Development: Can NGOs deliver development?

—Syed Mohammad Ali

Engaging in a debate about the role of NGOs should not be confined to questioning their credibility, but also their ability to deliver services efficiently and in a sustained manner

A landmark Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was put forth in 2005 which acknowledged that international development aid needs to respect the priorities of recipient countries and that donor organisations must begin to coordinate their activities with one another. In development terms, this understanding implied the need for donor alignment to improve the harmonisation of aid.

Three years have passed since this declaration was signed, yet the overall ineffectiveness of development assistance continues to evoke much criticism. International non-governmental organisations perhaps remain the harshest critics of aid effectiveness. But what about the effectiveness of these NGOs in utilising aid for development purposes themselves?

After all, international NGOs receive large shares of aid from donors, which adds to the funding generated by them privately and amounts to a significant sum. In some donor countries, the share of NGOs in the expenditure of official development aid is as high as 20 percent. The aid granted by NGOs from OECD nations alone amounted to a total of to almost $15 billion in 2005. A similar amount was given to them in 2006.

Some of the larger NGOs now have budgets bigger than longstanding government donors. The overall budget of ‘World Vision International’, for example, exceeds the aid budget of Italy. The ‘Save the Children Alliance’ spends more money on development than Finland.

Given the enormity of funds involved, a closer look is needed over how NGOs are spending this money meant to assist developing countries. Some recent research in this regard indicates that there is due basis for concern.

Generally, international NGOs are considered to be able to target aid more effectively than state-run development agencies. This confidence is based on the assumption that such entities are more aware of the needs of poor people — since most of them directly cooperate with local level civil society groups, enabling them to circumvent corrupt governments. It is also claimed that international NGOs are less influenced by donor governments’ commercial and political interests, and more responsive to on-ground needs.

However a look at cumulative NGO activities indicates that like official donors, international NGOs are also very subjective in where they chose to spend their money. Ethiopia, for example, has been found to host 5 separate affiliates of World Vision, 7 Oxfam agencies, 6 Care International and 12 Save the Children offices.

Similarly, in other relatively small countries such as Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, more than 40 of the 60 largest NGOs have a presence. This is in stark contrast with other deserving countries like Congo, Yemen and the Central African Republic, where only a handful of these international NGOs operate. Therefore, like official donors, NGOs also ignore the income position of recipient countries and their genuine requirement for aid.

Partially at least, the evident concentration of NGO presence in selected countries is explained by their dependence on government donor priorities, which earmarks official assistance for specific countries. But then if NGOs from donor countries have a tendency to replicate the aid allocation of official donors, surely it must also limit their independence in terms of decision-making.

There are also other indications illustrating that international NGOs lack serious resolve in making their programmes more responsive to needs felt on the ground. For instance, there is little evidence that NGOs are better at respecting the priorities of their local counterparts than of official donors.

In the directorial boards of 55 of the world’s largest development NGOs, only 6 per cent of members have been found to belong to developing countries. This power differential is compounded by the fact that local NGOs themselves lack direct access to international aid, since most official donors restrict their funding for NGOs to organisations based within their own countries, instead of routing this aid directly to NGOs in developing countries.

It is interesting to note that the Global Accountability Report for 2006 found that the World Bank and even the corporate sector have better procedures for managing complaints than international NGOs.

It is about time that international NGOs take a critical look at their own activities instead of using most of their energy to convince donor nations to abide by the principles of aid effectiveness. Engaging in a debate about the role of NGOs should not be confined to questioning their credibility, but also their ability to deliver services efficiently and in a sustained manner.

This ambiguity concerning the effectiveness of NGOs working at the international level has also percolated down to the national level. There is a growing undercurrent of scepticism in the general public about the role of all types of NGOs. In the case of Pakistan for instance, the entire sector is often seen as attempting to propagate and impose the values of a foreign donor agency on an unsuspecting local populace.

While development practitioners must acknowledge that some problems do exist within this sector, and that the efficacy or design of many initiatives can be questioned, the entire sector however cannot be written off as being corrupt, bureaucratic or inefficient.

Moreover, not all local NGOs are recipients of international aid. According to research done by the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy some years ago for instance, Pakistanis themselves were found to have given five times more funds to non-profit organisations than what these organisations had received in grants. Nonetheless, the need to bridge the credibility gap concerning internal governance, financial accountability and the participatory approach of NGOs is vital if they want to remain legitimate stakeholders in the process of international development.

A voluntary NGO certification programme has been initiated in several developing countries, including our own, which is a good thing. Scrutiny of international NGOs at a broader level through aid effectiveness forums is also a welcome move.

Ultimately, NGOs must be able to fulfil the needs of the local communities more responsively and expediently than larger international development agencies, or else there is be no real justification for their profusion.

The writer is a researcher. He can be contacted at



Filed under International Aid, International NGOs, NGOs

13 responses to “Development: Can NGOs deliver development?

  1. Jerome

    I enjoyed your article and found it thought-provoking. As a development practitioner, I have seen how NGOs follow the money. Often they respond directly to donor priorities and act much like private sector contractors. In other cases, they react to the crisis-of-the-day and devote programming on countries that are easier to raise money for from their public donors. I see this mostly as an unfortunate consequence of the NGO “business model” although I recognize there are occassional cases of corruption and mismanagement. These NGOs were established on worthy missions to alleviate poverty or improve the environment. What other “business models” can you suggest that would create a more balanced approach to NGO planning and priorities?


    yes iam mahesh panpalia chief executive Dharasansthan . I always belive ngos work is challenging,fund crisis, but social service,self satisfication.

  3. nega zerue

    don’t you read lords of poverty(excuse me I am sloughing)

  4. zufan baraki

    No, NGOs never deliver development

  5. Dastagir


    Sangh Parivar (RSS/Bajrang Dal/Goonda Senas) cadre ready to strike at a moment’s notice.

    Just b4 elections, BJP/RSS will unleash a pogrom against Indian Muslims. Slaughter (cut necks/wrists) Muslims in thousands, create mayhem and present themselves as protectors of Hindus. 24×7 Media onslaught blame Muslims for their own killings. BJP will divide society and romp to victory.

    As regards Schedule of Riots, Ask Advani / Modi / Togadia / Varun !

  6. NGOs can deliver the developments, in fact some already have part on the development of the countries, they can use their funds in such a manner to help the government in developing the countries..

  7. NGOs can bring the developments, in fact some already have part on the development of the countries, they can use their funds in such a manner to help the government in developing the countries..

  8. JSC5

    Taking a critical look at NGO aid delivery is all too rare in the industry. I appreciated reading your take on it.

    I’ve been thinking about what you call the growing skepticism of NGO’s role in aid delivery around the world. Wouldn’t that skepticism decline and that aid be more effective if it were more closely associated with local governing bodies? And wouldn’t the effectiveness and perceived legitimacy of local governing bodies be bolstered by having a closer partnership with aid delivery organizations?

    I explore this theme and look at what sort of foreign aid structure could meet these challenges at

  9. Shahariar Imam

    Dear Mr.Syed Mohammad Ali,
    Greetings, with best regards we want to state that you are working all most all the present problems of the planet. We need you and your organization collaboration technical support, technical promotion and help for establishing World Centre for Democracy Practice in the whole part of the whole planet. This organization is registered in India, registered in European commission pador web site. We have also recognation of Amnesty International. It has also a Bangladesh Chapter.

    We are looking for open Pakistan & Afganistan Chapter. We are working from Italy and our address is:
    World Centre for Democracy Practice
    Democracy House
    Via G.Nerucci 16/C
    51037 Montale PT. Italy.
    Cell: +39 320 8858 402
    Fax: 0039 0573 959150

    We have also sent an introduction letter to His Highness honourable President Nicolaz Sarkozy presently we are looking for to open France Chapter of World Centre for Democracy Practice.

    If you are interested we can give you nomination as a president of World Centre for Democracy Practice of France Chapter. Can you send us all your prospectus of present activities. We want to work shoulder to shoulder with you and your organization. President Barroso of European Commission has given us letter wishing every success of World Centre for Democracy Practice.

    We are now working to develop our Web site, in this regards can you be able to send us material data on anti terrorism & anti terrorist, its history, anti drug, anti prostitution, human trafficking and its measurement of solutions, rules of law, human right and history of Democracy and way to implement democratic movement, democratically elected government in the third world countries where there is no existance of democracy.

    We are organizing to work collectively with global community. Recently we have joined with Clinton Foundation and Ex. President of USA, Bill Clinton has invited me to join in New York in the World AIDS day.

    Please reply urgently,

    Thanking you

    With best regards

    Shahariar Imam
    Founder & President
    World Centre for Democracy Practice.

  10. Society For Human Rights & Environment Protection.(SHEP NGO)-Regd.

    Dear Sir/Madam

    SHEP NGO is Registered Non-Governmental-Organization
    having its legal status with the SOCIAL WELFARE
    (Reg.# DSW 2062-k ).

    Our main Focus are :

    · Environment,

    · Health,

    · Education,

    · Human Rights,

    · Legal Aid & Child Labour.

    Our NGO work for a real Democratic & Civilized Pakistan and working hard on health and pollution
    issues.We are working since “2002”
    In our country about 60% population are living in villages, these peoples are facing many
    problems regarding health and other facilities.
    Devastating floods in Pakistan have affected an estimated 4.5 million people, United Nations officials said Friday, as relief workers warned that the amount of aid needed was “absolutely daunting”.Help & Donate for Flood Affectees through SHEP NGO.We are arrange Food & Relief Camps items for Flood Victims.

    It is our short introduction you can visit our website for our briefly

    introduction and working.

    With Best Regards.


    Society For Human Rights & Environment Protection.

    Suite: 636, 6th Floor Regal Trade Square, Sadder Karachi(Pakistan)
    Phone # +92-21-32765963
    Cell # +92-300-2697708
    Fax # +92-21-32766499

  11. Shahriar Imam Founder and President of world center for democracy practice, DEMOCRACY HOUSE Via G.Nerucci 16/c PT

    Dear Syed Mohammad Ali
    Are you a real person or a bla bla a lipservice holder corrupt fake man on
    NGO matter. I have offerd you a big things to do for sustainable superb development of Pakistan AND Afghanistan but you still not given an answer of our letter…you still remember the 71 story of Pakistan as a racist person
    dear Ali do not have any respect for others ….our Brack reconstucting your
    Pakistan, every where in Pakistan and you are a backstaber player that you
    Proved by your activity stop that and we now withdrawing all the offer we given to you….thank you very much….SHAHRIAR IMAM

  12. Shahriar Imam Founder and President of world center for democracy practice, DEMOCRACY HOUSE Via G.Nerucci 16/c PT

    My dear Dr G.Rasool. Butt of shepngo pakistan
    Greetings and regards to you and your club and you shepngo’s all members officials , volunteers supporters..we are very much interested to work with your Karachi based organization contributing many good things to your provincial capital of great Sind Province…..We recognize your golden organization shepngo. WORLD CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY PRACTICE is a worldwide organization working for sustainable superb development of entire Humankind of the world where your organization can work as our pakistani partner projectwise hand to hand heart to heart in Pakistan. If your organization ready to work with us then put our Introduction letter in your website as an acceptence from your organization…we have many partners around the whole world my dear friend Mr.Butt. To day I have tallked with you by telephone on the basis I am writing to you my dear friend answer me immediatly with your return call to 0039/ 320 88 58 402 I am waiting for your reply., I have seen your website it is very intigrated nice website. If you put
    wcfordp in the google search you will get our introduction letter there… read that and with your comment put that in your wesite shepngo…..We have many supporters inside pakistan ,martyr of Democracy BAN-E-ZEER BHUTTO was our supporters and one of the pillar of NGO WORLD CENTRE FOR DEMOCRACY PRACTICE ITALY…Thank You Very Much…
    Via G.Nerucci 16/c 51037 Comune di Montale
    Pistoia ITALY.
    E-mail :

  13. Nilkantha Suchinta

    Save Bangladesh NGO [Nurturing Grim Openly] staff

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