What of the NGO? Working in Black, White and Grey

A few months ago, a rather controversial article – ‘NGOs – Do They Help’ – was published in the New Internationalist (http://newint.org/features/2014/12/01/ngos-keynote/. The author proposed some blunt arguments – that NGOs had compromised their values and mandates in order to ensure funding; and rather than fighting against the perpetrators of human rights violations or exploitation, they were ‘partnering’ with them to win the fight from within.

What resonated with us, though, was two particular statements. First, the author noted that in the 1970s and 1980s, aid to ‘developing’ nations also began to be increasingly funneled via NGOs rather than through government organs. Second, while poverty alleviation may be the rhetoric, in practice little that is lasting has been achieved on this front by NGO activism. Fighting words.

However, we wonder if perhaps these two arguments aren’t linked. When donors channel development funding through NGOs rather than through government, the sustainability of development initiatives and results are compromised. Why? Because there is a big hole regarding who will take responsibility for operating and maintaining schools after the NGOs are gone. Who will maintain infrastructure? And how will government build its own capacity to plan, budget, implement and monitor development activities if they are not given the chance to do so with funds provided by donors – funds tied to technical assistance (which can be provided by NGOs) and strict accountability and transparency standards.

It all comes down to what you perceive to be the role of NGOs, and how NGOs can work with and through government to overcome the sustainability issues.

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