Transnational Advocacy, Global Civil Society?

Emerging Evidence from the Field of Education

By Karen Mundy and Lynn Murphy

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It is now possible to speak of an international system of influence powerful enough to bind up the educational destinies of the world’s peoples. If such a network of global influence limits the discretion of peoples to shape their own educational destinies and imposes its own solution to the material-moral dilemma facing educational policy, then it is worthy of investigation (Jones 1992, xiv.)

We shall know a new era has begun not when a new elite holds power or a new constitution appears, but when ordinary people begin contending for their interests in new ways (Charles Tilly).

The argument that a widening, and increasingly influential "international architecture" has developed in the field of education has been made with relative frequency in recent years, as interest in, and research on international organizations in the field of education has grown. As reflected in the quotation above, from Phillip Jones’ masterful study of the World Bank, much of this work has tended to focus on (and question) the hegemonic influence of formal intergovernmental organizations, both as these directly influence domestic educational policies, and as they construct a global interpretation of, and set of responses to, worldwide educational "needs."

At the same time, a mounting literature on globalization and the changing nature of international relations has also provided convincing evidence that an increasingly strong and complex array of international non-governmental actors and new nongovernmental organizational forms is emerging. Described variously as "transnational advocacy networks" (TANs), or "transnational social movements" (TSMs), these new organizational forms bring together a wide array of nongovernmental organizations, citizens associations, and trade unions, in forms of activism which target global level institutions and issues, while also attempting to use global level visibility to level changes at the national level. TANs or TSMs are the focus of a thriving and often ethically inspired literature which sets out to study the origins, strength, influence and long term implications of their activities on the broader development of a world level political system. They are frequently portrayed as the building blocks of a prototypical "global civil society," with the power to influence, and perhaps democratize the structure of world politics, both through their increasing influence within existing international institutions, and through their capacity to use this influence to leverage change in individual nation states.

This paper brings together these two lines of research: one concerned with the evolution of an international system of influence in education; and the other with the broader possibility of a more democratic form of global governance. Our focus is on the emergence and evolution of nongovernmental actors and organizational forms engaged in transnational advocacy in the field of education. We ask whether or not there has been a deep, qualitative change in the involvement of nongovernmental actors in the field of international educational cooperation over the past decade, parallel to trends described in the burgeoning literature on transnational advocacy networks, international nongovernmental organizations and global civil society. The answer to this question, as we hope to show, is yes. There are clear signs of a new and qualitatively different wave of transnational nongovernmental advocacy initiatives in education, especially around the idea of "education for all." This can be seen by comparing nongovernmental participation in international educational fora over time; by looking more closely at the recent genesis of an NGO-led "Global Campaign for Education;" and by analyzing nongovernmental activism at the most recent UN sponsored international meeting on education, the World Education Forum, which was held in April 2000 in Dakar as a 10 year follow up to the Jomtien World Conference on Education for All.

Our goals in this paper are twofold. First, we present an exploratory account of the trends suggestive of a new kind of nongovernmental activism in the field of education. Second, we set out an analytical framework for assessing their significance, drawing on concepts from research on new social movements, and from some larger theoretical debates about global civil society. Here we hope to raise larger questions about the future of international cooperation in education and the potential for new and more democratic structures of global governance.

Transnational Advocacy Networks and Global Civil Society: Towards A Conceptual Framework

The end of the Cold War, rising evidence of global economic, social and cultural integration, and the increasingly visible activities of a network of transnational social movements focused on such issues as the environment, women’s rights, human rights, third world debt, and globalization, have given impetus to a renewed interest in the influence of non-state actors in the world system over the last decade. From a purely empirical stance, studying the growing complexity and volume of international relations among nonstate actors (and between nonstate actors and states), and characterizing the way these interact to structure a single, world level political system has become a major challenge to the entire field of international relations. At the same time, an ethical or normative question lies at the core of a growing interest in the capacity of nongovernmental networks to influence world order. Whether framed by liberal or critical traditions of political thought, the key question here is "to what extent can networks of nongovernmental actors influence the development of a more just, that is both equitable and representative, world order?"

Collective action among nongovernmental actors at the international level is, of course, not an entirely new phenomenon. International links between nongovernmental organizations, citizens groups, expert communities, and trade unions began to thicken in the middle of the 19th century, often stimulated by the desire to share information and offer mutual support and solidarity for national reform movements. Once an international link was made, many of these organizations played a key role in the establishment of formal intergovernmental agreements and institutions – key examples include the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century, the child survival movement of the early 20th century, and the work of the international labor movement in the formation of the International Labor Organization and its conventions. Yet because international nongovernmental organizations were so often dependent on resources provided by nation-states, and because they were often marginalized in the decision-making processes of international organizations during the Cold War, there was a widely shared sense that these were not significant, or sufficiently autonomous players in international politics. Until quite recently political scientists have viewed transnational nongovernmental actors as marginal to state-based power politics.

Today, that sense of insignificance has evaporated, for two broad reasons. The first set of factors influencing the new salience of international nongovernmental actors is largely contextual. This century has seen the steady institutionalization of new, global structures of governance and political power, which have "transformed world politics into a global politics of agenda setting, coalition building and multilateral regulation." Moreover, recent intensification of processes of economic, political and cultural globalization each raise questions about the appropriate locus of political decision making in an increasingly complex, interdependent world. The problem is of a world order in which decisions made by centers of power (states, multilateral institutions, and, increasingly, international corporations and financial capital) have repercussions beyond national boundaries, while forms of democratic participation and societal compromise remain territorially grounded in increasingly hollowed out welfare states. In this context, it can be argued, the rise of new technologies, increasing pressure on nongovernmental actors to fill in the social service vacuum left by the state, and the historical accumulation of models and spaces for transnational collective action have combined to created a unique "opportunity" for the development new forms of effective transnational nongovernmental contestation.

Second, in simple, empirical terms, "the number, size, professionalism, and the speed, density and complexity of international linkages among [INGOs] has grown dramatically in the last three decades." This growth is especially marked around the issues of women’s rights, the environment, peace, development and human rights, where a variety of nonstate actors have come together as advocates of major social and political change in what scholars have described variously as "transnational advocacy networks," "principled issue networks," and "transnational social movements." These networks are increasingly visible – one need only think, for example, of the nongovernmental activism at the 1990s United Nations conferences; the Jubilee 2000 campaign against Third World debt; the international campaign against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment; the anti-landmine campaign, and the broad coalition movement mobilized against the fall 1999 meetings of the World Trade Organization, and the Spring 2000 meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The expansion and visibility of such transnational nongovernmental advocacy networks have raised two key questions for international relations scholars. First, how do these networks work? Second, are they effective, autonomous actors in world politics? On the first point, there is broad consensus: working without significant financial or electoral resources, these new collective actors use telecommunications and transportation technologies to build networks and generate international public interest in an issue; they develop highly publicized campaigns that target international organizations or intergovernmental regimes; and they link domestic and international groups in collective protests against both governments and international organizational policies in what Keck and Sikkink describe as a common "boomerang" strategy designed to provide domestic movements greater leverage against their home governments. Furthermore, these networks have had a cumulative impact: they increasingly interact, use similar strategies and repertoires for action, and mobilize around overlapping collective action frames.

Less agreement exists, however, about the long term influence of these nongovernmental networks on world politics. Most scholars agree that their greatest impact to date has been "at the level of agenda setting, the spreading norms and changes in intergovernmental and governmental discourse." But very different assessments have been offered of their success in holding nations and international organizations accountable to new agendas, or of achieving the deeper democratization of international organizations and intergovernmental fora which is so often a key part of their agenda. Thus while many scholars have gone so far as to describe these new nongovernmental networks as the harbingers of "global civil society," (which they conceptualize as a redemptive, semi-autonomous political space in which popular organizations come together to create and participate in institutions of global governance), others raise serious questions about the long term capacities and representativeness of the new advocacy movements. They prefer to think of them as uneven transnational (rather than global) networks whose development into an effective global civil society needs to be empirically studied rather than naively assumed.

Our framework for researching and thinking about transnational advocacy in the field of education draws extensively from this broader literature and its debates. Like most scholars of the new transnational advocacy, the first stage of our research has been an effort to describe and explain the appearance of new forms and types of collective action among nongovernmental actors in the field of education. In what follows below, we thus begin with an historical overview of nongovernmental networks in the field of education. Then we borrow from recent research on new social movements and transnational advocacy, to organize a case study of the key organizations involved in the genesis of a recently launched nongovernmental advocacy initiative, the Global Campaign for Education. Here we look at two key processes. First, we build on Smout’s observation that INGOs derive "their legitimacy from their ability to make demands in terms of collective needs… [and] from their innovative capacity to suggest ways to meet these needs," by focusing on the "mobilizing frames" or ways in which global educational problems and their solutions are talked about and used to legitimate and motivate collective action among nongovernmental actors. Second, we look at the "repertoires of contention" which each advocacy initiative utilizes, defined here as the set of practices and strategies being developed by international nongovernmental actors to leverage educational change.

The second step in our framework involves addressing the "so what" question which underlies recent debates about transnational advocacy and global civil society. To do so, we follow in the footsteps of international relations scholars who have transposed the concept of civil society from its more common usage in political theories of the nation state. Like them, we recognize that the absence of a supranational state makes the transposition of theories of "civil society" problematic, but we think that the current world context – characterized by powerful international institutions and mounting popular recognition of the need for greater international oversight of the world economy – makes it imperative that we consider the potential emergence of global civil society, and find ways of studying it empirically.

Two theoretical traditions have been used by scholars in the field of international relations to generate a loose evaluative template for thinking about transnational advocacy networks and the extent to which they approximate global civil society. The liberal tradition emphasizes the importance of a pluralistic political order, and values civil society in two ways: both as a check on the excesses of the state and governmental bureaucracy, and as the arena responsible for producing the degree of consensus and civility necessary for the functioning of formal, representative democracy and a pluralist society. Gramscian and other critical traditions are more interested in understanding the opportunities for counter-hegemony and contention that exist within civil society; here it is assumed that civil society is the space in which consent to a capitalist system is culturally constructed by a variety of actors (including state appartus), and therefore also a key location for its opposition.

Over all, theories of international civil society drawn from the literature on domestic politics "envision a dense exchange among individuals, groups, and organizations in the public sphere, separate from state dominated action" Thus civil society can influence government in two ways: "…it enhances political responsiveness by aggregating and expressing the wishes of the public through a wealth of nongovernmental forms of association; and its safeguards public freedom by limiting the government’s ability to impose arbitrary rule by force."

Three concepts, "civility," "democracy," and "contention," seemed especially central to either one or both of these literatures. We developed them into a set of questions which can be asked both of specific international nongovernmental advocacy initiatives in education, and of the nature of collective efforts and interrelationships as a whole:

To what extent and in what ways are these initiatives building global "civility"? By civility we refer to the development of a dense pattern of sustained interaction and collaboration among international nongovernmental actors, around a coherent framing of the issue of education. This notion draws from the ideas of de Tocqueville and Putnam in focusing on the extent to which the capacity and habit of participation, reciprocity, and social pluralism is being cultivated, expanded and sustained at an international level. In the transnational sphere, authors have argued that the establishment of regularized interactions between transnational actors and international organizations and nation state governments can also be used as a measure of global civility.

To what extent and in what ways are these initiatives "democratic" in the sense of representative of, and accountable to those for whom they purport to advocate? One measure of this might be the extent to which efforts promote horizontal linkages, through new forms of communication, decision-making and direct participation, rather than new patterns of hierarchy or exclusion. Another measure might be the extent to which regularized structures for global (geographically representative) participation are encouraged over the reproduction of existing inequalities between citizens of rich and poor nations. The ideal of "democracy," as used in both liberal and left liberal theories of civil society, can imply quite different ideal forms for global governance, ranging along a spectrum from radical participatory democracy to a more institutionalized form of constitutional, representative governance. Thus in answering this question it will also be interesting to ponder the kind of democracy that the practices of each advocacy initiative embodies.

To what extent are these initiatives "contentious" in the sense of advocating fundamental social change, independent of, or in opposition to, existing structures and initiatives organized by states and international governmental organizations? Based on the literature on social movements and Gramscian theories of civil society, one key measure of contention will be the extent to which initiatives are autonomous and provide forceful alternatives to the current structure of world order. Another measure might be the extent to which transnational initiatives have a self-reflexive strategy which targets changing global decision-making structures and supporting local level struggles.

In asking these three sets of questions about transnational advocacy efforts in education we do not intend to imply that they all fit neatly together. For example, the ideal of "civility" may well be at odds with the ideal of "contention," while, as noted above, democracy can take on dramatically different institutional forms. Nonetheless, looking at each of these questions should allow us to examine the nature, shape and extent to which something approaching a new transnational political space, and new collective actors, are emerging around the issue of education.

        International Nongovernmental Actors in the Field of International Educational Cooperation: Historical          Overview

Nongovernmental actors have long played a significant role in the field of education, beginning with the role played by religious organizations in spreading western forms of schooling. The late 19th century and early 20th century, a period which saw the rapid global spread of western models of compulsory mass schooling, also saw the growth of secular international organizations and networks with educational interests and programs, taking up such causes as child survival, child centered pedagogy, peace education, the need for internationalism among youth and students of higher education, and teachers rights.

There is very limited research on these organizations – certainly too little to allow us to fully assess their roles in spreading western educational models or in pushing for greater intergovernmental cooperation in the field of education. Nonetheless, our survey of secondary sources suggests that the evolution of formal intergovernmental organization in education during the 20th century owed much to periods of intense nongovernmental activism, especially at key historical conjunctures when new institutions for international cooperation were being formed. After the WWI, for example, it was primarily nongovernmental actors, including international women’s organizations, international teachers unions, and transnational groups of progressive educators who pushed the League of Nations towards the formation of an International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation, despite the hesitation of member governments. Some of the same nongovernmental actors helped to create the International Bureau for Education, which later became the first intergovernmental body focused on the problems of public education. Nongovernmental organizations were again instrumental in the inclusion of education in the mandates of international organizations formed after World War II. In 1945, a group of predominantly American nongovernmental organizations lobbied and drafted the wording which eventually led to the inclusion of educational cooperation within the charter of the United Nations organizations. The same group of NGOs also convinced the American delegation to insist that the Economic and Social Council of the UN take on responsibility for the promotion of international educational, despite considerable governmental resistance. Later, a wide range of women’s and child welfare organizations helped to further secure the legitimacy of education as a field for intergovernmental cooperation by introducing the right to free elementary education in the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights. In each of these instances, international nongovernmental actors overcame the hesitation of national governments, insisting that education was a legitimate, indeed morally necessary field for international organization.

In light of these efforts, it may seem surprising that the post World War II era, which saw an unprecedented expansion of formal intergovernmental cooperation in the field of education, did not see the development of coherent, regularized forms of networking and communication among international nongovernmental actors in the field of education, nor the emergence until very recently of common efforts to shape international educational institutions. Although the number of nongovernmental organizations with an interest in education rapidly expanded in this period, these organizations also remained highly fragmented and marginalized within what emerged as a fairly expansive arena for intergovernmental relations in education.

This marginalization can be traced to several factors, including the development of a wide array of education-related nongovernmental organizations with highly differentiated, and often isolated mandates and interests. On the one hand, the post 1945 era saw the development of an expanding group of (mainly northern) membership organizations each narrowly focused on different levels of education (higher education, literacy, early childhood education, university level students), or specific educational issues (teacher professionalism and unionism, second language learning, peace education). Some of these organizations, most notably international teachers unions, were divided into American-led or more social democratic and Soviet-oriented organizations. At the same time there was an explosion of church-based and secular charitable organizations (including a whole new generation of development and relief organizations) who carried out smaller scale educational projects in local communities, but whose work generally remained limited to supplementing national educational systems and thus concentrated in such fields as nonformal, adult and literacy education. Actors across these two groups rarely came together to discuss global educational problems. Their work developed in relative isolation from each other, with only marginal linkages to the expanding work of intergovernmental organizations (like Unesco, the OECD, the World Bank, and Unicef), which had been charged with constructing education as a field for international action in the period after 1945.

There is also considerable evidence that international nongovernmental actors saw their relationships to intergovernmental organizations become more constrained during the period between 1945 and 1980. This occurred in part because intergovernmental organizations came to view international educational problems as linked, first and foremost, to the achievement of national economic and political modernization, and thus as primarily in need of technical expertise delivered to (and between) governments and governmental actors. Nongovernmental actors were quite absent in this conceptualization of educational development. Furthermore, the escalation of Cold War politics pushed intergovernmental bodies like Unesco to rigidify its relationships with nongovernmental organizations and focus more fully on governments as their chief partners. It is thus not surprising that nongovernmental actors ended up having highly formalized and superficial relationships with organizations like Unesco, nor that they were absent at such formative IO-sponsored meetings on education as the 1961 OECD meeting on Education and Economic growth, the major regional conferences on education hosted by Unesco in the 1950s and 1960s, the influential Bellagio conferences on education of the 1970s, and even the Unesco sponsored literacy conferences in Tehran and Persepolis.

Only in one field is there evidence that this trend towards fragmentation and marginalization was not the case: that of literacy and adult education. Here we can hypothesize that the absence of a standardized model of national responsibility left a vacuum which was quickly filled by a host of nongovernmental actors whose interest in literacy and adult education extended back to the 19th century. These NGO interests gave birth to the International Council of Adult Education and ushered in a vibrant period of transnational advocacy during the 1970s when networks of literacy and adult education organizations were formed and engaged in highly popularized debates about the appropriate purposes and organization of education (led by Paulo Freire, among others). Yet although this new movement into educational advocacy achieved some degree of formal recognition within Unesco, the idea of alternative educational structures or of a right to adult and literacy education made little substantial headway in the programs of the new giant in the field of international cooperation in education, the World Bank, and still less in the practices of national governments. In the late 1980s, as sources of finance to support literacy became increasingly scarce, the cohesion of the literacy and adult education network began to erode.

A New Context of Opportunity: Education in Crisis and the Rising Involvement of International Nongovernmental Actors in the Education for All Movement

In contrast to the period between 1950 and 1990, the second half of the 1990s has seen a remarkable explosion of international nongovernmental activity in the field of education, especially around the idea of education for all. The contextual roots of this explosion can be traced to several factors. Perhaps foremost among them, the basic assumption upon which many earlier forms of nongovernmental cooperation in the field of education had been founded – the idea that education is an entitlement of citizenship, properly provided by a state whose capacity as service provider was expected to expand – was steadily eroded by a world-wide economic crisis, as well as by the rise of a new set of ideas about public policy in Western welfare states. For many countries in the South, the 1980s were a lost decade, in which primary enrolment rates declined and school systems fell into disarray. Meanwhile, in the North questions about the ongoing capacity of governments to continue to expand both domestic social services like education, and international development assistance, were met with an increasingly popular blend of neo-conservative and hyper (or neo)-liberal ideas. From the mid-1980s, debates about education across OECD countries were increasingly characterized by a new interest in such issues as privatization, public choice, decentralization, the use of national testing, cost-recovery and efficiency, each linked to this new policy agenda. Similar ideas were promulgated by the major multilateral and bilateral development organizations involved in the field of educational cooperation, especially those dominated by Western governments, the World Bank and the OECD.

These contextual factors alone might have been enough to stimulate new levels of activism among some international nongovernmental actors in education. But they also set in play a complex set of interorganizational dynamics that produced education as a heightened field for international debate and action. In the late 1980s, four major international organizations (Unicef, Unesco, the World Bank and the UNDP) decided to host a World Conference on Education for All (WCEFA). Held in Jomtien in 1990, the WCEFA harnessed together a relatively uncoordinated group of education specialists across these agencies in an effort to expose the deterioration of world- wide access to education in the poorest of developing countries. Its formal goal was to get governments in both North and South to sign on to a program of action aimed at solving this crisis. But the motivation for the WCEFA also came from the practical recognition among senior managers in Unesco, Unicef and the World Bank that education might be an issue capable of revitalizing and legitimating their organizations in the face of mounting rich country reluctance to expand North South development assistance. In turn, the WCEFA popularized the notion of a crisis in educational access at a time when a new wave of world conferences and transnational nongovernmental advocacy networks, focused on human rights, child survival, women’s rights, and international development, was emerging. Beginning with the Rio conference on the Environment in 1992, "Education for all" was taken up as a major theme in a series of United Nations sponsored world conferences and summits, as well as by NGO networks on human rights, women and child survival. Following Jomtien, an interagency EFA commission was established, with a secretariat in UNESCO and a steering committee formed of representatives from intergovernmental and bilateral aid organizations. The EFA Forum, as it was called, was charged with formulating a decade of EFA activities and overseeing the realization of central WCEFA goals.

The new international interest in "education for all" had a complex and contradictory impact on the involvement on nongovernmental actors in international educational cooperation arenas. On the one hand, it marked the beginning of a new era of awareness and interest in nongovernmental organizations among intergovernmental organizations, who officially recognized a role for nongovernmental actors in the provision of educational services. In light of this recognition, a remarkable number of nongovernmental participants were invited to attend the Jomtien Conference when compared to their virtual absence at earlier international meetings on educational development. Nongovernmental organizations were involved in pre-conference regional consultations; 125 were invited to be formal conference participants, and an NGO representative was invited to sit on the WCEFA steering committee.

But while the WCEFA declaration, and the Education for All activities which followed, officially promoted the idea that nongovernmental actors were fundamental to the achievement of EFA, it also seems clear that the official thinking about NGO participation was focused primarily on the role of NGOs as flexible collaborators in the provision of educational services. This was made clear in preparations for Jomtien. Here, NGOs were given little opportunity to participate in the selection of NGO participants. Instead, sponsoring intergovernmental organizations and national delegations contended for control of invitations, with the result that some Western based development and relief NGOs were invited, while many of the literacy and adult education NGOs officially affiliated to Unesco through its Collective Consultation on Literacy were ignored. Even though the WCEFA secretariat hosted an NGO meeting one day ahead of the WCEFA, this selection process "ensured that the NGO contingent at EFA would not, unlike many of the governmental donor organizations, form a pre-existing group." Many NGO delegates were critical of the WCEFA conference, comparing it to the grass-roots NGO organization which preceded preparations for the Unesco-sponsored International Literacy Year conference in 1990 (which Jomtien largely overshadowed). They argued that the WCEFA was dominated by an inter-agency agenda; was predominantly staffed by western education development professionals (who operated with a budget ten times larger than that provided for ILY); and embodied a Western-led set of solutions for developing country problems which emphasized a traditional, North to South delivery of education, which virtually ignored the issue of adult literacy.

Jomtien follow-up activities likewise suggested a peripheral role for nongovernmental actors: no clear structures for NGO participation in post Jomtien activities were established, and there was no NGO representative on the EFA Inter-agency Steering Commission until 1997. Unesco’s Collective Consultation on Literacy (and later Basic Education), an NGO body which might have been expected to play a strong role vis--vis the new EFA secretariat at Unesco, instead remained quite marginalized in the EFA structures. This remained the case even after the Unesco NGO Collective Consultation became the first NGO coalition invited to appoint a representative to the interagency Education for All Steering Committee in 1997, in part because intergovernmental organizations provided little financial support to help the body develop the participation of its membership, and in part because the earlier focus of its membership had been supplanted by the Jomtien focus on formal schooling. Thus despite heroic efforts on the part of its co-chairs in 1998 and 1999, the Unesco Collective Consultation proved unable to generate a common mobilizing frame or set of mobilizing strategies for nongovernmental actors in relation to the promises of education for all.

There is nonetheless considerable evidence that the WCEFA and its follow up activities acted as an important catalyst for the development of new transnational linkages among nongovernmental educational actors, in two ways. First, WCEFA created set the stage for an expanding (though nonetheless insufficient) pool of funding for nongovernmentally implemented educational projects. Second, WCEFA set out a set of formal commitments among governments that nongovernmental actors could latter hold governments and international organizations accountable to. Our preliminary research suggests that (at least) five important trends in nongovernmental activity emerged (or expanded) after Jomtien, each marking a considerable expansion in the education-related networking and advocacy efforts of nongovernmental organizations.

Table 1. Key Trends Among Nongovernmental Actors in Education After 1990

Development and relief organizations take up or expand education sector work, and move into advocacy work.

Virtual coalitions and advocacy networks on women, human rights, development and debt relief take up education as a component of their agenda for global justice.

International teachers associations renew their commitments to internationalism

Unprecedented levels of interaction emerge between nongovernmental actors and intergovernmental bodies like Unesco, UNICEF and the World Bank.

New forms of cross-organizational collaboration emerge, as in the Global Campaign on Education

By the mid-1990s, driven in part by the new wave of donor support and funding of nongovernmental organizations as educational service providers, a wide number of international nongovernmental organizations involved in development and relief had begun to open or expand their programs in basic education and girls education. They are northern based and vary considerably in quality of their relationships to southern nongovernmental actors – facts which have caused some authors to typify them as "venue-shoppers" who tend to focus on uncontroversial and readily programmable issues. Several of the largest of these organizations – including various national branches of Save the Children, World Vision and Care -- launched educational advocacy initiatives in the 1990s. For the most part these advocacy initiatives are not linked to more radical demands for global governance and global transformation which has characterized the new wave of INGO activism in fields like gender and development or debt relief. The energies of these organizations have remained by and large focused on developing their own capacities for service provision in the field of education and their repertoires for contention focus primarily on expanding their individual representation within intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. They attend international conferences and adopt the broad framing of educational problems established at them, especially where these frame the problem of education for all in the notion of children’s rights.

A second new trend can be seen in the expansion of education-related activities among a new breed of "virtual transnationals," coalitions of development NGOs utilizing new telecommunications technologies to build a common front for lobbying governments and the broader public about global governance issues. In the late 1990s education became a prime theme in the advocacy work of these networks. Two examples are illustrative here. "Reality of Aid" is an initiative, first launched by the International Council on Voluntary Action and Eurostep in 1993, aimed at providing independent reports on official development aid. In 1997, 1998 and 1999, its reports focused on donor performance in basic education. Similarly SocialWatch, an initiative sponsored by a broad coalition of southern NGOs, has published reports which draw attention to governmental commitments to basic education made at the WCEFA and the World Summit for Social Development. These virtual transnationals model a new repertoire for contention in the field of nongovernmental activism in education, bringing nongovernmental actors together in sophisticated information gathering and "watchdog" efforts.

Perhaps the most striking response to the WCEFA, however, has been a movement toward highly contentious campaigning and coalition building among nongovernmental actors in the field of education. In the fall of 1999, three nongovernmental actors launched independent advocacy campaigns which targeted the education for all commitment made by governments and international organizations at Jomtien. Two of these, Oxfam and ActionAid, are large, multi-branched Northern development NGOs, with successful policies of fostering southern nongovernmental organizational partnerships and experience in developing highly publicized campaigns for fundraising in the north. The third campaign was launched by Education International, an international association of teachers unions formed in 1993. In 1999, these organizations joined their campaigns to launch a Global Campaign for Education, targeting both the end-of-decade review of Jomtien education for all efforts, the UN follow-up conference of the Social Summit, and the spring meetings of the G7 in Japan.

Because these campaign and coalition building initiatives so closely imitate transnational advocacy efforts in other fields, we think it is worth looking more closely at the development of their mobilizing frames and repertoires of contention. We do so below, before turning to examine the efforts of Global Campaigners and other nongovernmental actors at the culminating event of the Education for All decade, the World Education Forum held in Dakar in April 2000.

The Genesis and Evolution of the Global Campaign for Education

Oxfam’s "Education Now" Global Action Campaign

The organization which has played the leading role in forging the Global Campaign for Education is Oxfam International. Established 53 years ago as a relief NGO in Britain, Oxfam has grown into a "transnational" development NGO. It has autonomous national chapters in 11 countries. These affiliates carry out activities in over 120 countries and have a combined budget of approximately US $390 million. Unlike many of the other super-NGOs, much of Oxfam’s budget comes from non-governmental sources.

In 1995, convinced that processes of globalization required Oxfam to augment its influence and involvement in an emerging global political arena, the federation of Oxfams created Oxfam International, a network organization designed to increase Oxfam’s influence on donor and Southern governments and international organizations, especially on such issues as debt relief, IMF structural adjustment programs, and intergovernmental commitments to development assistance and global social welfare. Discussion within Oxfam International turned to the idea of launching a global campaign in 1997, when the organization felt a need to revitalize its debt and structural adjustment campaigns. Despite the fact that the federated Oxfam’s have relatively little experience in the field of education, education was chosen as the campaign theme for a two key reasons. First, there existed multiple recent international declarations and commitments regarding education for all, and a clear pattern of backsliding on these commitments among donors. Second, "education for all" seemed capable of bringing home the reality of the debt crisis and the emergent problems of globalization to the average citizen.

The federated Oxfam’s launched their joint campaign "Education Now," in March 1999. Initially, the campaign appeared squarely focused on establishing Oxfam’s own agenda vis--vis international organizations, the public, and the inter-agency EFA network. Oxfam sought, and received, the endorsement of one of Britain’s largest newspapers, the Guardian. It approached both the World Bank and Unicef with a global action plan in December 1998, proposing to them that they adopt the Global Action Plan as the financial mechanism for meeting EFA goals. The Global Action Plan called for specific, financial commitments for meeting the Jomtien Education For All targets; the establishment of an independent facility for delivering resources to education; debt relief for impoverished countries; reform of the IMF, World Bank, and other intergovernmental organizations whose policies have impeded spending on basic education and other social services; increases in levels of bilateral foreign aid; and the use of debt relief and policy reforms to encourage Southern governments to spend more on education.

In both the Global Action Plan, and the "Education Now" report, Oxfam developed a distinctive mobilizing frame for thinking about global access to education. Rather than tackling such questions as "why education and not food security" (a debate common in bilateral aid organizations), "what kind of education, education for what" (the key question raised by the international literacy and adult education movement) or "how best to deliver education services" (a common preoccupation among reform minded educationists as well as neo-liberal public policy analysts), Oxfam used the issue of access to education to illustrate the more general failures of international organizations and governments north and south to provide basic public goods. To quote from Oxfam’s Education Now:

"Various polite formulations can be found to explain away the collective failure of governments. But the hard fact is that the rights of the world’s children are being violated by the world’s governments – the same governments that have reneged on the promises made at Jomtien."

Oxfam also made a clear statement that education must be free and is properly delivered by the state – both issues that were sidestepped in the final declaration of the Jomtien conference.

The early impact of Oxfam’s campaign launch was impressive. Oxfam was quickly invited to join the interagency committee overseeing post-Jomtien efforts, as an NGO representative on the EFA steering committee. Media coverage of the campaign was also significant. However, by summer 1999, Oxfam’s call for a Global Action Plan had been modified by the steering committee, whose members ruled out the idea of a special funding facility for education.

Two other components of the Oxfam International campaign strategy in 1999 are worth noting. The first are Oxfam’s efforts to link the Education Now campaign to the Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign and the broader network of INGO and social movement organizations opposing structural adjustment and neo-liberal macro-economic policies. At the July 1999 G8 summit, Oxfam joined with Education International to conduct a high level lobbying campaign and also participated in the Jubilee 2000 direct action. One outcome of this lobbying was a statement by the G7 and G8 ministers promising a new debt relief initiative which placed considerable emphasis on access to education; G7 ministers also promised to include civil society in the preparation and implementation of World Bank and IMF Projects. Education International later joined Oxfam in meetings with the heads of the IMF and the World Bank.

Oxfam International also launched efforts to engage its national chapters in local advocacy around the Education Now campaign. This proved somewhat problematic, however, because Oxfam affiliates often have a limited background in education and few links to other educational actors. Oxfam sought to overcome this handicap by developing a broader coalition of nongovernmental actors involved in education at the international level.

Education International: A New International Advocacy Effort Among Teachers’ Unions

By the middle of 1999, Education International, the recently formed international association of teacher trade unions, emerged as Oxfam’s chief new partner in global educational advocacy. It later became the coordinator and headquarter organization for the Global Campaign for Education. Education International’s participation marks two novel events in the field of nongovernmental activism in education. First, it suggests a renewed solidarity and internationalism among teachers unions, which have for decades been sharply divided into rival international associations. Second, it marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation between international trade union associations and other international nongovernmental actors around a common agenda for global change. For both these reasons it is important to consider the mobilizing frames and repertoires for contention that Education International brings to the new educational advocacy.

In 1993, 97% of the members of the International Federation of Free Teachers Unions and the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession agreed to a merger of the two organizations, ending decades of fierce rivalry and ideological disagreement. The new association, Education International is "a world-wide trade union organization of education personnel," committed to both the expansion of trade unionism among teachers, and the development of a unified, professional vision of global educational issues. Education International has 23 million individual members, drawn from 294 national trade unions and associations in 152 countries and territories. It is governed by policy resolutions made at tri-annual World Congresses and it has an elected Executive Board. Its activities are implemented by a Secretariat based in Brussels and through 6 regional offices.

Historically, the central concern of international teachers associations has been the establishment of international standards on the status of teachers. This concern has continued to be a major focus for the activities of Education International, but the new organization has also reorganized its aims and goals around the threat to teachers and public education more generally posed by austerity and the new policy agenda. Education International’s new mobilizing frame is captured well in the address of Fred Van Leeuwen, the organization’s General Secretary, at Education International's founding congress. He promised that Education International would wage a battle with neo-liberalism, step up efforts to influence the IMF and the World Bank, and target the "international education crisis….[as marked] by austerity measures in the South and by neo-liberal schemes in the North, put forth to destroy free compulsory education and replace it with some form of fragmented semi-public or private system." Van Leeuwen concluded:

"Let there be no misunderstandings about our intentions to use this organization as a tool to intensify the North South dialogue, to help establish a more just international economic order, to pursue the active involvement of trade unions and to reform the significant role that public education plays in democratic development, economic growth and social progress."

Thus, alongside its more traditional advocacy of the right of teachers to collective bargaining, Education International, like Oxfam, has become engaged in broader debates about economic globalization. Indicative of this, it has expanded its activities to include research and lobbying related to the World Trade Organization. Education International is also active in the defense of children’s rights and the promotion of human rights more generally (especially as related to discrimination against women, racism, homophobia and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples, and child labor). It has played an active role in the child labor movement, and is a founding member and international convenor of the Global March against Child Labor, the fourth INGO to join the Global Campaign on Education.

Early in 1999, Education International officially launched a campaign calling for "Quality Public Education for All" after it was given the mandate to do so by resolution of its 1998 World Congress. The ideological center piece of its mobilizing frame is an unequivocal commitment to the notion of publicly funded and provided, free education. In the view of Education International, public education is a necessary safeguard against the growth of economic and social inequality. Education International argues that public education (as compared to privatized education) is also more likely to encompass a humanistic, plural and democratically oriented curriculum. The Education International campaign has also argued for the right of teachers (and other civil society actors) to participate in national and international educational policy making arenas. Here Education International builds upon such earlier efforts as its 1994 report on the inclusion of teachers in the Education for All initiatives of the 9 most populous countries. Finally, the Education International campaign takes up specific policy issues related to what it describes as the neo-liberal policy agenda in education: it questions existing approaches to national standardized testing, decentralization, privatization, and civil service reform. Each of these issues is taken up in the newsletters and journals Education International circulates to it membership, and in research and policy documents it posts on its popular website.

Education International’s decision to help launch the Global Campaign for Education in the Fall of 1999 brought to the new nongovernmental advocacy in education both a distinctive mobilizing frame, and a new and extensive repertoire for contention. Although Education International’s capacity to mobilize its membership has not yet been tested, the organization represents the largest membership-based international nongovernmental actor with an interest in educational issues. It also boasts extensive formal affiliations to other international union movements and formal consultative status with many United Nations organizations, and it is status as a trade union movement suggests a capacity for disciplined and coherent activism on the global state.

ActionAid, The Global March on Child Labor and the Launching of the Global Campaign

In the fall of 1999, two more organizations and several southern NGO networks joined with Oxfam and Education International to launch the Global Campaign. The first was ActionAid, a British NGO, which is not only among the largest UK development NGOs, but also an transnational NGO with affiliates in Ireland, France, Italy and Greece. ActionAid emphasizes community development and partnership with Southern NGOs and citizens organizations; since 1990 it has engaged in advocacy work, with current campaigns on the issues of education for all, ending the sex trade, and the threat to Third world agriculture posed by genetically engineered seeds. ActionAid has worked extensively in the field of education in developing countries, distinguishing itself for its community based methods of teaching adult literacy, and by its early involvement in such nonformal and nongovernmental educational initiatives as BRAC. In 1999 ActionAid launched a five year education campaign, "Elimu: Education for Life." The campaign is organized around a decentralized coalition of national campaigns and regional networks based in several Southern countries. Its objective is to "increase the participation of poor people in the design and implementation of education policy and practice by organizing people around education issues, forming strong alliance with civil society and influencing governments and donors." The participation of local NGOs in education for all policies at the national level has been a key goal of the Elimu campaign, a goal which distinguishes it from the early Oxfam campaign.

Global March Against Child Labor, a southern based coalition of NGOs which views itself as the world’s largest social movement in defense of exploited children, also joined the leadership of the Global Campaign in 1999. Launched in 1997, the Global March was initially organized around a highly publicized series of national demonstrations and a world wide march, in which both national policies and international agreements related to child labor were the lobbying target. The campaign appears to have played an important role in getting governments to agree to the development of the new international Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. The Global March coalition placed education high on its agenda, going so far as to argue that free education is "the best way of ending child labor."

ActionAid’s Elimu campaign and the Global March Coalition brought to the Global Campaign for Education a unique opportunity for partnership with a larger number of Southern NGOs. Several southern coalitions subsequently joined the Campaign, some of which include the South African NGO Coalition, the Campaign for Popular Education (Bangladesh), the Brazilian National Campaign for the Right to Education, the Citizen’s Education Initiative in India, the Ghana National Education Campaign Coalition, the Civil Society Action Committee on EFA, Nigeria; AASSAFE, Mali; Cadre de Concertation en Basic Education, Burkina Faso; Consultation of Adult Education in Latin America, Mexico; Forum for African Women Educationalists, Mozambique; and Tanzania Education Network. The Campaign’s 8 person steering committee reflects this widening membership: four positions are held by representatives of ActionAid, Oxfam, Education International, and the Global March against Child Labor. The other four are held by four southern NGO coalitions including a representative from CAMPE, Bangladesh; Education International, Togo; the Brazilian National Campaign for the Right to Education; and the South African National NGO Coalition.

With these new partners the "Global Campaign for Education" promised to mobilize "public pressure on governments to fulfil their promises to provide free, quality education for all people, in particular for our children and for women." Each of the Campaign’s sponsoring organizations continued to develop its own independent campaign, while joining in a series of joint efforts leading up to the Dakar world forum. These included a "Millenium appeal" letter sent to heads of states calling for high level participation in the EFA review and commitment to the goal of education for all; and a "Global Week of Action" in April 2000 to engage NGOs and teachers unions around the world in advocacy activities the week prior to the Dakar meeting. Campaigners also joined Unesco in hosting NGO parallel conferences at various regional EFA preconference meetings in 1999/2000. By March 2000, the Campaign claimed the affiliation of over 400 nongovernmental members.

Table 2. Global Campaign on Education: Partners, Repertoires and Mobilizing Frames


Core Mobilizing Frame

Strategic Repertoires

Education for All

Official Frame


Education is a basic right and a requirement for national development. It depends upon national political will and better "partnerships"

Global declarations: persuade developing country governments to sign on to the goal of education for all.

Shift educational aid to target basic education.

Provide better technical solutions and more careful data for monitoring progress.

Oxfam International

"Education Now"

The achievement of the right to education depends on debt relief, reform of international organizations, and a clear commitment by governments to the provision of free, quality, public education to all.

Use aggressive popular media campaign and high level lobbying to expose failure of Western governments to meet their Jomtien commitments.

Link efforts to other campaigns for debt relief (Jubilee 2000). Form broad coalition of NGOs and INGOs.

Focus on lack of resources at global level.

Education International

"Quality Public Education for All"

Quality, free, and equal publicly provided education for all is a global priority.

To achieve this goal:

The working conditions and rights of teachers must be protected and teachers must become part of the policy making process

Neo-liberal reforms must be fought.

Union-like structure with access to wide geographic membership.

Utilize formal links to ILO, Unesco, UN, and other international trade union bodies for high level lobbying.

Uses language of trade unionism and labor rights.


"Elimu: Education for Life"

Expand definition of public education to include right to literacy and adult education.

Involvement of local communities and NGOs in educational decision-making is crucial.

Brings distinctive record in community based literacy and adult education programs.

Strong local NGO partnerships and commitment to giving poor and marginalized populations a voice in national policy making.

Overall, the Campaigners’ preparations for the Dakar meeting suggested a new kind of coherence and mobilization among nongovernmental actors in the field of education. In November of 1999, they began a heated and contentious exchange with the intergovernmental agencies sponsoring the EFA review. Campaign sponsors sent a strongly worded letter to World Bank president, James Wolfensohn signaling their intention of making the Dakar forum a key event in their campaign. The letter described the interagency EFA forum as "failing to galvanize governments and build a constituency around the EFA project," and demanded "evidence of a concrete global plan of action through which the resources needed to achieve the goal of education for all can be mobilized; and through which civil society and local communities are given a greater voice in the development of education policies." In February 2000, Oxfam (with the backing of other Campaigners) announced that it would leave the EFA Forum Steering Committee in protest of its failure to organize and effective EFA effort with concrete targets and commitments, a new kind of international financial mechanism for delivering educational assistance, and a better organized and more democratic EFA secretariat.

Just before the Dakar meeting, a clear, 9 point platform was adopted and widely circulated among Campaign members, which they planned to use as the basis for lobbying at the Dakar declaration (see Table2 below). Press conferences were held in Tokyo and Washington. Meetings with members of national delegations and other important actors like the European Union were held. Throughout the week before the Dakar conference, electronic messages were shared among Global Campaign participants, as they tried to identify which high level leaders would be attending Dakar and which delegations would meet with them in Dakar. All of these efforts took place in the face of the relative disorganization of the World Forum organizers, who both attempted to keep a tight limit on NGO invitations to Dakar, and failed to establish explicit procedures or mechanisms for the amendment of the Dakar declaration.

Assessing the New Educational Advocacy in Action: The World Education Forum, April 2000

What kind of interim assessment can we offer of these admittedly very recent and relatively new trends towards coalition building, advocacy and contention in the field of international educational cooperation? One way of answering this question is to look more closely at nongovernmental activism at the Dakar 2000 World Education Forum, the most recent in a long line of international meetings held to discuss global educational problems and the culminating meeting of the United Nations Education for All decade. In what follows, we do not claim to provide an exhaustive account of the outcomes of the Dakar meetings. Rather we follow in the footsteps of other scholars who have attempted to understand the issue of transnational advocacy and global civil society by focusing on the changing nature of nongovernmental participation at international conferences. Much of what we report is drawn from participant observation and interviews conducted at Dakar.

The Dakar meeting was somewhat different from the Jomtien conference, where nongovernmental actors participated alongside other delegates and no NGO parallel conference was held. It was also much smaller in scale than the major UN conference of the 1990s, with fewer than 800 issued invitations. Members of the conference’s interagency steering committee hoped to channel NGO participation into regional preparatory conferences, and thus kept tight control over a highly limited number of invitations to the World Forum. These were primarily given to national delegations. As a result, nongovernmental participants formally invited to participate in the World Education Forum numbered only 55 (compared to 125 NGOs represented at Jomtien; 3,000 at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women; and 248 at the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights), while less than 300 invitations were issued to the Dakar NGO pre-conference (compared to approximately 300,000 attendees who flooded to Beijing, and the 598 NGOs who officially attending the Vienna pre-conference). The World Education Forum was nonetheless similar to many other UN conferences in that it included both an officially sponsored pre-conference for nongovernmental actors (something that had not happened at Jomtien), and a series of drafting and roundtable meetings intended to produce a new framework for action and set of intergovernmental commitments on the theme of education for all.

Nongovernmental actors – both those belonging to the Global Campaign and others, took their participation in Dakar very seriously, and used the event as an occasion to develop their advocacy networks, as well as their repertoires for contention. Dakar therefore provides an important opportunity to consider the nature and extent of the "civility," "democracy" and "contention" exhibited in the new educational advocacy efforts among nongovernmental.


Both the character of nongovernmental participation at Dakar, and the kinds of nongovernmental activism leading up to it suggest a growing density of transnational nongovernmental activities around the theme of "education for all," indicative of the kind of civility that Clark describe in their account of NGO activism at other major United Nations Conferences during the 1990s. The Dakar conference saw the participation of a slightly larger number of nongovernmental actors than the WCEFA in 1989. Continuing the shift begun at Jomtien, large development and relief organizations as well as a few nonprofit consulting groups held disproportionate numbers of invitations, while members of literacy and adult education groups participated in smaller numbers and with less coherence.

But the real change between the two conferences can primarily be found in the development of a highly cohesive strategy for coordination among nongovernmental participants. Focused primarily around the leadership of the Global Campaign for Education, nongovernmental actors held pre-conference strategy sessions, met daily for debriefings, huddled around the Campaign’s media table, argued over the content of their formal report to the World Education Forum, and held meetings to elect nongovernmental representatives to the two key committees formed for the conference, the declaration Drafting Committee, and the Futures Committee. Even though many points of disagreement between Campaigners and non-campaigners emerged, the 9-point "Bottom Line" platform prepared by the Global Campaigners became the recognized mobilizing frame for intra-NGO discussions and for general lobbying efforts. The coherence of the Campaign’s mobilizing frame is suggested in the fact that Global Campaign members were elected for the large majority of NGO seats on the Drafting and Futures Committees. Overall, Dakar saw a high degree of frame alignment among nongovernmental actors and the development of widely shared understandings about the "rules of the game," among nongovernmental participants, each suggestive of a widening civility.

New levels and kinds of civility among international nongovernmental actors, governments, and inter-governmental organizations emerged at Dakar. Initial efforts to contain nongovernmental participation at the pre-conference and in the formal proceedings of the World Education Forum were ultimately reversed in a last minute decision by Steering committee members on the eve of the Forum At the forum itself, nongovernmental actors were also integrated in various ways into the conference proceedings: they read a statement of their demands at the opening of the Forum, addressed several of the plenary sessions, elected a total of 10 representatives to the Steering and Futures committees, and had a plenary and strategy session devoted to the sole issue of future EFA participation with civil society. Southern NGOs were invited to special meetings with national delegates from Britain and the Netherlands. Speeches by officials from intergovernmental organizations and governments formally endorsed the Global Campaign and recognized a new role for what was commonly referred to as "civil society" in achieving education for all. Official recognition of the Global Campaign was carried further when several high level officials asked for individual meetings with the Campaigners. The character of this civility, however, varied. Among intergovernmental bodies, for example, the World Bank showed the strongest interest in working with Campaigners. Unesco, however, did not endorse the Campaign and sometimes criticized it.

All of these factors suggest a more formalized recognition of nongovernmental actors at Dakar than at Jomtien, a new acceptance of their role as policy level interlocutors, and new degrees of coordination and coalition building among NGOs themselves. Of course this new civility was not "complete," and we discuss some of the rivalries and uncivil behavior which did occur below. Potential threats to the Campaign’s contributions to global civility can be seen in competition among campaign sponsors, and the possibility of serious disputes over their various visions of education. For example, there would seem to be a likely tension between Actionaid’s emphasis on local community control of education and the assumption by Education International and its teachers unions that educational decision-making is properly concentrated at the national level. But there are also signs that the patterns of civility initiated by the Campaign at Dakar are continuing to widen: in early May the popular website launched a new portal to cover Education for All, and the Global Campaign has also launched a website and listserve for all civil society actors interested in supporting the campaign.


How democratic, that is representative and accountable, was the participation and activism of nongovernmental actors at Dakar? Perhaps what is most interesting here is that these were among the most frequently raised issues at nongovernmental meetings during the Dakar conference, as well as in our individual interviews with Dakar participants. In Dakar, both nongovernmental participants and some officials were quick to criticize the dominant role played by the Global Campaign at the conference, pointing out in particular that the Campaign is led by a few, Northern based organizations, several with limited experience in the field of education, and less than altruistic motives. Some Southern NGO participants, as well as members of the Global Campaign itself, questioned whether this dominance had led to too great a campaign focus on northern governments and international organizations, at the expense of building self-sufficient Southern coalitions. Reflecting this Southern organizations voiced less satisfaction than others about the accomplishments of the Campaigners at Dakar, because these did not include serious targets for southern government expenditure on education. Leaders from Save the Children Alliance, and World Vision (who are among a fairly sizeable number of nongovernmental actors that were not affiliated with the Campaigners at Dakar), faulted the Campaign’s overemphasis on resource mobilization and its narrow definition of schooling. Others regretted the loss of real discussion about education specific matters, and criticized the Campaigners for importing a slick lobbying machinery into the EFA process.

Attention to the question of democracy was also carried through to final meetings among Global Campaigners, the group that became at least in official eyes the de facto representative of civil society. For example, tensions emerged between Campaigners who prefer more fluid approaches to representation and the more formal, centralized and hierarchical model of organizing favored by Education International (which has a union-like membership structure). At one point, a rift opened up between Oxfam and other Campaigners, when Oxfam endorsed the World Bank’s "fast track plan" for EFA on behalf of the Campaign without consulting other members. ActionAid and Southern affiliates argued for greater attention to the inclusion of southern actors and the mobilization of southern networks. Campaign leaders appeared to take these debates seriously, announcing that they would include more southern representatives on the Campaign steering committee and make the mobilization of regional and national NGO networks a key part of future activities.

One of the major constraints to democracy and accountability among nongovernmental actors at Dakar was rooted in the official structure of the conference itself. Dakar followed a common UN model for international meetings which is structured around the goal of achieving consensus among governmental delegations, and is only gradually developing a common approach to the integration of nongovernmental actors in the process. At Dakar, this model was evidenced in efforts to control NGO invitations, and in the absence of transparent and pre-established processes for amending the declaration. The official world provided no direct funding for NGO participation and official organizers felt very limited responsibility for ensuring that a wide, or representative sample of NGOs participated. In this context what happened at Dakar is not surprising: the loudest voices among the nongovernmental participants became recognized as the common voice for civil society at the conference.

The very fact that this issue was so openly debated might be seen as an indication that a certain criteria of democratic practice was achieved at Dakar, even though the overall pattern of relationships among NGOs at Dakar tended to mimic the structure of center-periphery relations in the world system, in which Northern actors play leadership and coordination roles. Ultimately the test of democracy lies in the realization of NGO commitments to collaborate with a broader range of partners and to engage Southern and smaller NGOs in educational advocacy. Even should this occur, however, careful empirical study will be needed to ascertain whether a greater representation of ideas from the grassroots occurs. Increased levels of interaction might also cause rising levels of disagreement and competition in ways that will test the formal commitment to "democratizing" relationships among actors, or it could produce a top-down socialization of new and weaker partners in which authentic participation is lost.


How far has the development of new international nongovernmental activity in the field of education gone towards meeting the idealized criteria of contention? One way of answering this question is to consider the extent to which these new initiatives – both in their mobilizing frames and in their repertoires of contention, promote fundamental social change and alternative visions of world order that are in opposition to, or independent of, existing structures and activities organized by states and intergovernmental organizations. More concretely, we can try to weigh the success of their contention by looking at the effects nongovernmental advocacy appears to have had on the decisions made at Dakar.

Campaigners brought a clear platform of demands to the Dakar conference. As can be seen in Table 3 below, at least some of their demands were met: inclusion of the wording "free" education; endorsement of the idea of national educational forums and an expanded definition of education which includes commitment to early childhood education and adult literacy; and a commitment to annual high level EFA review meetings. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the Campaigners did not wield sufficient influence to achieve commitments on issues which cut more closely into the prerogatives of existing international organizations or nation-states (especially of the more powerful, donor states). Thus demands for a clear commitment of resources by rich country governments were again sidestepped (as they had been at Jomtien), and wording related to the necessary reform and strengthening of UNESCO were removed. The key innovation proposed by the Campaigners in their Global Action Plan – the establishment of a new international funding mechanism for education development under joint IO, government and civil society oversight — was also left aside, in part because rich country governments prefer to deliver resources bilaterally, on a country-by-country basis.

Table 3. Demands Made by the Global Campaign and Their Effects on the Dakar Declaration

Mobilizing Frame Effect on Final Declaration

1. Clear, time bound commitments by governments and IGOs to providing free and compulsory basic education.

2. Clear and time-bound process for countries to agree their own plans of action for achieving EFA, with binding mechanisms for civil society participation.

3. Clearer and measurable commitment to an expanded vision of basic education – especially in quality, gender equity, literacy and nonformal education.

4. A clear international financial commitment to EFA, both through binding commitments from governments and through a financial Global Action Plan with a special provision for Sub-Saharan Africa. The suggested target is 8% of all bilateral aid earmarked for basic education.

5. A new code of conduct to improve aid itself.

6. "Democratisation, decentralisation, and empowerment of the present Education for All structures and mechanisms." Campaigners seek to "empower" future EFA mechanisms with civil society participation, and call for the reform of Unesco in particular.

7. A commitment to a mid-term global review of EFA in 2006 and an official UN conference in 2010.

1. Change from affordable education to free and compulsory education by 2015 in final text. However, there is no mention of sanctions for countries that do not meet goals and targets.

2. National Plans to be developed with civil society by 2002. Plans will "be time-bound and action-oriented." Commitment to building National EFA Forums, with mandatory civil society engagement.

3. National plans to address 6 goals of EFA with 50% improvement in adult literacy by 2015, commitment to early childhood education, gender equity.

4. The final document mentions a "global initiative aimed at developing strategies and mobilizing resources needed." Several donors (Canada, US, and World Bank) announced unilateral funding increases, but do not earmark specific %.

5. The Framework makes references to improving donor coordination, strengthening sector-wide approaches, and providing debt relief and/or cancellation. Sub-Sahara Africa named as one of neediest areas.

6. Unesco reinstated as lead in EFA,(wording to reform & strengthen Unesco omitted by Director General without consultation of futures’ committee); also a new commitment to the development of national EFA Forums with civil society participation.

7. Framework calls for an annual review, led by D.G. of Unesco, comprised of high level officials to hold the global community accountable for commitments made in Dakar.

Several things about the mobilizing frames and repertoires of contention utilized by NGOs participating in the Global Campaign for Education suggest that this is more deeply contentious form of nongovernmental participation than has previously been seen in international educational arenas. Strategically, the Campaigners are better and more professionally organized and they are utilizing high level technologies to support the sharing of information. Campaigners also claim to be mobilizing a wide coalition of nongovernmental and civil society actors – they argue that:

The difference between Jomtien and Dakar is not in the final declaration. Hundreds of thousands of activists, teachers and parents have made governments and world institutions sit up and listen. We will not go away until every child is in school and adult illiteracy is dramatically reduced. That is the difference.

While some of this is sheer bombast, it remains the case that the Campaign’s claims to contentious politics adhere firmly in its future promise to mobilize an ever widening civil society participation around international educational demands.

Finally, it is worth asking how contentious the mobilizing frame offered by the Global Campaign is. In preceding sections, we noted that the Campaigners have distinguished themselves among nongovernmental participants in the international educational arena both by embedding the problem of education within a larger agenda for changing North-South, center-periphery relations, and by taking the view that education can be used as a venue for enlarging national and transnational civic action. Much of the Campaign’s contention has to be seen against the backdrop of a much larger wave of transnational advocacy efforts which urge the development of what Edwards calls "new social contracts" between citizens and authorities at various levels of the world. Global Campaigner’s mirror these demands, by linking the crisis of basic education to problems of economic globalization, debt relief, structural adjustment, and declining aid from G7 nations, and by demanding free, publicly provided, mass education and an expanded voice for non-governmental organizations, unions and peoples organizations in domestic educational policy making arenas.

Nonetheless, the choice of education as venue for transnational advocacy raises important questions about the contentious character of Global Campaign. Our case studies suggest that when large INGOs went "venue shopping" in the 1990s, education was chosen precisely because it was an issue already adopted by governments and intergovernmental organizations, and thus capable of providing increased legitimacy and leverage. Here it is important to restate that the choice of education as a field for international activism has occurred precisely because education is widely accepted as a need and right by the Western public, because it is the most highly legitimated avenue for the provision of public welfare within American society, and because educational expenditures form so large a portion of the activities of the state which neo-liberal thinkers hope to contain. In important ways it is a reflection of the continuing hegemony of the United States, and the erosion of the United Nations as a forum for more politicized demands for global economic redistribution.

Being deeply contentious in this context would seem to require a fine balancing act between more general demands for greater international and national expenditure on education, and a critical effort to rethink the models and purposes of schooling and its relationship to other means of ensuring social security and solidarity on both a global and a national scale. Some observers believe that Global Campaign has already done a poor job of preserving this balance – they point to its limited focus on educational matters, its endorsement of the use of international sanctions which may further infringe upon southern countries right to design their own educational plans, and they worry about the somewhat surprising bedfellow that the Campaign’s hard-edged approach to the achievement of EFA has found in the World Bank.

Even though such judgements are probably premature, they do suggest things that might be used as measures of Campaign’s contentiousness in the future. We would also include in this category the following questions and tensions. First, how will the Campaigners deal with the tension between the fact that NGOs themselves are implicated in the new policy agenda as service providers for marginal and poor populations, and their vision of an expanding, state provided and guaranteed education (most forcefully advocated by Education International)? Second, will they continue to advocate for new mechanisms for channeling untied international finance for education to the developing world? Finally, as their framing of global educational solutions develops, will these organizations continue to push inwards towards new models of learning and educational governance, as well as towards new forms of societal compromise and redistributive justice at a world level?


In this paper, we have explored the emergence and evolution of nongovernmental organizational forms and actors engaged in transnational advocacy in the field of education, in an effort to bring to existing research on the evolution of global structures influencing our educational destinies a new awareness of the significance of transnational organization and contention in world politics. Our goals were both to describe what we suggest is a "new wave" of transnational advocacy in education, and to asses its implications for the evolution of a "global civil society."

In our view, there has been an important qualitative change in the involvement of nongovernmental actors in the field of international educational cooperation over the past decade. Five key trends are suggestive of this wider development. Development and relief organizations are becoming more interested in education, and in advocacy, and they increasingly link these two together. Virtual nongovernmental coalitions have increasingly taking up the theme of education as a component of their agendas for global governance, linking it to the issue of debt relief and to an interlocking frame of international and national responsibilities for social security and solidarity. Teachers unions around the globe have committed themselves to a renewed internationalism, and through their newly formed organ, Education International, are launching a campaign in support of public education for all. There are clear signs of new forms of cross-organizational collaboration, and of unprecedented levels of interaction between INGOs and intergovernmental bodies around the theme of education.

The heart of the article focuses on a paradigmatic instance of this new transnational advocacy in education -- the genesis of a non-governmentally sponsored Global Campaign for Education, and its effects on the World Education Forum held in Dakar. We pointed out that organizations involved in this campaign have moved into the international education arena not as service-providers, but rather as advocates mobilized around a well developed action frame that links the problem of educational access to the wider issues of debt relief, human rights, and global equity, as well as to and ideologically driven erosion of national commitments to free, publicly provided educational services. To realize their demands, Campaigners employ a remarkable repertoire of strategies, drawn from the experience of other transnational advocacy initiatives. They work at both international and national levels, attempting to build strong national coalitions of NGOs and civil society actors who are capable of bringing grassroots demands home to Southern governments, while also generating the international support capable of altering the resource allocations and assistance practices of Northern governments and their development aid organizations.

The density and coherence of these efforts is something new to the international educational arena. Should they continue to develop (which seems likely), they promise to bring about a major reshaping of decision-making processes in this field. They are, of course, not without their limitations and tensions, as we have shown by considering the civility, democracy and contention which played out between Campaigners, other nongovernmental actors, governments and intergovernmental organizations at the Dakar World Education Forum. Nonetheless, the Global Campaign has shown that it has much to contribute to the development of civility and democracy at the international level, and it has introduced a potentially contentious re-framing of global educational needs. For those reasons, it deserves the sustained attention of scholars of comparative education who are interested both in the evolution of international cooperation in education, and in the potential for new forms of collective action and societal compromise within our emergent global polity.