History of the international organizations and changes in their ways of representation
Key lines and summary of the seminar
Visible, invisible and international organizations design
Professor Davide Rodogno et Lukas Schemper – IHEAD
What is visible and invisible?
The CICR: It is normally present in countries with conflicts (Lebanon, Syria). Their team is visible on the field in time of crisis, we hear about their action and their presence in the media; they need this exposure.
On the other hand, the CICR is frequently part of the negotiations in these countries; this specific part remains invisible though. The other side is their performance on the field, especially in crisis time. It would be interesting to try to find out about these specific negotiations.
Perception of the international organization: How are they considered by the society?
They have their headquarters in Geneva
They have some influence on decisions through their lobbies
UN: peace, victory, glory, etc.
*One important thing to carefully study is the degree of trust the society builds around the NGOs and the IO.
La société des nations: it was born after the World War I, to avoid for the future a similar violence and it was the 1st organism of its kind. Its principal objectives were: to ensure the respect of international law through international courts, to abolish the secret diplomacy very common until then and to resolve conflicts through arbitration.
The United Nations is the result of the SdN
Visible/Invisible through the buildings
The International Organizations start being visible through their buildings: HCR, l’Organisation mondiale de la meteorology, etc. Some buildings are discreet while others are in castles or in imposing very modern big buildings.
The invisibility of the International organizations has different aspects. It could be, in opposition to the nice locations the headquarters are located in, in any small bistrot, for discussing very important issues. Among the organization’s visitors, these bistrots may gather at the same time all kind of people, like drug dealers and bankers who pay for the NGOs, etc.
What decisions are made where and who makes these decisions? Who executes them?
Another way of being visible through the buildings is the choice of doing some conferences in a hotel, the Intercontinental for instance, instead of in the headquarters. What is the main reason?
International Geneva: the seen are the International organizations, true. But one of the most international worldwide known things that is prostitution will never be in the first row. It will remain invisible, although everybody is a ware of its presence.
The ICRC was located at the villa Moynier between 1933 and 1946. They left and took then a new headquarters (add details about the new building).
It is worth mentioning that a lot of political decisions are taken in New York, while humanitarian and economic major one are taken in Geneva.
Web sites of the IO
Most of them have no hierarchy inside their maps. It is more of a network and connectivity. Subgroups inside other subgroups, etc.
Why visibility is so important?
It is important to be seen, because it keeps on reminding people about their presence and enhances their credibility and legitimacy.
About the ICRC
One of the major co-founder of the ICRC is a businessman, Henri Dunant. He was ironically evicted for financial problems.
The visual representation: the CICR emblem is the Red Cross but has 4 different others who derived for cultural and religious beliefs, such as the Red Crescent born during the Russo-Turkish war and was used in Turkey.
The Red Lion and sun in Iran is no longer in use), and the Red crystal or Diamond since 2007, born after many disputes and proposals for a variety of other proposals. However, it is still not of a common use in many countries.
Studying these emblems is a bit critical because all of these organizations want their name to be associated with success stories. They need to “sell” their image; they need to portray themselves as successful and efficient for their fundraising. At the same time, they leave room for a controlled failure. Example: we are helping the Syrian refugees but we couldn’t cover the entire situation and this why we need more funds to be able to help more people.
The Red Cross was going to be copied by many other NGOs such as Amnesty international:
They use flashy colors for their emblem, they are vocal about catastrophes, the candle in their logo represents life, humanity, it burns to enlighten around it, It is enchained to represent the difficulties they face while operating.
All of these communication components are implemented by fear of being not recognized.
The IO representative charts: The Société des nations organigram is vertical and shows openely the hierarchy while the ligue des nations one is more horizontal and the UN one is totally horizontal with colors divided horizontally to emphasize on the equality.
These charts show clearly what is wanted to be visible and hide well what is not wanted to be.
Behind the design, there is a hidden political decision to make things invisible. It would be interesting to deconstruct it. One good example of visibility/invisibility is the World Health Organization chart where all information are there but set in a very confusing way.
Some similarities may appear when we analyze ONGs, like Greenpeace who is comparable to Amnesty International; they were both founded by Quakers. The message Greenpeace tries to send through their non-hierarchical chart representation is part of their policy. Greenpeace is transparent rightly so. Transparency is crucial to gain the people’s trust.
How Geneva became an International city?
It was by accident that Geneva became an International city, thanks to William Rappard a diplomat who succeeded in convincing President Wilson to choose Geneva in 1920, as a headquarter of the League des Nations. Oddly, they are both Protestants, Quakers.
Geneva international status is not innocent. It is the visible part of Geneva and is directly connected with neutrality. It will be interesting to dig further and discover other “non-official” aspects of what makes Geneva international: when did all of these NGOs come to Geneva and why?
The architecture is a key element in the communication policy of IOs. For instance, le Palais des Nations building, one of the most important headquarters of Geneva, has a traditional form and is commonly compared to Le château de Versailles and the salle des pas perdus to La galerie des glaces. On the other hand, La commission internationale du Rhin is a small organization that occupies a huge and imposing building.
Again and like palaces, these organizations go to great artists to decorate their buildings. Example, José Maria Sert, whose paintings covers the Palais des Nations walls. One of these being “La solidarité des peuples” or “La leçon de Salamaque”.
One interesting proposal came from Hendrik Christian Anderson whose artworks are monumental and classical and, as he says “stir in the viewer the desire for self improvement”. He proposed “the International World City” that would be filled with similar artistic works that will inspire humankind to build an ideal state.
Henri La Fontaine and Edouard Otlet, peace activists, had endorsed the League des Nations international politic, especially what was related to the intellectual cooperation. They aimed to create the “Library of Knowledge” where great ideas would be stored and created an International Center called at first “Palais Mondial” and later “the Mundaneum” where the activities of the Organizations are stored. For his International Centre of Knowledge for Peace, they asked Hendrik Christian Andersen and Le Corbusier to help them developing this global city.
The Library of the League des nations, which became the Library of the UN Office at Geneva in 1946, was donated by the philanthropist john Rockefeller, whose was to make it public and allow all those who wish to consult references.
The contribution and decision making: the country who donates are the one to decide according to the percentage of their contribution.
NGO’s sometimes expand, dissolve, mute, in order to adapt to different contexts. For instance, the UN were the only one to be able to enter some syrian cities and take pictures of what was happening. Press agencies like Reuters and AFP were not allowed in.
The official actual number of NGOs is 8003 and the number of IO is 247.
Most of the NGO’s start small and expands.
Recommendations: Madeleine Herren-Oesch. She wrote a book in German on the IO
Visible & Invisible and International Organizations – Lukas Schemper and Davide Rodogno
The visual politics of the WHO – the early years (1948-1974) – Davide Rodogno