Published by the Sustainable Agriculture Programme of the
International Institute for Environment and Development
Role for NGO Centres
for Study and
GATEKEEPER SERIES No. 35
The Gatekeeper Series of the Sustainable Agriculture Programme is produced by the
International Institute for Environment and Development to highlight key topics in the field
of sustainable agriculture. The Series is aimed at policy makers, researchers, planners and
extension workers in government and non-government organizations worldwide. Each paper
reviews a selected issue of contemporary importance and draws preliminary conclusions of
relevance to development activities. References are provided to important sources and
background material. The Swedish International Development Authority and the Ford
Foundation fund the series.
Alan Fowler is a specialist in non-governmental organizations in development, and research
graduate at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35 1
2 GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
DEVELOPMENT: A NEW ROLE FOR NGO
CENTRES FOR STUDY AND DEVELOPMENT
There is a proliferation of conferences, books and articles examining the notion of a new
international order.' Development specialists engage in this debate by arguing what this idea
ought to mean for the eradication of still endemic poverty in the South.2 But, like many
development concepts before it- empowerment, participation, transformation, sustainability it
is difficult to identify unambiguous positions on the intriguing but indistinct prospect of global
restructuring because the idea means many things to many people (Guardian, 1991). The purpose
of this article is not, however, to find unity in existing views but to examine one feature of new
world thinking the increasingly important role of Third Sector organizations (Etzioni, 1971;
Ouchi, 1980) in achieving sustainable and equitable world development.3 Specifically, it reviews
how non-governmental development organizations (NGDOs),4 as one segment of the Third
Sector, are giving substance to the realization that they must become a stronger force in a new
global order (Korten, 1990).
A number of factors inform current thinking about a new world system and the challenges these
pose for NGDOs. It is argued that to adequately respond to the challenges ahead NGDOs must
actively work on their self-development, and this article elaborates on three organisational areas
that NGDOs must tackle if they are to structurally influence global affairs to the benefit of the poor
and the world's future generations. The critical issues facing NGDOs revolve around their
identity, performance and relations.
From this context, the third part of the article outlines four new initiatives of NGDOs aimed at
creating centres for study and development of themselves. The agendas of these centres result
from NGDOs' reflecting on their own needs and view of reality. It is expected that the activities
of these and other centres will be important in the evolution of the NGDO movement in this decade
and the next century.
A New World Order
Whether spurred by the dramatic political changes in eastern Europe, or the ecological demise of
the planet, or the stimulus of a fresh century around the corner, the concept of a new global order
permeates today's international agenda. While there may be no agreed outline of what this new
future might be, certain themes recur in analyses of what the driving forces are. Without
attempting to be exhaustive, the following are features of new world thinking that are believed
to be of particular significance for NGDOs (USAID, 1990).
Be it due to the globalization of the marketplace, or improved communications, or the inter-
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
linkages of the ecosystem, less and less of the world is untouched by the actions of another.
Isolation, retreat, withdrawal from global systems are not practical options or possible strategic
policy choices in the future. The converse is that it will be less easy to ignore the interests of others
in making one's own decisions. NGDOs have advantages in responding to such a situation
because they are often simultaneously involved, for example, with remote rural communities in
the South and influential populations in the North. NGDOs are in a strong position to inform the
latter in ways that benefit the marginalized by highlighting the implications of choices that, at first
sight, extend no further than the North's own political or economic realm.
The dominance of sovereignty as determinant for inter-country relations and behaviour is
expected to wane as the consequences of interdependence take their toll. As shown by greater
cooperation in the United Nations and in regional economic cooperation (for example, the
European Economic Community, the African Preferential Trade Area, the Association of South
east Asian States), national boundaries and mind-sets are already seen as impediments for solving
problems that require urgent joint global or regional action, such as countering global warming.
NGDOs do not have sovereignty barriers to surmount in their relations and alliances, giving them
comparative advantages over governments, not just at the local level (Fowler, 1988), but also
internationally.5 This enables them to develop effective global relationships around specific
issues unencumbered by the protocols and complex interests that reduce inter-governmental
While democratic rule may become the global norm, internal pressures must provide the eventual
foundations for political reform. The majority population linked through their grassroots
organizations (GROs) will be an insistent force seeking to change the prevailing political order
in their favour. For, undemocratic governments are unlikely to democratize on their own accord
simply due to international sanction. Many observers contend that NGDOs have an important role
to play in democratization because they can strengthen civil society (Hyden, 1983; Hyden, 1990;
Berg, 1987; Frantz, 1987; Timberlake, 1985; Duming, 1989; Wim, 1989). For example, the
World Bank (1988) expects NGDOs to foster democratic change in Africa when it states that
[as] Intermediaries have an important role to play; they can create links both upward and
downward in society and voice local concerns... In doing this they can bring a broader
spectrum of ideas and values to bear on policy making. They can also exert pressure on public
officials for better performance and greater accountability" (emphasis added).
By fostering horizontal and vertical linkages between GROs, NGDOs can help in the formation
of people's movements that may become a countervailing force to autocratic regimes.
Until the eighties, thinking about the world has been informed by simple divides North-South
or East-West that sufficiently reflected Western political and economic reality to make them a
worthwhile shorthand for crudely determining relations and behaviour. For example, aid to
regimes with poor human rights records in Africa Malawi, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Zaire was
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
justified by their pro-Western stance during the period of superpower competition. This era has
virtually disappeared, with Northern politicians and donors now openly calling for political
reform. Salient differences cultural, social, economic between and within continents, regions
and countries will have to be increasingly acknowledged. International action must be tailored
to particular situations. The days of universal prescriptions are over. NGDOs, with their inherent
pluralism, are better placed then bureaucracies to recognize and act within an increasingly
heterogeneous world order.
Finally, the roles of the state in relation to society are now very much open to debate. Beyond the
regulation and enforcement of social order and defence, the further responsibilities of the state are
being actively disputed. Implicitly, and often explicitly, the character of NGDOs and the origins
of their resources are open to question as well.6 While role divisions will remain a source of
tension between major sectoral actors, their resolution in any instance will contribute incremen-
taly to the overall evolution of an important segment of the Third Sector, NGDOs. Hence, the
division of functions between NGDOs, the state and private enterprise in any one country or
situation will have consequences for the NGDO movement overall. To become a third force
rather than coopted or prematurely spent force within the Third Sector requires that NGDOs
evolve a common strategic view of their mission within and for society; providing the founding
rationale for the roles that this requires and disallows.7
What do all these changes mean for an expanding NGDO community?
Spurred by greater allocations of official aid, the number of northern NGDOs has increased by
fifty percent in the last nine years (OECD, 1990).8 Increasing aid to NGDOs is accompanied by
explicit donor expectations of their function and performance. This trend is giving rise to critical
self-appraisals within the NGDO community about their social, political and developmental role
as well as their effectiveness as agents of poverty alleviation. Analysis of publications dealing
with NGDO action and development suggests that three organisational issues are pivotal to their
evolution and ability to respond to global change (Drabek, 1987; Brown and Covey, 1987; Brown
and Korten, 1989; Bratton, 1989, 1990; Tandon, 1989; Korten, 1990; Fowler 1991b; ICVA, 1987-
1991). These are factors of identity, relationships and performance.
One strength of the NGDO community is its diversity. However, pluriformity is simultaneously
a weakness when attempting to coalesce NGDO energies, for example when taking up a joint
position on issues such as debt and human rights. In situations of rapid growth in number and size,
the identity of NGDOs can be influenced by short-term considerations, say funding opportunities.
This may have undesirable consequences in the longer term.9 While there is no blue-print for the
creation and running of NGDOs, organisation analysis and observation of practice indicate that
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identity should be most strongly influenced by four factors: vision, theory, ownership and
Vision and Theory. A guiding image of a desired future society and analysis of how to achieve
it is the hub around which value-driven organizations such as NGDOs revolve.10 From vision and
theory flow an NGDO's mission, priorities, objectives, methods, staff motivation and the source
of energy that binds the organisation together. This latter point is crucial because NGDOs are
critically dependent on the external environment in their work and "import" many characteristics
of and contradictions between those they deal with southern clients, northern constituency,
funders, legislators and the like (Brown and Covey, 1987). Managing internal diversity is a
significant challenge for NGDOs, and a well articulated vision, theory and values are needed to
hold the organisation together and ensure coherence in its direction.
Importantly, vision and paradigms are not static. In effective NGDOs the guiding image and
method are constantly informed by learning from experience gained through evaluations, studies,
conferences, exchanges and the like. The learning-process approach to organisational function-
ing is key to maintaining NGDO relevance (Korten, 1980). This is a decisive issue because, unlike
governments which levy taxes from citizens and private enterprise which has to sells goods to
customers, the clients of NGDOs the poor of the South do not provide the resources needed by
the organisation in order for it to function. In such a situation it is easy for institutional interests
to prevail, reducing the relevance of NGDOs' actions to the reality of the poor (Fowler, 1989).
Finally, the NGDO perspective of the world should embody their intrinsic attributes, i.e., it must
not be just a reaction to the positions of government or business. The source of this vision should
be a reflection on action--the distinctive characteristic of NGDO learning. And, to be on a par with
First and Second Sectors, articulations of Third Sector thinking must go beyond broad generali-
zations. They must embody credible alternatives, rooted in a reality that has been critically
analyzed by NGDOs themselves in their own terms.
Ownership. The "owners" of NGDOs, such as the governing board or membership should
embody and exemplify the values that the organisation stands for. This is not always the case
because owners either have too little time or are appointed as symbolic figures with limited
substantive insight or involvement. And, membership organizations may be dominated by
activist segments of the whole that hijack the NGDO to further their own agendas. Be that as it
may, those with ownership responsibilities should provide a significant contribution to identity
that must not be undervalued or lost sight of. Maintaining strong, appropriate, ownership is one
vital element in discharging accountability, both formally and morally. And in its turn
accountability is a requirement for legitimacy.
Leadership. NGDOs are often the creations of a charismatic leader or small strongly ideologi-
cally motivated groups. At the beginning, therefore, leaders are the personification of vision as
well as the organisation's initial owners. This situation should change over the longer term to
avoid overdependence on individualism. Because the personal style of leaders often dominates
NGDO behaviour, the way that the relationship develops between the leader, the staff and the
(eventual) formal owners of the organisation determines the probability of achieving continuity
by balancing charisma with institutional consolidation. Where the owners become themselves
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owned by the Founder leadership problems tend to arise in both organisational continuity and
ability to adapt to changing environments (Drucker, 1990). The transition to different patterns
and structures of leadership is a common area of difficulty and sometimes conflict within NGDOs;
an issue that must be consciously addressed (Leach, 1989).
In addition to the above concerns, leadership problems are arising due to the rapid growth of
official aid to NGDOs. The increase in number and size of NGDOs in different regions due to the
increase in funds available is occurring at a greater rate than the ability of the sector to "form"
capable leaders and senior cadres. This is creating an urgent need for a more systematic
development of competent NGDO leadership.
By their very nature NGDOs are critically dependent on their external relations. A number of
relations dominate: those towards clients, towards other NGDOs and towards other sectors,
especially the state but increasingly towards commercial enterprise." In the first instance,
however, the strength of the third sector will depend on the nature of the relations operating
between organizations within it. Their impact nationally and internationally depends in turn on
the way they interact with other sectors.
Intra-sector relations. The key words being used to describe how relations should globally
develop between NGDOs are "partnerships" and "alliances" (Fowler, 1991b). These can be
instigated South-South, North-North, South-North and North-South (ICVA, 1988).12 In most
cases, the challenge is to identify and collaborate with others who are sufficiently like-minded to
allow both (a) mutual support and learning to improve practices and (b) the exploitation of
complementarity (Leger, 1990). In the first instance, for example, NGDOs experienced in a
particular intervention type credit, primary health care, environmental protection, communica-
tion can actively share their experience with others. In the second case, southern NGDOs
working with rural GROs could, for example, combine efforts with southern urban or northern
NGDOs specializing in advocacy or communication to promote the interests of their clients in
their respective policy arenas. The strength and influence of the third sector in world development
will depend to a significant degree on the demonstrated benefits for the poor resulting from NGDO
partnerships, alliances and realization of complementarity.
One important relational issue that is still the subject of much NGDO debate is an appropriate
South-North division of labour.13 While there is no agreed formula for what this might be, the
broad principle should be to build on the respective strengths of northern and southern NGDOs
and their positions within the global power structure. This will probably see operational
development work and local policy advocacy being undertaken by southern NGDOs. Northern
counterpart roles are likely to change towards (a) greater professionality in providing institutional
support to southern NGDOs' and their activities, (b) greater development education work, (c)
paying more attention to linking northern people's organizations to those in the South, and (d)
concentrating on policy development and lobbying directed at influencing official aid agencies
and international economic bodies located in the North. An increase in collaborative South-North
pressure-group activities can be expected, most likely on specific issues (Clark, 1991).
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Relations with other sectors. The desired relation between NGDOs and other sectors,
specifically with governments, is an ongoing and important issue, being accentuated by the
change of institutional roles implicit to structural adjustment lending. In the context of Britain,
for example, it can be argued that the original role of NGOs as charities was (and for many still
is) to tidy-up the loose welfare ends of the capitalist state and make good the social shortcomings
of the market.14 They were certainly not originally created or given tax advantages in order to
challenge or change the premises of the political and economic structures that made state
welfarism necessary (Whitaker, 1970)." Today, NGDOs are being officially financed with the
expectation that they will do globally what they have been doing domestically (OECD, 1988) -
a welfare service role which NGDOs do not simply accept, arguing that their experience should
influence public policies.
There is no straightforward answer to how the roles of the state and NGDOs should be divided
because governments vary and contexts dictate the posture that NGDOs should take towards
them. A meeting of NGDOs in India concluded, for example, that democratic governments can
present NGDOs with greater difficulty in determining their position and role than do autocratic
regimes (Tandon, 1989). This notwithstanding, there are a number of rules of thumb to guide
NGDOs in assessing the type of conditions they need in order to relate to governments.
First, there must be a legislative framework which assures sufficient NGDO autonomy of action.
Second, a forum should exist for NGDO-Government dialogue on issues of public policy. Third,
when negotiating funding this must not (a) negatively impact on the NGDOs own decision-
making processes, (b) erode their comparative advantages, or (c) distort their accountability to
constituency and clients (Hellinger, 1987; ICVA, 1985; Fowler, 1991b). Further, in choosing a
position NGDOs should ask themselves if they are functioning as alternatives, complimenters or
substitutes for the government. Finally, the dependency question should be raised. In other words
NGDOs must not only judge if they are being compromised by government relations and official
aid but must also ask themselves what strategies for eventual self-reliance do they have as a
counterweight (Vincent and Campbell, 1989).
As NGDOs build up experience and knowledge on what legislation facilitates or impedes their
autonomy, how to work alongside governments, what conditions to negotiate with official aid
agencies and so on, they need to systematically share their insights with others. It is not just a
question of avoiding reinventing the wheel but one of ensuring that divide and rule strategies of
some governments and donors are countered.6
Contrary to traditional ideas about assessing NGDOs, the guiding standard for evaluating their
contribution to development is not the nobility of their intentions but their performance in relation
to the poor. Here is the yardstick for their legitimacy and right to exist. Until fairly recently there
was a tangible suspicion within the NGDO community that pressure to become more professional
implied that they become more cold, calculating and "business-like" in their approach.17 This
stance is changing and NGDOs are now seriously concerned about the effectiveness of their
management and the stewardship of their resources."
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However, in seeking assistance to improve their effectiveness, NGDOs are worried about the
suitability of the organisational and human resource development skills and practices on offer.
And, when they look around they are often disappointed to find that the amount and variety of
appropriate resources--institutions, documentation, technical support--are nowhere near what is
needed. Currently, there is a severe shortage of resources required to improve NGDO perform-
ance in relevant ways. For example, while European NGDOs disburse some 2-3 billion dollars
annually, outside of some religious organizations, there is nowhere on the continent specifically
skilled at improving their performance or training their staff. This unsatisfactory situation
obviously reduces the ability of NGDOs to take up the challenges connected with a greater role
in a new world order and responsibilities to the poor.
A necessary complement to greater organisational effectiveness is the relevance of what NGDOs
actually do in trying to improve the lot of the poor. Relevance can be judged in two ways, firstly,
by the appropriateness of intervention choices to the context and needs of the selected community
or group. This requires the right information and the ability to tailor interventions to specific
situations. Second is what could be termed the quality of an intervention. By quality is meant
obtaining the optimal combination of development products and processes. In other words,
correctly operationalizing the fact that tangible benefits must be realized in appropriate ways if
they are to be sustainable. Study after study shows that "authentic" participation, rather than
pseudo participation (a form of cooptation) is a vital component for realizing a high quality
(Oakley, 1991).19 A pressing demand on NGDOs is to structure and manage themselves for
quality development. Figure 1 summarizes these issues.
NGDO Centres for Study and Development
NGDOs recognize and are addressing many of the issues detailed previously in a number of ways.
For example a recent conference, organised by Save the Children Fund and Manchester
University in January 1992, addressed the issue of Scaling Up NGDO impact. More strategically,
a number of initiatives are arising from within the NGDO community designed to tackle the
problems arising from the growth of the Third Sector by establishing specialist institutions for this
purpose. The rest of this article reviews four such initiatives know to the author and draws
conclusions from them.20
The four are: the El Taller initiative begun in 1988; an NGDO Study and Development Centre
for eastern and southern Africa, also initiated in 1988; a Centre for Dialogue on Peace and
Humanitarian Issues in the Horn of Africa to be set up this year; and an International NGDO
Training and Research Centre based in Europe.
Meaning "the Workshop" in Spanish, El Taller is a Foundation with a small international
secretariat located in the south of Spain. The Foundation is a temporary vehicle for the definition
and creation of an NGDO study and meeting centre with a global perspective. Three consultations
- one held in Spain, one in Thailand and the third held in Santiago de Chile were designed to
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Figure 1. Issues in NGDO Self-Development1
Lea nn' Leadership Acc ability
ory -- Vision Ownership Le
To G auroos-- RELATIONSHIPS PERFORMANCE
orga stations / \
Within the Sector To other sectors Effectiveness Quality
Partneips Alliances Business Governmnt Resources Managee Product ess
SWhile significant relations are indicated, most ofthe factors shown are inter-related. For example, NGDOs have important
relationships with the poor; organisational learning derives, in part, from evaluating performance. The complexity of
linkages not shown diagrammatically is discussed in the text.
involve NGDO leaders from all continents in decision-making about the centre. This participa-
tory process defined El Taller's ownership and management structure, criteria for membership,
location, financing, educational approach and programme of activities. The majority of
participants have been from countries of the South. El Taller's overall mission is to better enable,
predominantly but not exclusively, southern NGDOs to pursue empowerment policies benefitting
the disadvantaged in their societies (El Taller, 1990).
One stress in El Taller is the requirement that the educational approach adopted for its work must
enable NGDO staff to reflect on their actions in order to apply their learning from this experience
in action again. This condition, common to the other initiatives described later, is a distinctive
feature of how NGDOs see the way forward in their evolution; differentiating itself from normal
At the time of writing, El Taller plans to (a) develop educational programmes for NGDO
management staff; (b) undertake workshops and short courses at its headquarters and different
locations throughout the world on five important topics for NGDOs environment, gender, peace,
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human rights, communications using specialists from within NGDOs on different continents
wherever possible; (c) promote exchange programmes between NGDOs South-South; (d) create
a documentation system and promote research on the basis of NGDO needs.
The centre will be located in Tunisia, starting its operations in late 1992. To share its experiences
and inform the NGDO community of its progress, El Taller is already producing a regular
newsletter entitled Banyan and a Journal Reflexion.21
NGDO Study and Development Centre for eastern and southern Africa
This initiative is an outcome of a meeting between leaders of African NGDOs organised by the
NGDO Management Network for eastern and southern Africa (NGOMESA) in Botswana in May
1989. The participants identified the need for a facility in the region to spearhead the development
of local NGDOs, not just as implementers of projects but as a distinct, recognized sector in their
societies. To ensure full participation of the NGDO community in identifying needs and
designing such a resource, over the course of a year a consultant led a country-by-country survey
under the guidance of a Task Force appointed by the Botswana gathering. Some fourteen hundred
individuals and institutions in the region were interviewed.22
The consultant's analysis, presented at a meeting of NGDO leaders in June 1991, identifies two
major areas of NGDO development need; one emphasising improvement in performance, the
other stressing the necessity to strengthen NGDO identity. The priority of some NGDOs to
improve their impact emerges in the view that such a centre should provide services such as
technical assistance, information exchange, assist in identifying strategies for organisational
sustainability, evaluation and so on. On the other hand, a number of respondents want a regional
centre to function as a Think Tank that analyses and questions emerging trends, examines
relations between NGDOs and governments and NGDOs and donors and, generally, fosters the
growth of NGDOs as an integral part of civil society, not simply as a link in the aid chain. The
development of new NGDO leadership is also seen as a critical role in this. The June consultation
decided for the latter focus. Named Mwalekeo wa NGO (the NGO Vision), the centre will be
located in Harare and a detailed programme of activity is now in preparation along the lines
featuring the priorities noted above.
Centre for Dialogue on Humanitarian, Peace and Development Issues
NGDOs often function within and respond to the consequences of armed conflict. And, while
armed conflict is a global phenomenon, Africa and especially countries of the Horn of Africa -
Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan have not really known peace since their independence some
thirty years ago. The tragic consequences of continued conflict loss of civilian life, displace-
ment, famine, ecological degradation, squandered resources and long term debilitation of
vulnerable groups in the population are situations normally responded to by international
NGDOs throughout the world. But the role of indigenous NGDOs in (civil) war situations is more
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complex because they may able to contribute to a resolution of the conflict.
The centre, initiated by a group of African activists and scholars will probably by located in Addis
Ababa. It will explore and exploit alternative strategies for conflict resolution that are not
available to official agencies and governments. Principles underlying the initiative are founded
on the belief that (a) greater awareness of the adverse impacts of war, (b) pressure on combatants
to respect a minimum humanitarian code for treatment of civilians, (c) promotion of confidence
building measures between parties, and (d) involvement of a broader cross-section of society,
especially, influential and respected individuals, are all needed and can be actively pursued by
The Founders foresee a number of inter-related programmes which, while focusing on conflict
resolution within the region, will also have relevance for other areas of the world. The preliminary
programmes are: (1) research on the impact of conflict on development, including studies
contributing to a "discipline of peace" and development of innovative conflict resolution
methods; (2) dialogue and exchange, with activities to broaden the debate on conflict issues; (3)
a training programme aimed at strengthening the skills of potential peace makers and those
involved in conflict areas; (4) a public education programme including a specialist documentation
unit; and (5) a grants programme to stimulate creative thinking in support of the other
programmes. Overall, the purpose is to advance and strengthen the NGDO contribution to
The International NGDO Training and Research Centre Europe
In common with the institutions described previously, this initiative is a response to a number of
issues raised in the discussion on NGDO self-development. First, it is intended that the centre will
provide a resource that predominantly, but by no means exclusively, help professionalize the staff
of northern NGDOs and aid agencies.24 At present there is no facility providing appropriate
resources for the human resource development needs of northern NGDOs' staff as programmers,
intervenors, donors, lobbyists, advocacy specialists or public educators. The training of most
northern NGDO personnel is often unsystematic, weak or effectively non-existent. On-the job
training is the most usual approach, but by default rather than design. Development studies
courses at universities are sometimes used but do not correspond well with the reality of NGDO
work or values. The centre plans to operate core programmes focusing on NGDO organisational
development, performance assessment, policy development and provision of support services.
Additional flexible courses on sectoral or other topics are envisaged. INTRAC envisages an
organisation structure that will involve southern NGDOs in programme definition and training,
so ensuring relevance to their situation.
Another objective of the centre is to undertake research on policy issues of importance to NGDOs
in order to develop and propose well thought through alternative development models. The
demonstrated failure of current development approaches to significantly improve the situation of
the poor and the prospect of irreversible environmental damage due to the way natural resources
are presently used, calls out for alternatives that NGDOs are experimenting with. NGDO
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achievements and experiences need to be properly evaluated and the lessons distilled, translated
and injected into the policy arena. The centre would contribute to this. Finally, the centre is
intended to actively support the development of similar initiatives in the South through
programme collaboration and other appropriate means.
It is argued that probable changes in the global order offer particular opportunities for NGDOs to
realize a number of their comparative advantages in the quest for a more equitable and just world.
Taking up a more significant role, will, however involve not just a scaling up of NGDO impacts
at the micro level but also the technical and managerial ability to influence public policies
(Bratton, 1990). The capability to combine micro-action and macro-influence, singly and in
alliance with others, will be a sign of NGDO professionalism in the years to come. This paper
seeks to show how NGDOs are furthering their own institutional development in order to build
Table 1 summarizes the planned activities of the four international centres in relation to the three
major issues of NGDO self-development discussed earlier in this paper. It shows both variety and
similarity in priorities, foci and scope of activity between the centres which have significant
potential for complementary. There is relatively little overlap given the differences in primary
constituencies to be served. Unifying this diversity is the fact that they are all new initiatives from
within the NGDO community; an expression of the growing priority for appropriate organisa-
tional self-development that cannot be satisfied by existing institutions.
Analysis of these initiatives suggests that the needs of NGDO self-development could be realized
more cost-effectively through the creation of one super-centre. Such a view would be typical of
the economic assumptions of economies of scale associated with the existing world order. But
such a move would be inappropriate for realizing the "value-added" that NGDOs bring to a world
that is restructuring. By its very nature, the NGDO sector is plural. That is its one of its strengths,
and is source of innovation and important contribution to development in the next century. It
would not be in keeping with the character and comparative advantages of NGDOs to monopolize
their self-development within one over-arching institution.
Yet, while not unified by a super centre, to gain substantial impact NGDOs must work towards
coherence in the role they wish to play in a restructuring world. The critical role choices for
NGDOs seem to lie along a spectrum lying between functioning as satisficers of the micro
shortcomings of globally sponsored corporate capitalism and acting as advocates for distributive
justice and sustainable stewardship of the world's resources. Without a shared vision and theory
of their contribution to world development along such a continuum the likelihood of the Third
Sector remaining a peripheral actor in world affairs is very real.
The effectiveness of these new institutions will, in large measure, depend on their use by the
NGDO community. This will require to NGDOs to appreciate and prioritise their own
institutional development, which is much more than just training. One step towards doing so
would be for NGDOs to include allocations for self-development in their organisational budgets
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Table 1. NGDO Self-Development Issues and the International Centres
NGDO Self-Development Issues
NGDO sectoral analysis ** *** ****
Policy/theory development *
Learning ** **
Accountability and **
NGDO management and *
Professionlize staff **** ** **
Partnership building N-S *
Alliance building S-S **** ** **
Government NGDO ** **** **
Joint Advocacy *
1. The number of asterisks indicate what appears to be the relative significance of the issue for the centre concerned; the
greater the number of asterisks the greater the importance.
2. El Taller = The NGDO Workshop presently in Spain.
MWENGO = NGDO Study and Development Centre for eastern and southern Africa.
CDHPDI = Centre for Dialogue on Humanitarian, Peace and Development Issues, Horn of Africa
INTRAC = International NGDO Training and Research Centre, Europe.
and in projects proposals. If they function properly, the new centres will offer a more appropriate
supply of institutional development services, including training, than is currently available from
universities and a number of public sector bodies which are re-orienting themselves towards
NGDOs because that's where official aid is being allocated in greater amounts.
In parallel, donors need to be more open to the institutional needs and complexities of the NGDO
sector. This calls for more strategic funding based on the acceptance that institutional develop-
ment is a long-term process, for which training is not an adequate substitute. The quality of what
NGOs deliver in the projects that are still the major mode of delivery depends on their capabilities
as organizations. Too few official donors are prepared to support an NGDOs self-development
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
as such, relying on others to do so. But these others are not around in sufficient numbers or with
adequate resources. As a consequence, when possible NGDOs use bits of project funds to work
on their own improvement in a piecemeal fashion, which has little continuity and is not cost-
Donors need to develop a judicious mix of funding to supply and demand. Resources to establish
these new centres should be balanced by funds enabling NGDOs to determine the demand by
shopping around for what they want. Such a duel strategy makes available the services that are
critically needed but reduces the likelihood that the centres themselves by what they want to
supply. NGDOs, as clients, should be able to determine their needs and express this by hiring the
services they want.
The new centres are potentially important allies for research organizations interested in work that
is relevant to the poor. Dissemination of useful findings and techniques can be undertaken as a
joint venture, capitalising on the comparative advantages of each institution. In my view, we are
moving into an era where strategic alliances of like-minded organizations within and outside of
the NGDO community will be increasingly necessary in order to tackle global problems.
The four centres reviewed above, as well as many others both existing and to come, can be
regarded as building blocks of an institutional development structure for NGDOs that is rapidly
being put into place. The challenge, however, will be to exploit the complementarities of these
and other initiatives. A first step in this direction could be the creation of an association of NGDO
support organizations where strategies for development of the sector are shared. Loose in its
initial phase, an association could evolve into a systemic linkage between centres to exploit their
individual capabilities not a super-centre but a consciously chosen pattern of mutually suppor-
tive relations that in the long term will bring one part of the Third Sector on a par with governments
and business in a new global order.
1. A recent global conference with the evolution of the world's structure had the theme "One
World or Several: Elements of a New Era", organised by the Society of International
Development in Amsterdam from 5 10 May 1991.
2. The South refers to countries that are recipients of international development assistance
funding; the North being member countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and
3. The Third Sector is composed of organizations whose primary purposes are driven by values
rather than by profit, as with businesses (the Second sector), or regulation and control, as with
governments (the First Sector).
4. For historical reasons the term non-governmental organisation (NGO) has become synony-
mous for a sub-category of Third Sector organizations whose value-purposes derive from a
vision of future society as less iniquitous and unjust. NGO goals are typically directed at the
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
relief and eradication of poverty and unnecessary human suffering, objectives which increas-
ingly push them to promote structural changes benefitting the poor, underprivileged, op-
pressed and marginalised in any society. Where the society in question is in the South one can
talk of non-governmental development organizations or NGDOs. For the purpose of this
article, NGDOs will be taken to be international and African service-providing organizations.
The term grass roots organizations (GROs) will be used to signify the myriad of formal and
informal community level organizations found throughout the world.
5. NGDOs have already proven this potential internationally during their action against illegal
chemical dumping in West Africa.
6. For example, the funding base for NGDOs has changed in the last decade with the growth of
private finance is being overtaken by official aid which now constitutes 35 % of NGDO
disbursements (OECD, 1987; Clarke, 1991).
7. Although often lacking in specifics, the search for a common sense of mission is alive within
many NGDOs. For a reactive African statement see the NGDO declaration to the UN Special
Session on Africa; See Africa Recovery, No. 4., United Nations Department of Information,
New York, 1986. For one articulation of their mission by Asian NGDOs see "An Alliance of
Hope: The Minimata Declaration", Philippines Rural Reconstruction Movement, August,
8. The justification for greater aid to NGDOs arises from current macro-economic assumptions
about institutional comparative advantage that inform structural adjustment policies being
promoted by the World Bank and supported by bi-lateral donors.
9. For an examination of the problems arising from rapid NGDO growth based on official aid see
10. Some observers, like Tim Brodhead of the Canadian Council of International Cooperation,
stress that NGDOs must have a theory of development to be legitimate organizations in this
field. Personal communication.
11. The sixties, seventies and part of the eighties saw a basic antagonistic position of NGDOs to
commercial enterprise. NGDO actions against N6stle's baby milk powder is but one example.
However, the NGDO aversion to profit-making is being tempered by the realization that the
involvement of the poor in income-generating activity is one important sustainable way for
them to improve their situation. The position of NGDOs with regard to profit-making is now
much more nuanced, their key question being "who benefits from profit and how?".
12. The International Council for Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) has developed a set of policy
guidelines for relations between Northern and Southern NGDOs. To my knowledge, no
similar guidelines exist as yet for South-South relations.
13. See the special 1987 volume of World Development edited by Anne Gordon Drabek for a
number of papers addressing the issue of North-South relations.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
14. I am grateful to Alison van Rooy of Lincoln College, Oxford for these observations.
15. The terms of tax exemption for Foundations in America which specifically preclude
providing funds for political activity and the recent (May 1991) report of the British Charity
Commissioners on OXFAM's public education campaign for maintaining sanctions against
South Africa illustrate the limits set by the state on development NGO action (Smith, 1991).
16. Donors and governments are not monolithic and this can be used to NGDO advantage. For
example, when successful conditions for collaboration with one department have been
negotiated they can be used as leverage towards another.
17. Part of the NGDO reaction was in response to the sort of demands and conditions attached to
the increasing amounts of official aid available to the sector.
18. The NGO Management Newsletter produced quarterly by the International Council of Vol-
untary Agencies since April 1986 provides valuable information on the trend in management
ideas and experiences thought to be relevant to NGOs.
19. "Authentic" participation is the term used by Peter Oakley (1991) for non-cooptive partici-
pation in development projects, derived from recent extensive study of practical participation
20. These four are cited because they are known personally to me. However, there are
undoubtedly others that could be included. For example, a number of national initiatives to
create support organizations for NGDOs are under way, such as the NGO Management Centre
spear-headed by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and the NGO
Resource and Development Centre in South Africa.
21. Banyan is name for the fig tree, the El Taller symbol; a place providing shade for meeting and
22. "Draft Needs Assessment Study for a Regional NGO Centre in Eastern and Southern Africa",
by Demeke Getachew. Personal communication.
23. "Information Note" of the Inter-Africa Group and personal communication from Abdul Mo-
hammed, group convenor.
24. This would include staff of official aid agencies who have to deal with NGDOs in the North
or the South. Personal communication from Dr. Brian Pratt.
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA35
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1. Pesticide Hazards in the Third World: New Evidence from the Philippines. 1987. J.A. McCracken and G.R.
2. Cash Crops, Food Crops and Agricultural Sustainability. 1987. E.B. Barbier.
3. Trees as Savings and Security for the Rural Poor. 1992. Robert Chambers, Czech Conroy and Melissa Leach.
(1st edition, 1988)
4. Cancer Risk and Nitrogen Fertilisers: Evidence from Developing Countries. 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
5. The Blue-Baby Syndrome and Nitrogen Fertilisers: A High Risk in the Tropics? 1988. J.N. Pretty and G.R.
6. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. J.A. McCracken and J.N. Pretty.
7. Glossary of Selected Terms in Sustainable Economic Development. 1988. E.B. Barbier and J.A. McCracken.
8. Internal Resources for Sustainable Agriculture. 1988. C.A. Francis.
9. Wildlife Working for Sustainable Development. 1988. B. Dalal-Clayton.
10. Indigenous Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development. 1988. D.M. Warren and K. Cashman.
11. Agriculture as a Global Polluter. 1989. Jules N. Pretty and G.R. Conway.
12. Evolution of Agricultural Research and Development Since 1950: Toward an Integrated Framework. 1989. Robert
13. Crop-Livestock Interactions for Sustainable Agriculture. 1989. Wolfgang Bayer and Ann Waters-Bayer
14. Perspectives in Soil Erosion in Africa: Whose Problem? 1989. M. Fones-Sondell.
15. Sustainability in Agricultural Development Programmes: The Approach of USAID. 1989. Robert O. Blake.
16. Participation by Farmers, Researchers and Extension Workers in Soil Conservation. 1989. Sam Fujisaka.
17. Development Assistance and the Environment: Translating Intentions into Practice. 1989. Marianne Wenning.
18. Energy for Livelihoods: Putting People Back into Africa's Woodfuel Crisis. 1989. Robin Mearns and
19. Crop Variety Mixtures in Marginal Environments. 1990. Janice Jiggins
20. Displaced Pastoralists and Transferred Wheat Technology in Tanzania. 1990. Charles Lane and Jules N. Pretty.
21. Teaching Threatens Sustainable Agriculture. 1990. Raymond I. Ison.
22. Microenvironments Unobserved. 1990. Robert Chambers.
23. Low Input Soil Restoration in Honduras: the Cantarranas Farmer-to-Farmer Extension Programme. 1990.
24. Rural Common Property Resources: A Growing Crisis. 1991. N.S. Jodha
25. Participatory Education and Grassroots Development: The Case of Rural Appalachia. 1991.
John Gaventa and Helen Lewis
26. Farmer Organisations in Ecuador: Contributions to Farmer First Research and Development. 1991. A. Bebbington
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27. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in Africa. 1991. Chris Reij
28. Tree Products in Agroecosystems: Economic and Policy Issues. 1991. J.E.M. Arnold
29. Designing Integrated Pest Management for Sustainable and Productive Futures. 1991. Michel P. Pimbert
30. Plants, Genes and People: Improving the Relevance of Plant Breeding. 1991. Angelique Hangerud and Michael
31. Local Institutions and Participation for Sustainable Development. 1992. Norman Uphoff.
32. The Information Drain: Obstacles to Research in Africa. 1992. Mamman Aminu Ibrahim.
33. Local Agro-Processing with Sustainable Technology: Sunflowerseed Oil in Tanzania. 1992. Eric Hyman.
34. Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation in India's Semi-Arid Tropics. 1992. John Kerr and N.K. Sanghi.
35. Prioritizing Institutional Development: A New Role for NGO Centres for Study and Development. 1992. Alan
Copies of these papers are available from the Sustainable Agriculture Programme, IIED, London
(2.50 each inc. p and p).
GATEKEEPER SERIES NO. SA 35
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme
The Sustainable Agriculture Programme of IIED promotes
and supports the development of socially and environ-
mentally aware agriculture through research, training,
advocacy, networking and information dissemination.
The Programme emphasises close collaboration and con-
sultation with a wide range of institutions in the South.
Collaborative research projects are aimed at identifying
the constraints and potentials of the livelihood strategies
of the Third World poor who are affected by ecological,
economic and social change. These initiatives focus on
indigenous knowledge and resource management; par-
ticipatory planning and development; and agroecology
and resource conserving agriculture.
The refinement and application of Participatory Rural
Appraisal methods is an area of special emphasis. The
Programme is a leader in the training of individuals from
government and non-government organizations in the
application of these methods.
The Programme supports the exchange of field experi-
ences and research through a range of formal and informal
publications, including RRA Notes, aimed at practitioners
of Rapid and Participatory Rural Appraisal, and the Gate-
keeper Series, briefing papers aimed at policy makers. It
receives funding from the Swedish International Develop-
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