Have NGOs made a difference in the world of development?


Since the late 1970s, NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the development sector, widely praised for their strengths as innovative and grassroots driven organisations with the desire and capacity to pursue participatory and people centred forms of development and to fill gaps left by the failure of states across the developing world in meeting the needs of their poorest citizens.(Banks, Nicola with David Hulme ;2012). But over  the last 20 years, growing numbers of non-governmental organisations have diversified from service provision such as infrastructure, health care, food and education into policy and advocacy. They are being credited with considerable impacts on global processes ranging from economic development to democracy. But are these impacts actually occurring.  This blog will  address this issue.

Firstly  ( Edwards, 1995), finds that development NGOs have been influential in getting the mainstream to address the negative aspects of globalization, commit to participation and human rights as basic principles of development, and of critical global issues like climate change and poverty in Africa. Also,  across the developing world states with limited finances,  poor governance and corruption have failed to lead to development for all of their citizens.(Banks and Hulme;2008).

Within this context, alternative forms of development have been pursued, and since the 1980s non- governmental organisations (NGOs) have been increasingly advocated as a means through which the gulf between citizens’ needs and existing services can be bridged. Where states cannot provide sufficient goods, services or enabling environments that help citizens in securing livelihoods, or were disadvantaged groups are excluded from existing state institutions, alternative channels of service provision and/or holding governments to account must be found.

NGOs to some extent have made difference in the world of development as it provides an empowerment for marginalized people whose voices cannot be heard. Another example of the difference that NGOs have made in the world of development is The South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program, launched by  (UNDP) has made a big difference in the overall picture of poverty in  South Asia because the innovative has motivated the poor to stand up on their own feet.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4levLFdZChQ

However (Atack 1999), there have been a number of emerging criticisms highlighting  problems of representativeness, limitations to effectiveness and empowerment, and difficulties remaining loyal to their distinctive values, which are all undermining the legitimacy of NGOs. Some of the issues addressed are of lack of appropriate evaluation of programs, particularly when it is performed at a distance by donor agencies that may not be sensitive to local needs.

Also, when one looks beyond the short-term gains that have been made in development, there is a less positive side to the story. They have not been very innovative in finding ways to lever deep changes in the systems and structures that perpetuate poverty and the abuse of human rights. Example, development NGOs have not changed power relations on anything like the necessary scale in the crucial areas of class, gender and race (Edwards;1995).

In conclusion, I personally think that there are exceptions to all of these generalizations of whether NGOs have a difference. Criticisms aside, perceptions remain that NGOs will and must continue to play a key role in development and one of the strongest lessons to emerge from  research is that success is more likely when organizations identify a clear long-term goal at the outset and stick to it over time. ( Atack; 1999).


  1. (Andrew Rowell;CARE Australia, Asia Impact Report; 20th December 2012: asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/2012/12/do-ngos-make-a-difference-and-how-would-you-know.html (accessed 25th october)
  2. (Nicola Banks with David Hulme; The role of NGOs and civil society in development and poverty reduction; BWPI Working Paper 171: June 2012).
  3. (Michael Edwards and David Hulme , Non-governmental Organisations: Performance and Accountability Beyond the Magic Bullet; 1995),
  4. (Shirley Johnson-Lans; Do NGOs Make a Difference: A Case Study of Rural Rajasthan; July 2008).
  5. (Tabibul Islam, Press Service November 26, 1997).




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