Information on NGOs


A Code of Conduct for NGOs: A Necessary Reform by Anthony Adair

NGOs occupy an increasingly prominent political role, influencing policymaking in all areas of social and economic change. They are one visible manifestation of society's recognition of the inability of governments to solve major problems by legislation or command. They are also a reflection of the realisation that people can achieve more by acting together for a common cause or interest than by leaving it to the actions of governments or individuals.

Voluntary association is one of the defining characteristics of a free society. The ability of groups of citizens to organise together in pursuit of common aims and objectives is one of the features that sets democracies apart from totalitarian and authoritarian regimes.

The number of NGOs is impossible to calculate but it is safe to say it is very large. In a detailed report published in 1995, the Commonwealth Foundation estimated that in Britain alone there are more than 500,000 NGOs, and that the turnover of the 175,000 registered charities in the UK was 17 billion pounds sterling a year. It refers to one estimate that in India alone there are 100,000 NGOs, with 25,000 registered grass-roots organisations in the state of Tamil Nadu. Obviously, they vary markedly in size, resources, focus and influence. The report quoted UN Development Program estimates that the "total number of people 'touched' by NGOs in developing countries across the world is probably 250 million," although this almost certainly understates the case if account is taken of the NGO influence on public policy making.

These NGOs exercise influence and often power in our society in ways which sometimes seem disproportionate to their memberships and the weight of their arguments, and which often run counter to the wishes of the majority. Very little is known about how many of these organisations are funded, whom they represent, how they reach their decisions, and to whom they are accountable. Voting membership is usually tightly controlled, with regular contributors and donors rarely consulted about policy, strategy or tactics. Contributors always have the right to withhold further support if they disapprove of the actions of particular NGOs, but their contributions enable such organisations to claim a mandate to speak and act on behalf of a larger number of people than their actual membership.

Consultation on Capacity Building: Horn of Africa Capacity Building Survey Support Summary

The respondents represented diverse backgrounds in terms of size, maturity, focus and scope.

Nearly half of the respondents identified core funding as their highest priority need. This reflects a common concern among indigenous NGOs, whose efforts to strengthen their institutional capacity and pursue their own priorities and goals, are severely constrained by lack of resources and a consequent need to give priority to donor interests and programmes, to obtain minimal funding for their institutional survival. With very limited financial resources of their own and lack of direct access to donors, indigenous NGOs often feel their independence to be threatened. Planning and strategic development, as such, were not place among the most identified needs. However, project and programme design and implementation were recognized as important needs by a large proportion of respondents, coming second among their priority needs. At a similar lever, they emphasized priorities of networking with other NGOs, and staff development.

These three responses reflected their perceived needs in capacity building and information-sharing, to enhance their professional effectiveness. At a slightly lower level, the need for enhanced capacity in monitoring and evaluation also reflected a felt need for improved professional capacity.

At a fourth level of priority, one-third of the respondents, stressed the need for leadership development, board development and enhancement of their capacities in policy research and analysis and local resource mobilisation. These articulations recognize the importance of strengthening their organizations internally, building their capacity to understand, and hence to influence, the environment in which they work, and to contribute to their independence by mobilizing local resources to support their efforts.

Slightly fewer than one-third of the respondents prioritized the need for enhanced capacity in financial management, drawing attention to the need of many NGOs for development of simplified, easy to operate systems to facilitate their maintenance of financial accountability.

A similar priority was accorded to networking with civil society organizations (CSOs) of various types, including, but not limited to NGOs. This reflects recognition of the fact that formally organized NGOs are a small proportion of the civil society organizations in the region and that networking and collaboration with the wider category of CSOs provides NGOs with the potential to greatly enhance the impact of their work.

Fewer than one-fifth of the respondents prioritized fundraising, reflecting the reality of a situation in which there are few potential local sources for significant fundraising, and in which local NGOs have little direct access to donors who usually prefer to use international NGOs as intermediaries.

Relatively low priority was accorded to organizational development, networking with northern NGOs and improving collaboration with donor agencies. These reflect their reaction to the existing situation in which they perceive that northern NGOs use their monopoly on direct access to donor funding to perpetuate dependency of indigenous NGOs, their belief that the capacity building offered by northern NGOs usually relates to their own priorities, rather than those of indigenous NGOs, and their perception that there is little that they can do to obtain direct access to the donor agencies.

Fewer than one-tenth of the respondents prioritized cross-sectoral collaboration with government. This reflects the existing situation in which governments in the region tend to distrust any organized groupings beyond their direct control and regard them as potential sources of political competition.

A similar level of low priority was accorded to research, documentation and perspective-building, due to the fact that most of the NGOs in the region have limited capacity in this area, and have, what seem to them, much more pressing needs.

Only one of the respondents prioritized cross-sectoral collaboration with business, reflecting a situation in which business interests have thus far developed very limited social conscious and in which, they are further constrained by their vulnerability to governments which have yet to accept the role of NGOs.

Partnership Benefits

With respect to partnership issues, the most cited benefit (by 11 of 21 respondents) was that of mutual learning from exchange of experience, while 10 of 21 cited increasing programme quality and enhancing organizational and management capacities. Next was 'increasing legitimacy with other stakeholders', mentioned by 8 of 21 respondents; and 'promoting more effective advocacy' (5 of 21). At the low end of the scale: 4 of 21 respondents mentioned increasing programme scale of impact as a benefit of partnership, and 1 cited the introduction of excellent programmes.

Most Identified Issues

The most frequently identified problems related to partnership included the need to preserve NGO mission and independence (12 of 21)--reflecting often imbalanced relationships between international NGOs controlling access to funding--and local NGOs with little access to resources and the issue of establishing mutual trust and respect (10 of 21), reflecting similar problems. IN a similar context, 9 of 21 respondents cited problems of reaching agreement about cost-sharing; 6 of 21 drew attention to difficulties of reaching agreement on programme design, and programme monitoring and evaluation. Four of 21 cited problems of reaching agreement on both basic development values and development problems.

Less-cited issues included 'creating mechanisms to resolve conflict' (3 of 21); staff incompatibilities in programmes and setting priorities (3 of 21); reaching agreement on financial systems (2 of 21); and building principled alliances and bases of partnership.

Issues of partnership and the nature of partnership with external agencies and international NGOs are of particular concern to local NGOs in the region. The influx of northern NGOs to the Horn of Africa region over more than 20 years has led to one of the highest concentrations of northern NGOs in Africa. This group, however, despite its long presence in the region, has made very limited contribution to the capacity building and development of local NGOs, a type of contribution, which is vital to genuine partnership.

Information and Communication Technologies for Improved Governance by Bhavya Lal

Governance can be defined as the process through which institutions, businesses and citizen groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help to sustain this process in three ways: (i) they can support tasks that involve complex decision making, communication and decision implementation, (ii) they can automate tedious tasks done by humans, and (iii) they can support new tasks and processes that did not exist before. When ICTs are properly aligned with governance goals, they can help to create gains in both efficiency and effectiveness.

There is tremendous African optimism that such gains can help address Africa's main governance challenge - how to solve grave economic and social crises with meager resources. Examples of well-thought applications around the world show that ICT can help to:

  1. Reduce poverty by creating a more skilled workforce and increasing the penetration of aid and subsidies to the underserved.
  2. Provide basic needs by improving the quality of healthcare, providing educational opportunities, planning for basic service delivery, and helping to improve agricultural productivity and commerce.
  3. Improve public administration by facilitating informed decisionmaking, managing the burden of foreign debt, revitalizing local economies, improving policing and public safety, improving public administration and efficiency, facilitating regional, national, and sub-national coordination and communication, improving the quality of public services, and facilitating better post-conflict reconstruction and administration.
  4. Enhance democratization and citizen empowerment by establishing an "open" online government, enhancing interactions between government and citizens, revitalizing civic institutions and public debate, and promoting equity and empowering minorities.

The enthusiasm for realizing the potential of ICTs in Africa is often dampened by the barriers to successful implementation. These barriers are imposed most often by lack of good infrastructure - both physical and regulatory - but also by lack of access to technology in rural or remote areas and to the poor and the underprivileged (generally women and minorities). Lower levels of literacy, both computer-based and otherwise, and lack of content in local languages further exacerbate the difficulties.

Nonetheless, the number of governance applications is increasing, as infrastructure and literacy levels improve, and costs drop. Most governments in Africa have Web sites, and while they are still targeted toward foreign audiences, there are signs that there is tremendous progress being made in integrating ICTs in governance applications. As the number of applications increase, there are certain lessons - derived both from successes and failures - that are coming to the fore. The most important ten lessons that have been observed in governance can be summarized as follows:

Developing economies cannot afford to experiment, or to be experimental laboratories for new technologies, or for dumping excess product.

  1. Generating returns from an ICT investment in the public arena requires major investment in training and support on part of its sponsors.
  2. Most of the challenges do not involve the technology itself, but its alignment with existing processes and the organization's strategic goals.
  3. Technology is a double-edged sword and almost always brings some challenges with it.
  4. An ICT implementation that creates information haves and have-nots, either on the basis of access or computer-literacy, will eventually fail to achieve whatever goals of governance it has.
  5. ICTs may not always bring about the desired benefits.
  6. Finally, we must make the point that ICTs are not intrinsically valuable, or even necessary for improving governance. Given Africa-specific barriers of access and education, and general barriers of technology deployment, a framework of action incorporating these lessons learned can be useful for creating applications in governance.

The Framework Can Be Summarized as Follows:

1. The first step in using ICTs as a tool to improve governance is to ignore ICTs altogether and focus on selecting and prioritizing improvement goals that are urgent or important. Once the most important goals are established, senior level policymakers must establish milestones that will indicate that the activities designed to meet these goals are on track.

2. The next step is to review alternative ICT solutions that support the activities designed to achieve the goals, given constraints on financing, infrastructure, literacy and skills. Each solution must be associated with (financial and opportunity) costs - of infrastructure, training, etc. - and benefits.

3. Once the ICT solution is accepted based on the planners' estimation of its merits and costs, a detailed workplan must be developed, with provisions for adequate training and capacity building. Again the key is to focus on strategic goals and user constraints.

4. The final step in the process is to lay the groundwork for monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and to incorporate M&E as an ongoing integral part of the process of adapting ICTs to meet needs.

The World Bank's policy centrepiece, the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF), also sees knowledge as central. Included in its vision for comprehensive national development strategies is a component to develop national knowledge strategies. Two other major projects, the Global Development Network (GDN) and the Global Development Gateway (GDG) are also very concerned with the development of knowledge strategies. Moreover, the development forum part of the World Bank's external website (http://www.worldbank.org/devforum) is one of the best sources of on-line sharing of development knowledge.

Across these initiatives, it is possible to discern a strong awareness of the possibilities that new information and communications technologies provide for multi-directional knowledge flows. There is also a stated commitment in the CDF, GDN and GDG programmes to capacity building in the South in the area of knowledge. However, there remain concerns within and outside the World Bank about the extent to which the new knowledge vision has been enacted or, indeed, whether there are a variety of visions that are sometimes in conflict with each other. In the on-line discussion of the GDG since July and parallel meetings, considerable concerns have been raised about the possibility of the GDG stressing particular versions of debates over others.

As the GDN develops, concerns have also been raised about the extent to which it privileges economics over other disciplines and, therefore, skews development thinking. The GDN Secretariat has sought to respond to this by entitling the December 2000 GDN conference, "Beyond Economics" but concerns remain about the ability of the GDN to develop a truly holistic view about development. The World Bank has sought to further its own learning through the development of thematic groups bringing together staff to discuss key thematic areas. Some of these groups do have excellent links to external groups and individuals but a perusal of the external websites of the education-related thematic groups gives an overwhelming sense of them being about synthesizing existing World Bank knowledge first, with external Northern knowledge sources a distant second and Southern knowledge sources hard to find at all. From the available lists of partner institutions, there appear to be few in the South.

How Does the New Development Discourse Affect Democracy?

The three case studies suggest that there is considerable complexity and tension around these two key themes of the new development cooperation discourse. In their most rigorous and radical forms, the new accounts of knowledge and partnership offer the possibility of a more democratic model of development. The knowledge account provides an opportunity to step back from universal theories and to explore good practices and real contexts, and for countries to develop their own approaches through adaptive learning. Moreover, it raises the possibility of a strengthening of Southern knowledge generation capacity and a more equitable process of multi- directional knowledge flows that include South to North and South to South flows.

The partnership account seeks to move away from the excessive conditionalities and donor direction of development in the 1980s and early 1990s. It promises national leadership of development strategies and goes beyond the state to incorporate a vision of active citizenship for development planning. It highlights the need for long-term relationships and planning and the need for a focus on processes and values. However, there are existing imbalances in knowledge and power that mean that new knowledge and partnership relationships cannot simply be willed into being. Inevitably, overall agency practices lag considerably behind the visionary edge of the most progressive agency documents. Moreover, organisational cultures and opposing mindsets mean that the new ways of thinking and doing are not dominant. Asymmetries of current knowledge production will be hard to overcome and political imperatives in the policy arena inevitably will cut across any attempts to build policy on good and diverse knowledge foundations. Development partnerships too are necessarily asymmetrical at the current juncture, given the huge disparity in resources and the often pressing need to receive aid. Moreover, the need by Northern agencies for quick disbursement will continue to undermine a focus on long-term processes and the careful development of partnerships and alliances for development.

Our case studies point to much that is positive in the statements and actions of these three agencies. In particular, they point to new understandings and new attitudes that seek to move away from donor dominance of cooperation towards local leadership. However, they also point to a continued tendency within agencies to push their own agendas more strongly than they listen to the needs and aspirations of others, and to come to a supposed dialogue with their minds already made up about what they will fund. It is important that agencies have visions and priorities but, as Karlsson (1997) and Gustafsson (1999) have written, trust and humility are also vital. Given the existing imbalance in power in development cooperation, such values from the Northern side are essential if democracy in development is to be a possibility.

What's New About Knowledge?: A View from Southern Africa by Aida Opoku-Mensah

African countries have invested very little in their information infrastructures, and in some cases have failed to create an enabling environment for the private sector.

What's new with knowledge? After all, it has always been central to the development of all societies, including Africa's. What's new is the fact that information today can be moved around very quickly. And this has presented all societies with challenges and opportunities. People's access to information and the level and quality of infrastructure available to them will define - to an extent - how well societies use and adapt the increased knowledge and information.

The success of Southern African countries in strengthening their national information infrastructures will be critical in determining how well people exploit knowledge. New communications technologies hold the promise of helping to increase agricultural production, deliver better health and education services, and provide more effective and participatory governance.

That's all well and good. But just how is Africa going to get there? Money is scarce for economies crippled by external debt and desperately trying to cut back social sector spending. Infrastructure equipment is scarce and, when available, expensive. Sometimes it is plain inappropriate.

On top of all this is the lackadaisical attitude of the region's political actors, most of whom do not yet have in place any of the policies or strategies needed to tackle the many communication challenges. With the exception perhaps of South Africa, countries have invested very little in their information infrastructures, and in some cases have even failed to create an enabling environment for the private sector.

Instead, it has been typically left to international organisations and local NGOs to initiate early efforts. These include connecting Africa to the Internet with financial assistance from external donors. Many countries are also hampered by the lack of transparency and accountability in their modernisation drive. The importance of telecommunications is nothing new to the World Bank either. It has been involved in the sector for many years, although loans made in the telecommunications sector only amount to 2-4 percent of all Bank lending in Africa.

All this is not to say nothing noteworthy has happened. The process of modernising basic telecommunications systems has begun and there remains plenty of room for adopting innovative technologies to suit the region's needs. Rural "telecentres" - kiosks that offer everything from computers to telephones and email services - in South Africa and Uganda are examples of innovative projects.

South African minister for posts and telecommunications Jay Naidoo recently remarked that, "African leadership must confront a major indictment against us. Two years from the next millennium there are 700 million people on the continent and only 12 million have access to a telephone, five million in South Africa alone.

"A key policy requirement is the achievement of a national communications infrastructure, essential for social and economic activity. This is important in a world where reliable and speedy communication is vital to the success of rapidly globalising trade, industry and services."

NGO's and Official Donors by Overseas Development Institute

In the 1950s and 1960s, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and official donors tended to pursue different development agendas. Beyond support to emergencies, they were usually disinterested in each other's activities and occasionally suspicious of the other's motives. This began to change from the early 1970s when most donors followed the earlier example of countries such as Norway and Canada in directly supporting NGO development programmes. The shift of official funding towards NGOs accelerated in the 1980s. Part of this shift is explained by the growth in emergency assistance in the period but it also reflected a growing recognition of the role of NGO programmes in meeting official aid objectives in areas such as poverty reduction, environmental conservation, health and education.

This Briefing Paper focuses on the various, and changing, ways in which NGOs interact with official donors and discusses possible new directions in the relationship between NGOs and donors. The emphasis is upon development activities, rather than emergency assistance and relief.

One of the most tangible indicators of growing interaction has been the change in the quantity of funds official aid agencies channel to and through NGOs for their development activities. Figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that the total amount of official aid going to NGOs for development in 1992/93 was US$2.2bn, while data from the World Bank put the 1992 figure at $2.5bn. Why do these figures seriously underestimate actual flows?

The financial contribution of donors to NGO development activities is commonly presented in terms of two ratios:

  1. The contribution of official aid funds to total NGO income.
  2. Published OECD data suggest that in aggregate about 5% of all official aid is now channeled to NGOs. Not only are these figures an underestimate, but they fail to capture wide variation among different donors in the share of official aid going to and through NGOs.

Also of importance has been the pace at which donors have increased the funds they channel to NGOs. For instance, in the ten years to 1993/94, the United Kingdom increased its official funding of NGOs by almost 400% to 68.7m, raising the share of total aid channeled to NGOs from 1.4% to 3.6%. In the same period, Australia increased its official funding of NGOs from A$20m to A$71m, raising the share of total aid going to NGOs from 1% to 6%. Similar expansion occurred in the case of Finland, Norway and Sweden from the early 1980s to the early 1990s.

Funding Arrangements

In terms of donor-NGO funding arrangements, there are variations across countries. In Australia, there are 32 different funding mechanisms through which NGOs can obtain funds from the Government. However, the dominant type of NGO activity funded by donors today remains projects and programmes put forward for funding by the NGOs themselves, and utilised for projects and programmes in particular developing countries. In the United Kingdom, this is through the Overseas Development Administration's (ODA) Joint Funding Scheme; in Sweden, through the NGO Programme; in Finland, through the NGO Support Programme. Additionally, a small proportion of donor funds are channeled through a range of international NGOs, while most bilateral donors have also provided funds to NGOs specialising in sending volunteers abroad, and to NGOs working on education and information initiatives within donor countries.

All donors have introduced criteria to determine the eligibility of potential projects put up for funding: some use sectoral specialists to review project proposals, others provide funds almost on a self-monitoring basis within general guidelines. Donors vary, too, in the share of total project costs which donors are willing to fund, from 50% or less (the UK) to 75% and upwards (Finland, Sweden). Donors have also differed in the relationship between the level of funds requested by the NGOs and the official funds available: some parliaments (Sweden) have, until very recently, repeatedly voted more funds each year than there are projects available to fund. Others (such as the UK) have to reject a high proportion of projects, because of a shortage of total funds allocated.

Different donors have also applied varying degrees of conditionality on the non- project funds they provide for NGO work. In contrast to the United Kingdom, which has stringent conditions attached to official funds used for development education and information work, other donors, such as the Scandinavians, have a more permissive approach and even provide funds for activities and campaigns critical of official aid policy.

The Role of NGOs in Donor Programmes

What all these particular funding schemes have in common is that they are official contributions to the NGOs' own development projects and programmes. Increasingly in recent years, however, NGOs have been co-opted to assist official aid agencies execute donors' own projects and programmes. For these types of initiative it is usual for donors to contribute all the funds required to execute these particular projects effectively on a 'sub-contract' basis. Although aggregate data on the amount of official funds channeled to these types of initiative have not been gathered, country studies conducted by the ODI indicate that, in recipient countries with a large and growing NGO presence, 5% and more of total bilateral aid funds are commonly used for these NGO sub-contracted initiatives.

There are three factors, which have influenced donors to utilise the skills and services of NGOs to help further their own agenda.

  1. First, donors have been using NGOs to support their emergency and relief activities for some time, so providing funds for NGO development projects has often been viewed as a natural progression.
  2. Second, poor performance of official donor programmes in reaching the poor and carrying out successful rural development projects in the late 1960s and 1970s, married with the clear popularity of NGOs for their work in the fields of education and health, and claims by NGOs that they were able to reach the poor and improve their lives, has led donors to turn to NGOs to help them achieve a greater poverty focus in their own aid programmes.
  3. Third, and relatedly, donors have seen NGOs as a means of getting around obstacles to aid impact caused by inefficient and corrupt governments, as well as a way of reaching people in those countries where they had suspended official aid programmes.

Official Donors and Southern NGOs

Historically, most official funds have gone to support the work of NGOs based in donor countries, even though the bulk of the funds have been spent in developing countries. An early reason for this was that there were few viable, and effective, indigenous NGOs. Yet over the past 15 years there has been rapid growth in the number, as well as the capabilities of NGOs based in developing countries: southern NGOs.

The growth of southern NGOs has varied from country to country but, in general, effective southern NGOs emerged earliest in south and east Asia (such as Bangladesh and the Philippines) and in a number of countries in Latin America such as Chile, Brazil and Nicaragua. Only in the last ten years has there been a rapid growth in the number and importance of indigenous NGOs in Africa and their influence varies markedly across countries.

The donor view which saw increasing merit in working through NGOs, together with the growing strength of southern NGOs, has led more and more donors to supplement their support of northern NGOs with direct funding of southern NGOs. Such donor-NGO initiatives became prominent in the early 1980s and have continued to expand thereafter.

In 1988, the ODA channeled 3.4m to 40 Bangladesh health-related NGOs under the Bangladesh Population and Health Consortium, and over a five year period to 1993 has provided over 5m to a large NGO in Bangladesh, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The United States, Canada, Norway and Sweden are amongst the leading bilateral donors who have all channeled substantial funds to local NGOs, with a heavy concentration in south Asia. The EC and the UNDP have been among the leading multilateral agencies to fund southern NGO activities.

Mirroring the support given to northern NGOs, official funding of southern NGOs has taken two forms: the funding of initiatives put forward by southern NGOs, and the utilisation of the services of southern NGOs to help donors achieve their own aid objectives.

Early moves by donors to fund southern NGOs directly have often been viewed with misgivings by northern NGOs. Yet when donors have embarked on this type of initiative in consultation with their home-based NGOs, and especially when they have used the experience of northern NGO personnel on the ground to assist these direct funding initiatives, the process has often stimulated northern NGOs to assess their own comparative advantage and has been welcomed.

Donor funding of southern NGOs has received a mixed reception from recipient governments. Clear hostility from many non-democratic regimes has been part of more general opposition to any initiatives to support organisations beyond the control of the state. But even in democratic countries, governments have often resisted moves seen as diverting significant amounts of official aid to non-state controlled initiatives, especially where NGO projects have not been integrated with particular line ministry programmes.

The Rise of the Reverse Agenda

The growth in official donor support to NGOs has not always been welcome to NGOs. Reluctance by many northern NGOs to accept large amounts of official aid funds has been based on two mutually-reinforcing ideas: that their development approach was qualitatively different from that of the official aid agencies, and that, as donors continued to apply conditions to funds channeled to NGOs, a rise in donor funding would increasingly be likely to compromise the integrity of NGO approaches to development.

Using NGOs to help achieve donors' own aid objectives only heightened these concerns, though the degree of concern has always varied across different donor countries. For example, in most Scandinavian countries, NGOs have received from the state upwards of 80% of income for their projects and most have not felt their integrity threatened as a result. Some major US NGOs, on the other hand, have refused to consider official funding.

Though NGO anxiety about being over-run by the official donor agenda has persisted, the growing role and status of NGOs has fueled a different phenomenon, increasingly referred to as the reverse agenda. This is the process whereby the approach and methods of the NGOs are now influencing the activities and perceptions of donors and official aid programmes, in some cases as a direct result of donors seeking out NGO ideas.

There are a number of ways in which this has manifested itself. For instance, some of the characteristics of the 'NGO approach' to development participatory planning, assessing a gender dimension, and concern with the environment have gradually been incorporated into mainstream donor thinking. Additionally, some donors (such as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway) regularly seek out the views of NGOs in drawing up particular official bilateral aid programmes: Norway did this in 1993 for their programmes in Ethiopia and Nicaragua. Of particular interest has been the willingness of the World Bank (which has often attracted the hostility of NGOs) to engage in discussions with NGOs and to include some NGOs in the implementation of World Bank projects.

NGOs and the World Bank

The World Bank has been subject to sustained criticism by some major NGOs in recent years over its handling of economic policy conditions attached to its structural adjustment loans, especially in Africa, and of its involvement in large projects, such as the Arun Dam in Nepal, which antagonise environmental groups. These twin pressures culminated in a `Fifty Years is Enough' campaign by some environmental and developmental NGOs to coincide with the Fiftieth anniversary of the World Bank. Yet this public criticism serves to disguise a growing interaction between the World Bank and NGOs.

Until the late 1980s, NGOs played a relatively minor, and indirect, role in the work and activities of the World Bank. In the period 1973 88, NGOs were involved in only 6% of total World Bank-financed projects. Yet by 1990, NGOs were making a direct contribution to 22% of all World Bank-financed projects, and by 1994 to over 50%. Interaction with NGOs is actively encouraged not only in implementation but in the design and planning of projects. Another change has been the World Bank's growing involvement with southern NGOs in its projects. Thus whereas in the period 1973 91, 40% of NGOs involved with the World Bank were international NGOs, by 1994, indigenous NGOs represented 70% of NGOs involved in World Bank-financed projects.

At present, however, and in contrast to most bilateral donors, there are few mechanisms through which NGOs receive funds from the World Bank. Of greatest importance to NGOs are the World Bank's Social Funds, which channel resources to demand-driven sub-projects proposed by public, private or voluntary organisations. However, in July 1995 an initiative was announced which could further enhance the role of NGOs in relation to World Bank funding. The Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest of the Poor (CGAPP) is, according to the World Bank, designed to `promote the replication and growth of NGO-managed programmes that provide financial services to the poor'. The World Bank has provided an initial capital of US$100m and other donors together are expected to contribute at least as much. The CGAPP will focus on so-called `micro-loans' to the informal sector which were pioneered by NGOs and remain a major part of their activities.

Of particular importance is World Bank-NGO interaction in the area of policy discussion and debate. Although an NGO-World Bank Committee was formed in the early 1980s to provide a forum for policy discussion between World Bank and NGO staff, until recently there was little sign that mainstream World Bank policies were influenced by these exchanges.

In recent years, however, the World Bank has joined other donors in exposing itself to both NGO gender and participatory rural appraisal approaches; NGOs have been included in consultations on early drafts of World Bank reports and, although in a more limited way, NGO personnel have been invited to join World Bank economic mission teams.

While both sides would acknowledge that there remain areas of disagreement, both would probably also acknowledge that the degree of interaction and the potential for policy change resulting from World Bank-NGO interaction is much greater today than hitherto.

The Further Expansion of a Common Agenda?

A direct effect of the growing influence of the reverse agenda has been to increase the common ground between donors and NGOs. No longer is it easy to talk of distinct differences between NGO and donor approaches to development.

One manifestation of a growing common ground has been the way that most donors have broadened their aid objectives. Thus, most donors now include poverty alleviation, concern with the environment and enhancing the status of women as major aid objectives. Perhaps of even greater importance is that most donors now view action to enhance human rights and democratic processes as a constituent part of their development agenda. Additionally, many donors have taken up 'strengthening civil society' as a specific aid objective. This is doubly beneficial to NGOs both because NGOs are seen to constitute an important part of civil society, and because one of the core objectives of NGOs has been to work to 'empower' poor people, especially by strengthening the organisations to which poor people belong.

One concrete result of a growing overlap of objectives is that donors themselves are now increasingly willing to bring those projects and programmes, which for a long time were typically initiated by NGOs, within the umbrella of official aid. It is now not uncommon for donors to take over (and often expand) the funding of projects in the developing countries which were started and have been funded by (usually northern) NGOs.

Though these examples provide evidence of a widening cluster of initiatives where it is no longer possible to make a strong and clear distinction between donors and NGOs in terms of project approach and execution, it is important not to press the common agenda argument too far. Thus a number of NGOs, including a high proportion of the long established and larger northern NGOs and a growing number of southern NGOs, remain wary of these recent developments and are still concerned to maintain their distance from donors. Some argue that the growing convergence of the NGO and official aid agenda could well turn out to be more a convergence of language about development than convergence in the overall approach to development. In particular many large international NGOs remain extremely critical of donors' support for economic policy reform (or structural adjustment) programmes.

The Future

The common ground between donors and NGOs can be expected to grow, especially as donors seek to make more explicit their stated objectives of enhancing democratic processes and strengthening marginal groups in civil society. However, and in spite of a likely expansion and deepening of the reverse agenda, NGOs are likely to maintain their wariness of too close and extensive an alignment with donors.

In aggregate, the direct funding of southern NGOs by donors, now emerging as a significant form of interaction, is likely to expand in the next few years, even though some donors (such as Norway) may not follow this trend.

Ironically, this expansion could well be accompanied by greater involvement of northern NGOs and northern NGO personnel, by contracting them to help administer and monitor the impact of such funds. This is in part because many officials of donor agencies often do not have the skills and expertise necessary to liaison effectively with the often small and dispersed organisations, which make up the southern NGO 'community'. It might be assumed that these trends will result in increased funding of NGOs by donors in the years ahead.

For growing numbers of northern NGOs, such an expansion would help to compensate for what appears to be falling aggregate income from private (non-official) sources (down to $5.4bn in 1994, compared with $6bn in 1992). However a new, if very recent, phenomenon is that some donors who have provided large amounts of money to NGOs (Canada, Sweden and Finland) have announced cuts of 10% or more. In contrast, USAID intends to channel 40% of its bilateral resources through NGOs by the end of the century, up from 34% in 1994. In general, however, where donors have started to cut aid to NGOs, this has mainly been due to overall pressure on, and often absolute cuts in, the aggregate aid budget, in some cases reflecting doubts about the entire aid enterprise in the post-Cold War era.

Together these differing trends may enable donors and NGOs to cooperate even more closely than in the past. If a deeper sense of mutual interests and mutual purpose between donor agencies and NGOs does emerge, this might lead NGOs to devote less energy and fewer resources to criticising those aspects of the donor agenda they dislike, and more to building and widening the common ground they increasingly share.

New Communications Technologies are Revolutionising Access to Information

The spread of these technologies represents other equally important changes. The spread of information technologies represents a huge growth in people-to-people communication, in effect a decentralisation of communication away from government and towards individuals. Old vertical patterns of information, symbolised by the old state monopoly broadcasting systems, are giving way to more dynamic, less predictable and much less controllable horizontal systems of communication. Political systems can no longer control the information their citizens receive, nor monitor or constrain how they communicate with each other. The capacity not just for North-South communication but for South-South communication is being transformed as people in different developing regions forge new relationships and alliances.

In short, those with access to these technologies are becoming more powerful and those who lack access are likely to become increasingly marginalised - politically and economically.

Nevertheless, while the benefits of these new knowledge networks will reach many - and not just the rich - they are unlikely to reach the poor and could further skew power structures against them.

Take the Iridium system of 66 satellites which promises to deliver state of the art telecommunications from any one point on the planet to any other - a potentially ideal technology for many developing countries. When Panos interviewed people in the poverty stricken and flooded province of Bihar in India, most were enthusiastic about the potential of such a system and about the fact that Iridium had set up a fund to provide cheap calls to some regions. But others were deeply worried. "We are fighting against the rich landlords who have grabbed thousands of acres of land, as well as against the criminal gangs which have mushroomed in this locality. This facility, if it becomes available, will only help the rich and the criminals." So says Deepak Bharti of Lok Shakti Sangathan, the "People's Power Organisation". "They are the users of cellular phones today, and will use satellite phones tomorrow. We will not. It is they who will be able to afford them and not us. And they will be used against us, to undermine us. What guarantee is there that the notorious Karia and Pappu criminal groups will not be having access to them? None whatsoever," he warns.

Improved and cheaper telecommunications could generate rural employment, could greatly enhance the integration of the rural with the national economy, improve living standards, ameliorate feelings of isolation, and potentially stem the steady migration of people from the countryside to the cities.

It could also increase the gap between the poorest and the rest of society. Like anything else, these technologies in themselves are neither beneficent nor malevolent. Deploying them in ways that benefit the poor requires imaginative local policymaking, which reflects the priorities of all sectors of society. That requires informed, constructive public debate.

Knowledge and Development: A View From Eastern Africa by Melakou Tegegn

The survival of humans has been based entirely on knowledge systems. Pastoralists are struggling to retain their knowledge system, which is under siege from a tide of modernisation that dismisses their system as backward or primitive.

The World Bank talks about the "knowledge gap" between the North and South and considers it to be a serious handicap in the process of development. It is right, but it is only part of the knowledge story. For not only are there knowledge gaps, but there exist different knowledge-systems.

Knowledge-systems other than the dominant discourse need to be recognised not just as knowledge-systems per se, but as things that could be pivotal to the preservation of the environment and ensuring means of existence for the great many people who live on the edges of a rapidly modernising world.

We appear to be moving towards a situation where a huge proportion of the information and communications industry - media (broadcast and print), film, telecommunications and advertising - is owned by a handful of global conglomerates. The power of such conglomerates is obvious, but their cultural influence is less clear cut. Many argue that they are responsible for a global dumbing down, a "McDonaldisation" of programming with Kenyan and Indonesian audiences being served by the same media diet of Jurassic Park, Oprah Winfrey and the Clinton sex fiasco. Others believe that the professional standards and dynamic competition introduced by the likes of STAR TV in Asia have reinvigorated staid national media.

And such concentration may not matter - it may be balanced by the limited, but nevertheless very real increase in people to people communication facilitated by new information technologies.

Unlocking the Vast Potential of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) for Development by H.E. Dr. Makarim Wibisono

Information and communication technologies have always been essential for the promotion of development whether such knowledge was derived from the centuries old endowment of indigenous practices or from the latest cutting-edge technologies. Today, the technologies of the information and communication revolution are those at the cutting edge and their applications offer momentous opportunities for development. They present the developing countries with enormous opportunities and challenges, not only for accelerating their development but also in helping to bridge the economic and prosperity gaps between them and the developed countries. It also presents the developing countries with a unique opportunity to leap-frog onto a higher level of development. Some developing countries have in fact made significant strides in embracing and accessing the opportunities and applications of the new information and communication technologies.

Yet, billions still live untouched by the digital revolution. Only 5% of the world's population can claim connectivity and the greater majority of these are from the developed countries. Yet, only those countries with a significant level of development have been in a position to take advantage of the new opportunities. For the majority, the new low cost technology represents a double-edged sword. On the one hand it holds out unprecedented opportunities for rapid development, but on the other, such technologies raise the level of competition too high for their current capabilities. Rather many developing countries are being bypassed as the tidal wave of the information revolution relentlessly sweeps across the world, thus running the increasing risk of being marginalized in the race for knowledge. As a result, the gap between the developed and developing countries is being further aggravated by a worsening digital divide and it holds ominous consequences for employment levels, under-development and poverty. This adverse scenario could also lead to increased national and international tensions and instabilities.

We must therefore ask why and how we should redress this worsening situation. Part of the reason I believe, is that, while ICTs have vast potential for development, the reality is that to harness these forces for promoting development is a formidable and complex task that few developing countries have found a successful formula for overcoming. First, there is the formidable expense of connectivity. These cost factors tend to inhibit the spread of information and communication technologies and undermine their universal usage. Moreover, while it may be true that certain development problems can be resolved through technological leapfrogging without having to rise through the traditional stages of development, it is also true that access to such solutions presupposes a relatively high level of development, which many developing countries simply do not have. Unless there is affordable and equitable access and adequate connectivity for the peoples of the developing countries, the prospects of effectively participating in the knowledge economy are anything but optimistic.

Other obstacles also proliferate. Without the requisite human and institutional capacities, the framework and skills required for utilizing ICTs including such applications as the internet will remain wanting, making usage all but impossible. In addition, without linguistically and culturally diverse digital content and material, a large portion of people, especially in developing countries, will be unable to understand and digest what is being offered. At the same time, concerns about security and privacy, cultural intrusion and the loss of revenues to e- commerce have become rampant.

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