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Empowering collaborative communities

Future Directions for INGOs

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INGOs have been praised and criticized during the various international development movements.  Among the praises include Islam and Morgan, “NGOs interventions are . . . flexible, innovative, efficient, and low cost for promoting participation and to transfer appropriate technologies to fulfill local needs” (2012, p.56).  Among the criticism are INGOs have little legitimacy, credibility, and scale.  Barber & Bowie state three solutions to the current problems with INGOs, (a) education of donors and volunteers, (b) subscription to the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) International guidelines for accountability to beneficiaries, and (c) partnerships with CSOs and national governments (2008).  These three solutions suggest future directions for researchers of empowerment theory as it relates to community development: (a) education of donors and volunteers on community assets, (b) beneficiary self-efficacy and agency, and (c) INGO government partnerships.

Community assets. First, donors, volunteers, and INGO practitioners should be educated on Gonzalez, Moll, and Amanti’s (2005) funds of knowledge approach to education development as it relates to empowerment.  Rather than asking what a group doesn’t have, Moll emphasizes asking what a group does have.  Moll also suggests that (a) learning ethnography, describing ethnic groups, and (b) reflexivity, being aware of one’s assumptions, are important not only for researchers but also community workers (cited in Bransford et al., 2006).  Learning about the community and being sensitive to one’s own subjectivity can help reduce enculturation, and keep INGO practitioners focused on what the community has and what the community wants rather than the practitioner’s preconceived ideas (Gaudio, 2013).  INGO workers must also be aware that poverty and development are socially constructed paradigms situated within time and culture.  Hickey and Mohan explain the importance of understanding one’s subjectivity in order to, “look for alternative value systems so that the poor are not stigmatized and their spiritual and cultural ‘assets’ are recognized” (2003, p. 38).

Taking this approach one step further, communities can move beyond the outside organization’s ability to empower the community to the community’s ability to sustain growth. Sustainable community development, also called sustainable enterprise, has the potential of keeping accountability with beneficiaries and not donors. Sustainable development theory is most often associated with the environment but can also refer to financial self-sustainability of an NGO or community.  While there are seemingly no critics of protecting the future of our environment in the international development community, there are critics of the slower pace of growth that regulations could cause (Iriye, 2002).  A criticism of self-sustainable development is that focusing on money distracts NGOs from their services.  These critics believe that NGOs should focus on their mission and not on business (Valderrama & Coscio, 1998 cited in Pearce, 2000).  “The World Bank (2006, pp. 5-8) commented that the public image of the NGOs reflected an illegitimate shift into for-profit activity, with low service quality and only limited development impact” (Islam & Morgan, 2012, p. 371).  Whether fundraising or sales, NGOs always had to have an eye on financial resources. Sustainable community development is a growing model and more research on this model is needed in the future (Underwood, Blundel, Lyon, & Schaefer, 2012).

Self-efficacy and agency.  Accountability to beneficiaries keeps the focus on the communities and not the donors.  The end goal is for donors to disappear and communities to develop sustainable solutions.  In order for INGOs to disappear, the community must progress in the four dimensions of power.  The INGO needs to focus on the fourth dimension: building the efficacy of the community members.  Efficacy is confidence in one’s ability to successfully complete a job (Perry, Turner, & Meyer, 2006).  If members of the community know what to do, have the power to do it, and believe that it is possible, the members have empowerment and efficacy.  However, if the members of the community do not believe that they can succeed, then they may not be motivated to invest the time or money necessary to achieve success (Perry et al., 2006).  Again, taking this theory further is the idea of agency.  Communities must move beyond having the power to exerting the power (Sloan, 2013).  According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, agency is “the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agency).  Moving beyond empowerment to agency is the second place further research should be carried out.

INGO Partnerships. Third, INGO partnerships with in-country organizations and governments offer a means of remaining true to the beneficiaries’ cultural values.  Partnerships for this study are defined as “a joint commitment to long-term interaction, shared responsibility for achievement, reciprocal obligation, equality, mutuality and balance of power” (Fowler, 2000 p. 3).  Partnerships create an equal platform that allows for critique of INGO policy, approaches, or programs and offer a safe place to communicate contrasting or conflicting viewpoints and to address social or political barriers.  While INGOs can take the time to learn about the different cultures and ethnicities of the people they serve, it can be hard to see one’s own assumptions and culturally embedded values.  Being sensitive to cultural differences is especially important in community development because there are two pathways to human development.  The industrialized Western view is called individualistic and the non-Western view called sociocentric (Greenfield et al., 2006).  “With origins in both developmental psychology and anthropology, this parsimonious theory posits two idealized developmental pathways: one emphasizing individual identity, independence, self-fulfillment, and standing-out; the other emphasizing group identity, interdependence, social responsibility, and fitting in” (Greenfield et al., 2006, pg. 676).  These two pathways lead to human development, but the two outcomes look very different in the two communities.  Without being sensitive to cultural differences, a development worker could easily jump the fence from empowerment to enculturation.  INGOs can avoid enculturation by distributing the role of expert cross-culturally.  Moore and Stewart (1998) recommend INGOs can also avoid competing with CSOs and gain “economies of scale through collectively providing services within the NGO sector” (Pearce, 2000,p.25).  While the literature is in place that supports partnerships in theory, research on successful practice needs to be conducted to ensure a future of thriving INGO and government partnerships.


Author: 4 the World

4 the World identifies and collaborates with communities across the globe to empower them to identify and solve the most pressing needs of their communities within the areas of health and education. By partnering with the communities in these areas, we provide critical support and capacity-building initiatives to ensure these communities are capable of continuing to grow and thrive in the future.

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