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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 folder2. The historical context
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.1 Care and welfare
View the document2.2 Change and development
View the document2.3 The historical evolution of NGO/government relationships
View the document2.4 Welfare pluralism
View the document2.5 The emergence of alternatives
View the document2.6 New concerns

2.2 Change and development

The philanthropists of the 19th Century recognised the need, however, for other approaches. Some of them were involved in political action and advocacy. From the provision of services thus developed activities of a more strategic nature. As a result, their efforts brought about many changes in society, including the abolition of slavery and of child labour, and the instigation of universal adult suffrage. What they were doing therefore was to address the deeper causes of disadvantage by advocating change and raising public awareness of issues.

This is a second historical root of today's NGOs, which can be found in what can be termed the "change and development" activities of NGOs.

These activities complement their care and welfare activities both by helping people to help themselves - working with people rather doing unto them - and working to bring about wider changes in society.

While those activities characterised by working with the disadvantaged were often not pursued within the institutionalised social policies and structures established in many countries, they did find expression in many of the community development programmes set up before and after independence in others. Indeed, it can be noted that mutual aid, self-help and social care practices characterised many societies and cultures long before the ages of colonialism and industrialisation, both in the "North" and the "South".

The words "North" and "South" are not geographical expressions. They mean, respectively, here and elsewhere in this report, "developed countries" and "developing and less developed" countries which are sometimes also differentiated as "high income" and "low income" countries.

The language used nowadays to describe the change and development activities of NGOs has evolved considerably from that of "helping people to help themselves". But it would nonetheless still be recognisable to the philanthropists and change agents of a century ago.

The modern language and practice of change and development is traced and described, for example, in literature from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa in the following ways:

"While in colonial times, NGO work was concentrated in welfare, the NGOs of today go beyond welfare functions and are working for structural change in the society to remove the dehumanising elements...This group of NGOs identify systemic factors...causing the inequality and exploitation that marginalises various groups within...society and...have the goal of working for transformation of existing structures, systems and relationships in order to enhance human dignity among the socio-economically deprived groups...[They] are also increasingly involved in research, public education and advocacy..."

"Historically, 'doing some good to the sick, needy, destitute individuals' was...a major starting point for much of the philanthropic, welfarist, social service work of NGOs...The larger social context and rationale arising out of that context serve[d] as the basis for the emergence and development of [other] NGOs...(which aim at)...empowerment of the poor and oppressed...; the building and strengthening of people's organisations...; the strengthening, re-energising and rejuvenation of social movements;... and the promotion of democratic practices and processes"

"African NGOs do not, and will not, work against the interest of our people and our countries. We are committed to supplementing the development efforts of our governments through socio-political empowerment of grassroots populations. Our goal is self-reliance and improved quality of life for the most vulnerable and deprived people and communities in our countries. We believe that a participatory and democratic approach is best for achieving that goal in a sustainable way";