Fighting back against the “right wing” and the “disinformation” it spreads is a critical step for restoring trust in nongovernment organizations (NGOs) that are working with governments and other organizations on projects aimed at “improving the state of the world,” according to participants on a panel Tuesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In a discussion about “disrupting distrust,” Richard Edelman, CEO of the global communications firm Edelman, said one of the “sadnesses” he’s experienced over the last few years has been the “deterioration of trust” in NGOs. He said companies are now trusted more than NGOs in dealing with civil society issues, and he blamed this change on “right-wing groups.”
“My hypothesis on that is right-wing groups have done a really good job of disenfranchising NGOs,” he said. “They’ve challenged the funding sources. They’ve associated you with Bill Gates and George Soros. They’ve said that you’re world people, as opposed to actually what you are, which is local.”
Edelman said issues like how to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and racial equity are all suffering because of reduced trust in the NGOs. He also suggested one way to regain that trust is for NGOs to fight back against these right-wing groups.
“You guys are great at punching but terrible at taking a punch,” he said. “You have to learn to do two things. One is preempt. When they’re going to punch you, you gotta know they’re gonna punch you and say, ‘Why are they punching us?’ and … we call it pre-bunking.
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“The other is when they hit you and they’re inaccurate, hit back. Don’t take it,” he added.
Edelman and other panelists acknowledged that people opposed to environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals in the private sector are also forcing companies to reassess how to talk about those goals. When a representative of the Anti-Defamation League said companies are starting to shy away from the explicit use of “ESG” as a corporate goal, Edelman encouraged companies to hold firm.
“Business needs to stand its ground,” he said. But he also said companies should not lose sight of the fact that they’re in business to make money and should make sure ESG goals don’t force them down a path of “chasing some woke illusion.”