|Civil Society, NGDOs and Social Development: Changing the Rules of the Game (UNRISD, 2000, 86 p.)|
This study provides a critical review of the role and contribution of one constituency within civil society - non-governmental development organizations (NGDOs) - to social development across the world. The past decade has seen significant expansion in NGDO numbers and growth in their achievements. However, a broad conclusion is that three major impediments stand in the way of NGDOs making a greater impact that accelerates progress in realizing the ten commitments agreed upon at the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) held in Copenhagen.1 The obstacles are associated with the environments in which they work; the quality of the funds they receive, predominantly from the international aid system;2 and their own finite capacities and ability to achieve effective divisions of labour and equitable relationships. These limitations could be reduced if the "rules of the game" under which NGDOs operate and are financed were changed. But, more importantly, the credibility of the aid system needs to be re-established if it wishes to engage with civil society more widely around the WSSD agenda.
1 The ten commitments are to: (a) an enabling environment for social development; (b) poverty eradication; (c) full employment; (d) promoting social integration; (e) equality and equity between men and women; (f) universal and equitable access to quality education and health services; (g) acceleration of development in Africa and the least developed countries; (h) inclusion of social development goals in structural adjustment programmes; (i) resources for social development; (j) international co-operation for social development (NGLS Roundup, No. 41, July 1999). As part of civil society, NGDOs are recognized as relevant actors in realizing WSSD commitments, notably in improving people's access to social services, reducing poverty, building local capacity, assisting in the formulation of national strategies, mobilizing public awareness, etc. (UNCSD, 1995, paragraphs 4j, 6k, 28e, 34g, 85 and 85a). The World Summit for Social Development also confirmed the need to enhance the capabilities of CSOs and NGDOs to fulfill these tasks.
2 The aid system is taken to be all institutions involved in allocating or receiving official - tax-derived - international development assistance as well as (private) organizations that raise funds from the general public for this expressed purpose. In other words, it includes bilateral and multilateral development agencies, recipient governments and civil society organizations of the North, South and East - predominantly, but not exclusively, NGDOs.
3Although NGDOs involved in emergency relief, humanitarian action and conflict reconciliation tend to operate from the perspective of a relief-to-development spectrum, their work is not included in this study.
Section II offers a stocktaking of (the probably unrealistically high) expectations about NGDOs versus their achievements in social development. Problems of methodology and uneven and unavailable data make this, at best, a tentative exercise. Nevertheless, an overall picture is one of limited direct NGDO outreach with reasonable success at producing outputs from social development "projects", but very modest impact in terms of sustained social change. NGDOs appear to be making most recent gains in terms of influencing selected areas of social policy, nationally and internationally. Available evidence indicates common constraints to NGDO performance that could be reduced or removed. These are examined in more detail.
The subsequent section analyses relationships that condition NGDO work. It explores their role in social development and important interactions with grassroots or community-based organizations (GROs/CBOs), between NGDOs themselves, with governments and with the official aid system.4 The dilemmas NGDOs face in gaining authentic community participation and avoiding "mutual dependency" are highlighted, as are the ways in which institutional self-interests and the nature of aid can work against applying appropriate practices. In addition, the often-ambivalent nature of NGDO-NGDO and NGDO-government relations is explored, as are the underlying pathologies and patronage basis of international aid. Particular attention is paid to how NGDOs experience the prevailing passion for (multisector) "partnership".
4 A typical distinction between NGDOs and CBOs is that the former provide services to CBOs as third parties, while CBOs are made up of members who should themselves gain from their organization's activities. CBOs can evolve to the extent that they employ staff and function as NGDOs in terms of professionalism and service delivery to third parties as well as to members - churches and religion-based CBOs are one example. Such "complex" CBOs - such as Six-S in Senegal - can be direct recipients of external aid.
Section IV uses previous findings and discussions to identify the types of institutional, policy and operational reforms needed in order for NGDOs to enhance their contribution to social development. They imply, in various ways and degrees, changing the rules of the game under which NGDOs operate. The conclusion is conjectural. It speculates on implementation of the institutional reforms required of aid if it is to operate new rules of the game that bring civil society and NGDOs on a par with states and markets in directing and shaping social development. A general observation is that, while the jury is still out, the omens are not encouraging. Why? Because, as a part of an imbalanced system of international political power and rule-based economic relations, a major precondition for success - the credibility of the aid system - is being seriously eroded.