13 - Conclusions

The foundation of Social Watch is a reflection of a new way in which NGOs relate to multilateral organisation in general and to the United Nations in particular. Its creation is a clear reflection of a period in which electronic communications began to be used as new technological tools for advocacy and mobilisation by NGOs, particularly in the South. The creation of Social Watch stems from an 'obvious' lacuna in which there were hardly any mechanisms to commit governments to implementing social development policies. Social Watch originates from the need to monitor national obligations to economic and social rights within the context of an international enabling environment for social development.

The examination of the foundation of Social Watch leads to the following conclusions.

  1. In the view of the chair of the Preparatory Committee for the Social Summit and according to other actors in the UN system, NGOs made a critical difference to the outcome and substance of the Summit. In this light one should see the point made by the UN Secretary General for policy coordination and sustainable development that the Summit marked a turning point in NGO-UN relations. Social Watch is a product of that achievement.
  2. The foundation of Social Watch is based on objectives that were identified by NGOs in the preparations to the Social Summit in September 1993 in Oaxaca. Specifically these were stated as:

    1. The need for broad participation, including organisations with experience of social development at local level;
    2. The need to develop specific political strategies relating to specific national and regional political realities;
    3. The need for an inclusive, open and transparent process to encourage participation.
  1. The emphasis of Social Watch to monitor social development at national level stems from, and is consistent with, the initial analysis by NGOs that the value of the Social Summit would be in enhancing dialogue between civil society organisations and governments at national level.
  2. ITeM elaborated a strategy for realising the objectives stated in point 2 in September 1993 with the experiences it had gained in utilising electronic media for enhancing NGO participation in the UN Conferences through the APC network.
  3. Novib's strategic coalition in building a 'reference group' established a new approach to advocacy by donor organisations in the UN. This created important new political opportunities and enabled broader participation in the Summit. It also produced tensions relating to:
    1. Financial dependency creating political dependency;
    2. As a consequence of this dependency much consultation was needed to establish criteria for participation, substance and strategies. This had the danger of excluding consultation in a broader (not Novib and finances related) setting;
    3. Novib's need to demonstrate that its extensive inputs were justified in terms of results, therefore wanting visibility and tending to claim ownership.
    4. The engagement of locally oriented organisations alongside pure lobby organisations in the process sought to ensure broader participation, but at the same time caused differences in ability to define individual strategic processes and negotiation tactics.
      1. The transformation of the reference group into a Development Caucus was a successful attempt to deal with the tensions referred to in the previous point. It made the NGO co-operation much more inclusive and transparent.
      2. The co-operation achieved at the Social Summit between North and South, the Women's Caucus, the Development Caucus, regional and thematic caucuses, demonstrated by the support for the Quality Benchmark for the Social Summit has been a marking point in the context of NGO participation in UN conferences. The process shows that specificity in interests, agenda's and advocacy strategies by different NGOs can be combined with some level of commonality in the political approach towards the overall process.
      3. The regional caucuses have been crucial instruments to strengthen the Southern involvement and structure Northern involvement in an engagement with their own governments. In the European context Eurostep fulfilled a crucial role in engaging donor organisations in strategies to influence Northern governments.
      4. Notwithstanding all the formal declarations that the importance of the Summit laid in its follow-up hardly any preparations were undertaken to ensure that a mechanism for follow up was developed. Perhaps thanks to Novib's presentation of Social Watch an immediate beginning of a follow-up process was made possible. On the other hand, the take-over of the initiative that had naturally emerged from the nature of NGO cooperation during the Summit almost destroyed the initiative.
      5. This review cannot consider the counterfactual, namely what would have happened to Social Watch without the profound involvement of Novib. Nevertheless, in this regards it is perhaps useful to make a comparison with the transformation of the 'Novib Reference Group' to the 'Development Caucus'. The fundamental understanding that was expressed repeatedly by a coalition of Southern NGOs under the leadership of TWN, namely that an open and transparent participation should be encouraged and promoted, allowed Novib's ambitions in the Summit to be directed in a more helpful and useful approach to partnership. To a larger or lesser extent, Novib has been responsive to these views and has allowed real partnership to emerge in the Social Summit process, based on equality - while accepting independent thinking of its 'partners'.
      6. In other words, one of the yardsticks for the success of Social Watch is exactly how Novib has been embedded as an actor in the overall set up. A key question to address is as to whether Social Watch established an open, inclusive and equal relationship between all political participants, including Novib, as well as a transparent approach to resolving questions that emerged from the central role that Novib took as an initiator and predominant financier of the project.
    5. This was not always in the best interest of creating common approaches.

      In conclusion, the success of Social Watch has to be measured in terms of its ability to allow national NGOs and national coalitions to engage in a debate with their government on social policy, without exclusion and in an open and transparent manner. The success of Social Watch has to be measured in terms of its ability to engage local organisations with experience in social development in the national debate. These would be measured in the context of the obligations of the international community to create an enabling environment for social development. If Social Watch has made representations on this basis of engagement with the UN follow up mechanisms of the Social Summit, it certainly has achieved the ambitious objectives set out by NGOs in the beginning of the preparations to the Social Summit in the summer of 1993. Social Watch was established as an enabling process that would work towards substantive goals. It is first and foremost the quality of this process that must be assessed in any examination of its success.