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On whose behalf do UK-based NGOs claim to act, and who has bestowed them with that power?

Fast Forward >> #2: Who died and made you king?

30 June 2015
Author: Mayur Paul

Advocacy to tackle the root causes of poverty has always been at the heart of the work of many UK-based INGOs. At a national level, UK-based INGOs support and complement local NGOs to achieve significant policy changes.

ADD International, for example, works to promote greater inclusion for, and amplify the voice of, disabled people living in poverty. Its work has resulted in Ugandan school authorities' including and supporting students with albinism. HelpAge International is building a global movement of older people fighting for their rights both nationally through bespoke policy asks, and at a global level with a call for a UN Convention on the rights of older people.

However, the advocacy landscape is changing.

Geopolitical shifts

Bond's Fast Forward report, highlighted one of the megatrends in development is the rise of southern actors as important decision-makers. Increasingly, for example, decisions made in Delhi or Beijing have larger consequences for people in Colombo than those made in London or Geneva.

Civil society operating space

Civil society operating space is also becoming constrained in many settings. Governments of countries such as Ethiopia and China are restricting freedom of expression and freedom to campaign, and setting tight limits on the registration of new "foreign" NGOs. Fears of citizen-led unrest can lead to significant limitations for civil society. In addition to these overt constraints, UK-based INGOs may be locked into a short-term, risk-averse mindset, exacerbated by funding for 'projects'.

Legitimacy

The legitimacy of Northern actors to intervene in Southern spaces is also being questioned: on whose behalf do UK-based NGOs claim to act, and who has bestowed them with that power? Who died and made them king?

These discussions are not new, but are increasing in visibility. For example, the 2014 open letter from Civicus to activists around the world called for a more bottom-up approach in development: "Our primary accountability cannot be to donors. Instead it must be to everyone that is or has been on the losing end of globalisation and inequality and to the generation that will inherit a catastrophic future".

Join the conversation

How can UK-based INGOs be bold and creative in their aspirations for change? How can we support each other to fight for a flourishing, free and pluralistic civil society? How can we be scrupulous in avoiding inadvertently competing with local actors? How should we reconnect with our constituencies and with wider grass-roots movements that stem directly from people’s concerns? How can demonstrating effectiveness, prudent financial stewardship and transparency support our claims to legitimacy?

The Bond Advocacy Capacity Building Group will be meeting on 13 July at 3 pm to discuss these and other questions about the future role of UK-based INGOs in supporting in-country advocacy. We've got an exciting panel lined up, including advocacy experts from JCTR Zambia, Eden Stanley and Health Poverty Action. The meeting also includes the sector launch of the Eden Stanley report "Where Change Happens". Hard copies of the report will be made available. You can RSVP here (MyBond login required) or by emailing Anders Hylander at [email protected].

About the author

Mayur Paul
CARE International UK

Mayur Paul is head of communications and campaigns at CARE International