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close this bookPartners in Time? Business, NGOs and Sustainable Development (UNRISD, 1999, 85 p.)
close this folderPart 1: The changing nature of business-ngo relations
close this folderNGO Responses to Sustainable Development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentDefining NGOs
View the documentThree or Four Waves of Environmental NGOs?
View the documentFour Generations of Development NGOs
View the documentSouthern NGOs
View the documentNGO Diversity and Tension
View the documentCase Studies of Business-NGO Relations

Southern NGOs

The typologies outlined above are particularly relevant for understanding the role of Northern-based NGOs in promoting sustainable development. Despite recent efforts by both development and environmental NGOs to broaden their respective agendas, for the most part they remain distinctive organizational types. For many Southern NGOs, community and activist groups, however, the division between environment and development is not so clear cut. For example, the Malaysia-based Third World Network or the Mexican Coalition on Environment and Development embrace a broader sustainable development agenda than Northern NGOs such as WWF or Oxfam. While many Southern environmental NGOs remain urban, middle-class membership organizations with limited grassroots connections, there are numerous examples of environmental NGO collaboration with peasant organizations and indigenous peoples, particularly in Latin America and Asia (Reilly, 1995; Heyzer et al., 1995).

When local Southern groups protest against their lands being acquired, or their rivers being poisoned, they are fighting for their mutual, material interests (Collinson, 1996). The environmental problems faced by peoples of developing countries often have far more severe effects on their livelihoods than for people in the North. In recent years, many Southern groups have begun to assume the language of Northern environmental NGOs and present their dilemmas in environmental terms. Martin Khor of the Third World Network captures this phenomenon well with the following comments:

Our goals in the South are about survival, humanity and dignity. And democracy. A great deal of energy has been spent in the South... in helping social movements regain their right to land and other resources, in order to promote their rights to good health and adequate nutrition, to safety, to housing, and to a sustainable environment. All these changes are necessary for both social justice and a sound environmental and development policy (1993:223).

As well as adopting the terminology of sustainable development, Southern NGOs are also fostering better links with their counterparts in both the North and other parts of the South. This is an outcome of both the information technology revolution and NGO participation in global conferences before, during and after the Earth Summit (McCoy and McCully, 1993; Krut, 1997). Information technology is also facilitating the communication of corporate abuses instantaneously via e-mail to the home countries of the international companies involved (Johnston, 1997). As a result, some Southern NGOs are also beginning to develop a new focus on market-oriented campaigns similar to the tactics of many Northern NGOs.