Need for clear Govt policy
The Issue: Should civil society and NGOs be playing a greater role in the country’s economic development?
THE?WORLD?BANK defines non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development”.
However, the term can be applied to any non-profit organization independent from government. NGOs are typically value-based organizations which depend, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service.
According to the World Bank, NGO’s have several strengths – including strong grass-root links, the ability to innovate and adapt, participatory methodologies and tools, long-term commitment, and emphasis on sustainability and cost-effectiveness.
However, they often have weaknesses – including limited financial and management expertise, limited institutional capacity, low levels of self-sustainability, isolation/lack of inter-organizational communication and/or coordination, small-scale intervention, and a lack of understanding of the broader social or economic context.
These challenges notwithstanding, as Barbados Family Planning Association executive director George Griffith said in the August 30, 2010 BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY, the NGO sector is indispensible to the continued growth, development and viability of countries across the world. Barbados and its socio-economic development is no exception.
“The international community, including United Nations agencies, developed countries and multinational funding agencies, usually accords a higher priority rating to developing countries which support and facilitate the establishment and maintenance of a vibrant NGO sector.
“We are fortunate in this country to have a number of well-established and well-administered NGOs which, with few exceptions, have rich histories, impressive track records, are well respected and have been supported by successive governments and the public at large over many years,” Griffith said.
He noted that “it is to be regretted yet clearly understood that because they are not profit-driven, this sector would almost always be in need of state and private sector support since the services they render are very important if not essential to the maintenance of a well-balanced society”.
Griffith added that in this period of economic stringency when enormous pressure is being placed on the public purse, every effort must be made to ensure that socio-economic development gains are not reversed as a consequence of reallocating resources to the disadvantage of the NGO sector generally.
He said the international community places great value on the global NGO sector and its capacity to implement projects and programmes with high levels of efficiency and effectiveness.
“So great is their confidence that humanitarian assistance programmes provided to governments across the world are usually conditional upon the NGO sector’s assuming the role of executing agency. Poverty alleviation, maternal and child health, and a wide range of other social development-assistance projects and programmes achieve higher levels of output when conducted by NGOs or when done in collaboration with this sector,” he said.
In the December 17, 1999 WEEKEND NATION, NGO development specialist Shelley Weir called for a clearly defined policy for Government to work with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the interest of social development. She recommended a change in Government’s attitude towards these organisations which is “paternalistic” rather than one of “partnering”.
“The dilemma I see here in Barbados, though it is probably the case in many other developing countries, is that on the one hand there is no clearly defined policy for Government to work with NGOs, ensuring that their inputs form an integral part of policy-making decisions.
“On the other hand, in too many cases NGOs do not see themselves as major contributors to our social development, rather as a group of ‘do-gooders’,” she said.
Weir believed that for NGOs to make a difference in society, they must maintain their autonomy and independence. “The rise of NGOs is not accidental but a response to economic and political thinking. Development policy and aid transfer for the last 15 years has been dominated by what is termed the New Policy Agenda.”
She said this agenda is driven by beliefs that governments should minimise their direct role in the economy through enabling private provision. She added that in the provision of welfare services, NGOs are considered to be more cost effective in reaching the most vulnerable in the society.
“Even though there is no empirical evidence, the consensus is that NGOs are more cost effective than government in providing services and certainly less bureaucratic,” she said. Weir said NGOs need to address issues of vision, mission and strategy if they are to progress. Therefore, she said, organisations need to focus on addressing issues of policy in relation to staffing, internal programming and resources, and defining external positions that are consistent with the overall thrust of NGOs as an institution in civil society.