NGO Problems
By Khan Bilal Khan

July 16, 2009

A YOUNG man thrusts his crudely printed calling card at the visitor. After his name are printed three letters: NGO. "What do you do?" the visitor asks.” I have formed an NGO.""Yes, but what does it do?” Whatever they want. I am waiting for some funds and then I will make a project."

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become quite prominent in the field of international development in recent decades. But the term NGO encompasses a vast category of groups and organizations. The World Bank, for example, defines NGOs as “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.”

NGOs are typically value-based organizations which depend, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service. Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professionalized over the last two decades, principles of altruism and voluntarism remain key defining characteristics. Different sources refer to these groups with different names, using NGOs, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Private Voluntary Organizations (PVOs), charities, non-profits charities/charitable organizations, third sector organizations and so on.

The above-mentioned World Bank document points out that “Since the mid-1970s, the NGO sector in both developed and developing countries have experienced exponential growth. It is now estimated that over 15 percent of total overseas development aid is channeled through NGOs.” That is, roughly $8 billion dollars. The World Bank adds that there are an estimated 6,000 to 30,000 national NGOs in developing countries alone, while the number of community-based organizations in the developing world number in the hundreds of thousands.

This does not mean that NGOs had no problems or were not criticized in areas where they are established. In the past, many development NGOs gained a bad reputation with developing countries because they were seen as arrogant and going into poor countries and telling people how to do things, or doing things for them. They have also been described by some as the modern missionaries, referring to the imperial and colonial times, where things like converting people to Christianity was considered the moral thing to do by European and American missionaries.

In Pakistan, In terms of increasing access, the state facilities remain inadequate. The number of state schools remains far below the required number. The increased enrollment is being attributed to private schools and a state sponsored push towards non-formal education programme implemented through NGOs. The private sector enrolment at primary is viewed to be between 30-36 per cent of the total enrolment. This over reliance on private sector is making even poor parents opt for private schools, which are often only marginally better than the government schools.

As compared to the problems of access, the challenges of improving quality remain even more daunting: 61 per cent of the primary state schools having no electricity and 23 per cent are without text books, Sindh and Balochistan have on an average only two teachers per primary school, and district monitoring teams remain understaffed. Government attempts at improving quality have consisted of ad hoc measures often consisting of public-private partnership programmes rather than a coherent strategy: ‘Adopt a school programme’ is one popular model. In addition, NGOs with expertise in teacher training are also being contracted to train government schoolteachers.

However, globally NGOs are laying off staff and cutting back aid programmes as the global recession bites, and the prospects for 2010 also look bleak. "Clearly the impact of the financial downturn on charities is widening and deepening," said Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission.

Humanitarian organisations face tough choices if the global financial crisis affects their income, as some analysts predict. We are going to have to make some difficult choices in 2009," said Tom Arnold, chief executive of the Dublin-based NGO. "If necessary, we will prioritise emergency situations and the needs of the most vulnerable, for example in countries like Chad or Niger, which are already below the radar in terms of funding,".

According to Peter Walker, director of the Feinstein International Centre at Tufts University, who has studied the complexities of humanitarian and development aid, agencies would be well advised to draw up detailed contingency plans. "It's not just that aid funds will slow down, but local state funding to social welfare programmes and public health will slow down, employment levels will go down etc., so the scale of many disasters will go up because people are more vulnerable to shocks." Oxfam GB (Great Britain) is planning to cut about 10-15 percent off its variable costs, which include staffing, from the next financial year.

Russia has come under growing criticism in the West for its clampdown on the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on its territory. Some observers say the new Russian law restricting NGO operations make the country ill-suited for international leadership roles like its current chairmanship of the G8 group of the world's major industrialized nations.

However, certain NGOs get opposition from the local people in the area they are working in. This is usually because the locals feel that NGOs bring about changes that suite them and not the wants of the people. Cultural and social divide too add to problems for NGOs as people feel that they evade their privacy and force their will on others. Without the support of the local population, NGOs cannot work effectively. No matter how convincing their point is, local people fail to understand the motives of the NGOs and this severely hinders progress and development.


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