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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

NGO Diversity and Tension

Notwithstanding the above comments, the global NGO movement remains extremely heterogeneous, not merely along traditional environment-development or North-South divides. Whether one compares NGOs on a global or even on a national basis, there are no doubt many more differences in NGO philosophy, purpose and strategy than there are similarities. Despite considerable and worthy efforts to promote North-South NGO alliances and the idea of a global civil society, numerous tensions between NGOs remain. NGOs worldwide face many different and potentially competing courses of action.

There is the further problem of what some describe as the “commodification” of certain NGO activities into areas such as contractual service delivery and consultancy-type work (Uphoff, 1996). If this is a growing trend, as some commentators argue, then it may have implications for business-NGO relations. As and when greater numbers of NGOs begin to think and act more commercially, to what extent will they be able to remain effective corporate watchdogs? This may not be merely a matter of co-optation. The growing commercial orientation of certain NGOs may reflect a more general blurring of the boundaries between NGOs and business, similar to the emergence of activist companies such as The Body Shop and of entrepreneurial NGOs such as ORAP in Zimbabwe. If this is the case, then perhaps closer and more collaborative relations between certain businesses and NGOs are not only desirable but also inevitable.

Many NGOs would challenge this assumption. Notwithstanding the value of closer co-operation between all three sectors of society - government, commercial and civil - there remains a need for a critical and independent NGO voice. NGO protest continues to play a vital role in mobilizing citizens to promote sustainable development through policy changes at all levels of society. Without such forms of confrontation, meaningful forms of business-NGO partnership may never come to fruition.