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close this bookNGO Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice (Commonwealth Foundation)
close this folderPart I: NGOs: what they are and what they do
close this folder9. The international dimension
View the document(introduction...)
View the document9.1 Forms of international linkage
View the document9.2 Funding links
View the document9.3 Operational links
View the document9.4 Partnerships


all text © Commonwealth Foundation


This Chapter briefly examines the various forms of linkage that exist between NGOs in developed and developing countries, including those related to funding, operations and partnerships.

9.1 Forms of international linkage

There are several forms of linkage between NGOs in the "South" and their counterparts in the "North". The principal among them are:

funding links: a number of North NGOs, and other agencies, including governments, international agencies and private foundations, fund NGOs in the South;

operational links: a number of North NGOs operate projects and programmes in South countries. Sometimes they establish their own offices and branches in order to do this, and sometimes they establish operational partnerships with existing South-based NGOs;

partnerships: where NGOs in the North and the South work together for common purposes, such as educating people about debt and structural adjustment, running sporting and cultural exchange programmes and generally promoting international understanding and friendship;

networks: around common concerns or among organisations engaged in similar activities.

The last of these has been examined in Chapter 6 and at the end of the previous chapter. This Chapter examines and discusses the other forms of linkage.

9.2 Funding links

There is a widespread concern among South NGOs about how general funder fads and paternalism discussed generally in the previous chapter appear specifically in the North-South funding context. This concern is shared by some people within North funders, as these observations illustrate, since they both originate from North NGO funder staff:

"Some international NGO activities or initiatives are breathtaking in their neo-colonial style and approach..." s

"...when it comes to Northern NGOs funding Southern NGOs, rarely are funds released for southern partners to allocate as they see fit. Instead a 'project obsession' comes into play - money must be earmarked for a neatly packaged project, so that the Northern NGO can market it for fundraising purposes..."

In southern NGOs, experiences abound which reiterate and elaborate on such observations. North funders are often accused of:

regarding the southern NGO as inexpert or inexperienced;

undermining co-operative networking among southern NGOs by encouraging rivalry and competition among them;

in the aftermath of the fall of the "iron curtain", faddishly switching funding priorities to Eastern Europe as if needs in the South had suddenly disappeared;

surrounding funding with onerous or complex conditions about accounting (even to the extent of insisting the funders' own accounting systems of hard- and soft-ware and practices were faithfully repeated in the NGO in one case);

constantly demanding reports or making demands about their format (one very large North funder brought staff from funded projects in one country together for a 3-day training course so as to ensure that all funded projects presented their reports in the format prescribed by the funder); and

sending in external consultants and evaluators (some funders insist on appointing their own consultants and evaluators), often lacking knowledge of local circumstances, without any consultation with or reference to the South NGO.

Southern NGOs also point to failures on the part of northern funders to gather information and consult with NGOs and their networks before making decisions on priorities, interests, policies and funding. The result is that some resources end up in the hands of fraudulent operators, or at best, certain favoured organisations receive the greater part of the available resources year after year. This undermines NGO networking, as organisations see themselves as either competing with one another, or failing to secure resources. Allied to lack of information from funders about their objectives, priorities and current interests, this has led to a good deal of disillusionment, mistrust and scepticism among southern NGOs. Many feel unable to raise their concerns with the funders, on whom they are after all dependent, especially in countries where local funding sources are few in number or non-existent.

While many governments welcome the resources they contribute (in some countries resources contributed by external funders represent a significant proportion of gross domestic product), some have become mistrustful of northern funders. Others have special registration and regulatory procedures which enable foreign funding to local NGOs to be monitored closely. Some NGOs feel that the effect of this is to penalise them for the secrecy and other inadequacies of funders which caused the regulations to be introduced by the government.

Dependence among South NGOs upon North NGO funders is, in poor countries, inevitable, because of the nature of the global economy and trade system, historical atrocities such as slavery and apartheid, and the legacies of colonialism. All these have left an entrenched inequality between developed and less developed countries. If the kinds of practices which many South NGOs report are to be modified it is clear that to a large extent it is incumbent on the funders themselves to put their houses in order. But South NGOs recognise that there are steps they must take themselves. A large NGO in a Southern African country has published what it expects from its donors and other development partners, and these have improved its relationships with them. Networking and collaboration among South NGOs is growing and can also help deal with some of these problems, as discussed in the previous chapter.

9.3 Operational links

Much of the content of the previous section could equally well be applied to the operational links between North and South NGOs. Here, further criticisms are made by those working in the South.

Some North NGOs establish their own offices within countries in which they run or support projects and programmes. While some have long-standing policies for these offices to be staffed by citizens of the country itself, many still employ expatriates from the North, even where there is an abundance of suitably qualified and experienced national citizens. Some of these expatriate staff are young, inexperienced people, including some volunteers who are then in fact actually paid at higher rates than locally recruited staff. The local presence of North and international NGOs also has an impact on wage rates and lifestyles among local NGOs. It has sometimes influenced the movement of staff from local to external NGOs, in the search for higher salaries and better working conditions and facilities. Few, if any, northern agencies are perceived, by NGOs in the South, to have properly addressed such issues as equity, parity, representation and unionisation of staff working in different economic environments.

In addition, there is a perceived tendency among some of the North NGOs, like North funders, to determine work priorities on the basis of their own preconceptions, head office decisions or reports from consultants sent on 'fact-finding missions', rather than through consultation with local NGOs and networks. The content of media campaigns in the North to raise funds for supporting work in the South has also been criticised by South NGOs as well as by some staff working in the northern agencies.

On this particular matter at least networking among NGOs in the North is emerging as a response. In two countries, organisations of NGOs which operate and/or fund in South countries have drafted Codes of Ethics which deal with matters relating to their own governance, integrity and finances, with communications to the public and with implementation. On the question of messages one of the Codes states:

"An organisation's communications shall respect the dignity, values, history, religion and culture of the people supported by the programs. In particular, organisations should avoid...: messages which generalise and mask the diversity of situations; idyllic messages (which do not reflect reality, however unpleasant) or 'adventure' or exotic messages; messages which fuel prejudice; messages which foster a sense of Northern superiority; (and) apocalyptic or pathetic messages..."

On the question of relationships the other Code states that member agencies agree to:

build creative and trusting relationships with the people of the developing countries, treating their needs and interests as paramount; and affirm that development is a process in which people change their own lives by their own efforts and that the agency should facilitate this process by providing assistance that encourages self-help and self- reliance and avoids creating dependency...

9.4 Partnerships

Partnership describes a relationship in which the parties involved acknowledge each other as equals. In consequence they have mutual respect for each other. Partnership means working together to find solutions and achieve goals. It also assumes a willingness to learn from each other, for while equal, the parties may have different but complementary skills, experiences. It means sharing power and pooling resources.

While comparable terms such as project partner, counterpart organisation or partnership are often used to describe relationships between North NGOs and funders and South NGOs, these words often tend to be hollow. In addition, North-South relationships usually involve only NGOs and funders in the North which have international operational or funding interests. Many local and national NGOs in the North are parochial in their outlook, and regard links with the South as the preserve of the international bodies, and as irrelevant to their needs.

It is encouraging to note, however, that this is changing. This is in large measure due to the impact of pressure from southern NGOs and international NGO networks, including the growth of international associations in which both northern and southern members participate as equals.