By Kamal Malhotra, in Between Rhetoric and Reality: Essays on Partnership in Development, North South Institute, Ottawa: Renouf Publishing, 1997.
The past 15 years have brought with them one of the most rapid paces of change in the external global environment in recent human history. Any serious analysis of “partnership”, Southern or Northern, and indeed even of what “Southern” means (especially if one is looking at the future rather than only at the past or present) will need both an understanding of this rapidly changed and continuously changing external global environment and the resulting emerging context for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their relationships, both amongst themselves and between them and other national and international organizations (e.g. national governments, bilateral and multilateral organizations).
B. THE CHANGING GLOBAL CONTEXT
The end of the Cold War; the supposed victory of the neo-liberal economic and political agenda; accelerating economic globalization, privatization and the increasing breakdown of the nation state as the fundamental unit of sovereignty in an increasing number of critical areas (e.g. business, investment and capital flows, the environment, human rights and possibly even social development); transnational capital flows of unprecedented magnitude unevenly spread across the globe which are increasingly dwarfing the role of aid; and escalating international and especially intra-national conflict in the absence of new, appropriate global, regional or national mediation institutions or mechanisms in a post Cold-War world are just some of the more evident aspects of this new scenario which some have called the New World Order and others the New World Disorder.
Dramatically increasing wealth for some and escalating poverty and inequality for already poor and marginalized groups of people (e.g. poor women, poor children, indigenous peoples) are other important aspects of this New World Order or Disorder which are, unfortunately, less often acknowledged in mainstream debate than some of the other trends.
Indeed, the current economic globalization process and its concomitant effect on wealth, poverty and inequality creation is making the traditional definition of South and North (i.e. developing and industrializing countries, respectively) both less and less clear-cut and less relevant. There is a rapidly growing North in the traditional South, especially in parts of East and South-east Asia and Latin America, while at the same time there is a rapidly growing South in the traditional North (e.g. USA, UK).
More clearly, South and North are increasingly being redefined as concepts to distinguish between those who are economically able to participate in and benefit from regionalized and globalized markets (regardless of where they live) and those who are excluded or marginalized from them.
Some noted conservative scholars such as Samuel Huntington of Harvard University would go even further to state that the redefinition of the traditional North-South relationship and conflict in the New World Order or Disorder has moved from one based solely on economic, political and social inequality to one based on cultural and “civilizational cleavages” as well (e.g. Huntington’s so-called “Islamic-Confucian Connection”).
Regardless of whether a person agrees with every one of the above trends or formulations, it is now beyond doubt, notwithstanding the vocabulary one uses, that these and other dramatic developments of the past 15 years have brought with them a significantly changed context for the future relationship between industrialized (traditional North) and developing (traditional South) countries.
Indeed, even the definition of what a Southern perspective means has changed and it is now much easier to find this in the traditional North while, similarly, a Northern perspective is now quite widespread in some parts of the traditional South!
C. THE EMERGING CONTEXT FOR NGOs
The emerging context for NGOs in the second half of the 1990s and well into the 21st century will continue to change rapidly. This will happen for a multiplicity of interacting reasons: the fast changing global, regional, national and local external environment which provides the overarching context for all NGO activity and , related to the above, the changing roles of the state, the market and so-called civil society; the evolving and changing relationships between Southern and Northern NGOs due to reasons both in the external environment and ongoing internal changes in their dynamic interaction; and emerging new challenges in the relationships between NGOs (both Southern and Northern) who prioritize humanitarian and poverty reduction concerns, and the broader social movement for change dealing not just with these critical aspects of development but broader social justice issues (e.g. human rights, gender, environment) of which humanitarian and development NGOs are only a small but highly visible part.
This emerging context raises many important issues and questions both for the roles of NGOs in the New World Disorder and the relationship between NGOs from the traditional North and South.
*are NGOs, as Fowler says, ordained to be “ladles” in the “global soup kitchen”, institutions that will provide the global social safety net which is necessary to further the “New Policy Agenda” in the Post-Cold War international system?
* analyzing and disaggregating the implications of increasing direct funding of Southern (developing country) NGOs by Northern bilateral and multilateral agencies for the already imperfect “partnership” that exists between Northern and Southern NGOs
* understanding the implications of increasing poverty and inequality and a growing South in the traditional North for the roles of NGOs in the traditional North and how this will/should affect their “partnerships” with NGOs in the traditional South
* Likewise, understanding the implications of increasing wealth and a growing North (even if it is still small) in the traditional South for the changing roles of NGOs in the South and their “partnerships” with NGOs in the traditonal North
* analyzing the implications for relationships between traditional Northern and Southern NGOs and for policy influencing in the changed global environment (described in the first part of this paper) which is also witnessing the incremental and instrumental (even if not fundamental) opening up of the multilateral development banks (e.g. World Bank) and some parts of the United Nations system to NGO concerns and participation.
This paper will attempt to provide a Southern perspective (in both its definitions) on the changing relationship between Northern and Southern NGOs and their “partnership”. Within this, it will particularly focus both on the history and current state of this relationship and on the implications of both the rapid changes in the external global environment and the emerging context for NGOs for the future partnership offered by NGOs in the traditional North to NGOs in the traditional South.
While much has already been written and continues to be written on some aspects of this issue and relationship, most such existing analysis and writing has and continues to reflect the perspectives of thinkers and writers from the traditional North.
Surprisingly little serious analysis and substantive writing has been done on this issue from a Southern perspective, by people from the South knowledgeable about both Southern and Northern NGOs and their evolving relationship in the changing overall external context for international aid. This paper, therefore, is a modest attempt to begin to rectify this imbalance.
What and Where Is It?
“Partnership” has become one of the sacred terms of the development lexicon over the last 10-15 years and like many other such terms (e.g. “participation”) is increasingly and equally espoused by NGOs and by bilateral and multilateral development agencies such as CIDA and UNDP. Whilst the term may have a sound ideological basis, the motivations for its use and even what is meant by it when used by different agencies has been varied and not necessarily well intentioned or genuine.
The term is also certainly yet another example of an import and imposition from the traditional North on the traditional South and the history of its emergence and usage bear ample testimony to this.
The latter is closely tied up, at least partially, with the need of Northern NGOs to establish a legitimacy for their existence in their countries of origin and to demonstrate their “added value” in the development process to their publics and governments.
The partnership issue, of course, is not just relevant to relationships between Northern and Southern NGOs. ‘Partnerships’ between governments and domestic charities and NGOs in Europe, North America and Australia are characterized by the same issues and dilemmas as are the so-called partnerships between bilateral and multilateral agencies and NGOs from both the traditional North and South.
Indeed, the use of the term “partner” by bilateral and multilateral agencies for Northern NGOs (NNGOs) or Southern NGOs (SNGOs – that they directly fund in more recent times) reflects little more than a rhetorical acceptance of the values implicit in the term and the need to move in that direction if they are to be viewed as legitimate by their NNGO and SNGO “partners” (even though bilateral and multilateral agencies do not need to seek formal legitimacy for their existence in the same manner as NGOs since, at least in formal democracies, this is conferred on them through the election of the governments that they are part of ).
While partnership issues are, therefore, relevant to a range of different types of institutions and their interrelationships, this paper cannot and will not seek to discuss all these different types of ‘partnerships’. Rather, as already indicated in the previous section, it will focus primarily on relationships between NGOs from the traditional North and South.
The term “partner” is defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as “a sharer or partaker; an associate” whereas the term associate is defined as “to join as a companion or ally.” Applied to the development context, AusAid’s Development Dictionary defines project partners as “Third World local community organizations working in partnership with NGOs on development projects. The implications of the term partnership is that the givers of aid and the Third World receivers are on a more equal footing”.
While these definitions, however inadequate, do exist in the English language, it is instructive to note that according to the Canadian, John Saxby, in Papua New Guinean’s pidgin language.
Indeed, “partnership” has become a part of the rhetoric that development practitioners and researchers alike espouse, most without serious questioning. It has become jargon akin to conventional wisdom and provides many Northern NGOs and bilateral and multilateral agencies with a warm, fuzzy feeling of fellowship that is often projected onto their “partners” in the traditional South.
Yet, the term has little relevance to the relationship between most NNGOs and SNGOs (or, for that matter, between Northern bilateral agencies and the NNGOs or SNGOs they directly fund) and the term’s Northern origin is graphically illustrated by the explicitly expressed preference of most Latin American and Caribbean NGOs to use the word “counterpart” rather than “partner” to more accurately attempt to define their intended relationship with NNGOs.
Indeed, there is often resentment by SNGOs to the use of the term ‘partner’, both because it is not a true reflection of the relationship that currently exists between NNGOs and SNGOs ( I think that this, at least, partly explains why Southern NGO practitioners have accorded this topic such a low priority so far) and because the use of the term means different things in different languages and contexts and can even be quite insulting if used in some places.
For example, I am told that the literal translation of the word ‘partner’ in Thai best describes the relationship between a prostitute and her client. While a cynic may suggest that this, in fact, quite accurately describes the relationship between some NNGOs and their government bilateral development assistance agencies or between some NNGOs and their SNGO ‘partners’, the terms ‘partner’ or “partnership” are best avoided in such a context
My own strong preference is not to use the term at all but, instead, to describe the ‘ideal’ intended relationship between NNGOs and SNGOs (or between other sets of development actors) as establishing effective and mutually beneficial “development alliances”. The Latin American and Caribbean concept and usage of the term “counterpart” comes closest to the “development alliance” formulation even though we are still far from achieving this “ideal” intended relationship. Why is this the case after four development decades in the traditional South?
Brief History and Current Status
While overarching generalizations about the extent of “partnerships” achieved by individuals or individual organizations in traditional Northern and Southern NGOs are inappropriate and impossible to make, given the wide diversity of NGO philosophical and experiential histories, at least a few generalizations about ‘partnership’ are possible, based on lessons learnt so far:
These include that the ideal “development alliance” between NNGOs and SNGOs should comprise at least the following ingredients, as prerequisites:
*a common orgnizational vision, set of objectives and methodological compatability
*adequate time to build a relationship which then extends over a long period of time
*mutual transparency and accountability
*willingness and ability on the part of both sides in the relationship to be constructively critical of each other, within an overall framework of support and solidarity
*organization-to-organization relationships and exposure rather than relationships dependent merely on rapport between individuals
*funding as only one (preferably small) part of the overall organizational relationship.
Judged against these prerequisites, it is not difficult to see why most NNGO attempts at partnerships have not been successful, either historically or at present.
First, a widely generalizable fact is that both historical and current attempts to put the rhetoric and concepts of partnership into practice have been within what has predominantly been a donor-recipient funding relationship which has, so far, characterized so much of the interaction between Northern and Southern NGOs.
Relationships between an NNGO and SNGO, even without a funding dimension, are fraught with problems, dilemmas and inequities (e.g. access to information). Even in such situations, building genuine
partnerships which require bridging various gaps, often take years. They have to be based on, among others, a foundation of growing mutual trust and respect, recognition of the equality of different types of contributions to the relationship (e.g. knowledge and experience, money), ethical behaviour and transparent , accountable processes and communication.
When funding is introduced as a major variable in this equation, achieving genuine partnership becomes much more complex and, indeed, is unattainable in most current relationships.
Whilst money is not always determining in a relationship, control over such a key resource certainly provides a large part of the power and control over any development situation. Indeed, the overwhelming evidence from experience so far indicates that money is clearly not a sound basis for developing mutually respectful partnerships!
While some NNGO funding agencies have clearly been more aware of the inherent inequity in relationships largely based on funding and more sensitive to its implications, the fickleness and increasing uncertainty of Northern funding as a consequence of “structural adjustment” in both Northern Official Development Assistance (ODA) agencies and NNGOs is increasingly making SNGOs less trusting of even their most sensitive Northern ‘partners’.
Second, project rather than program or ‘institutional’ or ‘block’ funding remains the predominant form of the NNGO funding relationship with SNGOs. This type of funding, in addition to being time bound and activity-centered, by its very nature often precludes discussions about broader issues of vision and alliance building for policy influencing which are prerequisites to genuine long-term ‘partnership’.
When ‘block’ or ‘institutional’ as opposed to ‘project’ funding has been the norm (e.g. some Northern church and secular agencies), some of these problems have been mitigated. However, such relationships have sometimes resulted in a blind, unquestioning acceptance of the Southern NGO by NNGOs leading to a situation not of “development alliance” but of inverse (and oftentimes perverse) power relations which cannot, by their very nature, be conducive to a healthy ‘partnership’.
Third, since Northern NGO funding decisions have often been fickle or (increasingly) are heavily dependent on the whims or financial situation and proclivities of their official bilateral development assistance agencies, genuine ‘partnerships’ have been difficult to foster and nurture. Short timelines and the narrow financial accountability emphases of bilateral donors, and, often by extension, of NNGOs have also militated against the latter taking the time to establish relationships of trust, mutual respect and transparency or even long-term relationships based on both funding and ‘non-funding’ dimensions.
One thoughtful Northern writer has, in fact, likened the extremely tight outcome-based contracts between Northern NGOs and their government funders to a ‘partnership’ between a warden and his prisoner. If this is even partly true as my experience suggests it is, then the implications for the “partnership” between NNGOs which are increasingly dependent on their governments for funding and their SNGO “partners” cannot but be negative.
Fourth, transparency and accountability requirements have largely been one-way rather than mutual i.e. from SNGOs to NNGOs, rather than both ways. This remains a major arena for change but prospects of this happening remain bleak as long as institutional imperatives which prioritize accountability to Northern donors, Boards and Charity Commissions (e.g. U.K.) continue to take precedence over development and empowerment imperatives which require an emphasis on accountability to the so-called ‘users’ or ‘beneficiaries’ of development assistance and the broader publics of developing countries receiving such assistance from NNGOs.
Fifth, most NNGO and SNGO relationships still remain between individuals in different agencies rather than between organizations in the North and South. As a result, SNGOs have very little exposure to NNGOs in their home environment unlike NNGO individuals who make repeated and frequent visits to SNGOs in their home contexts. This largely one-way “exposure” is not conducive to “development alliance” or “partnership” building.
The numerous reasons that have precluded the achievement of ‘partnership’ which have already been discussed in this paper are in danger of being compounded by the range of complex ‘institutional survival’ issues currently facing most NNGOs, regardless of where they are located. These include but are not restricted to the following:
*De-operationalization from the South. While this has, at least rhetorically, been welcomed by NNGOs de-operationalizing, as evidence that they have “done themselves out of a job” by nurturing SNGO capacity, many of the traditionally operational NNGOs view this as a threat to their size, viability, profile and institutional survival which has depended on a longstanding direct operational role in the South.
*Direct funding of SNGOs by bilateral and multilateral agencies. This increasing phenomenon is viewed as threatening even by many of the more progressive NNGOs since it challenges both a key rationale for their institutional existence and the conventional wisdom that they have a “value added” to contribute to the development process in the project funding area, different or separate from SNGOs.
This will become an increasingly important issue as official Northern donors show less interest in funding Northern NGOs because of the growing experience, expertise and operational capacity of SNGOs. NNGOs will need to urgently respond to this opportunity by appropriately redefining their roles and “value added” if they wish to ensure their institutional relevance, and at least for some, even their institutional survival, well into the 21st century.
*Decline in independent income and increasing dependency on official Northern donors. While decline in NNGO community support income has many interrelated reasons (e.g. market competition among different NNGOs, structural adjustment in the North and competition for the donor dollar with domestic charities as a result of the gradual privatization of the welfare state in countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and even Scandinavia), the fundamental crisis in NNGO identity and roles is the underlying disease that has exacerbated the incidence of these symptoms (their income and cashflow crises) and forced either their permanent ‘downsizing’ or their increased dependency on official bilateral and multilateral sources of income for an ever expanding part of their program and institutional budgets. This latter trend is dangerous for reasons already elaborated.
Suffice it to add here on this issue that, in my view, such dependency on official funding sources will inevitably, even if only gradually, compromise the independent institutional identity that many NNGOs have zealously guarded thus far (thereby reinforcing the ambivalence and confusion which increasingly surrounds their identity and roles). Moreover, because such funding is unreliable, especially as official aid budgets are repeatedly cut (e.g. UK, Canada) and official direct funding of SNGOs increases as evidence continues to mount that, at least in some countries and regions of the world (e.g. India, Bangladesh), SNGOs can achieve the same or higher levels of quality in their operational work at lower cost (i.e. greater cost-effectiveness of SNGOs over NNGOs), this is an extremely risky institutional survival or growth strategy for any timeframe except the short-term.
*Policy Advocacy and Influencing in the North. Progressive NNGOs have traditionally sought to derive one crucial part of their current legitimacy from their dramatically growing role of “speaking on behalf of their Southern partners” and/or “poor and marginalized peoples”. However, as Southern support NGOs (SSNGOs), especially those closely linked to popular social movements, have grown in number and in their analytical, policy research and influencing capacity, the legitimacy of NNGOs directly doing policy analysis, research and influencing (on behalf of SNGOs) is increasingly being questioned. While such questioning is still in its infancy (unlike direct funding of SNGOs), it is undoubtedly likely to escalate rapidly, given both the current global environment and the growing maturity of many SSNGOs.
As more NNGOs withdraw from their traditonal operational roles in the South, they will also become more vulnerable to such questioning.
Current Challenges for the NNGO-SNGO ‘Partnership’
While the set of complex ‘institutional survival’ issues currently facing NNGOs can potentially compound and complicate the already difficult historical and current legacy of their ‘partnership’ practice, if looked at positively, they also potentially provide a historic opportunity to steer the NNGO-SNGO relationship in a favorable, more genuine “development alliance” direction.
However, this is likely to require radical surgery on the part of NNGOs who will need to consciously shift the balance between the “institutional survival” imperatives that currently dominate their agenda to development and SNGO empowering ones which appear to have been given a backseat.
Sadly, however, apart from some guilt and occasional remorse about their behaviour, there does not appear to be anything in the NNGO make-up, funding structure (from either public or official donors) or reward and incentive systems that would ensure that changes enabling more genuine partnerships to emerge with SNGOs will actually occur without sustained, relentless pressure from the latter. Ironically, this is despite the fact that such self-directed change on the part of NNGOs will provide a greater chance of ensuring their institutional credibility and relevance (and, for many, even survival) in the long-run compared with what appears to be the widespread current myopic focus of many NNGOs on short-term institutional survival measures. An over-emphasis on the latter at the expense of the former is, instead, likely to ensure the institutional irrelevance of many NNGOs before the next millenium. Even if they continue to survive, as at least some of them probably will, they will no longer qualify as the “organisations of social change” which many NNGOs think they currently are.
SNGOs will need to play their part in ensuring that appropriate changes take place in NNGOs both for partnership reasons and to protect their own self-interest because the current NNGO crisis does not imply that there is no role for them. Indeed, SNGOs need NNGOs as much, if not more than before given the changed global context, but not mainly for funding reasons. NNGOs can play crucial roles in influencing both the publics and governments in the North whose consumption and lifestyle patterns and public policies respectively, constitute a substantial part of the causes of structural poverty and inequality in the global South. This is a role for which NNGOs have a clear responsibility and one through which they can play an appropriate complementary role to SNGOs in a future reorganized, new division of labour between the two sets of organisations. Indeed, since there is no prospect of reducing poverty and inequality in the developing countries of the South without such an NNGO role, SNGOs must consciously pressure and push NNGOs to change in appropriate ways before it is too late.
Such a movement for change must be led by SNGOs because, sadly, the leadership for it is not likely to emerge from NNGOs for the reasons already discussed in this paper.
Such change, if it were to take place, should lead to the radical metamorphosis of NNGOs , resulting in the inclusion of the following strategies, some in addition to and others instead of their existing ones:
*in the case of operational NNGOs, further de-operationalization in the South and more conscious capacity building of SNGOs and people’s organizations (POs) to take over this role from NNGOs progressively.
While this will, no doubt, have important implications both for how NNGOs maintain and improve their on-the-ground knowledge to inform their policy influencing work in the traditional North and globally, and for their accountability to donors, this should not be used as an excuse for inaction on this front because there are effective and credible ways to deal with this if NNGOs have both the political will and a genuine desire to acheive mutually beneficial partnerships with SNGOs.
*for all NNGOs, increased emphasis on doing development work in their own countries to enable them to truly become part of a North-South “development alliance” of NGOs working on similar development issues in their respective countries. The mandate for this from Southern partners has been particularly compelling and forceful for a number of NNGOs for a long time (e.g. Community Aid Abroad, Australia for its Aboriginal program in the mid 1970s and Oxfam UK and I for its domestic program much more recently). Indeed, Southern partners in Oxfam UK and I’s first global assembly in 1994 were very explicit on the need for the agency to do development work in the UK and I.
It is increasingly clear, that whether NNGOs like it or not, legitimacy in partnership relationships with some SNGOs will only be possible to acheive if the former are seriously engaged with the poverty and social justice problems of their own (traditional Northern) countries, especially as these continue to escalate.
Such an engagement can be acheived in a variety of ways. In my view, this does not necessarily imply starting a direct, project-based poverty allievation program in the UK, USA or Canada even though many SNGOs see this as an integral part of what they think NNGOs should be doing in their own countries if they are to be perceived as legitimate and credible in the South. Nevertheless, I do believe that the onus of demonstrating a more intense, appropriate and effective engagement with traditional Northern publics and policy makers will increasingly rest with NNGOs.
From my perspective, such engagement should, at the very least, involve a more substantial relationship of development education, mobilization and conscientization of Northern publics about international development problems and issues, many of which they should be increasingly able to find concrete examples of in their own countries in this era of accelerating economic globalization and regionalization. This role, which very few NNGOs adequately prioritize and which many of those who have done so historically are de-prioritizing (at least by default) under pressure of their increasing preoccupation with institutional survival issues, is elaborated further below in the context of another suggestion for change in current NNGO practice;
*moving away from the existing role which unduly focuses on control over project funding related decision-making in the North to new roles which further emphasize development education and awareness raising with domestic publics in the traditional North. The key focus of such NNGO domestic programs should be on interpreting the work of their SNGO partners and broader South development issues to their domestic publics with a view to raising awareness leading to action and subsequent changes in the latter’s attitudes, lifestyle choices, in addition to Northern government policies and programs.
Related to and based on this, there is an urgent need for NNGOs to build a genuine constituency in their home countries for legitimacy, accountability and effectiveness reasons. Very few NNGOs currently appear willing or able to do this on a significant scale and even the few who have emphasized this in the past appear to be retreating from this crucial role because of their current ‘institutional survival’ concerns (e.g. fund raising). Yet, a solid educated and aware constituency will be a better guarantor of long-term funding than official bilateral donors. Indeed, it is increasingly evident that it is the only way in which sustained and effective policy influencing will be possible in the traditional North.
*redefining their institutional role in policy advocacy and lobbying, focusing more on mobilizing, synthesizing and disseminating information (which is often much more readily available in the North) rapidly and in popular form to POs, SNGOs and SSNGOs, rather than primarily emphasizing doing advocacy “on behalf of the South.”
These changes, if undertaken by NNGOs, are likely to imply considerable financial and organizational down-sizing and lowering of profile. However, they are likely to better ensure NNGO institutional dynamism and relevance and, therefore, survival and longevity well into the 21st century.
Such organizational changes in NNGOs are particularly important for them to make at a time when an increasing number of POs, SNGOs, and SSNGOs are becoming more and more demanding in the “partnerships” that they wish to ideally see from their NNGO counterparts. Their call emphasizing that NNGO practice must live up much more to their rhetoric of empowerment (in both the South and North), accountability, transparency and decentralization must be seen by SNGOs to have been heeded if NNGO-SNGO ‘partnerships’ are to have a future.
Indeed, NNGOs must decisively counter SNGO criticisms which have gone even further to suggest that “if they (NNGOs) have any legitimate functions in development in the South, they must first transform themselves, and seek new and more timely roles in developing the capabilities of indigenous organizations and voluntary sectors. Even more important is the assumption of new functions as global partners in policy dialogue and development education.”
NNGOs must also decisively answer those in both the traditional South and North who continue to question their legitimacy, accountability and constituency in their home countries.
The changes discussed in the preceeding few pages, if implemented, will both provide such answers and a much more solid foundation for genuine and sustaining “partnerships” and “development alliances” between NNGOs and SNGOs than those that currently dominate most such relationships. If this were to happen, we are much more likely to be able to move closer to Chris Roche’s (Oxfam UK and I) vision of ‘a more global view of development problems built upon alliances of competent agencies having wide experience and bringing complementary resources and skill to bear — such alliances must be made up of a wide variety of non-governmental agencies, peoples’ organizations, women’s movements, environmental groups as well as those human rights, peace and lobbying organizations who are dealing with the broader issues.
Some Practical Ways Forward for NGOs
First let me acknowledge that a number of NNGOs that I am intimately familiar with (e.g. Oxfam International) have been seriously discussing the issue of how to make “partnership” and “development alliances” more real in practice. There are a number of positive examples as well, even if they are few and far between. Indeed, Canadian NGOs have been among the leaders in both the debate and practice of North-South “development alliance” building and, therefore, it would seem appropriate to quote positive practical examples from the Canadian experience in this area.
One of the best examples appears to have been the work of Canadian-Mexican-US networks focused on continental free trade, particularly the Common Frontiers/Fronteras Communes project. This project, which began in 1988, has been Action Canada Network’s (ACN’s) continental free trade policy research and analysis project. ACN is a multisectoral coalition of labor, student, women, religious and cultural groups, seniors’ organizations, anti-poverty groups and a few international development and funding organizations. The network was formed in 1987 to critique and fight the “free trade” agenda which became best known when it was embodied in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Labor and ecumenical groups from Canada undertook fact finding trips to the “maquiladores” of Mexico and Fronteras, a counterpart Mexican body, was established soon thereafter.
The Canadian and Mexican network, which in 1990 expanded to include similar groups in the US has since promoted dialogue, research and mutual education among its members and has both challenged the official and corporate agendas for NAFTA and provided an alternative vision.
While the history of this work and the dynamics of the network are complex and cannot be done justice to in such a brief section of this paper, it had important aspects which offer lessons for the NNGO-SNGO “partnership” issue. Three key aspects were:
*The members of the different networks were able to work
largely as co-equals by constantly negotiating and defining their roles, relationships and methodologies of work. While not easy, common interests and the process used appear to have led, through a continuously dynamic process of interaction, to a genuine “partnership” between Northern and Southern groups on some of the most crucial economic and social justice issues affecting the three countries involved.
*money/funding (i.e. the traditional Northern donor role) does not appear to have been a key factor in the North-South relationship since the Canadian financial contribution to Mexican NGOs was very limited. This may, ironically, have had something to do with the success in establishing a more genuine partnership.
*following from the above, (sadly), Canadian development NGOs appear to have played only a limited role within Common Frontiers in Canada, mainly by way of providing modest grants and
administrative infrastructure (notwithstanding the active role of key NNGO individuals such as John Foster, National Director of Oxfam Canada). Labor, solidarity, religious and development research/advocacy groups appear to have led on the more substantive issues.
More recently, Focus on the Global South’s experience in Thailand, where we led in organizing an NGO Summit just before the first Asia-Europe Summit (ASEM) in Bangkok in early 1996 appears to have been similar to the Canadian hemispheric free trade experience.
Approximately 300 NGO participants from Asia and Europe came together for three days (27-29 February 1996) in Bangkok as co-equals with panels on security, human rights and economic and trade issues touching equally on the current situation and historical record in Europe (e.g. Bosnia and Ireland on human rights, UK on economic justice) and Asia.
Once again, traditional Northern funding NGOs were only marginally represented and did not lead or participate in the substantive panel discussions even though some of them (especially those in Holland) provided significant funding. The same was, by and large, true for development NGOs in the South. It was labor, policy research and advocacy and human rights groups in addition to some grassroots people’s organizations who actively participated in the discussions. Since there was not much of a funding relationship between them, a more genuine dialogue appears to have been possible.
Some experiences have been positive, however, even when funding has been central to the North-South relationship.
Canada again has some of the better examples through a few of the NGO partnership programs (e.g. the Philippines PCHRD program) sponsored by CIDA in the late 1980s. While the NNGO-SNGO consortia and “partnerships” fostered as a consequence were far from perfect, the locus of program/project decision-making substantially involved and was moved much closer to SNGOs (e.g. Manila) while most of the projects funded prioritized capacity building, training and strengthening the policy advocacy abilities of SNGOs. Even though CIDA influenced the broad objectives of the program, specific objectives were set by NNGOs and SNGOs together, while the latter had considerable decision-making control over individual project decisions through joint NNGO-SNGO decision-making and operational structures.
While the PCHRD example was largely project and program focused, it did have important policy influencing aspects, even though these would have been stronger if there had been a greater emphasis on collaborative work on policy questions through the conduct of joint NNGO-SNGO research and more policy dialogue with the Canadian government.
Notwithstanding these positive examples, there is scope for NNGOs to go much further than most of them currently appear to be willing to go if we wish to foster more genuine “partnerships”.
Practical ways forward should include:
*program decentralization to the South entailing a genuine shift in the balance of power to influence NNGO strategic decision-making as well as individual project/program decisions leading, eventually, to control over the specific use of project/program funds by people in the South.
Such a shift, through the modus of creating in-country program advisory and decision-making committees in the South (to replace those already existing within NNGOs in the North) will also serve to strengthen local capacity, emphasize the NNGOs strategic”non-funding roles (rather than only their funding ones) and ensure greater transparency and accountability to a broader range of credible people (including non-partners) in the South. Establishing close links with in-country committees should also strengthen the NNGOs public policy and development education work in its home country and give greater prominence to micro-macro development issues linking for capacity building and policy influencing purposes, both in-country and internationally;
*presentation (by NNGOs to partner SNGOs and other key civil society actors) of their policies at an early development stage in preliminary concept form for feedback and comment;
*organization of international meetings with key SNGO partners to discuss overall policy development, including emerging NNGO analyses, new country policy documents and especially their strategies;
*establishment, at international/global level, of advisory committee(s) made up of independent people and networks from the South who have a track-record in either development, movement, policy research and/or civil society work. These committees should be asked to advise NNGOs about the development and implementation of their policies, both globally and in different Southern national and regional contexts;
*inclusion of “Southern voices” in NNGO governance structures (e.g. Board of Trustees). These could be a combination of Southern people living in the North and South. In order to avoid tokenism, there should be clear guidelines regarding the representation and responsibilities of people from the South at NNGO governance levels.
The current trend of “transnationalization” of development NNGOs appears to be motivated largely by fund-raising, or sometimes, policy influencing concerns (but only in a realpolitik sense) leading to either the prioritization of countries like Japan, Taiwan, S.Korea, Hongkong or Singapore, if the former is the rationale, or Japan and Germany if the latter is the motivation. In the few cases where Southern members have been discussed for NNGO Board membership or as part of a global network (eg. Oxfam International, International Save the Children Alliance), or even included, the discussion is still driven from the traditional North and the organisation, network or “alliance” resulting may be “international” in name but not in representation or substance.
This type of an “international” or “alliance” is clearly not what I am referring to when I advocate the inclusion of Southern “voices” in NNGO governance structures. I am advocating for the creation of a truly international development NGO with appropriate governance representation from both South and North. Sadly, this still seems a long way off.
*mechanisms to ensure that NNGOs are accountable to their SNGO partners. Such mechanisms should include the ‘social audit’ trialled by the New Economics Foundation and Traidcraft Exchange in the U.K. and mandatory “reverse evaluations” (including their publication) of NNGOs by their SNGO partners periodically (e.g. every 3-5 years). Such evaluations should focus not just on what new “partnership” policies NNGOs have developed but on whether they have actually been consistently put into practice. Like always, the “test of the pudding” should be “in the eating”;
*NNGOs developing specific quality standards (e.g. on how and in what time frame decision-making occurs, on how funding and substantive program content discussions are held with partners and on whether performance evaluation and communication are two-way processes). These quality standards should be jointly discussed and agreed by NNGOs with their SNGO partners;
*regular NNGO documentation and research on SNGO partner satisfaction with their performance. Areas covered under such documentation and research should include how NNGO policy is developed, quality of service, and communication between NNGOs and their SNGO partners. The development of the transparent and explicit quality standards already referred to above should help SNGO partners evaluate the performance of NNGOs in terms of the latter’s own quality objectives and aspirations;
* accountability and mediation mechanisms which will allow SNGO partners of NNGOs to lodge complaints (if they feel they need to do so) about NNGO policy implementation, quality of service and communication or about project/program decisions;
An “ombudsperson” type function should arbitrate conflicts or disagreements and be sufficiently independent of the NNGO so that the same issues that SNGOs and NNGOs complain about in the World Bank’s Inspection Panel do not arise in the NNGO-SNGO conflict mediation relationship.
NNGO-SNGO “partnership” or “development alliance” building has a long way to go yet. There are some positive examples but these have to be multiplied manifold if the North-South alliances which are necessary to combat the forces that create and accelerate the globalization of poverty and inequality are to triumph. There are no short-cuts in this process and NNGOs, in particular, will need to urgently make some painful choices if they wish to contribute to and be part of such a historic alliance building process. Unfortunately, there is little indication that NNGOs are ready or willing to make the radical, transformative changes that the current situation demands on their own.
Indeed, the increasingly inescapable conclusion appears to be that unless Southern NGOs take the lead in relentlessly and continuously pressuring their NNGO “partners” to make the necessary changes soon, the opportunity that currently presently itself because of the”soul-searching” that at least some NNGOs say they are doing (largely as a consequenc of their current institutional survival concerns) is likely to be lost for at least the forseeable future.
However, the partnership issue is not being accorded the urgent attention it deserves by most SNGOs. This may be either because many SNGOs appear to be cynical about the possibility of moving towards more genuine partnership relationships with NNGOs, or because they are too preoccupied with and narrowly focused on both the myriad crises they have to deal with daily in the “field” and on their own day-to-day institutional survival in the current global climate. SNGOs, therefore, will also need to urgently make important changes to their priorities and approaches and give their Northern NGO “partners” or “allies” all the support that they can muster if we are to collectively hope to achieve the changes in the New World Disorder that are our often expressed common objectives.