The purpose of this essay is to critically evaluate the role of NGOs in relation to international development in relation to development theories. This would be focused on the merits and demerits of NGOs in addressing development issues with examples of projects across the world.
The role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
Non-governmental organisations is defined by World Bank, cited in Gibbs et al (1999) as private organisations who pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interest of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services or undertake community development. According to Charnowits (1997), NGOs emergence began through different stages namely: emergence, engagement, disengagement, formalisation, nuisance value, intensification and empowerment from the 1770’s, 1990’s and present. It was added that, the influence of this organisation can be traced across the world. Africa started through community organisations, South Asia: through the influence of the Christian missionaries, ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, local self-help traditions. Latin America was influence of the Catholic Church, peasants’ movements, Middle East: traditionally apolitical and Eastern was based on democracy promotion. Charnowits (2007). In recent years, NGOs have risen to prominence in the development field due to: loss of appeal of mainstream development theories such as neo-liberalism and institutionalism. Poor government performance had an effect, government were unable to reduce poverty in the 1980s and there was no effective mechanism to fulfil necessary role expected. What’s more, NGOs in the UK advocated poverty issues (increased access to policy makers). The emergence of global media system and the spread of democracy has increased participatory and transparency in participating and developing countries. Lewis (2007).
Lewis and Kanji (2009) describe NGO’s as organisations which aims to promote social, political and economic change. Non-governmental organisations are referred to as third sector organisations which exist to fulfil a number of functions in areas which tend to be neglected by the private and public sectors. Declining in public sector or governmental provision of services in some countries influenced the establishment of NGO’s to play an increasingly influential role in a variety of activities which impact upon the lives of many people. Emerald (2004). NGO activity extends to lobbying private and public sector organisations which includes governments and other regulators. In areas where NGO’s are highly focused on lobbying and policy development activities, it can have a long-term impact on shaping the regulations faced by large numbers of people. Successful lobbying has resulted in a number of NGO’s becoming powerful in relation to many other groups within the society. Emerald (2004). The role of NGOs in relation to development theories are the impact of this organisations in social, political and economic context. Smith (2005) said that, NGOs have a social purpose but governments rely on authority to achieve outcomes and private sector firms rely on market mechanisms to provide incentives for mutually beneficial exchange. In contrast, some use independent voluntary efforts to promote their values and aspects of social, economic and political development (civil society). Pieterse (2001) define development as the organised collective intervention of affair according to standard improvement. The constitution of improvements varies according to culture, class, historical contexts and relations of power. A different perspective by Edward (1999) describe development as the reduction of material want and the enhancement of people’s ability to live a life they consider good across the broadest range possible in a population. Pieterse (2001) added that, development theory imported paradigms from social science: evolutionism, structural functionalism, post-structuralism, Keynesianism, neoclassical economics, marxism and neo-marxism. However, development theory has major influenced in the area of dependency theory. Like Pietersen development theory views, Lewis & Kanji (2009) NGOs development theory is based on modernisation, institutionalism, dependency, neo-liberalism, alternative development and post-development. Pietersen (2001) said that, neo-liberalism is returning to classical economics which eliminates the foundations of development economics: the notion that developing economies represent a case. Neo-liberal view is that there is no case, what is vital is to get the price right and let market forces do their work.
The role of NGOs in relation to this development theory is that, they are flexible agents of democratisation and private cost-effective delivery. Sachs (2004). They are a way forward for aid which has the intent of allowing increasing social, political and economic participation by the broad section of the population through the processes of decision making, wealth and income distribution. Wegner (1993). Neo-liberal assumes that development can only be self-sustaining if it is from the grass root of society. Wegner (1993). Social provisioning in Chile is innovative due to the involvement of NGOs and the applications of tools and experiences perfected by these organisations in their work with the poor. Molyneux & Razavi (2002). The common denominator of NGOs operating in development field is to enable poor population groups to meet their daily needs such as clean water, housing, food, clothing and the provision of basic social services. Wegner (1993). Equally important, NGOs guard the respect for human dignity and human rights, conservation of ecological habitats, political participation, education and cultural identity. Wegner (1993). Mitlin et al (2007) said that, it is essential for the role of NGOs in development to be seen in three dimensions: concerns examining development as an underlying proves of social change and as a targeted intervention, the concerns division between arenas of state, civil society and market. The third is the localising and globalising tendencies in defining what NGOs do and who they are. Mitlin et al (2007).
There are a large amount of projects undertaken by NGOs across the world, an example is the Emergency and Rehabilitation work by international NGOs in Afghanistan since 1979. Baraka & Strand (1995). The number of NGOs increased in this region working in field of health, emergency relief, construction and education. It was revealed that, most of these NGO’s are led by Afghans majority from Kabul and are based in Peshawar. Baraka & Strand (1995). This shows that NGOs are not imposing their policies on international communities but, working together with the people to develop their living standard. However, it was revealed that, despite more than 200 NGOs working for people in Afghanistan, there is very little to show for their efforts in terms of reconstruction and people’s return to normality. Baraka & Strand (1995).
In Bangladesh, the fundamental aspect of rural poverty is unemployment and underemployment with limited opportunities outside agriculture sector which is increasing at a much slower pace than demand. Ullah & Routray (2007). For this reason, a large number of NGO like BRAC have been working in Bangladesh since the last three decades with the aim to alleviate poverty of the mass population of rural Bangladesh. Ullah & Routray (2007). In Uganda, the Poverty Alleviation Project (PAP) was the first of its kind to be financed by the African Development Fund (ADF). The aim of the project was to help in poverty reduction and the objective was to improve access of the poor particularly women. Their purpose was achieved through credit schemes to finance micro-projects, training and extension services local communities. ADBG (2001).
NGO’s and the state
Jantzen (2005) listed some disadvantages of NGOs: constant funding difficulties, possible lack of legitimacy, difficult to regulate because they can lack transparency and accountability, and NGOs can be ineffective due to lack of coordination. Despite these limitations, NGOs bring specialised knowledge, technical expertise, research capabilities and the ability to voice the concerns and needs of the poorest and vulnerable. ADB (2007). For example, Oxfam has been working with poorest people in Haiti since 2003. Oxfam (2009). They work closely with Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and having a plan of action for when disaster strikes. Their aim is to build the capacities of local communities and committees to coordinate emergency responses. Oxfam (2009). A variety of NGOs are active in HIV/AIDS and they are advantageous because they can work across functions more easily rather than been restricted to a single type of activity. FHI (2010) Furthermore, they provide the only sustained response to the epidemic and are likely to offer care and support. They are also able to work with vulnerable groups such as commercial sex workers (CSWs), illegal immigrants and intravenous drug users (IDUs). FHI (2010).
Davison (2007) said that, so-called NGO’s are complex in structure, in the activities they pursue and hence necessarily in accounting and accountability. Their profile runs parallel to the heightening awareness of governance across all sectors and their importance is also contemporaneous with growing use. Smith (2005) argued that, NGO’s are the equally important third stool on which development and poverty reduction rests. However, the growing body of experience provides evidence that NGOs may sometimes avoid the worst aspects of national and local politics by carefully choosing their bureaucratic sponsors. Some of popular NGOs are Oxfam, Amnesty International and International Red Cross. Henderson (1997). Salamon (1994) used the expression “associational revolution” to describe the pervasiveness of NGOs. The author added that, NGOs deliver human services, promote grass-roots poverty economic development, protect civil rights and follow up objectives that are not attended by the state. Salamon (1994). For example, Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri-Lanka focused on small-scale village improvement projects in more than 8,000 villages. Salamon (1994).
Furthermore, NGOs in the Caribbean serve as intermediaries between micro-level of the poorest household which should be served by political parties. Lewis (1994). However, Salamon (1994) argued that, NGOs in the south are not carefully structured in organisational terms but have the features of social and political movements. Therefore, it can be said that, NGOs have positive impact on the development of societies particularly “developing societies”, nonetheless they have their disadvantages. Aside from poverty alleviation, Auplat (2006) revealed that, NGOs influenced the shifts in entrepreneurship which has modified the environment operated by entrepreneurs’. Auplat (2006). Jan Pronk (in Hellinger et al 1988) warned that the corruption of NGOs will be the political game ahead. Pronk’s vision was beyond financial scandal says Edward & Hulme (2002), it was broadly the deviation of NGOs mission for social transformation.
Reinert (1999) describe the role of the state as: a provider of institutions, a provider of income distribution and as a promoter of economic growth. It can be said that, the role of the state is not equal in every country of the world. For this reason, it can be assumed that, this has a major impact on the living standard and welfare of citizens particularly in “developing nations (Reinert, 1999) added that, the role of the state in developing countries is often seen as one of the protecting “civil liberties”. However, the role of the state in early stages of economic development was to secure freedoms from hunger, injustices and ignorance (Reinert, 1999). Smith (2005) said that governments rely on authority to achieve outcomes. It can be said that, NGOs rely on funding in order to execute projects, although, they have to abide by policies in the countries where support is offered. For example, Chinese NGOs have limited access to government programs, such as poverty relief projects (ADB, 2005)
As explained earlier, the number of NGOs has risen through the past years due to less government involvement in human development. Edwards & Hulme (2002) said that, NGOs are meant to act as counter-weight to state powers. NGOs lobby national governments, the EU and multi-national organisations on laws and regulations that govern corporate practices (Deri, 2003). For example, European based NGOs charged that certain agricultural practices of rival American companies were unsustainable during the “banana trade war” of the 1990s. The EU adopted this argument to bolster and rationalise its protectionist stance (Deri, 2003). Smith (2005) mentioned that NGOs limitation can be through voluntary failure which prevents the citizen sector (or civil society) from realising institutionalisation and goal deflect as comparative advantages in practice. Institutionalisation can cause loss of flexibility and participation and goal deflect can affect ends by means such as fundraising (Smith, 2005).
In the last 30 years, China has remarkably reduced poverty levels in the country according to ADB (2007) it is believed that this was achieved through sustained economic growth drive by broad based reforms and anti-poverty programs. Therefore, it can be argued that governments implements policies and work together with NGOs to alleviate poverty. As a general perspective, government (or state) are different in implementing policies. In China, the government recognises that poverty alleviation efforts are being undermined by gaps in implementation and institutional issues including poor targeting and delayed delivery of funds. ADB (2007). A recent study has compared the efficiency of the government of Bangladesh and NGO management in the provision of nutrition services. The analysis implies that NGO facilities are not more efficient in delivery of nutrition services in comparison to government (Mahmud, 2003).
There has been false believe that NGOs are independent to the government, NGOs in U.S raised about 70% of their income through public donations, 30% of this was from the government grants and contract others were from corporations, foundations and individual donations (ICDF, 1999). Basically NGOs in the U.S and government are building partnership to protect civil citizens. On the other hand, government in Ethiopia new proclamation imposes restrict rules on association in the country. For instance, the law requires mandatory registration of all NGOs and prohibits any domestic NGO receiving more than 10% of its funding from abroad. The activities of NGOs relates to advancement of human and democratic rights (Global Policy, 2009). For this reason, it can be assumed that, the number of NGOs in the country is likely to reduce because like other developing countries in Africa most of the funding is generated from international NGOs. Therefore, this “proclamation” would relatively affect the lives of many Ethiopians. Clearly, NGOs can only fully operate in a country depending on the system of government and how closely the government is willing to support the NGOs activities. ADB (2007) argued that, NGOs work closely with poor people and arguably better than the government. Governments use legislative tools at their disposal to control and restrict NGOs (Global-policy, 2009).
NGOs are becoming vital and professional part of the global response. Due to their central role, the interactions that exist between them and governments, intergovernmental organisations are a natural development of an interdependent world. MacKenzie (2003) said that, NGOs have traditionally worked alone on their projects with supporting agencies. However, education is highly labour intensive and most NGOs do not have the resources or capacity to maintain educational projects (MacKenzie, 2003). The author added that, only government can provide the most essential services such as “education”, and they alone can provide the political backing, resources such human, financial and material necessary for effective and sustainable education programmes. The strengths of NGOs have influenced governments to direct more funding through them. OECD (2008) noted that, Africa already had 12% of foreign official development aid (ODA) which was funnelled through NGOs (Wood, 1991).
Source by sally