Iran/U.S. NGO Collaboration

The following is a staff-prepared summary of the event. The Powerpoint presentation (at right in the See Also box) is the work of the author and in no way represents the views or opinions of the Woodrow Wilson Center.

In his presentation at the Wilson Center Mr. Baquer Namazi, Senior Advisor, Population Council and Director, Iran NGO Initiative, discussed the possibilities for cooperation between Iranian and American civil society organizations. He said there is a desire in Iran to widen the cooperation between U.S. and Iranian NGOs and move beyond environmental issues, where there is already successful cooperation.

The number of NGOs in Iran has increased rapidly in recent years. Fifty per cent of the 7,000 NGOs in Iran were set up in the last four years, Mr. Namazi said. In Iran today there are 500 environmental NGOs, 300 women's NGOs, 115 scientific NGOs, 2,181 cultural NGOs and 2,500 youth-oriented NGOs. There are also 5,000 charitable NGOs. The tenure of Mohammad Khatami as president was a big impetus for people's participation in civil society activities.

According to Mr. Namazi, civil society organizations in Iran face a number of challenges. The laws regarding setting up NGOs both in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries are restrictive and narrowly limit cooperation between local and foreign NGOs. The current environment does not lead to transparency for NGO activities. The government deals with NGOs with a heavy hand, and where there is international involvement, the government prefers to support GINGOs (Government-initated NGOs).

However, despite impediments, there are ample opportunities for expanding NGO activities, assisted by the progressive forces in the government and a special section in the fourth plan that encourages expansion of civil society movements. Mr. Namazi said there are many opportunities for expatriate Iranians to get involved in NGO activities both in Tehran and in the provinces. Expatriate Iranians can act as "bridges" between the host countries and their native Iran. He suggested cooperation between Iranian and foreign NGOs in training and capacity building, research projects, community-based initiatives and more.