Friday, March 09, 2007

GRI: A Global Action Network identity

Global Action Networks (GANs) are a new type of organization that have appeared as a phenomenon in response to major global sustainability issues that require international cooperation - and require cross sectoral or multi-stakeholder participation to tackle. This differs from past approaches where solutions may have been hammered out in governments and then handed down - we are seeing a more participatory and grass roots approach to finding solutions that are more accurate, timely, and credible due to the legitimacy of these GANs.

GRI's founders determined that a generally accepted framework for sustainability reporting was needed in order to create a globally coherent language and information set of sustainability performance data. This reporting framework would be used by all organizations to report, and would benefit internal stakeholders (management, employees, Boards or leadership) and external stakeholders (communities, NGOs, investors, media, etc.) all who would be empowered by access to this data. Additionally professional stakeholders would be involved in helping the users to actually implement this reporting framework (accountants, consultants, software providers, course providers, etc.)

Therefore it was a logical conclusion that the stakeholders that would use and benefit from the reporting framework would get together to build this reporting framework. This is where GRI draws its legitimacy from.

In this sense, GRI is a true GAN - and one of the first ones to appear. Some other GANs exist but tackle very different issues and topics. Check out the Forest Stewardship Council, Transparency International, Global Fund for AIDS, Global Water Partnership, etc.

I was invited by a group called GAN-net that is trying to help improve the effectiveness and impact of GANs to join a meeting in Stockholm, Sweden. At this meeting I have met about 20 other people that are in charge of communications in their own GAN, or are communications professionals that work with GANs to utilize various technologies that improve their ability to create participatory networks.

It's been a great two days where we have focussed on web 2.0 technology and how these new resources can be used to empower our networks. GRI counts its network at about 20,000 strong in over 60 countries and speaking about 30 languages. We run "formal" and "informal" engagements to build the reporting framework, govern the organization, and generally move the mission forward. We are looking for ways to run these engagements better, and to empower the network to engage with itself to exchange information and best practice - not driven by the secretariat. I have come away with lots of great ideas! If you have ideas about how to improve global action network - style communications, please do not hesitate to contact me!

More about GANs:
Traditional approaches to solving global issues are based on the premise that governments can create effective solutions through international agreements. However, this approach has proven incapable of addressing the scale of important issues in a sufficiently effective and timely manner. GANs have grown up in recent years to fill this gap, offering new strategies to build effective systems.

GANs are distinguished from traditional NGOs and intergovernmental and business organizations because they are formed by diverse stakeholders who are interested in a common issue, and who agree to work together to achieve extraordinary results. The critical contribution that they can provide global issues is their ability to create consensual knowledge and action among diverse stakeholders. GANs are defined by five key characteristics. GANs are:
-Focused on issues for the public good (not profit-seeking)
-Integrating systems-building agents that foster linkages among diverse organizations and projects that share common goals
-Boundary-crossing – North/South, rich/poor, policy makers, techno-scientists, funders, global institutions, professional disciplines, and cultures
-Inter-sectoral structures that promote fundamental changes by engaging business, government, and civil society (non-profit) organizations collaboratively

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