Over a past few decades, the growing number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been seen throughout the world. In the less developed countries, such organisations actively perform their projects to stimulate development. It should be mentioned that there are some difficulties in examining NGO interventions relative to the state interventions. Firstly, NGOs themselves require understanding of those complexities and there are various types of NGOs depending on their purpose and activities (Table I). Secondly, it is extremely difficult to assess the impact of interventions both by the state and NGOs.
This comes from the fact that the external environment and contingent factors can be deeply associated with success or failure of the interventions, and also it is difficult for particularly NGOs to observe and report the consequence of interventions because of its financial difficulties and a lack of monitoring methods Thirdly, the purpose of interventions between the state and NGOs could be different. The state tends to be there to control and enhance its authority; therefore it does not do things to undermine their authority.
On the other hand, NGOs are there for development and sometimes to help challenge to the undemocratic authority to obtain their basic legal rights. Lastly, while the state interventions tend to focus on macro-economic planning with its large resources, NGOs’ interventions often aim at the improvement of micro-economic planning using their smallness and flexibility. Consequently, the field they are working could be different. Therefore, it is difficult to compare NGO interventions with those by the state.
However, this essay will focus on the strength of NGO intervention sin micro-economic and social development in rural areas by intermediary NGO activities firstly from theoretical perspectives and secondly in practice. Comparative Advantages of NGO interventions -Theoretical and empirical examples- Although there are various strengths of NGOs interventions relative to those of the state, this section will focus on those in terms of legitimacy and accountability, participation and capacity building, the ability to be closer to the poor and the disadvantaged, the flexibility and cost effectiveness.
One of the conceptual strengths of NGO interventions lies in its ‘people-centred’ approach, which cultivates their legitimacy. Korten (1990: 4) claims the notions of inclusiveness and justice by he means that every person must equitable have the right to determine their lives. Therefore, legitimacy resides in the people for whom intermediary NGOs try to be accountable (Ibid 69, 100) while in the state interventions, the state especially among the authoritarian regimes, decision is made among a few elites and it is ‘unrealistic’ to expect them to be accountable just to the public interests (Fowler 1997: 11).
In practice, this ‘bottom-up’ approach encourages democratic popular participation. In irrigation project in Sierra Leone, rural promoters were elected from the local (Saenz 1995: 202). Likewise in a Mexican project on cattle enterprise, people held several group meetings without any other intervention until the local’s consensus was reached about whether their cows should be for daily or fattening with the support by NGOs (Carroll 1992: 85-6). This type of meetings also helps ensure equal distribution of resources among members, as Uphill (in Fisher 1993: 169-170) notes that “it is hard to be selfish in the public.
Moreover, since the scale of NGO project tends to be small, such ‘bottom-up’ approach can help raise local people’s participation (Malkia and Hossain 1998: 29). While it is hard for the poor and the disadvantaged to participate in the governmental decision making process, NGOs can represent the people’s interests and ‘real needs’ as they gain the credibility from the community they seek to benefit since they use interpersonal methods of communication (Cousins 1991).
Participation is crucial in achieving development particularly in rural areas since local people and farmers know about their farming systems and the environment (Chambers 1992: 22-23, Clark 2002: 505), and that local knowledge will be more relevant to local needs (UNDP 2000). The comparative studies of two agricultural methods initiated by the Mexican government and a NGO concluded that the latter had 50% higher yields (Carroll 1992: 48-49) (See Table II). In China, although the government had tackled with deforestation problem in Da-Tong by giving tasks to local people to plant trees, any success could not be seen.
However, GNE* recognised that deforestation was deeply associated with poverty through the discussion with local people and encouraged them to plant apricot and walnut trees, which can survive under harsh conditions and also benefit them economically. This project was successful in the sense that it could raise the people’s participation in both the discussion and the deforestation programme, and this money has been used to run the village’s elementary school, which had suffered from a lack of facilities and resources (Kondo: 2002). What this case study illustrates is that local participation is crucial in fostering development.
The government not only lacked the knowledge of deforestation problem but also could have devastated the rural poor through further burden on the people who were already poor and did not afford to engage in non-economic activities. Not only this case but there is a tendency that the government generalises problems; accordingly its service can be limited and ineffective while NGOs are able to develop and implement projects suitable to the local condition and the area where the government hardly reaches (Schiavo-Campo and Sundaram 2000: 257).
Furthermore, this participatory development can lead to the capacity-building among the poor. Capacity-building in contrast to an immediate poverty relief is a process whereby people are empowered to bring about positive changes in their lives by tackling poverty and ultimately transforming their society (Eade 1997: 24), and this process is essential in cultivating self-sustainability. NGOs, for example, lend micro-credits to people excluded by conventional banking systems and arrange more equitable terms of repayment than the market (Bennett and Gibbs 1996: 8).
Moreover, since the volume of credits is large enough to cover their immediate needs and small enough to plan realistic repayment, this could enhance self-sustainability of the poor (Riddle and Robinson 1992: 26). In the case of India, SRHED’s* microcredit project allowed 40 women to purchase milk-producing cows and re-invest the proceeds from the milk sales (Ibid: 9). The way of development, which could lead to long-term development, is crucial and necessary for NGOs since they have time limited. However, this notion could prevent dependency while the government is there as a public institution forever (Fowler1997: 28).
Although those participatory methods and legitimacy are the important advantages of NGOs, one of the most essential comparative advantages of them is a potentiality that they can reach the poorest, the disadvantaged and the marginalized. For example, there has been an increasing number of NGOs helping the disabled who consist of 7-10% of the population in LDCs. (Kinmahorm and Ireland 1994: 63). In Southern and Eastern Africa, such NGOs has risen from 30 to 100 over the past 50 years, saving those who are otherwise killed by their families for the sake of survival in their indigenous tradition (Miles 1998: 128, 130).
Likewise using the ability to reach low-income people, Bangladeshi NGOs exclusively focus on landless men and women who were often neglected by the governmental projects through the collaboration with grassroots organisation (GRO) although the number is still a few (Lewis 1992: 14-16). In the case of FIVDB’s* duck raising project, rural poor women who have been often excluded from economic activities received technical support from FIVDB, which the government failed to provide them, and it successfully generated income to the rural women (Ibid: 19).
In Riddle and Robinson’s studies (1992: 16) showed that some NGOs’ projects could reach the poorest and benefit them with careful monitoring by giving them the small amount of money to them which was likely to use productive way. These successful results could be achieved since the scale of NGO intervention tends to be small and NGOs could proceed the projects with careful monitoring because of its local orientation while the state intervention tends to be large and bureaucratic, and is less likely to spot out the poorest and the disadvantaged disturbed by interests of the less poor and powerful.
This comparative advantage of being small can lead to flexibility in the projects (Lewis 1988: 8). The non-formal primary education programme by the BRAC** is running about 20. 000 schools in remote rural areas, with the drop-rate of 3% compared with the government’s 80% by offering flexible curriculum tailored to their seasonal agricultural working-time (Tvet 1998: 150). Furthermore, it is often argued that NGOs are cost-effective and owing to its voluntary workforce, the cost per project is generally low (Carroll 1992: 85, Fowler 1997: 28, Malkia and Hossain 1998: 29).
In Nepal, 6 dams are built at one-fourth the cost of construction of the government through the collaboration between NGOs (Fisher 1993: 167). Likewise in Bangladesh, BRAC runs the non-forma primary education programme 20-50% lower than the formal system (Karim 1995: 115). This could be attributed to not only highly motivated staffs but also the fact that less bureaucratic system allows NGOs to remain flexible and innovative in programme implementation. Comparative Advantages of NGOs interventions in practice
As is stated above, there are various comparative advantages of NGO interventions, and there are some empirical examples of NGO interventions, which show the strength of those. However, as Fowler (1988: 10-12) argues, it is just a ‘potential,’ and those empirical examples tend to be exceptional. Although NGOs may claim that they are accountable to the poor, it is possible that NGOs are more accountable to their donors unless the poor are membership ‘organisations of the poor. ‘ (Lewis2002: 520).
Due to their financial difficulties, it is possible that NGOs can sometimes find themselves responding to donors’ agenda rather than the poor (Fowler 1997: 29, Lewis 1992: 8) while the government tend to possess more resources and capacities. Moreover, although one of the theoretical strength of NGO interventions is being closer to the poor, the UNDP (in Fowler 1997: 19) estimated that NGOs have ‘touched’ only 20% of the poor in the world and spent $0. 5 per head. Also as for potential ability of empowerment of the poorest and the marginalized, there are some restrictions on NGO interventions.
Riddle and Robinson (1992: 20) argue that “gender divisions tend to be ‘reinforced’ rather than resolved” by NGO interventions because of their inability to realise structural changes and restrictions on NGOs such as time and finance. Moreover, while NGOs have a potential to raise participation and share knowledge with the poor, some practitioner, the report of the project of PRA* claimed that the project is ‘another tool that rests in the hands of a few elite professionals,’ and this led to empowerment within communities rather than that among people to challenge powerful community members (Pratt 2001: 41).
Burnell (1992: 293) argue that it is often the case that the system became bureaucratic particularly in large organisations while they have advantages in participatory methods. Therefore, the comparative advantages stated in the last section are theoretical argument, and it largely depends on NGOs themselves whether those could be realised in practice. In conclusion, although there are some difficulties to examine the strengths of NGO interventions relative to the state interventions, local participation and empowerment which become effective through enhanced legitimacy and accountability could be seen the great strength of NGO interventions.
Moreover, the size of NGO interventions enables those flexible and highly motivated staff could make those cost effective. However, those comparative advantages are still their ‘potentiality’ and successful empirical studies could be seen exceptional. The success or the failure of NGO interventions heavily depends on NGO projects. Therefore, it could be argued that the strengths of NGO interventions relative to the state interventions lie in the potentiality of NGOs, which could realise theoretical comparative advantages.