Sen. Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm MORE (R-Neb.) made one last important point when he came to my IFE/INFO Public Policy forum: Foundations and NGOs will take on a greater leadership role in foreign policy since they're not "captive" to the constraints that stifle governments.

Take Bill Gates's recent decision to leave Microsoft to pursue philanthropy full-time. His foundation has single-handedly raised the profile of global health challenges in the developing world. As of last year, it had a $38.7 billion endowment, a figure that's greater than the GDP of many small countries. Or take someone like Bono, who has worked with big-time NGOs like Oxfam to bring poverty to the fore of the world's conscience. Fifty-six percent of Americans think that the presidential candidates aren't spending enough time talking about poverty, and they believe that it's an issue that goes beyond party lines.

So, big groups can define the world's agenda.

But so can smaller groups if they coordinate with each other and sustain their pressure. Take the issue of Darfur. Had it not been for sustained pressure from human rights NGOs all over the world, it's doubtful that the abuses that were occurring there would've gained the level of attention that they did. Congress certainly wouldn't have paid as much attention to them as it did. There was such an outcry among the American public that it had to take notice.

There are countless more examples that one could give, but the point is that foundations and NGOs are a force to be reckoned with. Take NGOs — there were only a few hundred of them in the 1960s, but there are tens of thousands of them today. Back then, they were a blip on the radar, and governments were the main actors in the world. Today, many governments feel like they're losing control.

These groups aren't beholden to any constituency except the people whom they're supposed to help. Their members aren't "voted" into office. They don't have to be politically correct. For all these reasons, they can act a heck of a lot faster than governments can.

And Sen. Hagel thinks this is great news.

Governments have to make a million decisions a minute and often have to rely on biased or incomplete information to do so. Foundations and NGOs can give them accurate, rich information in a timely manner, independent of the 24/7 news cycle.

Washington should take heart in this fact because the next president is going to be besieged with challenges of every possible sort — everything from winning Afghanistan to containing the spread of deadly diseases.

Foundations and NGOs can be our strongest allies as we go forward.



Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.