At a time when much political discourse is about putting up barriers and returning to a national, protectionist agenda, and when the international agenda which government does have is overwhelmingly focussed on trade and economic relations, it is incumbent on civil society and on NGOs to do more to build international relationships around the things which matter to us, says Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE The countryside charity.
At CPRE The countryside charity, we are concerned for the countryside, landscapes and green spaces around us, near where people live in England. But we understand that the history and culture which defines that countryside, the landscapes which bear the imprint of countless generations, is complex and reflects the work and culture of people beyond national borders. Like so much of what concerns charities, our natural and manmade landscapes were often the results of international influences, materials, flora and fauna, individuals and forces of change throughout history. We can only truly understand our own natural environment if we take an international perspective.
Likewise, the threats which the modern environment faces know no borders, particularly those arising from climate change and biodiversity loss. Even the changes in agricultural and economic forces cannot be understood in a purely national context.
This is also true of the many social, health, justice and equality issues which so many of us stand for in the charity sector.
Most importantly the solutions to the challenges we face are best developed with as many other people, from other backgrounds and nationalities, as possible. Good practice is best developed and shared across the widest possible area. The mistakes and successes of others who face the same challenges and have the same agendas as us, from whatever country, are invaluable as we seek to solve some of the most complex environmental, economic and social challenges Britain has faced. And the UK charity sector, in turn, has much to share; knowledge and experience from which others can benefit.
And there is strength in numbers. Many of us who work for and lead charitable causes are constrained by a severe lack of resources and face strongly competing interests which at a national level often win out against our cause. We need to work together wherever we can. Why not build alliances as widely as we practically can?
For all these reasons, and because there will overall be a benefit to our sector and our beneficiaries, we must look for opportunities in our projects and programmes to connect with others with similar aims in other countries. We can seek international partners where that will add to the value of what we are seeking to do. Sometimes that will lead to new financial opportunities from beyond our borders: this is a case of enlightened self-interest.
It’s our job to do this. We can’t allow cultural, social and community bonds across nations to be ignored or eroded just because they’re not currently receiving the attention from the government. As always for civil society, where there’s a political vacuum it is time to step in, whatever our cause and to whatever degree we are able.