Last week Pambazuka News, one of my regular web sources, reprinted an article by Fairouz El Tom on non-governmental organisations (See Diversity and inclusion. Do NGOs practice what they preach?). Inspired by an ongoing discussion about the role of the NGOs in the World Social Forum, and particularly during the WSF event in Tunis last March (to which I myself was a participant), I decided to take a closer look on Fairouz el Tom's material. This is how I became aware of the existence of "The Global Journal" , edited by Jean-Christophe Nothias (globaljournal.net) and decided to buy myself a copy of its Special Edition on the "Top 100 NGOs 2013" for 10 Swiss francs. Below, please find three notes from my logbook.

1.

My first reaction is that the selection of the TOP 100 NGOs 2013 of the Global Journal reflects the values and worldviews of the participants of the World Economic Forum. Not those of the participants of the World Social Forum. I mean, the issue has no photo of Chico Whitaker, but Bill Gates features in a pig picture. The leading analysis is written bay David Armitage of Harvard university. Is it even thinkable that it could have have been penned by Samir Amin of the ENDA?

Neither ATTAC, ABONG, Focus on the Global South, Tax Justice Network, Via Campesina, nor Conselho Internacional de Educação de Adultos, COSATU or MST did make it to the list of the Global Journal. I dont know if precisely these are the "Top 10" of WSF but I am sure I have heard and seen them there. How come none of them got mentioned in this special edition of the Global Journal?

Big companies publish glassy ads in the Global Journal and their selection of NGOs is prominently publicized in the mainstream press, such as the Guardian, UK. The aforementioned article by Fairouz El Tom had been published in the Guardian 7 May. The Global Journal is certainly an interesting read, though, and I would recommend that you get yourself an own copy. Still it surprises me that the excellent Pambazuka wished to reprint that article.

2.

The issue #15 of the Global Journal is well-edited and carefully stuffed. On page 3 of the issue comes the first advertisment: "Conserving Resources, Protecting the Climate". It means, among other things, that Global Journal is financed by by drug giant BAYER AG. But then, of course, it is also partly financed by myself and other readers, who paid 10 Swiss francs to read its digital copy.

How does the GJ define an NGO? According to the GJ, an NGO is "...an operational- or advocacy-focused non-profit organization active at the local, national or international level." (p. 38) OK, but how to draw the line between "governmental" and "non-governmental"? In reality, this border is blurred. Even the so called 'boots on the ground' may be private (and/or corporate) and, in that sense, "non-governmental". So this definition must be in our heads only. Antonio Gramsci called it "methodological". We just need it in order to make sense of the great continuum that lies in between the state and the civil society, and to be able to maintain, whenever it proves necessary, that "we" are not The State. (L'état, c'est n'est pas moi.)

Corpwatch, the San Francisco based group, tries to hold corporations like BAYER AG accountable by researching and documenting their profit-driven malfeasance (see, e.g http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=723). So does Corporate Watch, another group with a similar name (see e.g. http://www.corporatewatch.org/?lid=320#poisons) So why are Corpwatch or Corporate Watch not scored, or even mentioned, in GJ:s report about the Top 100 NGO:s? Evidently, the reason is that these groups do not meet "the three key criteria relevant to the activities of any NGO impact, innovation and sustainability" (p 39 ; these are GJ's criteria for inclusion among the TOP 100 NGOs). Now, it must be added that GJ does not claim to be "scientific". Indeed, it explicitely stresses, that "despite our best efforts to ensure the ranking is based on concrete information fed through a rigorous, objective process, there is no science in the measuring", and continues: "We invite you to read the feature that follows for what it is a fascinating global snapshot of an often-overlooked sector." Agreed! The content of GJ #15 is indeed fascinating. But why does the digital copy have to cost 10 Swiss francs?

For your information, the TOP 100 NGOs, in the order they are listed by the GJ, are as follows:

1. BRAC 2. Wikimedia Foundation 3. Acumen Fund 4. Danish Refugee Council 5. Partners in Health 6. Ceres 7. CARE International 8. Médecins Sans Frontières 9. Cure Violence 10. Mercy Corps 11. APOPO 12. Root Capital 13. Handicap International 14. International Rescue Committee 15. Barefoot College 16. Landesa 17. Ashoka 18. One Acre Fund 19. Clinton Health Access Initiative 20. Heifer International 21. Human Rights Watch 22. Rare 23. Akshaya Patra Foundation 24. Gram Vikas 25. DIGITAL DIVIDE DATA 26. Room to Read 27. Amnesty International 28. AMREF 29. Pratham 30. iDE 31. Riders for Health 32. MERLIN 33. Fonkoze 34. Helen Keller International 35. Water for People 36. Aflatoun 37. FrontlineSMS 38. Marie Stopes International 39. International Planned Parenthood Federation 40. Save the Children International 41. PLAN International 42. Tostan 43. Fred Hollows Foundation 44. Transparency International 45. Saude Crianca 46. Escuela Nueva 47. Open Society Foundations 48. Operation ASHA 49. International Medical Corps 50. GAIN 51. Search for common ground 52. WITNESS 53. Friends of the Earth Middle East 54. CAMBIA 55. Common Ground 56. Viva Rio 57. International Crisis Group 58. Habitat For Humanity 59. KickStart International 60. ZOA 61. Friends-International 62. Architecture for Humanity 63. Concern 64. Center for Digital Inclusion 65. American Refugee Committee 66. International Center for Transitional Justice 67. Interpeace 68. Geneva Call 69. Rainforest Alliance 70. FAWE 71. Code for America 72. Child & Youth Finance International 73. Asylum Access 74. Ycab Foundation 75. PlanetRead 76. Dhaka Ahsania Mission 77. International Commission of Jurists 78. World Vision 79. Movember Foundation 80. PlaNet Finance 81. Free the Children 82. Terre des Hommes International Federation 83. TRIAL 84. International Bridges to Justice 85. Skateistan 86. International Alert 87. Libera 88. Krousar Thmey Cambodia 89. Greenpeace 90. Global Footprint Network 91. Luz Portatil Brasil 92. INJAZ al-Arab 93. CIVICUS 94. Generations for Peace 95. Send a Cow Uganda 96. Project WET Foundation 97. Instituto da Crianca 98. Diplo Foundation 99. Born Free Foundation 100. Akilah Institute for Women

It could be a nice exercise to try and couple each and every one of the above organisations with a more radical, feminist, socialist, honest, or just non-governmental alternative. Like e.g. Transparency International - Tax Justice Network; Diplo Foundation - Les amis du monde diplomatique; Generations for Peace - No Bases Network ; International Commission of Jurists - IALANA, etc. Or, one could also try to produce the opposite list, to quote a less radical, feminist, socialist, honest, or just more governmental alternative. For instance: Friends of the Earth Middle East - AIPAC ; Wikimedia Foundation - Heritage Foundation; etc.

The interview with historian Mark Mazower, author of the book "Governing the World", (see "Dreaming The International Dream", pp 10-14) gives more food for thought about the definition of an NGO. Asked about why 'world government' is nowadays only rarely spoken of, while the expression 'world governance' is all the more often heard, Mazower says: "I think the semantic shift betrays something very, very important, which is that we moved from a world where people had confidence in the idea of government or at least some did to a world that lost it."

3.

It could be interesting to list the funding agencies, the international and national NGOs most active in and around the WSF, and to do a critical critical study on them. The results would certainly be very different to the GJ's TOP 100. But there would probably also be some overlapping. To do such a study could be a nice Master's or PhD project for someone, but not for the present writer; I shall now finish this trip to NGO-land with a few further notes.

The editors of the Global Journal do not say a word about imperialism. Do they think that imperialism is no longer a reality? And the nuclear weapons systems including the missile defense, are these only a thing of the past? The editors and writers of the GJ maintain a deep silence about the military-industrial-academic complex. But then the peoples of the WSF hardly speak loudly enough about that, either!

Nowadays, when I read an eJournal like the GJ, I cannot resist the temptation to do searches on the material. The searchword 'drones' leads to GJ's piece on On Borders (on p. 122), which was originally called The Ostkreuz Agency. This is only one of several NGOs on their TOP 100 list which I personally had not previously heard about (as said, this issue of the GJ is a good read!). "The Ostkreuz Agency was founded when what was probably the most important border in the history of Germany the Berlin Wall disappeared. Two decades later, its photographers set out on a search for todays frontiers ... On Borders covers many borders dissecting the planet, but there are some that seem less recognized: European borders. ... Ever since the advent of the Frontex Agency, a kind of common EU border patrol, technology is being upgraded along the edges of Europe.... In 2011, according to Frontexs report, the number of individuals arrested rose by 35 percent from 104,000 in 2010 to 141,000 in 2011. In the future, the organization plans to use robots and drones."

Henceforward, our external memory is carried by drones. But I remember the long list of names of the drowned and unsaved laid out on the ground at the campus El Manar in Tunis where the most recent WSF event was held. Hopefully, some photographers from On Borders also participate in the process of the WSF.

The advertisments of the GJ would be worth their own study. Even before the climate-friendly one of BAYER AG (p.5) come the Swiss watches of Jaquet Droz (p. 2). Somewhere, recently, I read about Yang Dacai, head of the Shaanxi Provincial Bureau of Work Safety, who was fired when users of the microblogging site Weibo noticed his collection of extremely pricey watches, one reportedly valued up to $32,000 and posted photos... (See Ivan Krastev: In Mistrust We Trust, kindlelocation 530; copied character by character by myself - because Kindle does not let you use the Copy and Paste function). Well, Yang Dacai's timepiece is in the price category of the Jaquet Droz watches for such kleptocrats.

Above, I quoted Mark Mazower on confidence in government. Or, more precisely, on the confidence lost. This theme (to use the musical term) is being further developed by Ivan Krastev in the aforementioned new eBook "In Mistrust We Trust - Can Democracy Survive When We don't Trust Our Leaders?" (I had to buy this one, too; price 4,95 USD). I'll say no more. Let me just note that while Ivan Krastev has many negative things to say about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, but nothing at all about Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia, The Global Journal does not even mention the former, while The Wikimedia Foundation (with its Wikipedia) features as #2 among the world's foremost NGO's according to GJ, and its chairperson is considered to be famous enough to be shown on a big photo without his name (the name "Jimmy Wales" is not to be found in the whole issue).

(Will be back to the Ivan Krastev book.)