Category Archives: International NGOs

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? Continue reading

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Have NGOs Made a Difference?

Source: Michael Edwards, who recently stepped down as director of the Governance and Civil Society Program at the Ford Foundation, explores similar issues in “Have NGOs Made a Difference?”*

He finds that development NGOs have been influential in getting the mainstream to address the negative aspects of globalization, commit to participation and human rights as basic principles of development, and grapple with the implications of critical global issues like climate change and poverty in Africa.

Yet he views their performance wanting on several fronts – mainly that they have not been innovative enough to fundamentally influence the political structures that perpetuate poverty and human rights abuses, nor change the power relations that define class, gender, and race. Continue reading

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‘International’ redefined

A great article by Simon Jenkins, published May 30,2008 in the Guardian –

GAZING briefly at the Eurovision song contest this week I could not rid my mind of a quite different image, that of Nato’s multilateral force headquarters in Kabul.

There was the same flag-waving and confusion of purpose, the same small-state rivalry and cynical balancing of interests. There was the same belief that, simply by being international, a so-called community of nations was forged.

Today the word “international” suggests tailored suits, tax-free salaries, white Land Cruisers and Geneva. The Eurovision contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union with 400 staff in Switzerland, with no risk of oversight or reform.

It may seem crude to leap from such mundane activities to world peace, but the ruling assumption is the same, that internationalism legitimises itself. It rises above (never below) the nation state and its rulemakers owe allegiance only to an ideal of global community, which means whatever they choose. The ever-more numerous world bodies to which nations subscribe need never pass the eye of any national audit Office.

It was only when America briefly withdrew from Unesco and capped its contribution to the UN that steps were taken to curb that organisation’s waste and corruption, which culminated in Kofi Annan’s obscene 2000 “poverty summit”. The only good thing to emerge from the warped brain of America’s former UN ambassador, John Bolton, was his reform package, and he blew it. Nor can Europe talk. The EU still cannot get its accounts past any reputable auditor nor control the outrageous expenses of its parliamentarians. Continue reading

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A vicious circle of misery – food prices and chronic hunger


In El Salvador’s markets, the buzz of bargaining once echoed in the narrow streets as ordinary people tried to stretch their meagre budgets and fill their families’ stomachs for another day.

Now, anger and silence have overtaken the marketplace, as the price of the most basic staples – rice, corn, flour, beans – has rocketed out of reach, and those who once barely stood their ground are falling through the floor of poverty to its basement: dependence on handouts from international donors.

“People are stunned. And it’s not just the poor and hungry buyers. It’s the small merchants themselves,” says Trevor Rowe, a World Food Program spokesperson for Latin America.

“They’re bearing the brunt of the consumers’ complaints, and they have a hard time justifying the high costs. It’s a brutal situation for everyone. In the rural part of the country the calorie intake was already low. Now people are plunged into chronic hunger.”

El Salvador is not alone. Throughout the world, the working poor, and even the middle class, have been pushed into poverty by soaring food costs. International aid organizations and charities are faced with a crisis that is unprecedented in the last half century. Continue reading

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Filed under Aid, Food Security, Inflation, International Aid, International NGOs, Poverty, Social Protection, World

The myth of NGO superiority – debunked

Source

Recent research suggests that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from donor countries do not provide better targeted or more efficient aid than state-run development agencies. They do not seem to even try to outperform the latter by focussing on the neediest or by working in particularly difficult environments.

[ By Peter Nunnenkamp ]
It is easy to lament the stinginess and selfishness of official donors, as Kishore Mahbubani did in D+C/E+Z 2/2008. Those donors provide critics with the data needed to expose the flaws of official development assistance (ODA). It is different with non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGO aid is certainly relevant, but its allocation has hardly been mapped, let alone explained. The main reason is that sufficiently detailed data are hard to come by. After all, NGOs probably do not want critical analysis to tarnish their image of being superior donors.

NGOs are often believed to provide well-targeted aid. They are said to be particularly close to the poor, as many of them directly cooperate with local target groups, circumventing recipient governments with a reputation of corruption. Accordingly, the argument goes, they are better aligned to poor people’s needs, and suffer from less leakage. Moreover, it is said that NGO aid is less distorted by donor governments’ commercial and political interests, such as export promotion or political alliances.

Donor governments seem to share that favourable view. To a large extent, they channel ODA through NGOs. In some donor countries, the share of such ODA is as high as 20 %. The total of aid granted by NGOs from OECD nations amounted to almost $ 15 billion per annum in 2005 and 2006. That sum exceeded bilateral ODA from every individual donor country except for the USA.

Some critics, however, suspect that the case for NGO aid largely rests on ideological grounds. The view that NGOs have a clear focus on the poor first came under attack in the 1990s. Critics believe that NGOs probably prefer the quiet life of implementing their national governments’ agendas to risking failure in attempts to outperform state agencies. This seems all the more likely as some NGOs financially depend on official “backdonors”.


The cases of Sweden and Switzerland

Such criticism is hardly supported by empirical research so far; and that is something it has in common with the wide-spread faith in high NGO performance. NGOs only rarely support scholars who collect data. Doing research on German NGOs, for instance, therefore tends to be frustrating. By contrast, two relatively small donors – Sweden and Switzerland – offer reasonable data to compare NGOs and state agencies by analysing the following three questions:
– Do NGOs focus more strongly than ODA on those countries where need is most pressing?
– Do NGOs engage in particular where the policy environment is difficult, so government-to-government transfers are unlikely to work?
– Do NGOs behave more altruistically than state aid agencies, which may be pursuing hidden agendas?

Research done at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy in cooperation with the KOF Swiss Economic Institute in Zurich and the Radboud University in Nijmegen has led to only preliminary results so far, but they do reinforce the sceptics’ view on NGO aid. The answer to the first question is clearly “no” if one judges recipients’ need for aid by average per-capita incomes. The increase in Swiss NGO aid for countries with lower average income, for instance, was slightly less pronounced than the increase in Swiss ODA. In striking contrast to Swedish ODA, Swedish NGOs completely ignored the income position of recipients, spreading their aid almost equally over low and middle-income countries. The poorest 25 % only received 27 % of Swedish NGO funds, whereas the wealthiest 25 % received 22 %. The picture is more favourable for Swiss NGOs if need is measured in terms of absolute poverty (share of the population living on less than one or two dollars per day). Swedish NGOs hardly differ from state agencies in this respect.

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Buying Power: Aid, Governance and Public Procurement

This excellent report entitled Buying Power: Aid, Governance and Public Procurement is a must read. An excerpt here:

It sounds very administrative and technical, but reform of government procurement – the rules that guide government purchasing of goods, works and services – is one of the most controversial aspects of the good governance agenda. Donors have two goals: greater accountability and transparency, which is limited because of its reliance on a one-size-fits-all approach; and greater efficiency, which is narrowly defined as value for money to be secured through open competition. This not only restricts the flexibility of developing country governments to use procurement as a policy tool for development, it can also have significant consequences for local firms that rely on government contracts.

More here

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