Cover Image
close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 4: Institutional issues
close this folderNational, regional, and international cooperation for sustainable environmental and resource management: The place and roles of NGOs
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentInformation sharing
View the documentPartnerships with other institutions
View the documentDialogues with governmental and industry organs
View the documentLinking with policy institutions
View the documentWorking with monitoring institutions for effective implementation and accountability
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences


Sustainable development must have as its aim the management of natural resources and the regenerative capacity of nature in such a manner as to maintain their productivity and resilience over time. Over decades, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the environment movement have been struggling for sound environmental management and prudent use of natural resources. In recent years, they have been sustained in these struggles by the knowledge and evidence that the grass-roots communities among whom they work, and in some cases from whom they are derived, have understood and practiced sound management over time, although there have been some disruptions to their knowledge base. Moreover, Southern NGOs in particular consider that there are socio-economic aspects in terms of which sustainable development implies prevention of the friction and disequilibrium that may arise if economic development is, on the one hand, out of step with the existing natural resource endowments and, on the other, remains insensitive to social and cultural realities; it implies economic constraints but also opportunities in a given country. Although these concerns are shared by all sectors of humanity, this last one is particularly pertinent to NGO philosophy and work.

We must recognize from the outset, however, that NGOs are diverse in scope, interest, and size. Some NGOs are of the people, that is, formed by them. These operate at the village/community level, but they may also express themselves in wider movements. Others are for the people. Such organizations are external to the communities but they constitute important development partners. They comprise individuals who are committed to the cause of the poor, change agents, and front-line workers. Often, these organizations are considered partners because they work with the "beneficiaries" at all stages of the activity - from conception to evaluation -interacting and providing feedback. Some organizations are welfare oriented; others are research based. In Africa, very few organizations belong only to the last category. The majority of the few that carry out research include this task among their many other activities, as demanded of front-line activists.

The list of the nature and scope of NGOs can be long, and the diversity within the NGO community cautions us against conceptualizing NGOs in a monolithic manner. Despite this diversity, however, NGOs share certain fundamental elements:

· uneasiness about today's economic order, an order in which the majority remain materially deprived;

· uneasiness about the state of the resource base, which in the majority of cases is responsible for the deprivation;

· uneasiness and anger over social injustice:

· a commitment to fight, in many ways, against those forces responsible for the injustice;

· a commitment to change at all levels;

· in varying degrees, weaker capacities compared with governmental institutions and, especially, compared with the private sector, mainly because NGOs are "of" the poor, who remain distanced from power-controlling structures.

The diversity, yet commonalities, and levels of capacity of NGOs are correspondingly reflected in the multitude and magnitude of liaisons, networking, collaboration, and cooperation within the NGO community itself and with other institutions.

In order to strengthen their own efforts in their daily work and to tackle the challenges from a broader base, some NGOs are forging links among themselves, with the people on the ground, with research institutions, and, now, even with governmental organs. They believe that, through sound management, a more sustainable resource base and a more just world may be attained by these strategies. They are doing this in many ways, including:

· information sharing, for which transformable data are needed;
· partnerships with various institutions and groups;
· dialogues with governmental and industry organs for effective advocacy work;
· Iinking with policy institutions;
· working with monitoring institutions to ensure effective implementation and accountability.