Good morning to our distinguished friends, colleagues and members of Counterpart International who have traveled from all corners of the world to meet this week in America's capital. It is indeed my great honor to welcome each of you to Washington.
There are two things to learn about Washington: (1) if you need a friend, get a dog; and (2) with a $1.8 trillion budget Congress must pass before this October -- when Congress sneezes, the world catches a cold.
Before I begin, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to our gracious hosts at Counterpart International -- President Elizabeth Silverstein, Chief Executive Officer Stanley Hosie, and Vice President Lelei LeLaulu -- for the kind invitation for me to participate in this important symposium.
A little on my background, I have been an elected member of the United States Congress since 1989, and have served with the House Foreign Affairs/International Relations Committee for over 12 years. Our Committee is instrumental in formulating America's foreign policy and priorities for foreign aid. In this capacity, I presently serve on the House Asia-Pacific Affairs Subcommittee and the House International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee. The latter subcommittee, I might note, has oversight authority and jurisdiction over the U.S. State Department.
After briefly reviewing the operations of Counterpart International and its affiliates, I must admit I am thoroughly impressed at the breadth and depth of the organization's agenda that spans over 70 nations. From the Asia-Pacific to Europe, and Africa to the former Republics of the Soviet Union, Counterpart's important work with local partners has significantly enhanced humanitarian assistance, health services, small business creation, environmental conservation and renewable energy development for those who are vitally in need.
Coming from the South Pacific, I am particularly grateful for Counterpart's presence in the Pacific region, where it has a long and respected tradition of providing humanitarian services under its former name, the "Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific (FSP)." For over three-and-a-half decades, Counterpart/FSP has spearheaded numerous public health initiatives with Pacific Island nations, encompassing child survival and nutrition, family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention, and the establishment of rural health clinics. One of the earliest programs, as I understand, provided crucial medical treatment for the dreaded disease of leprosy in the Independent State of Samoa.
Today, Counterpart continues this tremendous legacy of service and has expanded its mission in the Pacific. I commend Counterpart and its regional affiliates for pursuing the Global Sustainable Islands Initiative, which addresses issues most crucial to Island countries -- such as climate change and rising seas, sustainable energy, marine resources management, biodiversity and environmental conservation.
In particular, I applaud Counterpart and partner FSP-Fiji for the revolutionary work done on the Coral Gardens Initiative – which has regenerated dead coral reef systems and in turn resurrected the surrounding marine life and environment. Coral reefs, as you know, are the heart of many Pacific Island ecosystems. For this innovative and breakthrough research on coral management, I am not surprised that Counterpart has garnered international recognition and recently received in December the Henry Award, the world's most prestigious award for coral reef conservation.
The people of the Pacific are truly appreciative of and thankful for the tremendous contributions of Counterpart to the welfare of the region's inhabitants. But this is only one chapter in the story of Counterpart International and the role that it plays around the globe.
Given the vital importance of Counterpart's work throughout the world, I am glad to report that the United States government provides a fair portion of the funding for Counterpart's operations. In 1999, through U.S. AID, the State Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, our government provided over $140 million in grants and in-kind contributions of equipment and supplies to Counterpart and its affiliates. Because of Counterpart International's excellent record of humanitarian service, and reputation for efficiency and innovation in the delivery of such services, I have no doubt that the United States government will continue to provide funding for Counterpart's operations, and I strongly support this effort.
In focusing this week on the mission and operations of Counterpart International, we should also look at the increasingly influential role that non-governmental organizations play throughout the world, a subject which I would like to briefly address.
While the term "non-governmental organization (NGO)" was first used at the founding of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations have existed for over a hundred years -- prominent examples being the International Committee for the Red Cross and women's suffrage groups. It is only within the past decade, however, that non-profit, citizen-led NGOs have started having a dramatic impact on governments, corporations and official international organizations -- which has ultimately affected the lives of people throughout the world and the very health of the planet.
In recent years, the number of NGOs has exploded. According to Worldwatch Institute, "The past few years have seen a remarkable growth in the number and prominence of such groups and their ability to precipitate change. They have cajoled, forced, joined in with, or forged ahead of governments and corporations on an array of actions as disparate as the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, brokering cease-fires in civil wars, and publicizing the human rights abuses of repressive regimes."
According to an United Nations report on global governance, over 29,000 international NGOs existed in 1995, almost a five-fold increase from the 6,000 that existed in 1990.
As for domestic NGOs, in the United States alone, Worldwatch Institute estimates there are over 2 million of such organizations, 70 % of which are less than 30 years old. India has about 1 million grass-roots NGOs, with Russia adding 65,000 NGOs since the fall of communism. In Eastern Europe, it is estimated that over 100,000 NGOs sprang up between 1988 and 1995, while nations such as Kenya create 240 new NGOs each year.
Obviously, most of these citizen groups are small neighborhood operations; yet there are many sizeable NGOs with multi-million dollar budgets that span continents, such as the Worldwide Fund for Nature which claims 5 million members, and Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth, each of whose membership is over 1 million strong. Another large NGO with over 2.5 million members is Greenpeace, which I specifically honor and commend for spearheading international protests in 1995 against France's arrogant and reckless resumption of nuclear testing in French Polynesia and the South Pacific.
The amazing growth in numbers of non-governmental organizations has been accompanied by a quantum leap in the power and influence wielded by NGOs.
Many point to the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio as the pivotal event, when environmental NGOs were first allowed to join official delegations negotiating on greenhouse gases -- thus transforming NGOs from mere spectators to decision-makers. Incidentally, those NGOs are credited with later pushing through the Kyoto Treaty on global warming.
In the eight years since, NGOs have successfully made their presence felt around the world in high profile victories. For example, NGO coalitions pressured the World Bank in 1994 to reassess and alter funding priorities; lobbied 122 nations for international adoption of the Land Mines Treaty in 1997; stopped the OECD Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998; and derailed the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle last year.
During this same period, NGOs also pushed successfully for creation of the post of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, establishment of an International Criminal Court, and acceptance of the Jubilee 2000 debt relief initiative for the world's poorest nations.
Networking together, vast coalitions of non-governmental organizations have transcended national boundaries to wield tremendous influence, even with the so-called superpowers.
It is not surprising, therefore, that some observers discern a shift has occurred in the balance of power in international politics. Whereas before global politics was the exclusive domain of national governments, today, these governments are increasingly seen in hot competition with the "global civil society" represented by committed and dedicated NGOs.
Johns Hopkins University Political Scientist Lester Salamon calls the NGO phenomenon "a global association revolution that may prove to be as significant ... as the rise of the nation-state."
A driving force behind the growth and increasing power of NGOs has been the communications technology breakthrough represented by the Internet. As Jessica Matthews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, states, "The most powerful engine of change in the relative decline of states and the rise of the non- state actors is the computer and telecommunications revolution. Widely accessible and affordable technology has broken government's monopoly on the collection and management of large amounts of information and deprived government of the deference they enjoyed because of it. In every sphere of activity, instantaneous access to information and the ability to put it to use multiplies the number of players who matter and reduces the number who command great authority."
In short, the Internet, and especially e-mail, has allowed citizen activists around the world to share information, to formulate strategies, and to effectively organize mass groups of people -- as was demonstrated so graphically last winter at the WTO meetings in Seattle.
Another factor spurring NGO growth has been the globalization of economies and manufacturing bases, where crucial trade, labor and environmental decisions are made at an international level that common citizens cannot access to register their concerns but through NGOs.
In an era of globalization anxiety, non-governmental organizations serve to fill this vacuum of democratic participation. Some advocate that the same factors that have been eroding nation-states promote non-governmental organizations, as NGOs have become the vehicle of choice for expression of popular concern in this transitional period as nation-states weaken and politics is not yet established at the transnational level.
Whatever the reasons, it is clear that as we enter the new millennium, non-governmental organizations, such as Counterpart International, constitute a major player on the world stage whose time has come and whose role shall only grow in stature and responsibility.
Whether advocating on behalf of human rights and humanitarian aid, social and economic development, or protection of the planet, NGOs all have uniquely contributed to the creation of a global civil society.
This is central to the NGO vision of the "sustainability" movement, as you know, which transcends issues of social justice, economic development and environmental protection -- leading to the goal of a higher quality of life, not just for human beings, but for animals, plants and the earth itself. Native American Indians and many indigenous cultures have always regarded our planet as "Mother Earth." Now, more than ever, modern civilization has come to realize the truth in all this; if man is to survive in the future, he must take care of Mother Earth.
As renowned author Paul Hawken puts it, "The sustainability movement, which is estimated to include 30,000 groups in the U.S. and 100,000 worldwide, does not agree on everything, nor should it. But remarkably, it shares a basic set of fundamental understandings about the earth and how it functions, and about the necessity of fairness and equity.... This shared understanding is arising spontaneously, from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts. And it is absolutely growing and spreading worldwide, with no exception."
In seeking to pursue and provide that which is right, that which is fair, and that which is just -- things which government and business either cannot or will not do -- NGOs such as Counterpoint International render an invaluable service on behalf of all mankind.
Indeed, as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan has fittingly stated, non-governmental organizations are "the conscience of humanity."
Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today and, in your noble endeavor, I wish you the greatest success.