- Post 22 December 2005
- Last Updated on 23 April 2008
- By Samuel Uwhejevwe-Togbolo
Prepared for Coalition of NGOs in Delta State, Nigeria
1. Definitions, Types, and Roles of Nongovernmental Organizations
Optimal development requires the harnessing of a countryâ€™s assets, its capital, human and natural resources to meet demand from its population as comprehensively as possible. The public and private sectors, by themselves, are imperfect. They can not or are unwilling to meet all demands. Many argue (Elliott 1987, Fernandez 1987, Garilao 1987) that the voluntary sector may be better placed to articulate the needs of the poor people, to provide services and development in remote areas, to encourage the changes in attitudes and practices necessary to curtail discrimination, to identify and redress threats to the environment, and to nurture the productive capacity of the most vulnerable groups such as the disabled or the landless populations.
The aim of this paper is to give a theoretical background of the third sector (non governmental organizations - NGOs) and their role in delivery of basic services and involvement in the development sub sector. I made an attempt to show the interactions between NGOs and other actors of the development cooperation.
1.1. The Growth of NGOs
A striking upsurge is under way around the globe in organizing voluntary activity and the creation of private, nonprofit or non-governmental organizations. People are forming associations, foundations and similar institutions to deliver human services, promote grassroots economic development, prevent environmental degradation, protect civil rights and pursue a thousand other objectives formerly unattended or left by the state. The scope and scale of this phenomenon is immense.
Salamon (1994) argues that pressures to expand the voluntary sector seem to be coming from at least three different sources: from "below" in the form of spontaneous grassroots energies; from the "outside" through the actions of various public and private institutions; and from "above" in the form of governmental policies.
The most basic force is that of ordinary people who decide to take matters into their own hands and organize to improve their conditions or seek basic rights.
There have been a variety of outside pressures: from the church, Western private voluntary organizations and official aid agencies. Emphasis has shifted from their traditional humanitarian relief to a new focus on "empowerment."
Official aid agencies have supplemented and, to a considerable degree, subsidized these private initiatives. Since the mid-1960s, foreign assistance programs have placed increasing emphasis on involving the Third World poor in development activities. In the last one and a half decade, development actors have adopted "participatory development" as its strategy.
Finally, pressures to form nonprofit organizations have come from above, from official governmental policy circles. Most visibly, the conservative governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher made support for the voluntary sector a central part of their strategies to reduce government social spending. In the Third World and former Soviet block such governmental pressures have also figured. From Thailand to the Philippines, governments have sponsored farmersâ€™ cooperatives and other private organizations. Egyptian and Pakistani five-year plans have stressed the participation of nongovernmental organizations as a way to ensure popular participation in development.
Further, Salamon argues that four crises and two revolutionary changes have converged both to diminish the hold of the state and to open the way for the increase in organized voluntary action.
The first of the impulses is the perceived crisis of the modern welfare state revealed after reducing of global economic growth in the 1970s. Accompanying this crisis has been a crisis of development since the oil shock of the 1970s and the recession of the 1980s, which dramatically changed the outlook for developing countries. One result has been a new-found interest in "assisted self-reliance" or "participatory development," an aid strategy that stresses the engagement of grassroots energies and enthusiasms through a variety of nongovernmental organizations.
A global environmental crisis has also stimulated greater private initiative. The continuing poverty of developing countries has led the poor to degrade their immediate surroundings in order to survive. Citizens have grown increasingly frustrated with government and eager to organize their own initiatives. Finally, a fourth crisis, Solomon is referring to â€“ that of socialism - has also contributed to the rise of the third sector. It caused a search for new ways to satisfy unmet social and economic needs. While this search helped lead to the formation of market-oriented cooperative enterprises, it also stimulated extensive experimentation with a host of nongovernmental organizations offering services and vehicles for self-expression outside the reaches of an increasingly discredited state.
Beyond these four crises, two further developments also explain the recent surge of third-sector organizing. The first is the dramatic revolution in communication that took place during the 1970s and 1980s. The invention of widespread dissemination of the computer, fiber-optic cable, fax, television and satellites open even the worldâ€™s most remote areas to the expanded communication links required for mass organization and concerted actions.
The final factor critical to the growth of the third sector was the considerable global economic growth that occurred during the 1960s and early 1970s, and the bourgeois revolution that it brought with it. It helped to create in Latin America, Asia and Africa a sizable urban middle class whose leadership was critical to the emergence of private nongovernmental organizations. Thus if economic crisis ultimately provoked the middle class to action, this prior economic growth created the middle class that could organize the response.
The growth of NGOs operating in the Third World nowadays is enormous. Garilao approaches the causes of this growth by reasoning:
- Societal conflict and tension.
- The need to respond more effectively to crisis situations in the face of breakdown of traditional structures.
- Ideological and value differences with the powers-that-be in the planning and implementation of development work.
- The realization that neither government nor the private sector has the will, means or capacity to deal with all immediate and lingering social problems.
1.2. Generations of NGOs
A number of observers have pointed to a gradual shift in the activities of development NGOs, from a welfare orientation to a more development approach. Korten (1987) refers to three generations of strategic orientations in the developing community: relief and welfare, local self-reliance, and sustainable systems of development (Table 1).
Many of the large international NGOs such as CARE, Save the Children, and Catholic relief Services began as charitable relief organizations, to deliver welfare services to the poor throughout the world. Relief efforts remain an essential and appropriate response to emergency situations that demand immediate and effective response. But as a development strategy, relief and welfare approaches offer just a temporary alleviation of the symptoms. The shift is inevitable.
Various factors have been cited as contributors to this shift. One is recognition of the inadequacy of trying to deal with symptoms while the underlying problems remain untouched. It reflects the constant challenge to voluntary organizations to re-examine their strategies in a rapidly changing environment.
Projects of the second generation organizations, which according to Korten are Northern NGOs, aim to increase local capacity to meet needs and to control the resources necessary for sustainable development. They do a critical analysis of structural causes of underdevelopment and the interrelationships between North and South. Policy advocacy, where it is carried out, consists no longer of lobbying for additional aid but for the removal of barriers to Third World development at national and international levels.
Table 1. Three Generations of NGO development Program Strategies
Relief and Welfare
Small-scale, self-reliant local development
Sustainable systems development
Shortages of goods and services
Institutional and policy constraints
Individual or family
Neighborhood or village
Region or nation
NGO + beneficiary organizations
All public and private institutions that define the relevant system
Community self-help initiatives
Failures in interdependent systems
1.3. NGO Definitions
In its broadest sense, the term "nongovernmental organization" refers to organizations (i) not based on government; and (ii) not created to earn profit.
The terminology of an NGO varies itself: for example, in the United States they may be called "private voluntary organizations," and most African NGOs prefer to be called "voluntary development organizations.
It is impossible to give one unique definition for an NGO. However, a few have been assembled below for consideration as under:
Definitions of an NGO
World Bank definition of an NGO:
The diversity of NGOs strains any simple definition. They include many groups and institutions that are entirely or largely independent of government and that have primarily humanitarian or cooperative rather than commercial objectives. They are private agencies in industrial countries that support international development; indigenous groups organized regionally or nationally; and member-groups in villages. NGOs include charitable and religious associations that mobilize private funds for development, distribute food and family planning services and promote community organization. They also include independent cooperatives, community associations, water-user societies, womenâ€™s groups and pastoral associations. Citizen Groups that raise awareness and influence policy are also NGOs."
An NGO isâ€¦
Â· A non-profit making, voluntary, service-oriented/development oriented organization, either for the benefit of members (a grassroots organization) or of other members of the population (an agency).
1.4. Typologies of NGOs
A number of people have sought to categorize NGOs into different types. Some typologies distinguish them according to the focus of their work â€“ for instance whether it is primarily service- or welfare-oriented or whether it is more concerned with providing education and development activities to enhance the ability of the poorest groups to secure resources. Such organizations are also classified according to the level at which they operate, whether they collaborate with self-help organizations (i.e. community-based organizations), whether they are federations of such organizations or whether they are themselves a self-help organization. They can also be classified according to the approach they undertake, whether they operate projects directly or focus on tasks such as advocacy and networking.
1. Relief and Welfare Agencies: such as missionary societies.
- Technical innovation organizations: organizations that operate their own projects to pioneer new or improved approaches to problems, generally within a specific field.
- Public Service contractors: NGOs mostly funded by Northern governments that work closely with Southern governments and official aid agencies. These are contracted to implement components of official programs because of advantages of size and flexibility.
- Popular development agencies: both Northern and Southern NGOs that concentrate on self-help, social development and grassroots democracy.
- Grassroot development organizations: Southern locally-based development NGOs whose members are poor or oppressed themselves, and who attempt to shape a popular development process (these often receive funding from Development Agencies).
- Advocacy groups and networks: organizations without field projects that exist primarily for education and lobbying.
Typology of NGOs
a) NGO types by orientation:
b) NGO Types by level of operation:
1.5. Roles of NGOs
Among the wide variety of roles that NGOs play, Cousins identified six important roles:
Roles of NGOs
3. Facilitating Communication: NGOs use interpersonal methods of communication, and study the right entry points whereby they gain the trust of the community they seek to benefit. They would also have a good idea of the feasibility of the projects they take up. The significance of this role to the government is that NGOs can communicate to the policy-making levels of government, information bout the lives, capabilities, attitudes and cultural characteristics of people at the local level.
NGOs can facilitate communication upward from people to the government and downward from the government to the people. Communication upward involves informing government about what local people are thinking, doing and feeling while communication downward involves informing local people about what the government is planning and doing. NGOs are also in a unique position to share information horizontally, networking between other organizations doing similar work.
4. Technical Assistance and Training: Training institutions and NGOs can develop a technical assistance and training capacity and use this to assist both CBOs and governments.
1.6. Role of NGOs in Todayâ€™s Globalizing World
NGOs nationally and internationally indeed have a crucial role in helping and encouraging governments into taking the actions to which they have given endorsement in international fora. Increasingly, NGOs are able to push around even the largest governments. NGOs are now essentially important actors before, during, and increasingly after, governmental decision-making sessions.
The UN Secretary-General in 1995 said:
"Non-governmental organizations are a basic element in the representation of the modern world. And their participation in international organizations is in a way a guarantee of the latterâ€™s political legitimacy. On all continents non-governmental organizations are today continually increasing in number. And this development is inseparable from the aspiration to freedom and democracy which today animates international society... From the standpoint of global democratization, we need the participation of international public opinion and the mobilizing powers of non-governmental organizations".
NGOs are facing a challenge to organize themselves to work in more global and strategic ways in the future. They must build outwards from concrete innovations at grassroots level to connect with the forces that influence patterns of poverty, prejudice and violence: exclusionary economics, discriminatory politics, selfish and violent personal behavior, and the capture of the world of knowledge and ideas by elites. In a sense this is what NGOs are already doing, by integrating micro and macro-level action in their project and advocacy activities. "Moving from development as delivery to development as leverage is the fundamental change that characterizes this shift, and it has major implications for the ways in which NGOs organize themselves, raise and spend their resources, and relate to others."
In the dynamic environment, NGOs need to find methods of working together through strategic partnerships that link local and global processes together. By sinking roots into their own societies and making connections with others inside and outside civil society, NGOs can generate more potential to influence things where it really matters because of the multiple effects that come from activating a concerned society to work for change in a wider range of settings.
The small size and limited financial resources of most NGOs make them unlikely challengers of economic and political systems sustained by the interests of big government and big businesses. However, the environment, peace, human rights, consumer rights and womenâ€™s movements provide convincing examples of the power of voluntary action to change society. This seeming paradox can be explained by the fact that the power of voluntary action arises not from the size and resources of individual voluntary organizations, but rather from the ability of the voluntary sector to coalesce the actions of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of citizens through vast and constantly evolving networks that commonly lack identifiable structures, embrace many chaotic and conflicting tendencies, and yet act as if in concert to create new political and institutional realities. These networks are able to encircle, infiltrate, and even co-opt the resources of opposing bureaucracies. They reach across sectors to intellectuals, press, community organizations. Once organized, they can, through electronic communications, rapidly mobilize significant political forces on a global scale.
2. Role of NGOs in Development Cooperation
The essence of non governmental organizations remains the same: to provide basic services to those who need them. Many NGOs have demonstrated an ability to reach poor people, work in inaccessible areas, innovate, or in other ways achieve things better than by official agencies. Many NGOs have close links with poor communities. Some are membership organizations of poor or vulnerable people; others are skilled at participatory approaches. Their resources are largely additional; they complement the development effort of others, and they can help to make the development process more accountable, transparent and participatory. They not only "fill in the gaps" but they also act as a response to failures in the public and private sectors in providing basic services.
Mirroring the support given to northern NGOs, official funding of southern NGOs has taken two forms: the funding of initiatives put forward by southern NGOs, and the utilization of the services of southern NGOs to help donors achieve their own aid objectives.
Donor funding of southern NGOs has received a mixed reception from recipient governments. Clear hostility from many non-democratic regimes has been part of more general opposition to any initiatives to support organizations beyond the control of the state. But even in democratic countries, governments have often resisted moves seen as diverting significant amounts of official aid to non-state controlled initiatives, especially where NGO projects have not been integrated with particular line ministry programs.
The common ground between donors and NGOs can be expected to grow, especially as donors seek to make more explicit their stated objectives of enhancing democratic processes and strengthening marginal groups in civil society. However, and in spite of a likely expansion and deepening of the reverse agenda, NGOs are likely to maintain their wariness of too close and extensive an alignment with donors.
2.1. Interactions with Formal Private Sector
NGOs vary greatly in the extent to which they ensure beneficiary participation within their own programs. At one extreme are NGOs whose orientation and competence are very similar to the private sector firms with whom they compete for contracts in project implementation or service delivery. The nonprofit sector as a whole competes with the for-profit sector for skilled labor, sales, and reduced cost services provision (Steinberg, 1987). Such NGOs may be very efficient (and in strong demand) as service deliverers but are oriented to meeting the requirements of bureaucratic funding agencies and are unlikely to use participatory processes.
At the other extreme are participatory NGOs which see themselves exclusively as enablers and capacity builders and refuse to compromise their objectives or independence by collaborating in official programs. These NGOs usually do not interact much with the formal private sector.
There is a lot of mutual distrust and misunderstandings between these two sectors. Often they both see only negative sides of another party existence. The formal private sector considers NGOs shallow and irresponsible, while the informal private sector often looks at for-profit organizations as greedy and selfish entities.
2.2. Interactions with the State
As it is mentioned already, one of the fundamental reasons that NGOs have received so much attention of late is that they are perceived to be able to do something that national governments cannot or will not do. However, it is important to recognize that relations between NGOs and governments vary drastically from region to region and country to country. For example, NGOs in India derive much support and encouragement from their government and tend to work in close collaboration with it. NGOs from Africa also acknowledged the frequent need to work closely with their government or at least avoid antagonizing the authorities. Most NGOs from Latin America offered a much different perspective: NGOs and other grassroots organizations as an opposition to government.
In the Third World, the difficult economic situation may force governments to yield to pressure from multilateral agencies to give money to NGOs. In these cases, the governments act as conduits of funds but is some cases try to maintain control over these NGOs precisely because of their access to funds. However, it was also recognized that through the multilateral donors, NGO cooperation and solidarity can influence policy at the national levels. Multilateral donors may serve as a kind of "buffer" between government and NGOs in order to avoid unnecessary current tensions and to promote coherent national development strategies.
A Healthy State-NGO Relationship
A healthy relationship is only conceivable when both parties share common objectives. If the governmentâ€™s commitment to improving of the provision of urban services is weak, NGOs will find dialogue and collaboration frustrating or even counter-productive. Likewise, repressive governments will be wary of NGOs which represent the poor or victimized.
Where government has a positive social agenda (or even where individual ministries do) and where NGOs are effective, there is the potential for a strong, collaborative relationship. This does not mean the sub-contracting of placid NGOs, but a "genuine partnership between NGOs and the government to work on a problem facing the country or a region... based on mutual respect, acceptance of autonomy, independence, and pluralism of NGO opinions and positions."
However, as Tandon points out, such relations are rare, even when the conditions are met. The mutual distrust and jealousy appears to be deep-rooted. Governments fear that NGOs erode their political power or even threaten national security. And NGOs mistrust the motivation of the government and its officials.
Though controversial and risky, many of the more strategic NGOs are overcoming their inhibitions and are seeking closer collaboration with governments. However, with closer collaboration comes increased risk of corruption, reduced independence, and financial dependency.
Fostering an Enabling Environment
The State has various instruments it can use, for good or ill, to influence the health of the NGO sector (Brown 1990). The level of response can be non-interventionist, active encouragement, partnership, co-option or control.
Ingredients of an enabling policy environment
For individual NGOs, the most favorable policy setting is when legal restrictions are minimized, when they have complete freedom to receive funds from whomsoever they choose, to speak out as they wish and to associate freely with whoever they select. In such a setting, the NGO sector is likely to grow most rapidly, but "bigger" does not necessarily mean "better." Loose regulations and reporting open the door for unhealthy and even corrupt NGO activities which may taint the sector as a whole.
Where the expansion of the sector has been most rapid (e.g. South Asia and certain African countries) there is considerable concern about the rapid ascension of "bogus" NGOs - NGOs which serve their own interest rather than those of vulnerable groups. The individual NGOs may be healthy, but collectively there may be insufficient coordination, duplication of effort, and important gaps left unaddressed.
2.3. NGO Accountability
The final important aspect of the role of NGOs in developmental process, i.e. providing basic services, is their accountability. Concerns about NGO accountability have been raised by a number of NGO scholars. Najam (1996) in his conceptual framework for NGO accountability distinguishes three categories of accountability considerations:
- NGO accountability to patrons.
- NGO accountability to clients.
- NGO accountability to themselves.
NGO accountability to patrons
The most obvious NGO-patron relationship would be that between NGOs and donors. Donors may be both external (for example, governments, foundations, or other NGOs) and internal (members who contribute smaller amounts). NGO-patron relationships have very clear, though unwritten, lines of responsibility. The mechanisms for enforcing accountability tend to be strong: grants are cancelled, membership dues dwindle, accreditations are revoked, and collaborative agreements are reconsidered.
In many cases, however, the critical danger may be not a lack of NGO accountability or mechanisms of enforcing accountability, but a danger of being coerced, or what may be called the "puppetisation" of NGOs. The rise of quasi NGOs caused by "donor dependency" (especially of foreign patrons) some times is viewed as a danger to a national security and an external attack on local priorities, culture and values.
NGO accountability to clients
The obvious line of responsibility is for the NGO to be accountable to the needs and aspirations of the community it is working with. Basically, serving community interests is the stated primary goal of much NGO activity in development. Often in practice, not only do impoverished communities lack mechanisms of holding NGOs accountable; the process of aspiration definition is also often murky and subjective. Unlike donors, communities cannot withdraw their funding; unlike governments, they cannot impose conditionalities.
NGO accountability to themselves
This kind of responsibility manifests itself on several levels. NGOs are ultimately responsible to the vision that made them NGOs in the first place. They are responsible to their stated mission, to their staff, to their supporters/members, to their coalition partners, to their larger constituency, and finally to the NGO community at large. Obviously, the specific counters of accountability to themselves are likely to be different for membership and non-membership organizations.
Ceneral Levels of NGO Accountability â€“ A Tentative Assessment
NGO Roles in the Project Cycle
Stage in Project Cycle
Potential NGO Involvement
Monitoring and Evaluation
NGOs can serve as enablers of the partnership through setting cooperation frameworks. NGOs, through community education, can awaken latent local champions that would act as representatives of a community, take over the leadership role and push through the partnership. NGOs can ensure that the goals of the major stakeholders are mutually compatible and understood by the sides. They can provide capacity building of all stakeholders.
The community and its representatives and intermediaries such as NGOs can play a major role in awareness-raising, advocacy, decision making, implementing and of course in operations and maintenance of the infrastructure facilities.
NGOs can ensure the quality of services provided by either public or private sector and monitor the price. NGOs may ensure transparency and that the interests of all the major stakeholders are reflected in project development. There is especially important since they usually pay special attention to meeting the needs of the poor.
NGOs are by their nature very flexible. This quality is extremely important for long-term, capital intensive projects, changes in investment plans, technology choices and priority actions. NGOs have a system that will quickly respond to unforeseen circumstances.
Partnerships with NGOs involvement can reduce construction costs, increase cost recovery, promote sustainability and respond more to the need of the users.
Non governmental organizations play an increasingly important role in the development cooperation. They can bridge the gap between government and the community. Community-based organizations are essential in organizing poor people, taking collective action, fighting for their rights, and representing the interests of their members in dialogue with NGOs and government. NGOs, on the other hand, are better at facilitating the supply of inputs into the management process, mediating between people and the wider political party, networking, information dissemination and policy reform.
By creating an enabling framework of laws, economic and political conditions, the State can play a fundamental role in helping NGOs and CBOs to play their roles more effectively and as a result increase the access to infrastructure services for the urban poor. Partnerships between all groups should be achieved without ignoring each otherâ€™s strengths but make use of each others comparative advantage.
The strength of NGOs, particularly those operating at the field level, is their ability to form close linkages to local communities, and to engender community ownership and participation in development efforts. NGOs often can respond quickly to new circumstances and can experiment with innovative approaches. NGOs can identify emerging issues, and through their consultative and participatory approaches can identify and express beneficiary views that otherwise might not be heard.
NGOs often are successful intermediaries between actors in the development arena, building bridges between people and communities on one side, and governments, development institutions, and donors and development agencies on the other. In an advocacy role, NGOs frequently represent issues and views important in the dynamics of the development process.
At the same time, limited technical capacities and relatively small resource bases may characterize some NGOs. NGOs sometimes may have limited strategic perspectives and weak linkages with other actors in development. NGOs may have limited managerial and organizational capacities. In some countries, the relationship between NGOs and government may involve political, legal, ideological, and administrative constraints. Because of their voluntary nature, there may be questions regarding the legitimacy, accountability, and credibility of NGOs and their claims as to mandate and constituencies represented. Questions sometimes arise concerning the motivations and objectives of NGOs, and the degree of accountability NGOs accept for the ultimate impact of policies and positions they advocate.
1. Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Development Cooperation
Research Paper, UNDP/Yale Collaborative Programme, 1999 Research Clinic, New Haven 1999: . Olena P. Maslyukivska
2. NGO Funding & Policy: INTERAC-NGO Research Programme, 2001
3. Aid, NGO and Civil Society:Eldis, 2003
Samuel Uwhejevwe-Togbolo, Movement for Youth Actualization International (MYAI) a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Nigeria