DSA2016: Politics in Development
This panel explores NGOs, politics and power. Original papers and a round-table discussion will address how international NGOs in the global north and NGOs in the global south are manoeuvring within civil and political spaces characterised by competition, legal constraints and legitimacy critiques.
NGOs are struggling to overcome long-standing questions about their accountability, roles and purposes, as well as their place in civil and political spaces (Banks, Hulme and Edwards 2015).
The NGOs in Development Study Group is running a three-session panel focused on NGOs, politics and power. It offers new theoretical and empirical contributions on critical issues identified in recent Study Group meetings. In the global north, how are international NGOs confronting changes in the policy environment, and responding to critiques of their legitimacy? How does this relate to the politics of funding and fundraising, with INGOs developing new income streams but critiqued for their public campaigns, corporate affiliations, and mission drift in an increasingly competitive environment? In the global south, how are NGOs straddling the difficult boundary between being perceived, or effectively acting, as political opponents of government, and remaining non-partisan to operate in complex political environments? In north and south, how are traditional NGOs relating to new forms of civil society organising and their politics? What new research is emerging on internal power and politics within NGOs; between headquarters and country offices; and between NGOs and the people they claim to support?
Slot 1 (9- 10.30) ‘Power dynamics of how NGOs are responding and adapting to the changing external environment’: papers by Ibrahim, Kwak and Pierobon (Chair: Rachel Hayman)
Slot 2 (11-12.30) ‘Internal power issues of NGO practices’: papers by Suthar, Peck, Hayman/Stevens and Kontinen (Chair: Solava Ibrahim; Discussant: Susannah Pickering-Saqqa)
Slot 3 (2 - 3.30pm) Roundtable on ‘Power dynamics between NGOs in the global North and South’ with papers from Berghmans (Catholic University Leuven) and Schöneberg (University of Kassel), and inputs from Rob Dawes (Regional Development Manager, Mothers Union) and Graham Whitham (Senior Policy Advisor on UK Poverty, Oxfam GB) (Chair: Rob Dawes).
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
The UK's development sector in a changing environment
We give new insight into the size, growth and diversity of the UK’s NGO sector from 2010-2014, contextualised against changes in the policy and funding environment over the same period. How are NGOs responding to change and what does this mean for their legitimacy?
We present on-going research into the size, structure and funding patterns of the UK's development NGO sector. We have pulled together data on incomes, expenditures and reserves for over 1,000 NGOs from 2010-2014 to give the most comprehensive database of development organisations based in the UK to date. Our preliminary analysis gives new insight into the magnitude of the sector and into its diversity and general growth. We present data demonstrating the role and significance of smaller NGOs in a sector which is dominated by a small proportion of large NGOs (less than 10 per cent of organisations account for 90% of the sector's expenditure, driving patterns of growth across the whole sector). We will contextualise this analysis against changes in the UK's policy and funding environment over the same period, to see what it may tell us about how NGOs are responding to these changes, and what this may suggest about their role in different aspects of international development.
Testing institutional resilience over time: grassroots initiatives and political change in Egypt
How are grassroots initiatives affected by political changes? This paper tracks grassroots initiatives in (rural and urban) Egypt over time to identify the factors that affect the success, sustainability and scaling up potential of these initiatives - in a period of rapid political transition.
How resilient are grassroots-initiatives at times of rapid political transition? To date there have been very few grounded studies exploring the impacts of political transitions on grassroots initiatives in deprived communities. Building on data collected pre- and post- Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt, this paper analyses and compares the dynamics of grassroots initiatives in three field sites: (1) Cairo (Manshiet Nasser informal settlement), (2) Lower Egypt (Tafahna Al Ashraf village) and (3) Upper Egypt (rural villages in Menia). Through interviews with self-help activists; state officials and local community members; the paper tracks the changes in these three grassroots-initiatives over a ten year period. The analysis seeks to identify the institutional factors that affected the success (or failure) of these grassroots initiatives over time. It examines the ways in which these initiatives sought to address structural inequalities and induce local institutional change in rural and urban contexts. The research also examines the roles of the state, NGOs, donor agencies and local communities in initiating and supporting these grassroots initiatives. Using a new model of grassroots-led development that builds on three inter-related 3C-processes, namely (1) conscientization; (2) conciliation and (3) collaboration; the paper explains the reasons for the success or failure of these initiatives and explains how their institutional resilience affected their sustainability and scaling-up potential. The originality of this research lies in linking the individual, collective and institutional levels of analyses and in tracking changes in grassroots initiatives over time and during a turbulent phase of Egypt's political transition.
One Concept, Two Perspectives? Donor and State Interpretations of Local NGOs in Vietnam
This article explores how the concept of NGOs is manifested by international donors and the state in Vietnam where civil society may not be understood in Western liberal terms. This paper aims at a better conceptual understanding of local NGOs within Vietnam's socio-political context.
Since Vietnam's 1986 national economic reforms, Doi Moi, the country has adopted open-door policies in various sectors. Civil society has benefited from greater socioeconomic freedoms, and the number of local non-governmental organizations (NGO)s has increased, with many of these organizations engaging in development projects. On the other hand, the country's constitution still designates the Communist Party of Vietnam as the only legitimate party. Within this political context, how is the concept of civil society, particularly including local NGOs, manifested by external development agencies and the state of Vietnam? This study starts by looking at the perspectives of development agencies on civil society development; these perspectives are mainly a blend of liberal democratic and neoliberal approaches. Next, I scrutinize the state's practices and perceptions. Throughout this conceptual exploration, two points are key: (1) Development agencies and the state are inclined to perceive local NGOs as intermediaries that can effectively reach out to local people when it comes to services and projects; some donors advocate liberal democratic values and neoliberal ideas and support Vietnamese NGOs, but they are hesitant to promote those values within Vietnam. (2) The state is ambivalent about civil society. The state has co-opted the emergence of civil society: it provides the legal basis for associations and their activities, but it still puts them under the state's control, due to concerns that autonomous civil society might prove a site for contesting politically sensitive agendas.
Non-profit sector in Kazakhstan: current developments and challenges
The paper analyzes current developments affecting CSOs in Kazakhstan. It offers an empirical contribution on how NGOs have coped with the new political and financial environment characterized by shortage of international support and the implementation of the national system of social tenders.
The paper is focused on recent developments affecting NGOs in Kazakhstan. Since 2005, the Kazakh government has significantly contributed to the growth of the non-profit sector through the introduction of a tender system that has produced a substantial expansion of the sector in terms of number of organizations present in the country and of financial resources available. In addition, the government has introduced a new institutional and legislative framework which has been conducive to the creation of a partnership between the state and civil society and to the inclusion of CSOs in the policy-making process, assigning them a consultative function which is nowadays established by law. At the same time, since in 2013 Kazakhstan was upgraded as upper middle average country and, therefore, less eligible to receive international cooperation aid.
The paper offers an empirical contribution on the new political and financial environment in which Kazakh NGOs operate and on the strategies they have at their disposal to cope with current challenges. The study is based on interviews carried out with the leaders and representatives of major Kazakh NGOs as well as a review of the legislative framework regulating the activities of the non-profit sector in the country. It sheds light on how the changes affecting the national and international funding schemes tend to reduce the autonomy of the third sector, hampering its ability to operate in more politicized fields (as human rights, rule of law, good governance etc.) and to advocate for its interests when conflicting with those of the state.
Development politics and social character of NGOs: a study of Bundelkhand region of Northern India
This study makes an attempt to analyze how development politics of NGOs in an underdeveloped region like Bundelkhand in northern India can be a function of their space in existing social power hierarchy.
This study is an attempt to understand how development politics of NGOs in an undeveloped region can be a function of their place in the social power hierarchy. For this purpose, the northern Indian region of Bundelkhand is being analyzed. Bundelkhand is an economically underdeveloped and draught-prone region located in the north of the India. The region also suffers from deep-rooted social hierarchies of caste. Unlike the other underdeveloped areas of India where questions of economic development, political representation, and concerns of social equality have been the primary agenda of NGOs development politics, in Bundelkhand, the NGOs have confined their development politics largely to the questions of economic distribution of state resources while restraining from the concerns of the social inequalities. The study attempts to argue that a major reason of this is the social character of the leadership of various NGOs. People belonging to the social and economically dominant castes like Brahmins and Other Backward Castes have been 'running' most of the NGOs of the region. Therefore, the development agenda of these NGOs is also oriented towards raising issues which are largely the concerns of the dominant and powerful sections than of the poor and backward groups. Consequently, despite having a large number of NGOs and increasing state expenditure on welfare, the region continues to suffer from chronic poverty, migration, poor human development and increasing farmers' suicides.
'We have to be creative': NGO financing in insecure times
This paper explores some of the creative ways that NGOs are evolving financially in the Caribbean, and asks whether these more novel modes of funding create more democratic, secure and equal relations or whether they reproduce forms of insecurity and powerlessness for NGOs.
The financial landscape for development work in the Caribbean is changing. Middle-income country classifications, global financial trends and changing development priorities all make conventional donor driven sources of funding for development projects in the region harder for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to access.
Based on qualitative research in Barbados and Grenada this paper explores some of the creative ways that NGOs are responding to, negotiating and pre-empting the ongoing challenge of mobilising financial resources in this changing context. NGOs are engaging with the corporate sector, using social enterprise models of working and exploring virtual connections to maximize funding opportunities. These contemporary funding sources represent opportunities for sought-after independence and autonomy from established methods of development financing, but they also present ethical dilemmas for NGOs as they engage with systems that are often ideologically distinct from their own believes and values. This paper will explore the intricacies of some of these newer fiscal practices, and how NGOs are negotiating these tensions in their everyday work. Of particular importance are the new relationships that can be created through these more novel funding sources, especially with Diaspora groups, exemplifying the connection between social networks and financial stability.
The paper concludes by asking whether these newer modes of funding create more democratic, secure and equal relations or whether they reproduce forms of insecurity and powerlessness for NGOs.
Sleight of hand or real empowerment? Exploring NGO legitimacy and accountability in the context of beneficiary feedback mechanisms
This paper presents evidence from a donor-driven pilot of beneficiary feedback mechanisms implemented by NGOs. It considers whether NGOs can use BFMs to play more meaningful and legitimate roles as intermediaries, and through this strengthen accountability between those with power and those without.
This paper draws on evidence from a donor-driven pilot of beneficiary feedback mechanisms (BFMs) that were implemented by a mix of national and international NGOs across a range of country and social contexts. The BFMs commit NGOs and donors to 'closing the feedback loop' by demonstrably responding to feedback, thus giving project 'beneficiaries' greater voice and control. In this paper we examine findings of relevance to this panel. While the research revealed weaknesses in existing accountability chains, the pilots did trigger interesting dynamics, including offering an avenue for citizen-state accountability at local levels in environments where civil society space is limited or under threat. Despite suspicions at the outset, some government authorities in different project sites engaged well with the feedback and process.
The pilot also produced valuable findings around individual and community empowerment. With some donors considering introducing BFMs as mandatory for certain funding streams, there is a risk that feedback becomes (or remains) tokenistic rather than meaningful, resulting in a process that is potentially more disempowering than empowering.
The findings highlight challenges that NGOs need to address, including their claims to meaningful engagement with beneficiaries. This sits at the heart of the current dilemma for those NGOs who draw legitimacy from representing the interests of the powerless. However, the findings also offer important insights into how NGOs can play more meaningful roles in strengthening accountability between those with power and those without, by acting as legitimate multi-dimensional intermediaries between citizen and state, and between individuals/communities and donors.
Knowledge struggles in NGOs: the case of introducing story-based evaluation
The politics of knowledge within NGOs in explored through a case study on a design of a story-based evaluation.
Drawing from organizational epistemology, the analysis scrutinizes on power struggles over methodologies, partnership relations, and connections with aid system during the process.
Monitoring and evaluation systems are among the main technologies of power, mechanisms of control, and means of hegemony of managerialism both in partnerships between NGOs in global north and south and in NGOs' relationship with its donors.
The recent development management trends have prioritized certain forms of knowledge and consequent knowledge practices exemplified in measurable indicators.
However, there is a growing resistance to the mainstream knowledge trends, battles over the criteria of knowledge and search for alternative knowledge practices within NGOs.
Alternatives have emphasized process in addition to outcomes, and participatory and narrative methods rather than numeric indicators. Drawing from the notions of organizational epistemology and hegemony,
the paper scrutinizes on the politics of knowledge within organizations. It presents a qualitative case study in International Solidarity Foundation, a development NGO working on issues of gender equality and decent work in Nicaragua,
Uganda and Somaliland. The paper describes a three-year internal process of initiating, designing and experimentation of a story-based monitoring and evaluation approach to complement hitherto comprehensive indicator matrices.
The process is further analysed from perspectives of struggles over hegemony considering a) methodological questions such as validity, b) relationship between partners in regard to the division of labour in knowledge creation, and
c) connections with the international aid industry in defining criteria for relevant knowledge. The paper concludes how alternative initiatives are easily co-opted by the mainstream, and how organizational epistemologies and organizational
knowledge result from politics of knowledge and struggles over legitimacy in multiple relationships both internal and external to NGOs.
INGOs, their Southern partners and the poor: (re)defining the power relationships between them?
Drawing on the difference between 'responsibility' and 'accountability', we explore how contemporary innovations within INGOs ( such as beneficiary feedback mechanisms, decentralisation,...) could contribute to (re)defining the power relations between INGOs, their Southern partners and the poor.
INGOs have always maintained a strong rhetoric for 'downward accountability'. However the strong focus of INGOs on their donors seems to have been detrimental to putting this rhetoric into practice. Due to the strong focus on donors INGOs paid insufficient attention to giving Southern partners and the poor a voice in their internal debates and decision making processes (Brett, 2003; Atack, 1999; Litovsky & Mac Gillivray, 2007; Edwards & Sen, 2000)
Since the beginning of the 21st century this seems to be changing. Pioneering INGOs invest in beneficiary feedback systems, go through processes of decentralization, implement accountability learning and planning systems,… These innovations could be seen as conscious attempts to bringing the voices of the Southern partners and the poor closer to the INGO strategic decision making level. In this paper we explore these new initiatives. After a introductory historical sketch, we suggest that the rise of the right-based approach to development might have been an important push-factor contributing to these innovations. Next, drawing on the conceptual differences between responsibility and accountability (Schedler, 1999), we explore if and under which conditions these innovations might contribute to (re)defining the power relations between INGOs, their Southern partners and the poor. Last we suggest some pathways for further research.
Manoeuvring political realms: supporting the struggle through funding social change
The paper explores spaces for shifting North-South relationships from apolitical development projects towards funding social movements. It proposes a theory of “development-as-politics”, in which local and international NGOs jointly engage in local resistance struggles.
The paper explores spaces for shifting North-South relationships from apolitical development projects towards funding social movements. It proposes a theory of "development-as-politics", in which local and international NGOs jointly engage in local resistance struggles.
Partnership in apolitical development projects, despite decades of critical discussion, remains the only concept of intervention considered to be just. One alternative is the support of social movements. In this paper, two case studies shed light on relationships where traditional INGOs support, not only financially, a collective of Haitian civil society actors struggling for voice in civil and political spaces and demanding government accountability. Haiti is particularly suitable as it has a culture of community-based organisation and solidarity which continues to be alive and thriving. The paper frames engagement of INGOs in resistance struggles by the demand posed by Haitians: "What can you do to help so that the state listens to us?" It discusses openings for building government responsiveness and supporting local resistance and analyses problems and limitations arising from external agents' engagement in local political struggles. These encompass issues of sovereignty, legitimacy, power, subaltern voice and representation. The exploration also identifies substantial clashes between the logic of movements and organisations.
Field research was carried out between 2012 and 2014. Data was collected through participant observation, narrative interviews and group discussions with (I)NGO staff, activists, community leaders and grassroots groups.
By pointing to a theory of "development-as-politics" findings provide the starting point for re-politicizing interaction between NGOs and the people they claim to support.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.