The Dark Side of NGOs

How many NGOs and civil society groups are there in the country? The list with DSWD is a lengthy hundreds if not thousands. You’d think, with this number, “believed to be especially good at reaching and mobilizing the poor in remote rural communities and at adopting participatory processes in project implementation,” how come the much hyped about leap of progress from the bottom up hasn’t materialized? How come a great number in this country, as the papers are again reiterating on their headlines, is still poor?

A discussion paper at ILO, Civil Society, NGOs and Decent Work Policies: Sorting Out The Issues, by Lucio Baccaro, may shed light:

NGOs fail to learn from one another and promote innovation because they often compete with one another for donor funds… because they are increasingly dependent on foreign donors, NGOs become less and less accountable to local recipients. This contributes to decrease their legitimacy in the eyes of the recipient communities and negatively affects their programmes. In fact, the need to comply with donors’ concerns with effectiveness and sustainability of projects focuses the activities of the NGOs on clearly measurable and easily reachable short-term targets at the expense of long-term impact.

On the issue of Disaster Risk Reduction alone, for instance, emergency response and rehabilitation, the failure to converge, between and among NGOs (UN-OCHA, in an evaluation, has been criticized for not taking the lead in the absence of a leader), makes for a serious case of island kingdoms. Devastated communities, for their part, have at least swiftly learned their lesson – to be adept at dealing with the diverse and often conflicting issuances and policies of NGOs.

The paper continues

An important accusation raised against NGOs is that of collateralism with power. To make themselves more acceptable to governments, NGOs – it is argued – have abandoned their early concerns with structural reform/transformation and have retreated in the more hospitable and less politically contested territory of service provision… NGOs are not agents of self-empowerment or grass-root democratisation, but rather “troy horses” for a new form of imperialism. In particular, NGOs are accused of being economically and ideologically controlled by Western donors whose funds are conditional on the NGOs not seriously challenging the status quo; of being politically unaccountable to the local populace and solely accountable to external donors; of creating a new petite bourgeoisie of NGO bureaucrats benefiting from rich salaries and opportunities for international travelling; while genuinely grass-root, radical movements are deprived of potential leaders; of actively contributing, with their emphasis on “self-help,” to the dismantling of state services and protections; and of being completely ineffectual in addressing the problems (e.g. eradication of poverty) which they are concerned with… Even though many NGO programmes target women and seek to empower them through credit provision and income opportunities, many feminists argue that these projects fail to address the structural causes of female subordination and ultimately, reproduce the structural conditions which generate the subordination itself.

Sobering, sobering words. A cause for deep and serious reflection.

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