Local Governments and NGOs in the South

Do close partnerships improve pro-poor policy outcomes?

Master's Thesis 2007 63 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Development Politics



Content of Figures

List of Abbreviations

Chapter I: Introduction

Chapter II: Southern NGOs and good local governance
II.1 Empowering Southern NGOs
II.2 Good local governance for ‘the poor’

Chapter III: Understanding local government-SNGO partnerships
III.1 A definition of ‘partnership’
III.2 Reasons for intersectoral partnerships
III.3 Policy instruments that enable partnerships
III.4 Problems and barriers

Chapter IV: Locating the ideal-type partnership for poverty reduction
IV.1 The ideal in a partnership model
IV.2 Factors influencing partnerships
IV.3 Partnerships in practice

Chapter V: Local partnerships and their pro-poor impact
V.1 How close for comfort? A view on the main concerns
V.2 The potential of local partnerships for poverty reduction

Chapter VI: Conclusion


Content of Figures

Figure 1: Locating NGOs in society

Figure 2: Institutions of city governance

Figure 3: The political space for local government-NGO partnerships

Figure 4: Resource flow in government-NGO partnerships

Figure5: The partnership model

List of Abbreviations

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Chapter I: Introduction

The dissertation presents an analysis of partnership-relations between local governments and Southern NGOs (SNGOs) in developing countries, focusing on their role for poverty reduction. As a main thesis, it is argued that partnership-like cooperations between sectors on a local level can lead to better policy outcomes for the poor. This particularly refers to the function of most Southern NGOs as service providers and advocates for poor and marginalised groups in their local context. The argument mainly builds on the idea of local proximity, facilitating communication and cooperation amongst civil actors and government officials through small distances and personal contacts. For local government-SNGO partnerships to develop and achieve pro-poor outcomes, the paper proposes a close interaction on the one side, but also stresses the need for all actors to keep certain autonomy on the other. In general, the dissertation avoids any suggestions on ‘best practices’, acknowledging that partnerships are realised in many different and individual ways depending on the strategy pursued and the overall socio-political context.

Government-nonprofit partnerships need to be seen as part of intersectoral partnerships, describing the cooperation between state, market and civil society actors in a field of action where the partners share common objectives. In general, the collaboration between different sectors is nothing new and was already practiced sporadically without a specific concept or strategy in many developing countries before multilateral donors and development agencies promoted the approach. However, the basis for government-nonprofit partnerships in the development sector was established during the last two decades after a process of changing paradigms. This started with the shift from a Keynesian model of state interventionism that in most post-colonial countries failed at generating economic growth and reducing poverty, towards the market-based concept of New Public Management (NPM) from the early 1980s onwards. The market was ascribed high importance in taking over state responsibilities, while NGOs were given a small, complementary role (Sarker 2005). Finally, decentralisation and good governance reforms during the 1990s further devolved state control and responsibilities towards other political levels and institutions, thereby creating a larger space for the sectors to (co-)operate in the provision of public services. Under the ‘New Policy Agenda’ for international aid, donors primarily promoted the market-oriented Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) that promised less state control and more cost-efficient development interventions (Hulme and Edwards 1997). With the spread of the NGO sector and participatory approaches during the 1990s civil groups also gained the opportunity to engage in public services and get active in policy advocacy and lobbying (Farrington and Bebbington 1993). Especially in the field of poverty reduction, NGOs were given higher confidence as they worked closer with the communities. Subsequently, a number of development programmes and projects started to foster the cooperation between states and nonprofits, initiated by different actors ranging from local authorities to the World Bank. The best known example is probably the USAID’s “New Partnership Initiative” (NPI) that fostered joint ventures between the state, market and civil society in countries like India and the Philippines (Kalegaonkar and Brown 2000).

In the literature, the topic of government-nonprofit partnerships was first addressed in the late 1980s and beginning 1990s, mainly focusing on Western welfare states (Salamon 1987; Gidron et al 1992) and only little on the South (Farrington and Bebbington 1993). Further studies that analysed this idea more deeply in a development context, questioning the overall impact of partnerships and establishing a conceptual framework based on practical experiences, increasingly emerged from the late 1990s onwards (Hulme and Edwards 1997; Fisher 1998; Coston 1998; Najam 2000; Brinkerhoff 2002). While many of the authors stressed the role of decentralisation and local governance for poverty reduction, their research mainly referred to the national level of intersectoral partnerships. The dissertation responds to this gap in the literature. It gives attention to the local level where different kinds of partnerships between governments and Southern NGOs are examined. It covers the following three major questions that also constitute a guideline for the chapters: 1) What are the reasons for the two sectors to establish close cooperations for local development? 2) Which different forms do local partnerships take in development practice? 3) Does an ideal type of partnership exist that is more likely to contribute to poverty reduction in the communities involved?

Following this thematic introduction on local government-SNGO partnerships, the second chapter presents the underlying concepts of the approach on the basis of the current literature. The importance of empowering Southern NGOs is stated, showing that they have a crucial role as intermediaries between communities and governments. In a second step, the chapter will introduce the concept of good governance referring to the works of Tendler (1993) and Blair (2001), the latter directly focusing down to the local level. Here, the engagement of SNGOs and local governments is discussed in improving pro-poor policies. This provides the ground for studying partnerships in more detail in the following chapters. A basic understanding of the partnership approach is given in chapter three, mainly based on Brinkerhoff’s studies (2002). Starting from a definition, partnerships are analysed regarding the motivation of the actors involved, policy instruments that have an enabling and problems that have a hindering effect. Chapter four proposes a partnership model that integrates different typologies from the literature (Brinkerhoff 2002; Najam 2000; Young 2000; Clark 1997), setting the framework for the subsequent case studies. Furthermore, a set of factors is given that influence the formation and development of partnerships and the different partnership types are then applied to examples from the practice. Chapter five looks at the impact of local government-SNGO partnerships for poverty reduction, partly reffering to Hulme’s and Edward’s (1997) concern whether the actors are getting ‘too close for comfort’? Based on different case studies, the boundaries are defined for such collaboration to be successful. Finally, the conclusion takes these findings, making suggestions on the value of local partnerships for development practice.

As a methodological approach, the paper mainly combines a review of the relevant literature on the subject with a comparative approach based on case studies. In a first step, the basic ideas and concepts regarding Southern NGOs and good governance are presented by means of the basic literature. In a second step, a partnership typology is developed and specific case studies are applied in a comparative way. In a third and last step, the results from the theoretical and practical analysis are combined to qualify the hypothesis of the dissertation.

There is a clear focus, leading the analysis and argumentation of the paper. This is given in the choice of local governments and Southern NGOs. The first describes government agencies and officials on a sub-national level, for example municipalities and district governments. They are considered to be more accountable towards citizens and more flexible in their bureaucracy, therefore getting the main focus of development programs that foster civil society and participation issues. Regarding NGOs, the paper will only address local, indigenous organisations (Southern NGOs) of a medium scale, as these mainly operate in local dimensions with the capacity to interact with local authorities. Finally, the emphasis on partnership-relations goes beyond an understanding of state-civil society interaction as ‘checks and balances’ but describes the situation where both sectors work together in a win-win situation. In a normative understanding, this includes trust, accountability and mutuality (Brinkerhoff 2003, 107; Fowler, 1995; Malena, 1995), although the practice often shows a more pragmatic rationale.

Chapter II: Southern NGOs and good local governance

The following chapter bridges different ideas of local civil society and good governance in the context of poverty reduction. Here, the concepts of SNGO empowerment and improved local governance mainly provide the ground for government-nonprofit partnership approaches that are assumed to facilitate pro-poor policy outcomes.

II.1 Empowering Southern NGOs

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) represent an integral part of the international development sector. Together with the state and the private sector they constitute one major institutional development actor in the South. Thus, Western donors and development agencies attach increased importance to support their work, especially in the area of social services in the local context. Consequently, NGOs are very much present in the social life of communities as well as in the political arena in developing countries. However, when questioning the background of this phenomenon it becomes apparent that what nowadays is well established as NGOs worldwide describes a Western model, a ‘post-modern’ organisational form of civil society (Edwards 2004). In Europe and North America such concepts of civil society, seen as a separate and oppositionary entity to the state, developed over the past two centuries. Though, many societies in the South can equally look back on a long history of civil actors, associations and social movements (Edwards 2004; Lewis 2001). The adoption of the western model of civil society and the rise of NGOs in particular, nevertheless, needs to be understood as a result of late colonial policies and development assistance in post-colonial countries that regulated economic and socio-political structures, also establishing Western concepts of social organisation (Crush 1995). Examining Southern NGOs in this paper, we have to keep in mind that the concept of civil society was transferred to an environment of a different socio-political and cultural background. For this reason it becomes even more necessary to understand the specific local and cultural-historic context in which NGOs operate (Edwards and Fowler 2002; Lewis 2001).

Locating NGOs in society

NGOs form part of civil society, often referred to as the third sector since it takes a middle position between the public and the private business sector. In a liberal view, civil society establishes an “arena of organised citizens” (Lewis 2001, 45), functioning as a balance of state and market. In contrast, the radical view argues that the three sectors negotiate and clash over diverging interests and power. In this setting, NGOs describe those civil groups that are formally organised, independent from the state and that work without profit with the aim to facilitate social change (Frantz and Martens 2006). Figure 1 illustrates that these boundaries – private, nonprofit and formal – are quite loose, as they are indicating the general position of NGOs inside the third sector and in society. Accordingly, NGOs may still find themselves outside the boundaries in their activities. Thereby, the legal status of an NGO largely depends on national legislation that sets specific criteria of approval. To give an example, in Kenya NGO registration is conducted by a government coordination board, whose selection criteria mainly focuses on the organisation’s size and whether its activity is in the national interest or not (Kameri 2002). Generally, NGOs can be seen as an interest group of society, advocating local interests and needs and getting involved in the provision of social services. In its intermediary role, the sector also supports grassroots- or community-based organisations (CBOs) through their expertise, it provides access to funding and offers specific training. In this context, NGOs are seen as a direct link between community action and local policy and are thus regarded as more effective in reaching the poor (Farrington and Bebbington 1999). In the last two decades the focus of NGO activity has therefore shifted slowly from “development as delivery to development as leverage” (Edwards and Fowler 2002, 2), though most of the sector is engaged in both activities.

Figure 1: Locating NGOs in society

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Variation from: Evers and Laville (2004)

Defining Southern NGOs

‘Southern NGO’ (SNGO), also referred to as indigenous NGO, is used as a specific term for those NGOs that are situated in developing countries, mainly operating there on a local or national level. SNGOs emerged and spread mainly in response to the increased possibilities of funding, provided by donors from the 1980s onwards (Hudock 1999). Considering the diverse backgrounds of SNGOs, which developed from membership organisations, branches of Northern NGOs (NNGOs) or individual initiative, the sector shows a high heterogeneity regarding the organisations’ scale, motivation and professionalism. Accordingly, working areas are diverse and cover different functions from advocacy work to service delivery for local communities. Finally, the identity of an organisation is also shaped by its political or ideological affinity what affects its environment, partners and scale of activities (Edwards and Fowler 2002). However, a majority of Southern NGOs operate as intermediaries between the community level and other levels of society in their local environment, driven by the goal to support local development – partly by substituting government functions, partly by finding ‘alternatives’ that contrast with established government or international developmentalist interventions. Further on, SNGOs show some similarity in their organisational structure and ways of operation, largely applying Western NGO models that are supported technically and financially by their Northern development partners.

The role of SNGOs

Accordingly, SNGOs also assume the three main functions of NGOs as implementers, catalysts and partners (Lewis 2001). Their activity as implementers covers resource acquisition for and provision of (social) services as well as the strengthening of the delivery system in general through training local people, community-based organisations (CBOs) and government personnel at the local level. The catalyst role mainly describes the SNGOs work of empowering poor and marginalised people, getting active as an advocate of their interests and in this sense fulfilling a bridging function between the community and state level. As partners, the organisations work together with other development actors to improve the outcomes of projects and policies through the input of information, being contracted for implementation or as ‘full’ partners in a project. All three roles are of importance, when looking at the relationship between Southern NGOs and local authorities later on, but the main interest of the analysis regards their partnership. The dissertation will then only focus on those SNGOs that are directly involved in development work in their local environment – including community, municipality and district level – and have already obtained a certain level of capacity and expertise in their area to cooperate more closely with the local authorities.

Supporting SNGOs in poverty reduction

In the 1980s international organisations showed more and more interest in supporting civil society organisations (CSOs) in developing countries as a way of further devolving power from the government and following earlier efforts of decentralisation as well as the privatisation of public services. Today, NGOs are often seen as a substitute for the state in implementing public social welfare programmes and donors are spending a considerable amount of their budget to support this sector (Manji and O’Coill 2000). Acknowledging that most of the money primarily goes to international or Northern NGOs, in the end those funds also benefit the work of their local partner-NGOs in the South. The question arises, what caused this increasing interest and support of NGOs in the development sector? Different explanations can be found in the literature, mainly focusing on three aspects. The first refers to the poor outcomes of state-centred donor programs from the 1960s and 1970s that were followed by a neoliberal agenda of the 1980s, all in all opening space for civil society and NGOs as an alternative, more equitable and promising development concept. Second, NGOs claim to be more effective in delivering services for communities than the state, as they are closer to the local people and have a better understanding of local problems and their context. Finally, funding NGOs provide donors the possibility of avoiding corrupt governments and deliver assistance also to those countries, where official programmes have been running out (Bebbington and Farrington 1993; Lewis 2001).

NGOs and particularly SNGOs are assigned a special role for poverty alleviation in developing countries. This is due to the positive attributes that are generally associated with the work of NGOs, contrasting with the image of the public sector and its bureaucracy (Uphoff 1993). SNGOs are perceived to facilitate the participation of the poor, being locally and culturally more related, with better access to ‘local knowledge’ and supporting on-site empowerment processes. Furthermore, the expertise and availability of external funding, varying with the organisation’s field of action and professionalisation, makes SNGOs important partners in local development projects. In comparison to state institutions NGO service delivery is expected to be more cost-effective, attributed to the local proximity and low bureaucracy involved, but this idea is quite controversial and has no substantial evidence (Lewis 2001). Another positive factor certainly is that SNGOs are less sensitive to political changes, though personal linkages to local government officials may get disrupted with altering governments (Lewis 2001). Despite these assumed advantages of NGOs, it still remains questionable how far they are capable in contributing to poverty reduction in a local setting. Studies that would demonstrate the effectiveness of NGO activities in general are hard to come by. Thinking of the above described heterogeneity of the SNGO landscape this also seems inadequate.

Critiques and ways forward

When considering the close attention that is paid to NGOs in the development sector certain concerns and critiques come up. These cover issues of accountability, in particular when referring to the shift that is taking place away from local people towards Northern NGOs (NNGOs) and governments. Furthermore, the argument that SNGOs by nature represent the poor and marginalised is cast into doubt. When it comes to advocacy and lobbying, policy access and influence is mainly gained by those social groups who already obtain relative power and personal contacts to officials (Tendler 1997). In some cases, NGO leaders are partially involved in local government or even search for employment in the public sector, so that an independent process of monitoring and holding accountable cannot be guaranteed (see the Manila case study in: Shatkin 2002). On the other side, local organisations that work in a community and hold a critical view on government are rather unlikely to contribute to local policy and improve its outcomes. Often, NGOs find themselves in a complex relationship with the state, specifically in countries where civil society organisations (CSOs) emerged as an opposition to government, as for example in many Latin American states in the 1970s and 1980s (Bebbington and Farrington 1993). Therefore, when analysing the partnership of Southern NGOs with local governments and comparing different case studies in the second chapter, the underlying social background and power-issues need to be taken into account.

Studies in Latin America have shown that while many Southern NGOs focus on service delivery for the poor, only few of them have a real impact, scarcely adressing the poorest groups in society (Carroll 1992; Bebbington and Farrington 1993). Given that the advocacy role of SNGOs is considered to be the only way to improve the living standards of the poor in the long run, without any policy influence they are close to becoming meaningless (Bebbington and Farrington 1993). Although access for CSOs to local governments is provided in many developing countries nowadays as a result of ‘good governance’ programmes in the 1990s, effective changes regarding pro-poor policies and their implementation are still hard to achieve. Assuming that SNGOs have the capacity, the environment still needs to be favourable. In other words the government system besides providing mechanisms of participation needs to be opened to communicate and cooperate (Blair 1997). In order to contribute to pro-poor policies and stay independent in their partnership with state authorities, one strategy SNGOs might choose is to seek “multilayered alliances” (Lewis 2001, 47), reaching from the poor over the middle class to the elite.

Carroll (1992) reveales in her studies that those medium-scale NGOs show the most policy influence that work on a sub-national level. Personal contacts and a more flexible bureaucracy of local authorities can allow better communication and cooperation with civil society. While gaining policy influence at the national level implies the scaling-up of an NGO (often contradicting to advocacy for the poor), cooperation on the local level is more likely to produce an equal representation of social groups with positive effect on poverty reduction (Bebbington and Farrington 1993). Before analysing such a partnership, its possibilities and risks in the following chapters, the next step will be to have a closer look at the concept of ‘good local governance’, constituting the general framework.

II.2 Good local governance for ‘the poor’

Good governance as a development concept for the South partly emerged out of the negative experiences that Western donors and governments had with corrupt officials and ineffective state structures in the past. The main argument was that state bureaucracies did not have the capacity to effectively manage public utilities and that civil services were inflexible, thus not able to respond to the changing needs (Minogue et al 1998). In this context, the idea of good governance was developed and spread as a Western concept, first copying from the British and American ‘New Public Management’ (NPM) school of thought. Mainly market-based concepts such as good management, competition and effectiveness were adopted for improving the governments’ performance (Clayton 1994; Minogue et al 1998). This included the reduction of government responsibilities through outsourcing, privatisation and decentralisation, the suspension of government programs with high corruption (e.g. subsidies for industry or agriculture) and the introduction of pressures and incentives for public agencies to improve their performance (Tendler 1997). While this ‘public management’ perspective of good governance became quite popular amongst the international aid community in the 1980s, a ‘public policy’ approach emerged in the 1990s that focused more on policy processes and the inclusion of citizens (Minogue et al 1998). International institutions, the World Bank in particular, widely incorporated the idea of public management and good governance replaced the structural adjustment programs (SAPs) of the 1970s. Good governance as such became a ‘new orthodoxy’ in the development sector, being integrated in large-scale programmes on political reform and constituting a new political conditionality of many international donors (Clayton 1994).


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Title: Local Governments and NGOs in the South