It is a great pleasure to welcome you to Chicago, a global city of cosmopolitan sensibilities.
I have enormous respect for the Independent Sector and its renewed energy under the strong leadership of Diana Aviv. And I welcome its exploration of a more robust role in the international arena through its International Task Force under Barry Gabermans wise guidance.
Chicago is an appropriate setting for this meeting given its early embrace of independent associations. The Chicago Mission District was created by the Methodist congregation in 1830, even before Chicago itself was incorporated in 1833. That same year the Chicago Temperance Society was founded. By 1834, Chicago had its first professional theater and its first School of Music. In 1840, the Chicago Anti-Slavery Society was formed, followed by Rush Medical School in 1843, and the Chicago Orphan Asylum in 1849.
That sage observer of American character, Alexis de Tocqueville, described the importance of the independent sector in his book, Democracy in America, based on his travels here in 1832. He did not stop in Chicago, though he visited nearby Green Bay and Detroit. But he could have been describing our city when he wrote:
Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associationsreligious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. Americans make associations to give entertainment, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse booksto found hospitalsand schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society To remain civilized or to become so, the art of association together must grow and improve in the same ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.
In contemporary language, de Tocqueville was saying that civil society is indispensable to a healthy democracy. And he was right.
There are over 1.8 million not-for-profit organizations in this country. More remarkable is the exponential explosion of NGOs around the world, numbering in the several million, too many even to count accurately. The Center for Civil Society at the London School of Economics estimates that the number of NGOs has more than doubled in the last ten years. This is one American example the world has happily embraced and replicated.
With growth comes the responsibility to deliver services effectively, to be well governed, to use resources in pursuit of a just and fair society. The Independent Sector was founded 25 years ago to strengthen the not-for-profit sector at home; it now has the opportunity to serve our national interests by encouraging its membership to be more active abroad, to form networks with international NGOs, and to help build the independent sector in emerging democracies.
This is not an entirely new mission. The Independent Sector helped build CIVICUS, and form networks like the International Society of Third Sector Research and the Worldwide Initiative for Grantmakers Support.
And the membership of the Independent Sector has a long-standing interest in work outside the U.S., MacArthur included. Our foundation works in 65 countries, and has offices in Moscow, New Delhi, Abuja, and Mexico City to support programs in Population, Conservation, International Peace and Security and Human Rights. We spend about $75-80 million in our international division, a number I hope will rise.
As we all think about the possibilities and challenges of expanding our international work, here are four propositions to be tested:
- A vibrant independent sector is necessary to create and sustain healthy open societies;
- America has been the world leader in developing the independent sector at home and encouraging its growth abroad;
- Democratic societies are not the source of international terrorism. But repressive societies not hospitable to civil liberties, free association, and NGOs are. Hence, there is a national security dimension to nurturing a robust independent sector abroad, especially in countries undergoing democratic transitions like Russia and Nigeria -- as well as those like China, where democracy may be generations away, but where civil society can leaven the stifling effect of an omnipresent state;
- The recent growth in anti-American attitudes is a source of concern given Americas historic role in establishing affirmative norms. People abroad look more and more to the American people and their NGOs for leadership on issues like climate change, sensible population policies, new approaches to reducing dangerous weapons of mass destruction.
If these propositions have merit, they lead to twin imperatives: increased international activity by the independent sector in America, including foundations; and a vigorous effort to strengthen civil society abroad.
I say so in the belief that such investments win friends for America, contribute to our security by strengthening democracy and opening closed societies abroad, and advance our own programmatic missions.
The need to win friends leaps off the pages of the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey. Unfavorable views of the U.S. are rising: 63% in Turkey, 93% in Jordan, for instance both key to the war on terrorism. And even among European countries England, France, Germany and Russia at least half of their populations have less confidence that the U.S. is trustworthy and less faith in its commitment to fostering democracy around the world.
Numbers like these should alarm us. They suggest that the United States may be losing three assets: the moral leadership it has enjoyed since its founding as a shining city on a hill; the legitimacy it needs when projecting its power on behalf of justice and liberty elsewhere in the world; the credibility it must have if we are to choke off terrorist networks that feed on disillusion.
Because MacArthur works in so many countries, I travel a good deal. I can tell you that those survey numbers do not reflect what I feel on the ground. I hear the resentment, but my experiences suggest that it is not yet too late to regain our standing. Americans are still warmly received, at least by the leaders in government, education, and the nonprofit sector with whom MacArthur works. That is partly because many of them have spent time here as students and know our country, our people, our values, directly. It is also because they have worked with MacArthur and other foundations, or with U.S.-based NGOs like the World Wildlife Federation, The Population Council, CARE, Save the Children.
So they know first-hand the real America that wants to nurture, not rule; empower, not control. But even these educated leaders are beginning to have their doubts and need reassurance that the United States will remain true to its history as a beacon of hope, freedom, fairness, and respect for international law.
I do not think the face we have been presenting to the world recently is the true face of the American people. But we the people must also speak up and demand a different approach to the world. And we must keep engaged through student exchanges, through philanthropy, through NGOs working on human rights, population, the environment, health, education and all the rest.
In the name of homeland security, it is not a good idea to reduce the flow of foreign students to the United States. Applications from foreign students to graduate programs at American universities were down by 32 percent for the Fall of 2004; the number admitted fell by 18 percent. These numbers, combined with anecdotes I hear from campuses across the country, concern me.
Part of the fall-off owes to the elaborate procedures in issuing student visas, and part may reflect the perception of a less hospitable environment. Let me be clear: careful screening for visas is an important element of increased security, and we know that efforts are underway to streamline the process. Even so, I suspect we will see a longer term drop in foreign students. It is doubtful that as many of the next generation of political and academic leaders, university presidents, finance ministers, or NGO executive-directors will have the same first-hand knowledge and emotional attachment to our country.
This is a time for philanthropy to increase its support for international students and exchanges degree programs, short-term visitors, joint research arrangements. That should include time abroad for American students as well cultural diplomacy works in both directions, and our young people need to travel around the world to understand their place in it. Even limited exposure to other countries can help cultivate a lifetime of curiosity about, and a greater sensitivity to, other cultures.
This is also the right time to increase our international grantmaking and activity.
It is in Americas long-term interest to build more people-to-people bridges through direct contact, and to connect American NGOs to the robust networks of other national and international NGOs.
But our international work yours and ours is more about its substance than about winning friends for America. MacArthur currently makes grants to some 580 organizations for work abroad. While we continue to support large international NGOs, more and more of our grants are going to local groups. We could not achieve results in these fields if we only worked with governments, multinational public entities, or organizations based in the north.
MacArthur tries to strengthen the independent sector around the world in three ways: by building national and regional networks, which can powerfully enhance the effectiveness of local groups; by linking established international NGOs to local partners; and by helping in-county organizations take good work to scale.
Let me give you three examples to illustrate these points.
When I think of our work strengthening national and regional networks, the Moscow Helsinki Group comes to mind. One of Russias premier human rights organizations, it has organized a network of regional groups across the country that jointly produce an annual report describing the human rights situation in each of the 89 provinces.
Despite recent setbacks to the democratic transition in Russia, the human rights movement is growing, especially at the local level.
MacArthur is nurturing a national network that is gradually strengthening the human rights culture. We are currently funding in ten regions, from Perm in the North, to Rostov and Krasnodar in the South; and from Tatarstan and Saratov, located along the Volga river in the countrys heartland, to Krasnoyarsk in the Siberian East.
Groups like Sutiazhnik in Ekaterinburg are pioneering the use of the national and international courts to defend citizens rights. The Nizhni Novgorod Committee Against Torture is leading a network dedicated to addressing the persistent and pervasive problem of police abuse. The St. Petersburg Strategy Center is promoting the establishment of human rights ombudsmen in Russias regions, providing training and equipment.
Linking established NGOs to local partners is another way to build capacity at the local level and increase overall effectiveness. We have just made a series of grants in Madagascar, where an ambitious government is committed to tripling the size of national parks and protected areas. The work is vital, since almost 90% of Madagascars land mammals, reptiles, and flowering plants are found nowhere else on earth.
Madagascar does not have a tradition of an independent sector there are only 10 local groups working on conservation issues in the entire country. So in the short run MacArthur will support international NGOs for work conducting scientific baseline studies, developing community conservation plans with local villages, training park personnel. The Field Museum, the World Wildlife Fund, the Bronx Zoo, Birdlife International, and CARE are there building capacity with local NGOs like the Tany Meva Foundation, a Malagasy group that helps community groups manage environmental resources, and the Ecological Center of Libanona, trains individuals and groups in conservation techniques.
Madagascars conservation efforts show how the independent sector has become a crucial partner for governments and other international agencies seeking to effect change. They bring on-the-ground knowledge and expertiseas well as an institutional flexibility which government agencies often lack.
But moving an NGO model to significant scale almost always involves government participation. My final example illustrates this point.
As part of our reproductive health work in India, the Foundation has support the Society for Education, Action & Research in Community Health (SEARCH) since 1993. Government policy had focused on moving women into formal health-care settings, not practical in much of impoverished rural India. So our grantee, SEARCH, had the simple insight that health-care should be moved to the villages.
A pilot project in the state of Maharashtra trained traditional birth attendants in rural villages to work with women from early pregnancy through birth and beyond. Although healthcare officials worried about the quality of non-professional care, the results have been impressive: a 70% reduction in neo-natal mortality; a 57% reduction in infant mortality; and a 49% reduction in maternal morbidity.
Those results persuaded the government to move the project to scale. The program is now being tested at multiple sites in five states to measure its effectiveness in different settings: rural and tribal areas, urban slums. There are plans to expand into 50,000 villages within a few years.
The evidence in Maharashtra shows that there are good alternatives to costly professional doctors and nurses in expensive clinics: with the right instruction, local people can provide adequate neonatal care and improve maternal health in the underserved communities of the developing world. All it takes the will to make a change, respect for the abilities of local people, and a modest investment in training.
I could go on, but this is enough to illustrate what we all know to be true: there are extraordinarily talented, courageous, committed people in even the poorest and most remote places coming together in not-for-profit organizations that are a driving force for human betterment.
MacArthurs hope for conservation of the worlds rich biodiversity, its quest for sensible population policies through improved access to health care, its search for international security based on cooperation not competition, its desire to assistant the evolution of an international system of justice rooted in respect for human rights, all depend on the expansion and strengthening of civil society around the world.
The growing number of local and regional NGOs opens new opportunities for our foundations, but also for the Independent Sector, which has invaluable experience and expertise to share. The United States has a long, deep tradition of private philanthropy, but that is not true everywhere.
Countries in transition need help to create an enabling environment that nurtures NGOs, that makes it easy for them to register, establish bank accounts, and accept money from the private sector at home and abroad. Creating tax regimes that give incentives is all-important. The Independent Sector can share its insights on public policies that will stimulate the not-for-profit sector.
At the organizational level, Independent Sector can help with guidance on building responsible boards, recruiting and training competent management, articulating mission statements, raising funds, forming NGO networks, and much more.
And the Independent Sector can reassure American donors that the provisions in the Patriot Act are manageable. We should not let administrative measures designed to keep our funds out of the hands of terrorists discourage us from more work abroad. All of us want to be sure that our grantees and partners are beyond suspicion, but the steps we take to fulfill our obligations under U.S. law should be sensible.
I urge caution in the construction of conditions to grants that require excessive and intrusive checking deep into the ranks of employees. We need to be diligent in checking organizations we support against various government lists of terrorist organizations. But we also need to help clear up false positives, and to assist individuals and organizations that feel they are wrongly on the list.
In the end, the quality of our staffs judgment and the cooperation we earn from our grantees is a better investment in security than mechanical list-checking. Preserving a spirit of partnership and common purpose will yield better results than overdrawn conditions that divide and divert our attention.
I conclude where I began. I applaud the Independent Sectors ambition to strengthen NGOs across the world and to encourage American philanthropy to give internationally.
That investment will yield dividends by strengthening democracy and encouraging more open societies worldwide. A country with a vibrant network of NGOs will not tolerate authoritarian rule. Building NGOs is a good investment in our collective security.
No country is better positioned to make that investment than the United States we have the tradition, the wealth, and the expertise in the Independent Sector, in this room, to accelerate one of the most important trends of our time: the unleashing of human potential through independent organizations.
 The Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy. 2004. National Center for Charitable Statistics (http://nccsdataweb.urban.org/PubApps/dd2.php?form=Master+05/2004); (accessed November 2, 2004).
 Helmut Anheier, Marlies Glasius, Mary Kaldor, eds., Global Civil Society 2003, Sage: London, Thousand Oaks, New Dehli, p. 13.
 The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, A Year After Iraq War: Mistrust of America in Europe Ever Higher, Muslim Anger Persists, March 16, 2004; (http//people/press.org/reports/display/php3?ReportID=06).