THE EARTH TIMES
OCTOBER 24, 1993
Girding the globe with Kennedy Graham
BY ASHALI VARMA
With the proliferation of non -governmental organizations (NGOs) around the world in the 1990s, the question of their role, credibility and effectiveness is constantly a matter of debate in the international community. With the Parliamentarians for Global Action, an
NGO established in 1979, however, actions prove that a great deal can be achieved if you have the right focus, vision and following and can actually get things done at a global and national level.
The issues in this case concern the well-being of the planet and range from nuclear test ban and non-proliferation to peacekeeping, democracy, and population and sustainable development.
The Secretary General of this group is a tall, elegant New Zealander named Kennedy Graham. He was a career diplomat for 16 years before moving into the clangorous and competitive world of NGOs. Said Graham: “My main personal reason for taking this on was because I wanted to live professionally what I had been saying, that is transcending the national interest – to serve the planetary interest and we have to be very careful to
ensure that the two are not incompatible.”
All too often diplomats and ministers who have the moral and constitutional obligations to speak up for their own governments see issues only from a national point of view. In the case of the Parliamentarians for Global Action, which has a membership of 900 parliamentarians worldwide who can coordinate, consult and come to a consensus on how to better marry the two interests, the effort can be gratifying.
In the 1980s Graham’s group was involved in a movement towards nuclear disarmament and political rapport between the two superpowers This was in response to parliamentarians from both the North and the South, who felt that the nuclear arms race was getting to a point that the future of the planet was at stake.
“We took an initiative by approaching a number of key political leaders around the world, that were heads of state and we actually sent delegations around the world to meet with them,” Graham said. “Out of a large number of meetings the outcome was an agreement by six key heads of government which included Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi of India and Olof Palme of Sweden – and at our initiative they issued high level statements appealing to the leaders of the two superpowers to break the standoff and come together.”
For this initiative the organization received the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize in 1986 (two years after Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards as she walked in her garden in New Delhi.) It is these kinds of honors that have helped create a strong reputation for Graham’s outfit, particularly among foundations and bilateral donor agencies. The annual
budget for Parliamentarians for Global Action is some $1.5 million this year, much of it raised through these grant makers. One top official of the Rockefeller Foundation recently cited Graham’s personal energy and creativity in broadening the scope of Parliamentarians for Global Action.
The organization’s membership is drawn from 65 countries. In addition there is an International Council of 33 parliamentarians from 28 countries, who meet once a year and set the general guidelines for the organization’s work. The Council elects an Executive Committee which is the decision-making body of 10 people who meet at least three times a year. An Advisory Council of eminent persons advises the organization on the broader, strategic direction of its work. From time to time, Parliamentarians for Global Action also associate with ongoing enterprises such as the current Independent Commission on Global Governance, which is co-chaired by former Swedish premier Ingvar Carlssen and Sir Shridath S. Ramphal, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth. When the Commission met not long ago in Tarrytown, New York, virtually all its high profile members made it a point to come to New York for a dinner hosted by Kennedy Graham’s group.
In the last 14 years, the parliamentarians have focused on issues as diverse as nuclear test ban and non-proliferation; United Nations peacekeeping and collective security; sustainable development, including environmental security and international economic reform; international law and global institutions focusing on the creation of an International Criminal Court; parliamentary initiative for Democracy and a program in Africa.
The focus on Africa has been especially significant, according to Graham, “Because of the plight Africa is in we developed a special task force of 40 parliamentarians, some from Africa and some from the North with a view to promoting democracy, good governance and economic recovery.” The task force was directly involved in supporting the efforts of parliamentarians from Togo and Cote d’Ivoire in their pursuit of democracy.
What promoted the parliamentarians to get involved in population activities? According to Graham, in the last few years there has been a more prominent collective voice from the south coming through the International Council, led by parliamentarians from India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Chile. Graham said: “The message that came out of the Earth Summit last year was that it was not sufficient to talk about the environment and to talk about sustainable development. You had to talk about sustainable development, not just economic development, not just environmental integrity but also population and equally important consumption patterns—that is to say poverty and lifestyles in the North and the South.”
“But what is more important is the follow up and what happens after these events,” he said. “Our substantive aim is to get effective parliamentary action to promote policies by governments and also by NGOs—for both population planning activities and sustainable development policies as one and the same thing.”