Susan George celebrates 40 years of TNI

24 March 2014

To celebrate the official birthday of TNI Susan George reminisced over some of the great people, events and achievements the Institute has seen in these past 40 years.


To all the Associates, Fellows and Friends of TNI from Susan George, Board President

Our director Fiona Dove asked me to make a little speech yesterday evening 21 March 2014 for our official birthday party. We toasted TNI with Prosecco [champagne is a bit beyond our budget] then went out to a celebratory dinner together. We were joyful to be together and regretted that not everyone could be present. In the entry hall, birthday greetings from all over the world had been pinned on clotheslines above our heads and we were deeply moved by the messages which you can read on the site under the Birthday heading. Here is approximately what I said on this occasion and can tell you that I was in tears at the end. It was wonderful to see so many young people including several volunteers and well as new staff members. From where I stood, it seemed that TNI’s future was assured. 

If you are part of TNI, no matter what your job, your age and experience, you know what it’s like to be in the minority.  Every person here is here because she or he has a solid sense of what’s right and wrong, just and unjust, fair and unfair.  But if you’re ever tempted to move into the mainstream, I urge you to attend a couple of conservative or middle-of-the-road events or conferences. I promise you’ll feel like running out screaming with boredom and come straight back to TNI. There’s more money outside, yes, but I’m pretty certain there’s no greater sense of satisfaction, of doing something worth doing for yourself and for the world, of realisation of your goals than you will find at TNI. I can also guarantee you’ll meet far more interesting people than anyone the mainstreamers can offer. I’ve known all kinds of personalities at TNI but never once one who was boring. 

TNI is forty, and perhaps the most encouraging thing is to recognise that many things we’ve fought for all these years have become realities. It can take a long time and it’s hard to be patient but sometimes we really do win. 

--Our first event in early 1974 was “The Lessons of Chile” conference. Pinochet had seized power just five months earlier, Allende was dead, the patriots were in prison or dead as well. Today Chile is a normal democratic country and Pinochet just a bad memory only Margaret Thatcher could have loved.

--Latin America is with few exceptions one of the most progressive places on earth, it is becoming less unequal than 30 years ago, the dictators are gone and the US military is no longer welcome.

--Another of TNI’s priority countries, the Philippines, was also a dictatorship under Marcos—today it is a democracy and our comrades, former Fellows Walden Bello and Joel Rocamora are in the House of Representatives!

--Apartheid is over and done with and TNI’s ties with South Africa and Southern Africa are strong. 

--Even Burma, which seemed for so long a black hole and a lost cause is emerging from darkness and TNI has a strong presence there as well. 

All these countries, all the ex-colonised countries have their problems. Global poverty and injustice have been by no means conquered but still the situation is better and democracy is on the rise everywhere.

But TNI will always have plenty to do and whether you’re a relative newcomer or an old war-horse like me, you’ll never want for a good cause. 

Today we’re more focused than we were then on precious resources such as  land and water or minerals and energy and on those who are trying to grab and exploit them. The drugs programme is going from strength to strength and reaping the fruits of long years of work.  It is now the world’s go-to source for policy advice—and that includes the UN. 

The ties our different programmes have made with like-minded groups in Latin America, Asia and Africa are literally second to none for an institution based in the North, and if you don’t believe me, just read the birthday tributes above our heads that continue to stream in from all over the world. Our bridge-building has been extraordinary and where progressive politics are concerned, let’s just say that we “know all the right people”. 

Another huge danger we’re confronting now is the growing power of the transnational corporations over all spheres of human activity. The Economic Justice programme has a huge amount on its plate but is advancing faster than anyone could have reasonably hoped given the scope of the task.

I’ve not mentioned names, just programmes and projects but all the friends and comrades of TNI are special. The directors have been remarkable, each in his or her own way. Four of them have left us and we mourn them—Eqbal, Basker, Saul and Orlando.  Fiona is simply beyond praise—she has overseen our transition from a good, thoughtful, progressive but relatively amateurish think-tank to a highly professional team of scholar- activists respected world-wide and getting concrete results. 

I wish our funders were all here tonight, particularly Cora and Peter Weiss, because without them, none of these achievements would have been possible. They are all farsighted people who understand that ideas have consequences and that to fight the individuals and the institutions leading the world in the wrong direction, we must also fight their concepts, their ideology and their lies, however beautifully packaged. 

Personally, I have led an immensely privileged life and a great part of that privilege has been to belong to TNI since the beginning, to benefit from its critical analyses and collective wisdom, to be inspired by wonderful, serious, humorous, thoughtful and accomplished people from all over the world.  I’m grateful to you all for who could ask for anything more?  Certainly not I. 

Please raise your glass with me to our beloved TNI, to the Transnational Institute, yesterday, today and forever!