Critical Perspectives on Development NGOs: Highlights from a seminar
On Monday 19 May, 2008, DIIS hosted a seminar on the future challenges of development NGOs.
The seminar addressed the following issues: (i) current orientations and allocation of resources by development NGOs; (ii) the state of civil societies in Sub-Saharan Africa; and (iii) the consequences for development NGOs of contemporary changes in and around development assistance. See the seminar invitation.
- A cross-country study analyses how NGOs select the countries that they work in. Generally, there is no direct link between increasing levels of poverty and NGO activities but NGOs are more active in poor countries. The same accounts for levels of governance; poor governance does not generate increased activity. Thus, the widespread argument that NGOs have comparative advantages compared to bilateral donor agencies in fragile situations where the state does not work properly has not materialized itself in NGO practices. On the other hand, the study shows that NGOs follow their back-donor preferences. However, NGOs are not very influenced by geo-strategic interests and there is, as mentioned, some poverty targeting. Moreover, some degree of solidarity may also have influenced country selection although the increasing professionalization of NGOs probably reduces the importance of this factor. Finally, there is a clear tendency for NGOs to flock: Birds of a feather flock together. See the paper forming the basis of the presentation below.
- Northern NGOs are new aid giants and they can be perceived as rather autonomous actors defining relationships with the South. However, they form part of the general aid community and are increasingly obliged to follow the discourse of this community.
- Civil society in poor countries has become a visible space with increasing political importance. Civil society organizations are now formally accepted as development actors and constitute a part of official policy discussions, especially the PRSPs. Northern NGOs have played an important role in facilitating this acknowledgement of civil society. However, the mediating role of the Northern NGOs has also somewhat distorted civil society in Africa. It has prevented the emergence of organizations embedded in African societies by making African CSOs dependent on foreign resources.
- The question is: how to restructure the relationship between Northern NGOs and civil society in the South so that the relationship become more equal, so that Southern CSOs become more embedded in their societies, and so that Southern and Northern CSOs can exercise pressure to create developmental states? The donor-recipient relationship between Northern NGOs and Southern CSOs are no longer tenable, and the partnership approach has failed to provide a significant break with it. Only 5.5% of international NGOs have board members from poor countries, and complaint procedures for partners are almost completely lacking in international NGOs.
- At the same time Northern NGOs face important changes of the context of aid. Aid has become increasingly integrated into other policy areas, aid is more and more fragmented, poor countries are becoming still more differentiated, and the Paris Declaration is likely to have important implications for NGOs. See the paper forming the basis of the presentation below.
- The large private funds emerging on the development scene are likely to influence the conditions of Northern NGOs. One may wonder whether they will make use of international NGOs to carry out service delivery and thereby crowd out local CSOs.
- The increasing significance of remittances and diaspora is another noteworthy contextual change. Remittances to certain fragile states surpass official development assistance, and certain diaspora are very active in relation to both national and local politics in their countries of origin. They may have comparative advantages relative to international NGOs given their good connections.
- While the challenges to development NGOs are mounting and civil societies in the South become increasingly capable, many small CSOs still need support to develop and make a difference. Accordingly, one should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water, but maintain solidarity and support while taking the new context into account.
Dirk-Jan Koch’s presentation: PowerPoint 450 KB.
Paul Opoku-Mensah’s presentation: PowerPoint 65,5 KB.
Lars Engberg-Pedersen’s presentation: PowerPoint 62,8 KB.
Koch, Dirk-Jan et al. 2008. Keeping a Low Profile: What Determines the Allocation of Aid by Non-Governmental Organizations? Kiel Institute for the World Economy: Working Paper.