The NGO movement, however, is not without its critics. Many question the accountability of NGOs. For example, the work undertaken by World Vision, in coordinating the relief effort resulting from the Tsunami in South East Asia in 2005, has sustained attacks that the donated monies, millions of dollars in this case, were not reaching the intended victims. Many NGOs working in developing countries are partly funded by their own governments, and have been criticized as being a front for foreign government policy. Critics argue that this makes NGOs accountable to their funders, not the people they work with. This division has often been characterized within a debate about northern (Western) vs. southern (developing world) NGOs.
For example, many African governments see the establishment of NGOs from Western countries as Trojan Horses, designed to promote neo-colonialist agendas. Many developing countries also resent the fact that international NGOs will come into their own countries and establish programs, rather than funding local NGO groups to undertake the same work. As such, the arrival of NGOs can be perceived to actually deny local individuals, councils, and industries of employment, and other opportunities that now flow to and from the foreign NGO, while creating upheaval in local power relations in culturally inappropriate ways. Some countries such as Zimbabwe, Eritrea, and the Sudan have gone so far as to pass laws that effectively limit the operations of foreign-funded NGOs within their borders.
In some cases, NGO focus has been accused of being too narrow, ignoring the effects of their activities on other areas. For example, environmental NGO work can focus on biodiversity imperatives at the expense of cultural heritage or social justice needs. In Australia, the biodiversity work of environmental NGOs has occasionally been critiqued as opposing cultural heritage priorities, and constituting another form of indigenous dispossession. The dependence on donors of many NGOs also lays them open to criticisms that they are not independent, and, thus, may be inappropriately partisan in their approach. For example, CARE International came under attack for not acting to oppose the war in Iraq, with critics claiming this was due to CARE's dependence on U.S. and other funding. Oxfam has been accused of diluting its campaign against poverty in Africa as a result of being too close to the British government.
Finally, NGO effectiveness is often questioned. Again, this is an issue of accountability with which NGOs grapple. Thomas Carroll addresses this by defining an industry standard for the evaluation of NGO performance. These standards include: development services (measured by service delivery and poverty reach), participation and empowerment (measured by responsiveness and accountability), and wider impact (measured by innovation and impact on policy). Michael Edwards and David Hulme (1996) also outline some dimensions for determining the effectiveness of NGOs, including poverty reach, cost effectiveness, sustainability, participation, flexibility, innovation, and democratization.
While NGOs rarely have few formal powers within international or local decision-making structures, they have successfully advanced many human rights, and environmental agendas. These have included the promotion and development of core environmental agreements and policies; strengthening the rights of women, children, and the disabled; advancing indigenous rights and issues; establishing programs to address health, education, and poverty, and significant measures in the area of disarmament and peace negotiations.
SEE ALSo: Developing Countries; Friends of the Earth (FoE); United Nations; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
bibliography. Thomas Carroll, Intermediary NGOs: The Supporting Link in Grassroots Development (Kumarian Press, 1992); David Carruthers, The Political Ecology of Indigenous Mexico: Social Mobilization and State Reform (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Oregon, 1995); Alexander Cockburn, "Beat the Devil: NAFTA and the Shameful Seven," Nation (v.256/25, 1993); Anne Dra-bek, ed., "Development Alternatives: The Challenge for NGOs," World Development (v.15, 1987); Michael Edwards and David Hulme, eds., Beyond the Magic Bullet: NGO Performance and Accountability in the Post-Cold War World (Kumarian Press, 1996); Marta Fuentes and Andre Gunder Frank, "Ten Theses on Social Movements," World Development (v.17/2, 1989); David Korten, Getting to the 21st Century: Voluntary Action and the Global Agenda (Kumarian Press, 1990); David Korten, NGO Strategic Networks: From Community Projects to Global Transformation (Strategic Networking for Sustainable Development and Environmental Action, 1990); Thomas Princen and Matthias Finger, eds., Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Local and the Global (Routledge, 1994); Phillip Toyne and Ross Johnston, "Reconciliation, or the new Dispossession?" Habitat Australia (v.19/3, 1993); P. Willets, What is a Non-Government Organisation? (City University, 2002).
Melissa Nursey-Bray Australian Maritime College Rob Palmer Research Strategy Training
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