|Civil Society, NGDOs and Social Development: Changing the Rules of the Game (UNRISD, 2000, 86 p.)|
|III. Enhancing NGDOs as Agents of Social Development|
39 This subsection draws on Fowler, forthcoming.
If NGDO relations with the poor and marginalized are captured by the concept of participation, relations between NGDOs themselves and others are typically expressed by the concept of "partnership". Given the pervasiveness of the term, and its relevance for subsequent subsections, it is necessary to examine this concept more closely.
Since the 1970s, "partnership" has been a benchmark for NGDO relationships with other actors (Fowler, 1991; 1998). In its original form, partnership was understood to reflect humanitarian, moral, political, ideological or spiritual solidarity between NGDOs in the North and South that joined together to pursue a common cause of social change.
Since then the quest for "partnership" has been adopted by many kinds of development institutions, and, more recently, by private sector entities (Tennyson et al., 1994; Bendell, 1998). Today's rule of thumb in international development is that everybody wants to be a partner with everyone, on everything, everywhere. Inevitably, the original idea and premise of partnership has been stretched in many directions and interpreted in many ways.40 Consequently, the phrase "partnership in development" has become virtually meaningless and discredited. The more so because too often it camouflages aid-related relationships that are unbalanced, dependency-creating and based on compromise in favour of the powerful.41 Frequently, these dis-empower NGDOs (and others) on the receiving end of the aid system. This can occur in many circumstances, for example, when:
· aid conditions and procedures undermine an NGDO's own governance and local accountability, or work against applying good practice and achieving comparative advantages;
· donors do not accept mutual responsibility for performance, loading everything onto the NGDO;42
· NGDO attention to financiers is at the cost of attention to and the influence of local constituencies;
· NGDO local knowledge and rootedness is discounted by external, comparative knowledge and imported models;
· external development policies become fashions to be followed and only questioned at the risk of being financially excluded - in other words, when NGDO self-censorship becomes an organizational way of life (Edwards, 1993);
· the "lottery" aspect of funding generates insecurity in an NGDO's organizational behaviour, as well as "short-termism";
· patron-client behaviour becomes the norm; and
· local NGDOs are "captured" by foreign agencies, eroding or compromising their autonomy, local credibility and identity by becoming extensions of those - "the foreign masters" - that they serve (Mama, 1998).
40 The emphasis on partnership across the aid system rests on a questionable premise and neglects donor countries' own history. The false premise in universal partnership stems from the paradigm informing today's official development goals, priorities and methods. The idea is to establish in the South and East a "social contract" model of development prevailing in most Northern countries. In this model, state, market and third-sector actors perform in consort and are aligned to overcome the social and environmental dysfunctions created by the limits to competition in a capitalist market economy (Lisbon Group, 1995). This approach rests on the assumption that the long, differentiated evolutionary processes and struggles between social forces that the North has undergone to reach social contract arrangements can be circumvented by judicious application of foreign funds within a uniform framework. Historical analysis of development offers no confirmation that this assumption holds true. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. Namely, that development models, policies and approaches need to be tailored "to a country's moment in history. Situational relativism must be accepted by academic development economists as well as by policy makers, both within developing countries and in the international development policy community" (Adelman and Morris, 1997:840). Partnership as pursued by donors may apply in some contexts but not in (many) others. In short, one size does not fit all.
41 Selected references on NGDOs partnerships are: Fowler, 1991; 1998; Lap, 1997; Malena, 1995b; Malhotra, 1997; Manji, 1997; Martella and Schunk, 1997; Murphy, 1998; Perera, 1995.
42- Evaluations are the usual method for assessing the performance of development institutions. Too seldom, however, is donor behaviour - their conditions, procedures, inconsistencies allied to frequent staff turnover, micro-management by their personnel, etc., - included in evaluations of NGDOs. Put another way, aid is seldom evaluated as a system but as discrete, unrelated projects, programmes and institutions.
These aspects of dis-empowerment are common, especially among smaller Southern and Eastern NGDOs. Their dissatisfaction with relationships is voiced from rime to time in public - but more often and forcibly in private. However, notwithstanding innovations and experiments, the old debates have yet to lead to constructive change.
The gap between the rhetoric and reality of mutual respect, equitable sharing and balanced power - which partnership with and between NGDOs implies - remains large and systemic. Such a perpetual gap signals a structural pathology or institutionalized illness in the aid or A factor.43 Not surprisingly, as will be seen later, the difficult translation of partnership into practice causes discomfort, disappointment and mistrust. This is the case in the most sincere attempts to make partnership work equitably. For example, a recent evaluation of a Danish NGDO's relationship with Southern partners of many years reached the following conclusions:
· The partnership concept is not understood by the partners.44
· Country offices try to change reality by changing words in policy papers and partnership agreements rather than by practical fulfilment of the ideas.
· The NGDO is seen to do a lot of talking about partnership, yet in many ways still behaves like a traditional donor eager to have 'partners' for placement of their development workers and as outlets for their funds (Development Today, 1999:10).
43 While not fulfilling its promise, retaining the word is attractive because it mystifies what is really going on to the benefit of those with greater power.
44 The evaluation was carried out in Mozambique, Nepal and Tanzania. If not tongue in cheek, this formulation places the blame firmly on the Southern "partners". They do not understand. It is their fault. The phrasing is indicative of a Northern mindset still immune, or unconscious, to how patronage expresses itself.
A similar picture can be found with American foundations financing international development - i.e. the donors considered to be most experienced and advanced in terms of the profession of funding NGDOs.
Yet, despite the pervasive rhetoric of partnership, foundations' grantmaking practices have often been criticized for their insensitivity to the perspectives and needs of recipients. Unfortunately, the nature of philanthropic relationships tends towards donor dominance (Schearer, 1999:29).
These findings reflect common experience. Inevitably, Southern NGDOs are increasingly frustrated by the relational pathology of Northern NGDO counterparts and the growing number of official aid agencies that preach participation but practice dominance and patronage (Muchunguzi and Milne, 1995; Smillie 1995; Malhotra, 1997; Eade, 1997). Overall, for moral, conceptual and operational reasons, the notion of "partnership in development" requires more honesty and a substantial rethink. What this could entail is discussed in section IV.