Communication, NGO’s, and the United Nations
By Keenan Overa (AI Youth Rep from Lehigh University)
Within any organization, communication is one of the fundamental pillars toward making sustained and visible progress. Communication is vital in making effective plans and scheduling future projects, yet at the same time communication is key toward resolving issues and challenges that inevitably arise throughout one’s professional work. This dynamic of interaction exists not only between individuals within an organization like an NGO, but all along the entire UN system: from NGO to NGO, NGO to society, and NGO to the UN. As an incredibly complex and interwoven web, it is little wonder that at times communication difficulties arise, and subsequent setbacks as well. For me personally, at times I’ve experienced challenges in organizing and staying in touch with projects. Importantly, its key to understand that this is a not a poor reflection of any individual or their capacity to function as a team member, but rather it serves as an example of how delicate yet impactful communication is at the heart of organizations like Augustinian International.
Perhaps the first step that needs to be taken is understanding what exactly is effective communication. Exchanges dialogue is a robust oversimplification of an otherwise exceedingly expansive process, but at its core it is true that communication is a transfer of understanding from one individual another. (Lunenburg 1, 2010) Fundamentally, as Lunenburg details that “unless a common understanding results from the exchange of information, there is no communication” (Lunenburg 1, 2010) That understanding comprises the goal; the target information that forms the motivation for dialogue. Equally as important is feedback, the response of the receiver of information and main indication of whether or not understanding has occurred. (Lunenburg 2, 2010). Information that is sent must be decoded in the format and method it was presented, and the resulting understanding manifests itself as feedback. (Lunenburg 2 ,2010) This understanding may seem very bookish, but in breaking down the communication process into its various parts can we more clearly understand how to be more effective in communicating.
Importantly, the barriers to effective communication must be understood. A failure or breakdown anywhere in the communication system described by Lunenburg, consisting of sender, message, receiver, and feedback, results in a failure of communication. (Lunenburg 2-3, 2010) Words carry diverse connotations, physical factors can impede hearing and comprehension, and a variety of psychosocial barriers described by Luneburg that connect a listener’s personal experiences and the role that might be play in understanding. For youth representatives just entering the UN system, it is vital to understand how complex but important a simple idea like communication is. For both a new youth representative and a seasoned veteran of the UN system, Lunenburg’s recommendations for effective communication should ease comprehension and make common understanding more readily available. These tips, complied in Lunenburg’s work, include “clarifying ideas before communicating, examining the true purpose of each communication, understand the environment where communication occurs, consult with others when necessary, be aware of the relationship between implied meanings/overtones and the basic content of the message, convey the sense of value or help to the receiver, follow up on communication, communicate for today and tomorrow, support their communication with actions, and seek to understand as much as being understood.” (Lunenburg 6-8, 2010)
I currently rely on these strategies now, as I am serving as an intern in Chisinau, Moldova at the American Language Center. One of the most prevalent challenges has presented itself in the form of language: Moldova is a multi-lingual society and an individual not fluent in Romanian or Russian would face great challenge here, and this is a story that I myself have seen glimpses of. Yet what these anecdotes from various individuals demonstrate is the opportunity to recognize the potential for effective communication. Here in Moldova, I have had the amazing chance to practice and improve my Russian in the workspace just by utilizing it daily. By being abroad, I can learn to more effectively manage my tasks and lines of contact with Augustinians International, thereby improving my own capacity to schedule and manage multiple tasks and moving parts at once.
Within all of our various networks, especially within Augustinians International and our relationships with the wider United Nations system, it’s key to stay in touch. As the world grows smaller with advances in technology and our organizations networks grow wider, we must make a conscious effort to be mindful of our capacity to work together through communication. It’s a challenge I myself have lots of room to improve on, but it’s also something that as an organization that we always remain mindful of its importance, as we work to improve the world to the best of our capacities.
Lunenburg, Fred C. (2010) Communication: The Process, Barriers, And Improving Effectiveness. Retrieved from