Global Policy Forum

Archived Articles on Credibility and Legitimacy of NGOs


Key Document

Political Responsibility in Transnational NGO Advocacy (October 1999)

A well researched article from the Bank Information Center on the need to enforce democratic principles and transparency in transnational NGO campaigns.


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Foreign NGOs Map New Route to African Legitimacy (October 9, 2005)

While NGOs have contributed to advances in human rights and poverty reduction in Africa, their success on these issues is not always matched by organizational achievements. Specifically, many international NGOs have fueled the problems of power discrepancies facing Africans. "The issue of who is speaking for who is at the core of this," said one African NGO leader, indicating that Northern NGOs unwilling to cede power to locals in the field can cause problems of aid dependence and disempowerment on the continent. (Reuters)

NGOs Can Add to Disasters (October 5, 2005)

The involvement of several dubious NGOs in the 2005 tsunami-relief effort cast a pall on the accomplishments of more credible members of the NGO community. Questionable activities, including undocumented vaccinations of Indonesian children, led many NGOs to demand that a code of ethics be adopted and applied to all organizations offering humanitarian assistance. (Inter Press Service)

Where the Money Is? (September 5, 2005)

This Newsweek article follows the growth of NGOs. Some larger NGOs now operate like "big business," managing million-dollar budgets and streamlining into "specialty niches." Many NGOs now project a corporate image, hiring from the business sector and increasingly participate in foreign policy and development assistance. The author writes that as a result of this growth, NGOs are in need of increased regulation.

The Right's Hostility to NGOs Glimpsed in Amnesty Flap (June 6, 2005)

As this Inter Press Service article makes clear, the recent Bush administration attack on Amnesty International is but a small facet of the neo-conservative campaign to de-legitimize NGOs. By branding influential organizations as part of a "veritable conspiracy of leftists and globalists" who wish to "subvert democratic governance," Washington attempts to damage civil society and so strengthen its authority.


Humanitarian Engagement with Non-State Armed Actors: The Parameters of Negotiated Access (June 2005)

This Humanitarian Practice Network paper investigates the extent to which NGOs in conflict zones can successfully negotiate with rebels and other armed non-state groups for access to civilians. In seeking dialogue with warring parties, aid agencies must consider the safety of their workers and whether negotiations could actually worsen the plight of civilians. As humanitarian organizations risk damaging their reputations and compromising the perceived neutrality of their assistance by negotiating with armed groups, the report encourages the NGOs to make agreements that are as open as possible.

Welcome to the Aid Business! (June 26, 2005)

The number of NGOs in Africa has increased from a few hundred to over 25,000 in about fifty years and their work goes beyond humanitarian aid. This article argues that the growing presence of foreign NGOs, or the "army of outsiders" as the author puts it, both results from, and causes Africa's slow development process. NGOs are now part of an aid business and spend over US$4 billion on recruiting staff from outside the continent. (openDemocracy)

Afghanistan: New Code of Conduct to Regulate NGOs (May 31, 2005)

Following Kabul's accusations that NGOs hinder local reconstruction and economic growth, aid organizations in the Afghan capital signed a code of conduct that would allow greater regulation of their operations. NGOs contend that they are being confused with foreign private contractors – who often register as NGOs – and some organizations agreed to sign the code to build trust and understanding. (Integrated Regional Information Networks)

The Power Shift and the NGO Credibility Crisis (Winter/Spring 2005)

This article analyses the proliferation of NGOs over the past two decades and the role they now play in providing information to governments, international institutions and the public. The author argues many NGOs lack credibility and transparency due to unknown funding sources and influences, reliance on the internet and issues of neutrality. The author recommends the development of a set of "international best practices and minimum standards" that will hold NGOs accountable for their actions and integrity. (Brown Journal of World Affairs)

Why Oxfam is Failing Africa (May 30, 2005)

Contrary to trends in NGO-state dissonance, this New Statesman article maintains that the relationship between Oxfam and the British government is "far too cozy." The author reports that other NGOs criticize Oxfam for letting the government "take over" and "dilute" their crusade against poverty and for growing weaker by working so closely with the Labor Party.

Faking Civil Society (April 6, 2005)

Pro-democracy movements began in the 1970s, spreading from Europe to Latin America to Asia and Africa, and "the actors in this benign contagion acquired a name: civil society." However, civil society groups have since played an increasing role in partisan politics, especially within the US. As media manipulation and right-wing government propaganda become more apparent, this TomDispatch author urges the more left-leaning public not to engage in the same tactics of "faking" civil society.

Holding NGOs Accountable (April 5, 2005)

This Forbes piece looks into donor, academia and UN pressures to increase NGO accountability. As US legislative action paves the way for international NGO reform, the article suggests that increased credibility will create a breed of more successful NGOs.

Under Attack (April 2005)

NGOs have gained more trust than governments and businesses, and the public has especially praised NGOs for well-coordinated relief efforts and their campaign for corporate social responsibility. But this Development and Cooperation article warns that the attention has highlighted NGOs' own needs for accountability as well. The author believes already-present international NGO networks have helped the organizations promote their business aspects and address their legitimacy issues, as they are each "only as strong as the weakest part of the network."

From the Streets to the Inner Sanctum (February 20, 2005)

Though big businesses shunned activists in the 1990s as little more than a nuisance, NGOs have been highly successful in improving their own trustworthy image while pressuring large organizations to open meetings, release documents and monitor social and environmental affects of their actions. The Los Angeles Times points to the Internet, better fundraising, alternative ideas and activists' participation in World Trade Organization discussions and the Davos World Economic Forum as reasons for the rising status of NGOs.

Disaster Aid Furthers Fears of Proselytizing (January 31, 2005)

While most NGOs ban openly promoting religion, evangelical Christians have since 2000 concentrated on "the 10/40 Window" that includes many Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim nations affected by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. Reports of aid workers trying to spread their "spiritual message" with aid could spur increased tensions and call into question the legitimacy of aid NGOs worldwide. (Christian Science Monitor)

The Unhelpful Hand: Time to Free the Palestinians from NGOs (January 10, 2005)

The Wall Street Journal Europe vindictively blames NGOs for being "like the United Nations… part of the problem, not the solution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The author accuses human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of double standards and questions NGO legitimacy due to their so-called pro-Palestinian stance.



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Help That Hinders (November 2004)

In a scathing critique on NGOs, this Le Monde diplomatique article claims that financial support from Western governments, multinational corporations and "multilateral" institutions makes NGOs "accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among." Such organizations, "secular missionaries of the modern world," mean well but instead dampen local resistance movements.

Development Gateway: Biased, Unaccountable and Overpriced? (September 22, 2004)

A Bretton Woods Project study criticizes the Internet portal "Development Gateway" for its close connection with the World Bank. The study concludes that the portal, initially a non-profit organization, presents biased and poor knowledge on development issues, reflecting all too often the viewpoints of the World Bank.

In the Line of Fire (August 4, 2004)

USAID, a governmental aid donor, threatened to discontinue contracts with NGOs that do not show willingness to conform to US foreign policy. In the face of losing a major source of aid many NGOs comply, but risk losing credibility in the eyes of other donors. (New York Times)

Iraq Scandal Reveals Red Cross Pressures (May 15, 2004)

Did the International Committee of the Red Cross do the right thing by not publishing their reports on prison abuses in Iraq until the media leaked allegations of torture? The Red Cross argues that its policy of "keeping quiet" allows the organization to uphold its mandate- visiting prisoners and ensuring their humane treatment. (BBC)

Asking Do-Gooders to Prove They Do Good (January 3, 2004)

The growth of NGOs both in number and importance puts the spotlight on their accountability. NGOs see conservative initiatives such as the "NGO Watch" as an excuse to "go after liberal or progressive NGOs," rather than a genuine effort to hold them accountable. (New York Times)



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Do the NGOs have a Problem of Legitimacy? (December 2003)

This Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations paper points to a "democracy deficit" in international politics and questions whether unelected groups of NGOs can and should represent civil society. The authors concede that NGO participation in global affairs is necessary. However, they also suggest that governments and international institutions—the very organizations that NGOs monitor and criticize—should enforce guidelines to "legitimize" outside participation as long as the rules do not restrict political nature.

Charities in Terror Fund Spotlight (October 15, 2003)

Islamic charities and NGOs in general increasingly come under suspicion of financing terrorists. While only few cases proved valid, the US and UK governments in particular believe that NGOs offer a "convenient conduit for funding violence." (BBC)

Holding Civic Groups Accountable (July 21, 2003)

Citizen groups receive donations to advocate for the public good, and demand accountability from international organizations and governments. However, NGOs themselves lack transparency and should develop a system of receiving feedback on their activities. (New York Times)

Corporate Money Co-opts Nonprofit Groups, Says Report (July 9, 2003)

Can Coca-Cola buy the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry's for a $1 million gift? According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, corporate financial support of prominent US health-related nonprofit organizations undermines their independence and credibility. (Common Dreams)

Kenya Starts Crackdown on Fake Charity Groups (July 9, 2003)

Fake AIDS charities in Kenya undermine the legitimacy of AIDS-combating NGOs by misusing governmental and foreign funds. While Kenya needs money to combat AIDS, it also needs programs to combat corruption. (New York Times)

NGOs and Governments in a New Humanitarian Landscape (June 23, 2003)

This article questions the legitimacy of NGOs working under government contracts and argues that they serve as foreign policy tools. In Afghanistan, for example, NGOs work in close relationship with military forces and the government in Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which the coalition military created in order to support the goals of the central government. The article argues these collaborations compromise the independence and neutrality of NGOs. (openDemocracy)

NGOs: Do the Watchdogs Need Watching? (June 13, 2003)

Michael Edwards of the Ford Foundation argues that NGOs must agree to a set of minimum standards of transparency and accountability before they can participate in global governance. (Inter Press Service)

Palestinian Civil Society Hurt by NGO Funding Scandal (April 10, 2003)

LAW, a prominent Palestinian NGO, has misused 40% of the 10 million dollars donated by Western aid sources. The scandal may jeopardize funding for all Palestinian NGOs, regardless of their high integrity or the important aid work they undertake. (Advocacy Net)

Accountability Matters for INGOs (April 2003)

International NGOs need to improve their accountability by providing information to stakeholders about notable achievements and fund allocation on a regular basis. While increasing the administrative burden, such a system would improve the credibility of NGOs and help them secure important funding. (BOND)

EU to Fund Civil Society (March 16, 2003)

The European Union pledged eight million dollars to Ugandan NGOs to enhance trade and development cooperation. Nonetheless, an EU spokesperson expressed concerns about the weak governance, financial management and administrative systems of some NGOs, implying that these areas must be improved to ensure further donations. (AllAfrica)

NGO Motives on Refugees Challenged at ICVA Conference (February 21, 2003)

NGOs often legitimize the dominant world order by ensuring that globalization doesn't cause a crisis. For example, NGO aid work often alleviates the damaging effects of oppressive refugee policies. Ironically, this good work can mask the harm such policies are causing and perpetuate the status quo. (Alertnet)

NGO Legitimacy – Voice or Vote? (February 2003)

NGOs and governments gain legitimacy in different ways. NGOs have a truly participatory form of governance while democratic states are representative of the people. The challenge for NGOs is to structure their involvement in global policy in a way that will allow them to minimize world inequality. (Bond)

Where are we.... with North-South Learning? (January 2003)

Knowledge is the key ingredient for NGOs to form successful development strategies. Northern and southern NGOs do not exchange enough expertise gained from local experience, local perspectives or differences in history to optimize their development projects. (BOND)



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Credit Rating for NGO a First for North America (December 6, 2002)

NGO Faites de la Musique has employed an untraditional approach to prove its credibility -- asking Swiss-based RCP & Partners for a fiduciary rating. The NGO received a rating of "good," which means it ranks as "investment grade" and that it can raise money in the public domain like a "real company." (Financial Post)

The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq: PR Spinning the Bush Doctrine (November 19, 2002)

The Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which hopes to "bomb Saddam Hussein out of existence," calls itself an NGO. In fact, its members include former government officials, many with a vested interested in increased weapon sales. The Committee partners with "educational" organizations, directed by the same members, to lend legitimacy to Bush's war campaign. (CounterPunch)

Questions Arise on Accounting at United Way (November 19, 2002)

United Way organizations have used reporting techniques that inflate their contributions and minimize their expenses, leaving the organization more competitive than other NGOs in the race for funding. The most serious infraction is double counting, where multiple United Ways count the same donation as their own. (New York Times)

Lack of Transparency in Germany's Environmental Organisations? (November 1, 2002)

According to a German magazine, many of Germany's environmental NGOs lack financial transparency, are overwhelmed by bureaucracy, and spend their donations carelessly. Some key environmental organizations contest these claims, arguing that the study was methodologically unsound. (Deutsche Welle)

Legitimacy and Effectiveness: Civil Society Organizations' Role in Good Governance (November 1, 2002)

This article explores the effectiveness and legitimacy of NGOs. It evaluates the advantages and difficulties faced by NGOs based on their accountability, flexibility, representation, and other factors. (Transparency International)

While Wealthy Non-Profits and Feds Protect Industry (October 23, 2002)

"While industries release toxic chemicals, unsafe drugs, and radiation, they also fund government agencies and large non-profits who provide effective "cover" for their devastating activities." These organizations hide the environmental and pharmacological causes of breast cancer because these issues would implicate their corporate sponsors. (Common Dreams)

State Warns NGOs (October 14, 2002)

Zimbabwe President Mugabe accuses some NGOs of "gross interference" in internal affairs, citing the British-funded Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, which provided six of the winning opposition candidates. Mugabe argues that once NGOs seek government power, they cease to be non-governmental organizations. (Herald (Harare))

South Too Far for Northern NGOs (October 10, 2002)

A Finnish study seeks to provide a Southern perspective on development aid relations with the north. The study found that while Northern groups have had significant positive impacts on the South, a lack of information about the Northern groups and power imbalances tarnish their relationship. (Inter Press Service)

The Mother Teresa Society and the War in Kosovo (October 9, 2002)

When NATO bombings removed Serbian forces from Kosovo, an influx of humanitarian aid groups brought an abundance of food, clothes and other items. When the aid workers withdrew, they left Kosovans "passive and confused, with nostaligia for past abundance." (Overseas Development Institute)

The Self-Appointed Altruists (October 9, 2002)

While the author concedes that some NGOs "genuinely contribute to enhancing welfare," he argues that many NGOs, "unelected and ignorant of local realities," work to fulfill their own political and religious interests. Although the article is peppered with sweeping generalizations and flawed arguments, it raises some important issues about NGO accountability and legitimacy. (United Press International)

When 'Green' Policies Harm Humans (October 3, 2002)

Thomas DeGregori of Houston University argues that environmental and anti-globalization groups led by "wealthy, white" males may be causing more harm than good. Writing for the conservative/libertarian Cato Institute funded by major US corporations, he claims that these groups' protests of the Green Revolution, construction of dams, and genetic engineering sustains poverty rather than relieves it.

NGOs Need Standards to Improve Good Governance (October 2, 2002)

The Indonesian government must establish legal criteria for NGO governance to inhibit the creation of illegitimate organizations. Rustam Ibrahim of the Institute for Economic and Social Research Education and Information, outlines important NGO characteristics, such as autonomy from the government and political parties. (Jakarta Post)

Gov't Warns NGOs Over HIV-Aids Funds (September 28, 2002)

As the Nyeri District Commissioner in Nairobi distributes money to AIDS campaigners, he warns NGOs against misusing funds meant for fighting HIV/AIDS. (East African Standard )

Afghanistan: Kabul's Refugees Feel Passed Over by International Aid (September 21, 2002)

Aid groups have focused humanitarian assistance on refugees returning to rural areas, leaving the nearly 600,000 refugees settled in Kabul to face dire conditions. (EurasiaNet)

Fascists For Che (September 13, 2002)

The National Alliance and other Neo-Nazi groups employ deceitful methods to garner support for their anti-Semitic agenda. With the name "Taxpayers Against Terrorism" and a website (strikingly similar to the real anti-globalization website, they exploit the reputable image of NGOs for their own purposes.
(In These Times)

I Do Not Need White NGOs to Speak for Me (September 3, 2002)

"As First World delegates sat in conference halls and debated, African and Indian farmers hit the streets of Johannesburg to tell the world what they really want and need - not sustainable development but economic growth," claims the author of this article. (London Times)

Access, Accountability and Advocacy: The Future of Nonprofit Governance is Now (August 2002)

Non-profit organizations fight for good governance for governments, but do they uphold that same standard for themselves? Three pillars of good governance for non-profit boards include access to information and people, financial and managerial accountability, and advocacy for the organization's cause. (Resource Alliance)

Kabul Terror Lab Said Found at Ex-Saudi NGO Office (August 25, 2002)

Afghan police discovered a terrorist laboratory in a house formerly used by a Saudi Arabian "NGO." The Saudi organization provided aid to the Taliban and al Qaeda network under the guise of "humanitarian assistance." (Reuters)

Whither the Role of NGOs (August 13, 2002)

This article claims that most NGOs in Africa "seem to have become mirrors of the European or American NGOs and have a dependency syndrome that makes them serve the interests of the parent NGOs that are sometimes antithetical to our national ethos." (Africa News)

NGO Reportedly Mismanages Funds for 1998 Nairobi Bomb Blast Victims (August 5, 2002)

Some of the money granted by USAid to help victims of a tragic bomb blast, which left 200 dead and 5,000 injured, is said to have been transferred from the organizations accounts to a company associated with the NGO chairman. (BBC)

Towards an Effective and Operational NGO (July 9, 2002)

NGOs are springing up in Nigeria at an "alarming" rate. The author describes a book by Georgina Ngeri-Nwagha, as a source that tries to answer the growing number of questions about the legitimacy of these NGOs.(allAfrica)

Is Amnesty International Biased? (June 13, 2002)

Dr. Francis A. Boyle, former board member of Amnesty International, accuses the organization of abusing its status as the most influential human rights organization. Boyle condemns its unbalanced report coverage in favor of US and UK political needs and AI's close ties with Israeli lobby groups. (CovertAction)

NGOs Show Their Growing Power (March 22, 2002)

NGOs in Africa play an important role at the local level, in areas where governments lack sufficient funds to achieve development aims. However, aid agencies increasingly find themselves accused of creating a "dependency culture," absolving governments of any responsibility for the welfare of their people.(New York Times)

South Africa: Infighting Hampers Forthcoming UN Summit (March 18, 2002)

Political divisions within the organizing committee and allegations of financial mismanagement by the head of the secretariat have undermined the credibility of the Civil Society Forum, an NGO-led conference set to run parallel to the World Summit for Sustainable Development. (Inter Press Service)


By What Authority? The Legitimacy and Accountability of Non-Governmental Organisations (March 10, 2002)

This article sums up the debate about the NGO voice with the question: "do NGOs speak as the poor, with the poor, for the poor or about the poor?" The author believes NGOs have a responsibility to lead by example because they make it their business to demand transparency and legitimacy from others. (Journal of Humanitarian Assistance)

Humanitarian Work Is Going Off Track (March 7, 2002)

Médecins Sans Frontií¨res (France) claims the ‘sex for food' scandal surrounding aid workers in West Africa shows how the humanitarian community has "lost its soul." A spokesman for UNHCR admits "we betrayed our mandate to protect." (Libération)

Humanitarian Organizations Have Become Businesses (March 7, 2002)

To attract professionals into the NGO world, salaries must be relatively high. However, a lack of transparency hides the fact that earnings for upper management have "skyrocketed in recent years." NGOs focus more on financial viability than humanitarian ideals, argues the ex-President of Action Contre La Faim. (Libération)

The Mouse That Roared (January 3, 2002)

Civil society's pressure enables fairer global decision-making process. NGOs can help solving global problems, representing public interests with a more transparent, accountable and democratic voice. (Toronte Globe and Mail)




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Uganda: Don't Limit Space for Civil Society (October 2, 2001)

As the government of Uganda wants to pass a bill to restrict the activities of the Civil Society, Human Rights Watch condemns it as a violation of the right to freedom of association.

NGOs and Partnership (April 2001)

This policy brief argues that Northern NGOs must stop imposing their agendas on Southern Partners. In theory, North-South NGO partnerships benefit NGOs both in rich and poor countries. The Northern NGO, close to the donor public, attracts funding; while the Southern NGO implements initiatives in the field. This study of ten European NGOs reveals that the funding process skews the power structure in favor of Northern NGOs, which can "hijack the accountability mechanisms" by distancing Southern NGOs from grassroots needs. Few NGO staff in the study found examples of mutual, shared decision making. (International NGO Training and Research Centre)

From the Top (January 20, 2001)

NGOs have a big influence on the international scene, but for credibility, they have to appear "cleaner than clean". How can they achieve this? (Guardian)




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Taking NGOs and Activists Seriously (August 24, 2000)

The credibility of NGOs has increased as they now fill an information vacuum created by some governments. However some member states of the UN and corporations are still avoiding contact with NGOs. (Earth Times)

Go, NGOs, Go! (August 23, 2000)

This article from Asia Intelligence Wire encourages NGOs to continue their vital role at the UN but warns them against " toadying up to officialdom".

The New Civic Globalism (May 8, 2000)

The Nation analyzes civil society, noting that it consists of only transnational, not global movements since no networks or organizations claim representation in all countries of the world. The author urges the US to enable the NGO community to be more effective in strengthening democracy.

The Backlash Against NGOs (April 2000)

While Michael Shaw Bond, editor from New Scientist credits NGOs for filling gaps in global governance, he questions their legitimacy for taking on such a big task. (Prospect Magazine)

Porcupine Tangos: The Palestinian Authority and the NGOs (March 14, 2000)

Roni Ben Efrat strongly critiques NGOs funded by US agencies of promoting the US agenda in Palestine. He argues that this US influence has quietened the voice of civil society that protests the plight of Palestinians in the occupied territories.(Challenge)




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Will NGOs Democratize, or Merely Disrupt, Global Governance? (December 11-17, 1999)

An in depth article from The Economist analyzing the increasing importance of NGOs in determining global policy.

Political Responsibility in Transnational NGO Advocacy (October 1999)

A well researched article from the Bank Information Center on the need to enforce democratic principles and transparency in transnational NGO campaigns.



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NGO Transnationals, McGreenpeace, and the Network Guerilla (December 1998)

Peter Wahl describes trends, such as undemocratic "representation" and transnationalization, in international civil society, and recommends an "emancipatory strategy" for NGOs.

Charities Could Be Funding Foreign Terrorists (November 18, 1998)

Canadian MP calls for tighter regulation of non-profit organizations, ostensibly to attack terrorism.

Political Responsibility in NGO Advocacy - Exploring Emerging Shapes of Global Democracy (April 1998)

Types of relationships in transnational NGO networks are discussed in this paper by Lisa Jordan and Peter van Tuijl. Accountability levels of NGOs differ according to political responsibilities developed from these relationships.



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NGOs Facing Democracy and Globalization: The Challenges in Latin America (1997)

NGOs are developing with a general sense of indifference toward politics, and are often increasing the gap between the private and public domains. Instead, they should contribute to cohesion of political society and civil society.(Transnational Associations)



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Mobilization of the Conscience of Mankind: Conditions of Effectiveness of Human Rights NGOs (September 18, 1996)

If NGOs want to be effective they have to face different challenges such as reliability, access to government, representation, timing, mutual cooperation and media attention. (NGO Café)

NGOs: The People's Voice in International Governance? (September 18, 1996)

NGOs have gained wide acceptance as a moral and ethical influence through their successful participation in global human rights governance. Professor Leon Gordenker argues that NGOs should be "heard as the primitive expression of the people's voice in global governance". (NGO Café)

Humanitarian Organizations and the Myth of Civil Society (January 1996)

Analyzing the intervention of humanitarian NGOs in former Yugoslavia, the author warns against "the dangers of 'humanitarianism' which, whilst presenting itself as neutral is, in reality, deeply political and reflects the balance of forces between different international actors". (ArkZin)



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Accountability and Effectiveness of NGO Policy Alliances (June 1994)

This report examines what factors increase policy alliance effectiveness in achieving policy outcomes and strengthening civil society. It also discusses what factors enable alliances to be accountable to their members. The analysis is based on policy change efforts at the national level in the Philippines and transnational alliance efforts to affect World Bank projects. (Institute for Development Research)


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