pacific forest forum non-governmental organization
New Role of NGOs
In the past, NGOs were viewed by governments and international institutions as offering the following strengths: ability to reach the grassroots and the poor; flexibility and responsiveness to local needs; cost effectiveness; advance from a history of dispersed projects with a short term social assistance focus to a longer strategic vision of their role as development actors and the design and implementation of their activities within that context; in other words programming requires greater long term thinking and a strategy supporting change processes; evolve from being critics of development, human rights and other problems, to becoming contributors of alternative policy proposals (derived from their own experience) to broader policy frameworks influencing sustainability; develop new working relationships (both policy and program) with government (at various levels) and international institutions; generate opportunities for bringing popular voices into dialogue with traditional policy actors (both government and the private sector) and assist in making development more democratic; establish ways to make institutional and community learning processes more systematic and broadly shared; grapple with the challenges of NGO professionalization, financial viability, and autonomy.
More recently NGOs are seen as invaluable instruments for strengthening civil society. Long term sustainable development is now thought to be more likely where civil society is strong and has the opportunity to participate in the broad array of development processes.
Presently there are two levels of international cooperation taking place. At one, there are centralized development programs shaped by macro-economic policies. At the other, there are thousands of small participatory micro projects geared towards improving ecological conditions for a limited number of people each project involves. At the micro level, projects are undertaken independently, usually without any relationship between them. And there isnt any relationship between the objectives and activities at the national and local levels. Democratizing the national policy processes by opening them up to participation by civil society actors can help link these two worlds of international cooperation and development. This would produce more dynamic and effective cooperation capable of tackling the root causes of injustice and promoting the long term vision sustainability requires.
Development NGOs have the benefit of extensive experience and are among key figures in implementation. Thanks to their work in the field and in close collaboration with local players, they may be regarded as a reliable barometer of the evolution, successes and failures of development cooperation. Some of the conclusions of the evaluations, in fact, tally with the lessons learnt by NGOs themselves: poor sustainability of programs, little ownership on the part of the local actors, results difficult to measure in qualitative terms, etc. All this raises questions as far as the real impact of development cooperation on environment is concerned. NGOs could make their contribution to overcoming these difficulties.