Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Challenges to the effective operation of local NGOs in Cambodia



Every year, an amount of over 150 billon dollar of official aid flows from western to developing countries (De Haan, 2009, 1). This money is spent and allocated by four main groups of institutions which are active in the international development industry. Most of the money is provided via bilateral channels, which is direct support from one government to another. The coordination of this process is mostly in hands of embassies of the donor country.  The second group contains the multilateral organisations which include the United Nations agencies and the World Bank. The third group, which is the newest group, are private organisations. This group is characterised by organisations which are set up by some of the wealthiest people and companies in the world, such as Bill Gates,  Warren Buffet, the Ford Foundation and Bertelsmann Foundation. The last group, which is the group this study will concentrate on, are the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). This group has grown rapidly over the last decades and plays an important role in the international aid industry (Reijngoud, 2009, 116; De Haan, 2009, 21). Development focused NGOs form a significant part of the development industry as about 15 percent of the total amount of international aid is allocated via NGOs (De Haan, 2009, 49).  NGOs operating on the international level  have a close relation with NGOs  working on the local level, as these international organisations provide assistance and donor money to local NGOs. This study focuses on the relation between international NGOs and local NGOs, and local Cambodian NGOs in specific.

Before looking at the relation between these two types of Non-Governmental Organisations, it is important to take a closer look at the history of the international development industry first. In the international aid industry, different kinds of doctrines have played a central  role. In the last fifty years of development aid, five periods with different philosophies can be distinguished (Reijngoud, 2009, 82-93; De Haan, 2009, 69-83).  The  1950s  and the  1960s were characterised by optimism. People were convinced that specific projects like building schools and digging water wells were the key to success in helping third world countries. The optimism derived partly from positive experiences with the Marshall plan in Europe, a growing world economy, and because of the rapid decolonisation especially in Africa.  The 1970s were characterised by  redistribution. People came to the conclusion that the last twenty years of development aid had not produced the desired results, as people in the Third World were still poor and the gap between rich and poor continued to get larger and larger.

Marxist ideas became the dominant tone and a more explicit focus came on poverty and redistribution(both within developing countries and between developing countries and western countries). In order to achieve redistribution, food aid became less important and the aid industry started to pay more attention to agriculture,  rural development and basic needs. In comparison to the 1950s and 1960s, developing countries became more aware of the interaction between rural and urban, and traditional and modern sectors.

During the 1980s, a more „no nonsense‟ philosophy became central as during the period of government of Reagan and Thatcher liberal economical reforms were the key values. Focus came on structural economic problems in developing countries, such as weak economies and disastrous state finances, instead of incoherent development projects. This new focus  was exemplified by the structural adjustment programmes‟ of the World Bank and the IMF, and meant that aid was provided along  with a large number of conditions for developing  countries concerning adjustments of their economy  aiming to scale back the state intervention in the markets.  In practice this implied for developing  countries making drastic cutbacks on government expenses like salaries of government officials, teachers and doctors, but also putting a hold on building roads and (if existing) social welfare systems,  a trend which  matched perfectly  with the  neoliberal philosophy of Thatcher and Reagan (Reijngoud, 2009, 82-93; De Haan, 2009, 69-83).

During the beginning of the 1990s, international development came into a crisis. People realised that after almost fifty years, still many developing countries were poor or even had become poorer, and the developing countries that were doing better at that time did this on their own and not with the help of western countries. In addition, in Africa conflicts started to erupt one after another.  However, during the mid-1990s a turnaround came which is, according to the literature, difficult to explain. One of the reasons mentioned is the fact of the reviving world economy, and even the approach of the year 2000 is mentioned as a turning point: a symbol for a new start, also in the aid industry. Since the mid-1990s, the  international development discourse has been dominated by the  philosophy or doctrine called ownership‟.  Ownership implies that developing  countries are the so-called owners of their own problems and they have to  come up with solutions themselves. The idea of ownership is to a large extent about who decides what is done. Donors should lay an emphasis on supporting developing countries and local organisations, instead of carrying out projects and activities (Reijngoud, 2009, 82-93; De Haan, 2009, 69-83). The idea of ownership was not just a grand philosophy for bilateral aid, also international NGOs started to work  according to this idea when working with their partners and local NGOs in the South.  Local  partners needed to have more ownership over the work they were doing, and international donors should play a supporting role.

Although the international development  discourse  is  at this moment  dominated by the idea of ownership, literature  suggests that  local NGOs  in developing countries  still seem to have a lack of ownership concerning their activities and programmes. Whether and when one can speak of lack of ownership is difficult to determine.  Perhaps full ownership is never possible as there is always a relation based on dependency when  one organisation provides donor assistance to another. Also possible is that there may be different levels of ownership. Looking at the case of Cambodia, a country on which this  study will focus, it is said that donors  still have a big influence  on what activities are carried out by local  Cambodian  NGOs. Besides, the literature distinguishes other issues which may challenge the effectiveness of local Cambodian NGOs, including NGO-isation, which means that local NGOs become organised as professional NGOs with western organisational structures and change their organisation towards donor standards in order to be the most likely candidate to receive donor funds. As a consequence of this NGO-isation, and the upward rather than downward orientation of this organisation, some local NGOs become removed from their local constituency. Also a lack of strategy or strategic thinking which goes beyond short term level seems to challenge the effective operation of local NGOs. It is said that some local NGOs do not seem to consider how and in what way their projects and activities can contribute to reach the goal of the NGO as is mentioned in their mission or vision. Lastly, there seems to be a lack of knowledge or a difference in knowledge between local and international NGOs (for instance lack of knowledge of worldwide issues in the aid industry, lack of practical knowledge about writing reports, the English language, or analytical skills) which challenges the effective operation of local Cambodian NGOs (Derksen & Verhallen, 2008; Hughes 2003; Hughes, n.d.; Hughes & Conway, 2003; Henke, 2009; Scheper, 2005; Verkoren, 2009).  The question is, however, whether the local NGOs in Cambodia endorse these problems mentioned in the literature.

Therefore, this study will try to find out whether local NGOs in Cambodia endorse problems as lack of
ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge, as is mentioned in the literature. In Part I of the present study, the following research question will be answered:
„Do local NGOs in Cambodia endorse the problems of lack of ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge?‟

A new paradigm  called Civic Driven Change might serve as a handle to local Cambodian NGOs in order to  overcome some of the mentioned problems which may challenge the effective operation of local NGOs.  This new paradigm refers to and promotes a process of changes in society which is directly initiated, lead and owned by people themselves. It may serve as a new way to counter the in the literature mentioned problems of lack of ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge. The Civic Driven Change paradigm is fairly new. At this moment, it is more a theoretical paradigm which has not been brought generally into practise, and not much research has been carried out into this new paradigm. Therefore, it is interesting to find out what ideas practitioners working in the Cambodian NGO sector, both Cambodians and internationals, have about this new paradigm, and whether they believe that this paradigm might offer possibilities to overcome some of the earlier mentioned problems. Therefore, the following research question will  also be  answered in Part I the present study:

„Does the Civic Driven Change concept offer inspiration or possibilities to people working in the Cambodian NGO sector for overcoming some of the problems like lack of ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge?‟

In reaction to the  mentioned issues  which  are considered to  challenge the effectiveness of local Cambodian NGOs, various initiatives have taken place which may help tackle the problems of lack of ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge.

ICCO, a Dutch NGO, has implemented the  „Programmatic Approach‟. This initiative prioritises ownership over a narrowly focused top-down programme conceptualisation (Henke, 2007). This new approach could thus form an answer to problems like lack of ownership and NGO-isation, as ICCO strives to change the current top-down relation between international and local NGOs by introducing a complete new way of working: the Programmatic Approach.

Another initiative is the NGO Forum in Cambodia. This forum is an example of an initiative where local NGOs share information and debate on issues that are affecting Cambodia‟s development, and jointly advocate NGOs‟ interests at government level and at other authorities. The NGO Forum might counter problems like lack of knowledge and lack of strategy as the NGOs involved in the forum share ideas, talk about current issues, and create joint strategies. This sharing can increase the knowledge of the involved NGOs and can make them aware of the importance of a well-considered strategy.

In Part II of this study, two evaluative case studies into the Programmatic Approach of ICCO and the NGO Forum will be carried out.  In these case studies,  a closer look  will be taken  at the goal, the strengths, and weaknesses of the initiatives. The two case studies will try to find out whether these initiatives help tackling the mentioned problems of lack of ownership, NGO-isation, lack of strategy and lack of knowledge, which are considered to challenge the effectiveness of local Cambodian NGOs.

Please link the original source of this document: http://geography2.ruhosting.nl/masterthesis/scripties/SandeAnnevande.pdf


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