Global Policy Forum

General Analysis of the Role of NGOs

GPF Perspective | Articles

GPF Perspective

GPF Policy Papers on NGOs

NGOs and Global Policy-Making (June 2000)

An analysis that provides historical background and emphasizes NGO's growing contemporary importance, diversity, impact on policy, etc.

"NGOs and the United Nations" by Global Policy Forum (June 17, 1999)

A comprehensive and critical report that reviews recent progress and problems of NGOs at the UN. Prepared as input to the second report of the Secretary General. Includes comments on GPF's report.

"NGO Access at the UN"

A narrative account of NGO access covering the period from 1996 to 1999 with many links to further information.



Water-Hungry Indian Villagers Find New Reservoirs of Solidarity (February 26, 2013)

A NGO partnership in the Dungapur area villages in Rajasthan, India is exemplary of community empowerment programs bringing positive impacts to rural livelihoods. The region’s 2-month monsoon season is irregular, and droughts every four years cause water scarcity. Villagers are unable to practice agriculture, their main source of livelihood, and men are forced to migrate elsewhere as laborers. The recently expanded reservoir has made water available throughout the year, giving local farmers the ability to grow more varieties of crops, which resulted in 400 less migrant workers this year. More importantly, the NGOs worked to better connect the marginalized villagers with government officials at the state level through the creation of village development committees. The committee consisting of men and woman from within the community has fostered a sense of solidarity and empowerment for decisions that affect them. (Guardian)


Dozens of Groups Boycott Russia's New NGOs Law (November 21, 2012)

Russia has passed a law this year, obliging foreign-funded NGOs to register as “foreign agents.” The affected NGOs, such as the Moscow Helsinki Group, Golos and Agora, have been boycotting the law as they claim it damages their credibility. In Russia, a “foreign agent” is almost synonymous with “spy”. These NGOs state that they are already experiencing a popular backlash from the new law. While Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses the Washington of using NGOs as a means of political influence in Russia, civil society is seriously restricted by the new law. (Associated Press)

Uganda: NGOs Launch Anti-Corruption Week As Germany Cuts Aid (December 2, 2012)

Many foreign donors have announced that they are halting aid to Uganda because of theft of public resources by government officials. These donors also cite Uganda’s alleged support for the M23 as a reason to withdraw their funds. Civil society organizations in Uganda have called for an anti-corruption week to draw attention to these corruption problems. Germany, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark and Sweden have already turned off their aid taps. However, given the West’s long support for Museveni, these moves are more likely to be the result of geopolitical calculation than of civil society mobilization. (All Africa)

Ethiopia: Cooperatives Championed Amid NGO Restrictions (November 7, 2012)

In Ethiopia, cooperatives are preferred over NGOs as models for economic development. Cooperatives have contributed to economic growth by giving the national coffee industry a big push, while critics argue that NGO presence in the country of several decades has failed to lift Ethiopia out of poverty. NGOs have not promoted self-sufficiency enough and programs often collapsed with the departure of the organizations. For this reason cooperative development is now often regarded as an alternative to NGO assistance. Simultaneously, NGOs have been involved and supportive in the cooperative model by providing funding and resources. In order to stay close to the needs of the general population, civil society must ensure that cooperatives do not to transform into isolated market-driven “oligarchies”. (All Africa)

USAid Covertly Influencing Political Processes, Says Russia (September 19, 2012)

The Russian government has ordered USAid, Washington’s official development agency, to cease all its activities in the country from October 1. Moscow accuses the agency of attempting to exert influence, by means of funding, on political processes, such as elections and civil society activities. Moreover, President Putin is claiming that the political opposition against his administration is part of a foreign plot of which this financing is a part. The US government says it remains committed to supporting Russia’s civil society, but its political agenda is hardly a secret. (Guardian)

Is the Faultline Among NGOs Over the Future of Development Deepening? (August 17, 2012)

A study by University of Manchester has questioned the legitimacy of large development NGOs, saying that they are heavily influenced by government and corporate donors. This has sparked a debate about “development” programs that are too skewed towards aid rather than the structural causes of poverty. Grassroots organizations have criticized big international aid agencies for being bureaucratic and lacking the political commitment to force change. In the recent UK hunger summit organized by the government, big agencies praised the target commitments made in official policies. Those demanding more radical approaches charge that the government’s approach to simply earmark aid programs will not generate the systemic changes that are necessary. (Guardian)

Kyrgyzstan: Could Microfinance Bubble Burst? (June 11, 2012)

The microfinance market in Kyrgyzstan is overheating. The poor rural population and the absence of an efficient regulatory requirement in Kyrgyzstan have rapidly increased the number of small scale lenders that aggressively attract clients and charge high interest rates. Microfinance institutions are often driven by commercial interest rather than development goals. The rising indebtedness suggests the possibility of a sudden burst of the credit bubble. (EurasiaNet)

Answering for Taking a Driller's Cash (February 13, 2012)

Can environmental NGOs form partnerships with corporate bodies and maintain their integrity? Time magazine sparked controversy when it reported a $25 million donation from Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas company, to the Sierra Club, one of the oldest environmental groups in the USA. The size of the donation, and the secrecy surrounding it, make this corporate/environmental partnership notable, but such partnerships are not in themselves rare. This has brought to the fore a longstanding debate within the green community, about integrity, conflicts of interest, and the price of activism. (New York Times)


Development Co-Operation: Aid By Any Other Name (July 27, 2011)

This Guardian opinion pieces looks at how the term “development co-operation” has begun to replace the word “aid” at high-level conferences the effectiveness of development aid. Whereas “aid” typically refers to “richer” countries giving money or services to “poorer” countries, development co-operation promotes the idea of two countries working together to find long-term solutions. Though development co-operation invokes a sense of equality between countries, the author warns that the idea does not reflect the reality of their relationship. Instead, countries often give money and make decisions based on a “mix of interest, ideology, and altruism” rather than for purely humanitarian reasons. It is therefore important that future declarations on aid effectiveness are scrutinized for these “hidden agendas” starting by critically assessing the terminology used. (Guardian)

The Role of NGOs in Global Governance (September 27, 2011)

This World Politics Review report analyzes the growing importance of NGOs in global politics, particularly their ability to mediate between international institutions and individuals. While some NGOs enjoy excellent access to meetings and have good relations with UN officials and delegations, governments sometimes react negatively to NGO advocacy and seek to restrict NGO opportunities. (World Politics Review)


Criticism Grows of Afghanistan's Bloated NGO Industry (September 22 2010)

NGO's in Afghanistan are being increasingly criticised on the grounds of waste and corruption. The Afghan Economics Ministry's report demonstrates that international NGOs squander 60 percent of available resources on their own expenses, including security and protection for aid workers. Over 2,000 NGO's have to this date been disbanded for inability to show outcomes or evidence of work in the proposed area. The Finance Ministry in Kabul reports that more than three-quarters of the money donated by foreign countries is distributed primarily through military channels rather than the concerned ministries. As the gap between the Government, the NGO community and the needs of the people widens, distrust of rebuilding efforts is increasing . (Spiegel Online)

Civil Society is Leading the Way on Societal Reform. Let It. (March 2010)

The global economic crisis has spurred discussions about the role of civil society in constructing and sustaining a resilient economy. The Carnegie Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society examined humanitarian work by the voluntary sector, and how it could be modified or improved. The inquiry discovered broad consensus on the need to significantly increase the role of civil society organizations. It even suggested that public services such as libraries and parks should be opened up to civil society organizations, and that civil society as a whole should move beyond its current sphere of activities to a larger and broader economic role. (Guardian)

Study: Impact of the Global Economic Crises on Civil Society Organizations (February 2010)

The food, environmental and economic crises have challenged civil society organizations (CSOs) and the communities they serve. Based on responses from 640 NGOs worldwide, this UN-funded survey measures the impact of crises on the operating capacity of CSOs. It discusses strategies adopted by CSOs to address diminished funding support due to the global economic downturn, and it also examines CSO efforts in maintaining and strengthening their social-service delivery capacities during crises periods. (FES; NGO Committee for Social Development et al.)

Movement for Progress Gets Stuck in the Lobby (January 2, 2010)

The growing prominence of NGOs in public debates leads to increasing public discussion and scrutiny. Some claim that NGOs have too much power. In light of the climate change summit, this article discusses the role of NGOs in global politics. Mark Purcell - leader of an Australian umbrella group - argues that NGOs provide transparency and accountability to international meetings. (The Australian)

Compendium of Civil Society Rights Documents (January 2010)

In January 2010, CIVICUS launched a compendium of civil society rights documents with an aim to strengthen and defend the rights of civic associations and citizen participation worldwide. As a first attempt to consolidate international standards and commitments relevant to civil society, the compendium highlights commitments made by the UN as well as governments - both nationally, regionally, internationally - to protect the rights of citizens and civil society organizations to actively participate in the shaping of policies and practices of government institutions. (CIVICUS)


Civil Society, Democracy and Good Governance in Africa (February 2009)

Donor-driven, Western-type NGOs are undermining traditional African civil society. These imported NGOs set the agenda without having rooted relations with local society. International analysts and donors must widen their concept of civil society to develop sustainable democracy and good governance in the region. (CEU Political Science Journal)

Civil Society Actors in International Law and World Politics: Definition, Conceptual Framework, Problems (January 2008)

This paper argues that NGOs powerfully shape global politics. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, NGOs have increased in activity because governments inadequately deal with global problems like human rights violations and climate change. As entities distinct from governments, NGOs can mobilize and expand support for causes across borders. The author cites the Coalition for an International Criminal Court as a powerful example of how a global NGO network has reshaped international law. (International Journal of Civil Society Law)


Aid Effectiveness: The Myth of NGO Superiority (April 2008)

This Development & Cooperation study examines why some NGOs from rich countries distribute aid to the world's poorest no more effectively than official state agencies. The Swiss and Swedish NGOs under scrutiny in this paper replicated government policy, rather than channeling aid to areas overlooked by governmental development agencies. The paper concludes that NGOs would provide better-targeted aid if they undertook independent initiatives amongst the lowest income groups which governments fail to reach.

Making NGO's More Effective and Responsive in a Globalized World (March 28, 2008)

This article describes how NGOs in the developing world can help the poor to benefit from economic globalization. In countries like South Africa, NGOs work with communities to negotiate optimal labor contracts, increase access to credit and prevent corrupt middle-men from stealing profits in business transactions. Donor countries increasingly channel development aid through nonprofits, rather than through government budgets. This gives NGOs capacity to dispense services that governments usually provide. (African Path)


While "power elites" and states often claim that free markets and a globalized economy promote democracy, this Toward Freedom article argues that these systems actually widen North-South disparities. The author claims that "NGOs are often expected to fill in the gaps," however states repress and marginalize civil society. NGOs must partner and build strong networks in order to effect change.


Strengthening Democratic Governance: The Role of Civil Society (September 21, 2006)

This Wilton Park report delves into the challenges that grassroots organizations face in their efforts to promote government accountability and citizen participation. In their intertwined activities of advocacy, monitoring and providing services, NGOs often encounter government interference, unreasonable donor demands and questions about their own legitimacy. The report encourages NGOs to focus on attaining sustainable results and to "not be diverted" in their operations by such obstacles.

Who Else Will Do the Work? (July 16, 2006)

According to this Worldpress piece, NGOs can play a key role in providing services that "should fall under the mandate of governments." The author suggests that some Eastern European governments respond too slowly, or not at all, to the needs of poor and underrepresented communities. As the article concludes, even small NGOs can band together to address problems such as unemployment and female illiteracy in poor neighborhoods.

Strengthening Global Civil Society (April 2006)

This report from the Institute for Public Policy Research urges that "global civil society" must create a "more level playing field for the global south," a region where NGOs typically lack resources and have largely been ignored. The author recommends strengthening southern organizations' research and policy analysis and promoting financial independence. The report also discusses the value of free media and access to information in pressuring governments and mobilizing public awareness.

The Power Shift and the NGO Credibility Crisis (January 2006)

Over the past half century, NGOs have increased four-fold and become astute at mobilizing support. In the midst of transnational threats, like global warming, and a wave of democratization, international and domestic institutions rely critically on NGO input. Yet there is a dearth of mechanisms to scrutinize NGOs themselves. This paper argues for a set of "industry-wide standards" to enhance NGO credibility. (International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law)


'We the Peoples,' Not the States (September 2005)

The UN system was founded on state sovereignty and protection from foreign intervention. From human rights to the provision of peace, sovereign states provide most social services. Whether weak or strong, some states either cannot or do not perform these functions. In their place, NGOs represent "popular sovereignty" by conveying the will of "we the peoples," as set out in the UN Charter. (Le Monde)

How Civil Society Organisations Use Evidence to Influence Policy Processses (July 2005)

Academics and NGO experts have conducted extensive research on organizational aspects of NGOs. This approach tends to examine NGOs in a "vaccuum," and not in the broader context of international policy-making. The authors of this Overseas Development Institute paper reviewed existing literature on NGOs, with the aim of clarifying some of the tactics civil society employs in influencing public policy.

'New Superpower' Seeks 'Better World' (June 3, 2005)

This Inter Press Service article cites NGO achievements in banning land mines, challenging corporations, and monitoring international institutions, echoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's description of civil society as "the world's new superpower." Hundreds of NGOs convene in Montreal to discuss their plans of action to continue the "campaign for a better global society."

The NGO Phenomenon (January 9, 2005)

Though the media commonly picture NGOs as disaster relief organizations, NGOs in fact represent a "worldwide phenomenon" and create "a positive effect on their societies" by participating in areas that governments overlook. This Baltimore Sun article relates a cursory history of NGOs, from the inception of CARE packages to the "symbiotic relationship" between the UN and NGOs.

Global Civil Society 2005/2006

The London School of Economics and Political Sciences has launched the fourth volume of its civil society yearbook. It describes the nature and history of global civil society and includes issue-oriented case studies, important records and data, as well as articles on current issues. See also: Global Civil Society 2004/2005, Global Civil Society 2003, Global Civil Society 2002 and Global Civil Society 2001.


Learning in Partnerships (May 2004)

This BOND paper explores how NGOs in industrialized countries share resources and expertise with NGOs in less developed countries to achieve common development goals. The author warns that Northern NGOs can limit how much their Southern partners learn from this relationship if they impose corporate management principles of repetitive audits and reporting procedures. NGOs at the grassroots become less culturally diverse when they adopt corporate practices, and this removes them from the reality of the development problems they seek to tackle.


The Role of NGOs and Civil Society in Global Environmental Governance (August 27, 2002)

This chapter of Global Environmental Governance: Options and Opportunities identifies the role civil society might play in five key areas of global environmental governance and presents case studies of successful NGOs. It also calls for a "more formalized institutional structure for engagement" for civil society at the UN.

Kyoto Protocol Ratification Marks Victory For NGOs (June 24, 2002)

NGOs and citizens played a crucial role in the ratification negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol due to their ability to gather and spread useful information to both the public and governments. (Nikkei Weekly)

Nongovernmental Organizations Show Their Growing Power (March 22, 2002)

The role of NGOs in providing foreign aid has increased since the early 1990's. While NGOs are respected for their ability to carry out development projects, they should not foster dependency or perpetuate their influence. (New York Times)


A Situation Analysis of NGO Governance and Leadership in Eastern, Southern, Central and Western Africa (November 2001)

This report presents research conducted after the 1st Conference on NGO Partnerships for Reproductive Health. The paper concentrates on the quickly growing group of reproductive health NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa and the importance of good governance in providing effective services. (Center for African Family Studies)


Civil Society as Global Actor: Promise and Pitfalls (May 2000)

This essay by Walden Bello, Director of Focus on the Global South, examines different roles civil society organizations can play - and should not play on an international level.


Activist Groups Gain Influence in Global Body (December 1, 1999)

An article from the Chicago Tribune about the important role of NGO's in the post-Cold War world as a "potent voice in the framing of this new global government."

A Force Now in the World, Citizens Flex Social Muscle (July 10, 1999)

New York Times article examines NGOs as leading forces of social change at both domestic and global levels. Views civil society as having the "entrepreneurial qualities of business. The profit, in this case, is primarily social progress."


Scaling Up: Thinking Through the Issues (1994)

Peter Uvin and David Miller are developing new terminology in this theoretical paper to address the impact of NGO "scaling - up". The term "scaling-up" refers to "the growth in size, number and activities of organized participatory initiatives." (The World Hunger Program)

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