-to-one-pound¡± principle which meant that the fund was responsible for half the expenditure of long-term development program carried out by NGOs.
Second, foreign aid carried out by the British government adopts the popular mode in European and North American countries. Under this mode, the aiding fund is not transferred to the recipient countries directly. Instead, it is operated via the programs carried out by NGOs. In this process, British NGOs usually build partnerships with NGOs of the recipient countries. This cooperation mode of foreign aid is also called the tripartite alliance mode for short, namely the alliance among the government, NGOs of donor countries and NGOs of recipient countries.
Third, since the 1970s, instead of solely depending on domestic fund from the government, British NGOs have actively applied and used the fund of regional and global development institutions such as the European Union, United Nations and World Bank to carry out foreign economic and technological aid. This practice is very effective. It not only broadens the international stage for NGOs, but also helps them to build good partnerships with regional and global international institutions. In addition, the UK boasts a ¡°British cultural circle¡± covering 53 countries of the Commonwealth. The historical, linguistic and cultural ties between the UK and the rest of Commonwealth countries offer channels for the UK to enter and influence other Commonwealth countries, as well as a bridge for British NGOs to go global via Commonwealth countries.
For China, we should draw upon the good practice of the UK in international cultural exchanges. Despite its rich traditional culture, the UK does not, for this reason, neglect the fostering of a modern country. Instead, taking advantage of the significant status of English, the UK appropriately proposes the notion of ¡°cultural internationalism¡±, in an effort to secure its advantageous position in the world in terms of cultural communication and exchanges.
Copyright © 2007 Chinese Association for International Understanding. All rights reserved.
4, Fuxing, Haidian District, Beijing TEL£º£¨010£©83907345 / 83907341 FAX£º£¨010£©83907342