NGOs: A phenomenal movement to development

A phenomenal movement – the non-government organizations (NGOs) – came to aid world development and to establish outlooks and attitudes that laid the foundation for a modern development perspective. According to Alegre (1996) NGOs have emerged as a new catalyzing, social organization and as a significant player in development. They are increasingly significant actors in global governance and in international development.

Clarke (1994) provides the following explanation why NGOs play a prominent role in contemporary social movements, as follows: (1) Their access to significant source of funds from abroad; (2) Their capacity to generate the mass leaders needed to sustain social movements; (3) Their use of their direct experience in providing services to beneficiaries as a platform from which to engage in more political activity.

The role of NGOs, says Clarke, has resulted in two specific consequences: (1) A history of effective service delivery gives NGOs significant “legitimacy” in the eyes of other political actors; and (2) NGO political activity is informed by direct experience and is therefore more clearly based on practical experience.

In a broad sense, NGOs are simply agencies or groups which are different from government bodies. Quizon, as cited in Racellis (1998), defines NGOs: as private, voluntary organizations; social development agencies; or professional support; or cause oriented groups that are non-profit –oriented and legal, which are committed to the task of development and established primarily for socio-economic services, civic, religious, charitable and/or social welfare purposes. This definition covers the heterogeneous nature of NGOs as used in this study.

NGOs emerged to respond to needs, which were not readily met by the government due to systemic limitations. With elite and/or traditional politicians at the helm of leadership, the government, most often, cannot initiate major reforms. This is a situation where NGOs take active role as catalysts for change. Providing stimuli for the various sectors of society to organize them, NGOs equip the poor with the important skills, knowledge and resource necessary in their struggle towards a better life and a more humane society, according to Aldaba (1993).

Clark (1990) has vividly described the critical role NGOs have to play: Because of their international structure and linkages they have the potential to construct global networks of citizens pressure. Because they command a unique vantage point they are ideally placed to study and describe how contemporary crises affect the poor. Because of their size and flexibility they are able to experiment with new approaches to the crises and so, through demonstration, serve as pioneers or catalysts for government action. Because of their access to the media they are well placed to reach out with their message. And because they do not stand to make personal profit the public trusts them at large.

The critical role of NGOs as mentioned here, however, may not be applicable to all NGOs. More often than not, they are confronted with ambivalence. While their size and flexibility make it easily for them to adjust to changing circumstances and conditions in the implementation of programs and projects, they have a weak capacity to absorb bigger undertakings. Although aware of such limitations, NGOs are still hesitant to increase their size, fearing that their flexibility and dynamism may be sacrificed in the process.

Because they frequently pioneer new approaches and challenge development orthodoxy, NGOs are vulnerable to groups with vested interests. Consequently, the NGOs face the problem of either co-optation or reprisal from the government and other traditional power holders that want to maintain the status quo. Moreover, they have to deal with the proliferation of pseudo NGOs that undermine the sector’s credibility. A number of these pseudo NGOs set up not for any other purpose than to take advantage of funding sources for dubious or narrow purposes, according to Abad (1990).

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First of  the series of posts on Networking as  Development Strategy of NGOs in the Province of Iloilo. Thesis requirement for my Master of Social Work degree from University of the Philippines-Diliman in 2000.

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