|NGO Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice (Commonwealth Foundation)|
|Part I: NGOs: what they are and what they do|
|2. The historical context|
From as early as the 1960s this expectation began to be questioned.
While there was pride in the growing range and number of institutionalised public services in many countries - which were regarded as highly visible signs of development - their inherent weaknesses began to be recognised. They created dependency and often eroded dignity; in them professionals, planners and experts flourished and exercised great power, becoming as one critic, Ivan Illich, observed, "exclusive experts of the public good".
While the services consumed public resources ever more greedily, their efficacy, equity and ability to solve old or new problems or meet emerging needs, came to be questioned. Was this really development, was the question being asked. Alternatives began to be developed, especially by pioneering and innovative NGOs.
Much of this will be familiar to people in both northern and southern NGOs who began to pioneer new approaches, rooted more in change and development than in care and welfare activities. These laid renewed emphasis on working with people, rather than institutionally doing unto them, on human resource development rather than just human resource mobilisation, on creating new means for human fulfilment, and on changing policies and systems accordingly.
The new approaches also questioned the trend towards market-force economics and their emphasis on competition and individualism.
Because all this challenged the prevailing institutional ethic, the relationship between NGOs and governments changed. While the consensual and contractual relationships of "welfare pluralism" continued, the new approaches inevitably meant differences of policy and practice between some NGOs and governments.
These alternatives, based on human involvement, participation, development, empowerment and social change, were not untried and unfamiliar notions. As noted previously, in some countries they could be traced back to the 19th Century philanthropists. They had also been a natural part of social, economic and cultural systems in many countries long before industrialisation and/or colonisation, and had later been embodied in many pre- and post- independence government programmes of rural and community development. Thus the new approaches were a rediscovery rather than a discovery.
Neither were they the exclusive preserve of NGOs: governments also tried to de-institutionalise their methods. Many young people, who had initially worked within governments to play their part in national development, left to join or form new NGOs through which, they hoped, they could find ways to express their ideals.
The growing disillusionment with institutionalised welfare pluralism which started in the late 1960s was given impetus by two developments. First, the series of world-wide economic crises which began in 1973 with the first oil shock forced governments to realise that their dreams of providing universal, institutional public care and welfare were at an end. The adjustment to this realisation continues.
Second, the trends towards globalisation witnessed over the 1980s and 1990s have also limited the powers and abilities of governments to meet social needs, as has been discussed.