The NGO debate: Role and contribution

Basically, radicals and socialists are arguing that NGOs are mainly the agent to promote capitalism in the South in the name of providing credit, skill training, and other related capacity build-up activities

The development discourse is not a new phenomenon and it has some salient features to cater to the need and aspiration of the people who are socio-economically deprived and marginalized. The role of the state is vital to address the issues of pervasive poverty, socio-economic emancipation and providing ‘development goods’ to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the common people, irrespective of geography and ecological zone. In recent days, there is a strong discourse about the role and contribution of NGOs to cope with the issues of development in terms of social, economic and transformation process.

The paradigm of development issues and social and economic transformation processes are being carried by non-government sectors. Currently more than 36 thousands non-government organization and community-based organizations affiliated with Social Welfare Counsel are working throughout the country. We can see duplication in working areas and scope, unseen or hidden obstacles to the smooth functioning of NGOs’ activities and lack of social auditing and public transparency too.

In addition, most aid agencies particularly the world in recent years, especially in the end of and aftermath of the Cold War, bilateral and multi-lateral ‘aid’ agencies have strongly advocated a ‘New Policy Agenda’, which gives  prominence to the roles of NGOs and grassroots organizations in poverty alleviation, social welfare and the development of ‘civil society’ to some extent.

Renowned development experts, Farrington and Lewis have identified the following factors as the three major advantages of NGOs, which are (a) NGOs as a force for democracy (b) NGOs as poverty alleviators and sustainable developers and (c) NGOs as efficiency enhancers.

Rapid growth in NGO numbers has been accompanied in some countries, particularly in South Asia, by a trend toward expansion in the size of individual NGOs and NGO programmes on a scale not witnessed before. NGOs such as BRAC and PROSHIKA in Bangladesh, Sarvodaya and SANASA in Sri Lanka, and SEWA and the Working Women’s Forum in India, Maiti Nepal and CWIN in Nepal each work with millions of people in hundreds of villages. Significant foreign funding will continue to be essential for the work of NGOs well into the 21st century and NGOs will remain important providers of these resources.

Government policies and public programmes play a pivotal role in poverty alleviation, but in the meantime governments cannot do everything. Non-governmental organizations in many developing countries have enormous potential for flexible and effective action and working strategies and fully expect that this collaboration will continue and flourish in the days to come.

Many people judge NGOs primarily by their success in improving the living standards of the poor, and there are plenty of individual success stories; the landless have obtained land, farmers are growing more food, well and boreholes have been sunk, children have been immunized against killer diseases. In these countless ways, NGOs have been transforming the lives of millions of people who are in pervasive poverty condition, all over the world, with radical change in their livelihood through socio-economic transformation process.

If we talk about the challenging the NGO discourse, we have some points to remember. Basically, radicals and socialists are arguing that NGOs are mainly the agent to promote capitalism in the South in the name of providing credit, skill training, and other related capacity build-up activities. Secondly, to many radicals and socialists, NGOs are nothing but the agents of imperialism. To them, NGOs are just working to preserve this dependency on the donors, which is a kind of neo-colonialism. Third, as argued by many socialist political activists and writers, NGOs are replacing or weakening the revolutionary movement and points out that NGOs have had a negative impact on many autonomous social movements. Fourth, NGOs are trying to contain the social upheaval which might result in from the disparities created by the structural adjustment measures in the South.

NGO growth and funding approaches of NGOs are not a new phenomena, but the trends outlined above do give rise to important questions concerning NGO performance and accountability, NGO-State relations and the ability of NGOs to act independently in pursuing their goal. There is the need of sustainability of programmes of NGOs implemented and the need of positive attitude of the beneficiaries. The local people and targeted groups must feel that the programmes are for them and they  need to vitalize the energy towards sustainability of project programmes. Sustainability is also threatened by ‘charismatic leaders’ who dominate and allow NGOs to collapse when they leave or die as there is no one trained to take over. We have seen the problems of legitimacy and accountability of NGOs practices.

Finally, the role and responsibility of the NGO sector for development process and to address issues of poor and marginailised people of this world is quite important and the NGO sector can play a pivotal role in the days to come in co-relation with different stakeholders like government line agencies and civil society too.

Karki  is an anthropologist and advocate