Shriver speaks with students and faculty during a lecture at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Non-state Actors in International Affairs
September 17, 2012
Author: Charles Hobbs
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: The Future of Diplomacy Project
For Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, the evolution of the news media over the last half-century has dramatically altered the relationship between the American public and issues of international development. Suddenly, in the 1960s, reports about starvation and genocide “started coming into everyone’s living room.” A famine in the Republic of Biafra ceased to be an abstract concept; images instead appeared nightly as his family watched the evening news. The result, says Shriver, “was that parents would sit around with their children and say ‘what are you going to do about this?’”
Speaking on September 11th to students and faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School, Shriver—a Fisher Family Fellow with the Future of Diplomacy Project—outlined the ramifications of these changes world of international development. At first, Shriver said, “international bodies…were created [by governments] to stabilize political relationships between countries.” But while even USAID was initially created to “avoid collapse of existing political and social structures,” the proliferation of public awareness of the challenges of international social development has motivated individuals to create the “tens of thousands of independent actors that [exist today, and that] do not…have security at their core.”
According to Shriver, these non-state actors play three fundamental roles that distinguish them from their state-centric cousins. First, non-state development actors place power in the hands of individual citizens to work towards making a difference. “Non-traditional actors have to be…hands on actors,” says Shriver, “actually doing [the development work] themselves.” Secondly, non-traditional development organizations are key catalysts for the construction of communities of support in developing regions, creating “networks of citizen actors who have common interests [and] common needs.” Finally, non-state actors can provide a knowledge base and infrastructural support for public policy advocacy, helping local-level actors to request better treatment and services from their government.
The results, said Shriver, enable individuals and non-state actors to enforce development claims on a humanitarian agenda. “Our job [at Special Olympics] is to take that citizen community [that we have developed], and to continue to leverage them to do more.”
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