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From Development In Practice :

Development, NGOs, and Civil Society
Deborah Eade (editor) - 2000, 2004, 2006

The rise of neoliberalism and the so-called Washington Consensus have generated a powerful international agenda of what constitutes good governance, democratisation, and the proper role of the state and civil society in advancing development. As public spending has declined, the NGO sector has massively benefited from taking on a service-delivery role. At the same time, as civil society organisations,, NGOs are a convenient channel through which official agencies can promote political pluralism. But can NGOs play these roles simultaneously? Can they both facilitate governments’ withdrawal from providing basic services for all and also claim to represent the poor and the disenfranchised? Are NGOs legitimate political actors in their own right? Jenny Pearce introduces papers that describe some of the tensions inherent in the roles being played by NGOs, and asks whether they truly stand for anything fundamentally different from the agencies on whose largesse they increasingly depend.

Deborah Eade

Development, in the sense of a body of thinking and practice about why poverty exists and persists, and about how to eradicate it, has a relatively recent history. The development era is said to have been launched by President Truman in 1949, and indeed most of the best-known specialised UN agencies were established at around that time.1 Development NGOs came into being even more recently, though many of today’s familiar names — Save the Children Fund, CARE, Oxfam — began their lives as welfare or emergency relief agencies, and either ‘converted’ to development in the 1960s and 1970s, or at the very least discovered it. Thousands more were spawned as the development industry really took off. As it became better understood that the causes of poverty and vulnerability were structural, and not ‘natural’, so it became part of NGO lore that development was the best form of disaster prevention, and that a ‘developmental’ rather than a ‘derring-do’ response was more appropriate in emergencies.

Development, NGOs, and civil society: the debate and its future
Jenny Pearce

In reviewing the contributions to this Reader, I was struck by three things. First, by the wealth of empirically informed conceptual analysis that they offer, succinctly addressing many of the key issues that emerged in the 1990s on the theme of development, NGOs, and civil society. Second, by the mix of scholar-activist-practitioner authors, for whom the issues discussed really matter, because if they were clarified the world might become a better place. But third, and despite the quality and relevance of the papers selected for this volume, by the difficulty of generating wider debate about their content.
This is certainly not the fault of the contributions: on the contrary, they cover the range of issues admirably. The problem is that they are appearing in a world in which the collapse of intellectual and political reference points has prompted an eclectic outpouring of ideas and views, without organised and coherent debate...

Scaling up NGO impact on development: learning from experience
Michael Edwards and David Hulme

There are 4,000 non-government organisations (NGOs) engaged in development work in OECD countries alone, and a further ten to twenty thousand in the South. But despite the increasing size and sophistication of the NGO sector, the impact of its activity is often transitory and localised. NGOs often find it difficult to interact effectively with social, economic, and political forces at the national and international levels, with the result that grassroots development efforts can be easily undermined. Faced by this, NGOs are asking themselves searching questions about their future role and effectiveness, and are experimenting with a range of strategies to increase, or ‘scale up’, the impact of their development work.

Help yourself by helping The Poor
Gino Lofredo

You still don’t have your own EN-GE-OH? You haven’t got a non-profit foundation, complete with legal status? Not even a private consulting firm? Then, my friend, you’re really out of it. Any professional who hasn’t got one of these late twentieth century accessories is lost — clearly someone with no imagination, no sense of opportunity, no strategic vision, out of time and out of place. You might as well forget about your career, and go and sell lottery tickets or become a street busker...

NGOs: ladles in the global soup kitchen?
Stephen Commins

This paper is a reflection on four questions as they relate to Northern or international NGOs (in this paper, ‘NGOs’ refers to Northern NGOs unless otherwise indicated):
1 If NGOs are to have a role in a globalised world, will it be primarily as the delivery service for global welfare — ladles in the soup kitchen — or will they find alternative identities?
2 Are NGOs equipped to represent or deliver alternative development models?
3 If funding ‘success’ often covers weaknesses in NGOs, what are the changes that need to be made in order to deepen and broaden impact?
4 How can NGOs establish their independence and autonomy from governments? Are there ways for them to be both representative (or locally rooted) and global? How can NGOs best combine an ambitious vision with a genuine humility?

Collaboration with the South: agents of aid or solidarity?
Firoze Manji

In line with other donor countries, the United Kingdom has been channelling a significant proportion of its development aid through nongovernment organisations (NGOs). As part of a review of the effectiveness of this form of aid, several studies have been commissioned by the British Overseas Development Administration (ODA).1 The latest study focused on exploring British development NGOs’ attitudes to increasing the proportion of aid channelled by the ODA directly to Southern NGOs (Bebbington and Riddell 1995). Based on a questionnaire survey, this study provides a fascinating insight into the British NGO (BINGO) psyche. It suggests that, despite years of exposure to and interactions with the Third World, there remains a considerable deficit of respect and trust for their counterparts in the South.
According to the survey, most (80 per cent) of BINGOs are opposed to aid being channelled directly to Southern NGOs, for a number of reasons. They allege that Southern NGOs...

Corporate governance for NGOs?
Mick Moore and Sheelagh Stewart

In terms of the volume of official funding, the development NGO sector has been enjoying a boom since the early 1980s. Stimulated by concerns about the excesses of ‘statism’ and attracted by notions of ‘strengthening civil society’, bilateral and multilateral aid donors switched significant fractions of their budgets from national governments to NGOs.1 Many countries saw an explosive growth in the number and variety of development NGOs. Endowed as it is with a high proportion of reflective and self-critical thinkers, the NGO community was not content simply to bask in the sunshine. There has been a ferment of concern, first about possible malign effects of this growth on the ethics, values, and organisational competence of NGOs, and, increasingly, about how to adapt to a less luxuriant future with a decline in the rate of funding increases.

Dancing with the prince: NGOs’ survival strategies in the Afghan conflict
Jonathan Goodhand with Peter Chamberlain

In the era of democratisation and good governance, NGOs have become the donors’ ‘favoured child’, with access to growing resources and influence (Edwards and Hulme 1995). They are viewed both as ‘market actors’, which are more efficient and cost-effective than governments, and as the agents of democratisation, an integral part of a thriving civil society (Korten 1990; Clark 1991). Official donors show their support for the economic and political roles of NGOs in what has been called the ‘New Policy Agenda’ by channelling money through them (Edwards and Hulme, op. cit.). As one USAID official put it: ‘We get a double bang for our buck that way’ (Larmer 1994). Underpinning this consensus is the presumption that political democracy and socio-economic development are mutually reinforcing.
The state, market, and civil society — which, following Korten (1990), we shall refer to as prince, merchant and citizen — are related in a series of virtuous circles. A basic tenet of ‘NGO lore’ is that NGOs promote and strengthen civil society, and thus subject the prince and merchant to greater public accountability. There is, however, an element of triumphalism in the discourse about the New World Order, and the belief that NGOs are ‘part of the warp and weft of democracy’ (Larmer, op. cit.). Such words ring hollow in a world characterised by instability, fragmentation, and deepening poverty.
Far from ‘democratising development’, NGOs are often the providers of palliatives to competing factions in conflict (Slim 1994). Rather than promoting accountability, NGOs are perhaps ‘dancing to the tune of the prince’, whether the prince is a government, an insurgency movement, or a local war lord.

NGOs and the state: a case-study from Uganda
Christy Cannon

The hypothesis was that research findings would support a critical analysis of the view that NGOs are increasingly compensating for inadequate government provision in such sectors as social welfare, education, or health, traditionally seen as the responsibility of governments. This view appeared to neglect the involvement of NGOs in the African health sector, particularly missions, for over a century: nongovernmental support to such services is not a new phenomenon. The paradigm also implies a functioning public sector with minor gaps which can be filled by NGOs, a situation far removed from reality in most African countries; and posits a government-like role for NGOs which NGOs may be reluctant, and indeed unable, to accept.

NGOs, the poor, and local government
Christopher Collier

Despite significant improvements in some aspects of poor people’s standard of living in sub-Saharan Africa, serious problems remain. Little has changed since the beginning of the 1990s, when almost half the population lacked access to health services, over half lacked access to safe water, and Africans still consumed on average only 92 per cent of their daily calorie requirements. Two-thirds of school-age children were not enrolled at school, and one in two adults was illiterate. Foreign aid has been channelled to sub-Saharan Africa partly to address these problems, and a principal conduit is non-government organisations (NGOs). For example, in 1993 the Canadian government channelled US$210 million through Canadian NGOs, which themselves raised a further US$284 million from the Canadian public for overseas work. In the same year, the British government channelled US$48 million of its aid budget through British NGOs, which themselves raised an additional US$451 million.

Let’s get civil society straight: NGOs, the state, and political theory
Alan Whaites

This chapter has been formed from two complementary articles written in response to the remarkable growth of interest in civil society issues during the 1990s. The first of these appeared in 1996 at a time when such interest was surging, albeit with little theoretical depth or study. Since then, the idea that development should be undertaken through civil society has become an industry orthodoxy. Major studies have been completed, or are in progress, by bodies such as the World Bank and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). A library of books has been published, ranging from the seminal to the deeply forgettable. Civil Society departments, advisers, and units now proliferate even in the most unlikely places. But has this led to greater clarity in our thinking and practice? Perhaps inevitably, the answer is mixed.

Depoliticising development: the uses and abuses of participation
Sarah C. White

The Bangladeshi NGO leaders discuss the dilemma: they are unhappy with the official agencies’ new plan. Neither social nor environmental questions have been given the consideration they deserve. As happens more and more often, they have been invited to attend a meeting to discuss the plan. Flattered at first by official recognition, they are now uneasy. If they do not go, they have no grounds to complain that the interests of the poor have been ignored. But if they go, what guarantee do they have that their concerns will really be heard? Too many times they have seen their discussions drain away into the sand. The plans are left untouched; but their names remain, like a residue, in the list of ‘experts’ whose opinions the scheme reflects. ‘We are all democrats today’, was John Dunn’s ironic opening to an essay on political theory (Dunn 1979). With its universal acceptance, he argued, what democracy meant in practice was increasingly elastic. Rather than describing any particular type of political order, democracy had become ‘the name for the good intentions of states or perhaps for the good intentions which the rulers would like us to believe that they possess’ (Dunn, op cit.: 12).
These days, the language of democracy dominates development circles. At national level it is seen in the rhetoric of ‘civil society’ and ‘good governance’. At the programme and project level it appears as a commitment to ‘participation’. This is trumpeted by agencies right across the spectrum, from the huge multilaterals to the smallest people’s organisations. Hardly a project, it seems, is now without some ‘participatory’ element.

Birds of a feather? UNDP and ActionAid implementation of Sustainable Human Development
Lilly Nicholls

The 1990s have been a challenging time for world development. The evidence is mounting that, although there has been tremendous overall growth since the Second World War, much of the real progress has been highly concentrated. Growth has been characterised by precarious standards of living for much of the world’s poorest, and escalating inequality between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Parallel to persistent poverty and growing marginalisation, the international development community has been weakened by impatience with the territoriality, bureaucratisation, and self-deceiving nature of the current system of cooperation and foreign aid (Ferguson 1990; Hancock 1991; Sachs 1992).
Finally, international development has reached what some view as a theoretical impasse. This is due to the growing awareness of our incomplete knowledge of development processes. It is also due to the disillusionment both with Keynesian ideals of state central planning and with neo-liberal models of market-led growth. (See Moore and Schmitz 1995, though Schuurman 1993 holds that the impasse has been overcome.)
It is in this context that Sustainable Human Development (SHD) and People-Centred Development (PCD) approaches emerged. They featured strongly in the 1995 World Summit for Social Development (WSSD), where 134 nation-states pledged to ‘place people at the centre of development’ (Copenhagen Declaration 1995). They appeared, too, in statements by the OECD that defined its mission as ‘making progress towards the achievement of Human Development.’ (OECD 1996).

Strengthening civil society: participatory action research in a militarised state
Amina Mama

Research activity is severely constrained in most of post-colonial Africa. If the pursuit of knowledge was previously dictated by imperial interests and the uncritical application of Western paradigms, then today the problems are more numerous and more complex. Three decades after political independence, foreign researchers are often discouraged, while indigenous researchers face awesome material and political constraints that are often discussed within the African intellectual community (see Diouf and Mamdani 1994). Despite all this, Claude Ake (1994: 23) correctly observed that the African intellectual is ‘well placed to demystify and expose the self-serving ideological representations of the state and external domination’. He went on to note the daunting nature of this task, emphasising the likelihood of those who embark on it provoking confrontation with the increasingly intolerant forces of the state and international capital. Nowhere is this intransigence more apparent than in military states. Here, not only is research activity regarded with immense hostility by all officialdom, but civil society itself is imbued with suspicion and mistrust. None the less, research is carried out, sometimes successfully. The research experience in Nigeria of the independent African network ABANTU for Development provides a useful demonstration of research strategies that can be deployed to carry out in-depth study effectively, even under decidedly unfavourable conditions.

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