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Changing stakeholder perspectives: NGOs

In this Changing Stakeholder Perspectives series, we investigate the ways in which the New Normal – media anarchy, hyper-transparency, and interconnectivity – has fundamentally altered the relationship between businesses and their stakeholders and what this means for corporate reputation and external communications.

In preceding blogs, we examined how in a hyperconnected world, organisations are increasingly courting investors with authentic ESG policies; and attracting employees by aligning corporate ethos with people’s sense of purpose. Emerging among the most powerful stakeholders in helping, or hindering, companies in these aims are NGOs. Their influence over corporate behaviour has been accelerated by the transparency demanded in the New Normal.

NGOs in the New Normal

As a result of shifts in the way organisations communicate, and are communicated about, NGOs have become far more impactful in pursuing their agendas. With greater interconnectivity, the power of NGOs to reach and influence other stakeholders has increased. 

A decade ago, they stood on the sidelines, lobbying government, mounting mainstream advertising campaigns, and approaching people on the street to espouse their causes: they lacked the ability to directly influence the behaviour of company directors or the direction of companies. 

Today, they are on the pitch, directly targeting sympathetic supporters and, thanks to greater transparency in corporate reporting, wielding in-depth information about how organisations operate.

Media anarchy

As well influencing key stakeholders, NGOs are now able to harness the power of the people through mass movement, mobilising hundreds of thousands of supporters through online petitions, bespoke social media campaigns, popular protest and widespread shaming of organisations deemed to be behaving badly. 

NGOs are now able to connect people directly with their government representatives, or with corporate complaints departments, to demand change. The reach of this type of political pressure is proved by the ‘Revoke Article 50’ parliamentary petition, which achieved 6,103,057 signatures before it closed. 

A petition created on a site such as Change.org is a powerful tool for those with a cause: successful campaigns have included the freeing of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman consigned to death row on religious charges, following pressure from 3.3m British signatories. The ability to use these tools to make individual voices heard, and to create a wave of influence, has changed the game for NGOs – and their dynamic within it.

Greater transparency in corporate reporting allows NGOs to more easily target certain companies; and those companies, not wanting to be negatively differentiated from the rest of their sector on a given topic, are more likely to change their behaviours. The risk of falling prey to a viral NGO campaign is very real in the hyperconnected world.  

NGOs have been quick to take advantage of their new power. Reporting from Greenpeace on plastics use has revealed that some multinationals are paying lip service to cutting down, while employing practises that lock in the use of plastic packaging. This has resulted in over 4 million people around the world joining the Greenpeace campaign demanding that corporations take action to end the plastic pollution. In 2015, the US government banned the use of plastic microbeads after it was shown that they were harming marine life. This change was brought about in part thanks to a community campaign by the Story of Stuff Project

In today’s hyperconnected world, NGOs aren’t just banging a drum on these issues: they are giving other stakeholders the data needed to make informed decisions about how they consume products, where they invest and which companies they choose to work for. 

Consumers, clearly, are a key stakeholder group influenced by NGO activity. In our next blog in this series, we look at how the new normal is empowering them to drive corporate action as never before.

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