How well equipped are Northern Non-governmental organisations to promote development in the South?

Essay, 2001

10 Pages, Grade: ECTS-grade: B = 2


How well equipped are Northern Non-governmental organisations

(NGOs) to promote development in the South?

1. Introduction

Two decades ago governmental development policy came into a crises and was criticised to have no results on poverty reduction. Hence, Northern NGOs were said to be the best alternative to developmental help through governments and their number dramatically increased (Warkentin, 2001, p. 5). However, today NGOs are confronted with a new “global policy agenda” (Fowler, 1997, p. XIV). As developmental issues have changed a lot in recent times, Northern NGOs themselves have to face an identity crises and are seen in a much more critical way than before. Therefore questions arose, regarding whether or not Northern NGOs can really come up to expectations, and if they are able to cope with developmental issues better than governmental organisations. In other words: How well equipped are Northern NGOs to promote development in the South?

In this essay it will be argued that NGOs still form an effective part of developmental work in the South which cannot be missed. They still have an advantage compared to governmental organisations although some advantages, which were said to exist, never existed in reality. Nevertheless, while NGOs had to undergo extreme changes in structure and aims, they lost a lot of their characteristics, which were of basic importance for their special possibility to do a better work in the South than governmental organisations. Hence, if they are not able to stop this process of loosing their roots they become interchangeable, and therefore loose their legitimacy. Thus, they have to adapt new skills, create new networks and, particularly, have to revert back to their roots which make them so special and effective.

To answer the question I first want to work out the characteristics, backgrounds and structures of Northern NGOs. In looking at their possibilities and limits, I want to discuss the question of whether the common belief in comparative advantages of NGOs can be proved or not. I will then refer to the new challenge of networking that they have to cope with in our times, especially the rise of Southern NGOs. Finally, I want to sum up my results and try to find possibilities and solutions of adapting new methods of co-operation with Northern and Southern NGOs, which Northern NGOs should pick up to make sure that they will still play an important role in the future of developmental policy.

2. The discussion

2.1. The comparative advantage of Northern NGOs: Does it exist in reality?

To answer the question of the special developmental impact of Northern NGOs we first have to look at characteristics and roots of these organisations. NGOs are said to have a place between states and markets. They form an important part of civil society (Warkentin, 2001, p. 5) as they are based on voluntary work and co-operation. Therefore they are navigated through solidarity (Fowler, 1997, p. 24). NGOs are not only found in the field of developmental work but are also involved in other topics such as environmental issues. The peculiarity of developmental NGOs is, that these organisation raise their resources in the industrialised world and transfer them to the developing countries (Marcussen, 1996, p. 259).

There is a common belief of comparative advantage which NGOs are said to have in comparison to governmental organisations. Governmental organisations are criticised of malfunctioning in matters of poverty reduction concerning their governmental dependency (Lewis, 1998, p. 502). Hence, Northern NGOs are said to be an effective alternative with new aims, strategies and methods. It is true that NGOs feature considerable advantages, which by all means enable them to be qualified for the specific requests of developmental work. Nevertheless, in recent times many scientists like Marcussen hold the view that “NGO comparative advantage is more a myth than a reality” (Marcussen, 1996, p. 279). I will now focus on some of the most important issues which are said to cause the advanced starting position of Northern NGO’s effectiveness in the South.

The first thing I want to look at is that Northern NGOs are directly linked with society. Due to the fact that NGOs form a part of civil society, people can relate to NGOs better than to governmental organisations (Fowler, 1997, p. 24). This creates a good basis for stating the needs of the poor to Northern citizens. One of the principles of NGOs is participation so that they can primarily organise projects which lead to self-help in Southern countries. They can therefore use domestic structures in the developing world and get very close to the people. In the North they are able to care for mobilisation of resources and emotional realisation of developmental problems. Moreover, they can achieve results by pressuring Northern governments, which sometimes has a better effect on lives of Southern people than direct help. All in all, this means that NGOs are able to strengthen the democratic process (Edwards and Hulme, 1997b, p. 6). Nevertheless, with regard to their direct links to the poor, one has to admit, that this dialogue does not proceed in reality. As Marcussen shows, presenting the Evaluation of the Sahel-Sudan-Ethiopia Programme of Norwegian Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Northern NGOs “have in general failed to demonstrate the more advanced level of partizipation expected of them”. The dialog which had occurred thus far, was mainly initiated by Southern NGOs (Marcussen, 1996, p. 273).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


How well equipped are Northern Non-governmental organisations to promote development in the South?
University of Leeds  (Institute for Politics and International Studies)
North-south Linkages
ECTS-grade: B = 2
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
400 KB
Entwicklungspolitik, NGO, Nichtregierungsorganisation/ non-governmental organization/development
Quote paper
Anne Uhlhaas (Author), 2001, How well equipped are Northern Non-governmental organisations to promote development in the South?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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