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Characteristics Of International Non Governmental Organizations Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 5006 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The first section addresses the classification and main characteristics of International Non-governmental Organizations, and provides some details about the background of the topic. The second section covers International Development Assistance in Palestine, and the third section defines the terms: Accountability, Stakeholders and Beneficiaries. These definitions will set the foundation for the core arguments of this thesis.

2.1 Definition and main characteristics of International Non-governmental Organizations

Civil society is characterized as being the entity that exists in-between governments and private citizens that can act regionally or globally, through non-profit organizations, to define the principles that regulate social life. Scholte termed it best as: "the arena outside of the state and above the individual" (Scholte 2006, 30). An example of a civil society organization is the INGO, which merges public service with private activity, providing community services that governments would like to offer, but cannot, due to the scarcity of required resources (Shamina and Potter 2006, 2). The term "NGO" was first used in the UN charter in 1946 (Shamina and Potter 2006, 21). This fact displays a point in the history of NGOs in which they were becoming more generally accepted. Having already been highly established in society, the term must have been generally in use.

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For the purpose of this thesis, an INGO is defined as a not-for-profit organization, separate from governments, that seeks to advance a certain aspect of public concern through transnational actions. INGOs, are voluntary bodies, functioning in an international space. They seek to advance core goals that are potentially communicated through normative commitments mission statements, values, vision statements, theories of change, etc.) to enhance the public good, ( Fogarty 2011)

INGOs may carry out many different types of activities, from bigger projects (multi-million dollar funding, multi-year execution timelines, and national- or regional-scale outreach) to smaller projects (targeting one specific community or a minority population, with costs of less than $100,000 USD and limited objectives) in similar areas to that in which a government or developed state's private sector would normally function. For example, an INGO may offer health care services in a state where the government cannot provide sufficient services. These programs could range from building medical centres to training health care workers to develop effective ways to enhance maternal and child health systems in a particularly challenging environment, such as a war zone.

The term INGO can be obscure, because its name describes mostly what it is not (it is non-governmental) rather than what it is. The term carries different meanings from different viewpoints. For some, it is synonymous with the "aid industry", or an effective tool or program that enables donors to provide international development funds to developing countries. For others, the INGO is seen as: "vehicles for privatizing foreign assistance, making it less accountable to either government authorities or local people because of a lack of clear governance structures for NGOs" (Lewis and Wallace 2000).

To others, INGOs are grassroots organizations that identify with community actions or service organizations that work more efficiently than governments, though with restricted authority authenticity. More recently they have been seen as international policy actors, especially in the arenas of human rights and environmental protection. INGOs have also come to be seen as providing more progressive alternatives to deep-seated problems such as poverty, than conventional bureaucratic political mechanisms can provide.

INGOs play many different roles: humanitarian relief, social and economic development, advocacy and lobbying, public education, agenda-setting and monitoring other transnational actors. Some scholars group these actions into "naming, framing, blaming and shaming" (Shamina and Potter 2006, 37). Prominent INGOs are engaged in most, if not all of these actions. This is because INGOs cannot operate with stand-alone projects, and their actions frequently have a broader social and political effect.

In order to accomplish their larger idealistic missions and provide outcomes, such as environmental protection or poverty alleviation, they must act on all possible levels, linking with all actors involved (Lewis and Wallace 2000, 10). Much of the discussion about accountability to beneficiaries has targeted humanitarian relief. But, for this thesis, the role of INGOs' actions in general, either through humanitarian relief or social and economic growth, will be examined, since in these roles INGOs are assumed to bring benefits to beneficiaries directly.

INGOs carry out both projects and programs, and while these terms are very similar, it is worth examining the difference. These terms vary mainly in terms of the size of the activities performed. A program means that fewer activities are performed, generally over a shorter time interval than a project. A project is larger, including a variety of activities that are generally more diverse in opportunity and unfold over many years.

INGOs function in an environment of rapid change. The international political and economic environments are constantly changing as well as our attitudes towards the work performed by INGOs. These organizations are challenged to constantly adjust and innovate in order to fulfil the demands of a changing world around them. They are at once being formed by globalization, benefiting from the space designed by the new globalized political order, and causing movement in the shape of the new international arena. To justify the heightened attention they have drawn to themselves and to avoid a backlash of bad media coverage, INGOs must enhance their structure and procedures to be more accountable to those they intend to serve (Lewis and Wallace 2000). As many INGOs concentrate on change, must these organization endeavour for change in their accountability systems and practices?

2.2 International Development Assistance in the occupied Palestinian Territory

Following the signing of the Oslo Accords (the declaration of principles) between the PLO and the Israeli government in September 1993, donor countries organized a conference, in which 42 nations and organizations took part in October of that same year. The purpose of the meeting was to look at a specific policy of offering financial and technical assistance to the new Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which was established within the structure of the Oslo Accords. This donor meeting desired to encourage the PNA to manage the Palestinian territories and the financing of an extensive development process.

The rapidity with which the international community took action, providing important financial support to the Oslo accords, secured the faith of the Palestinian people, who were at first reluctant to support the agreement's political and security implications. The international community's speed of movement was based on the assumption that it was crucial to acquire all financial resources to make the agreement effective, taking into consideration daily difficulties on the ground. In response, Palestinians noticed a significant change in their lifestyles (Birzeit University 2005).

This preliminary financial plan was then developed even further, and came to be termed as the "peace dividend" in the literature of supporters of a peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to local coexistence.

The commitment totalled $2.4 billion dollars, channelled through INGOs, UNRWA and Palestinian Authority. It was made only three months after this conference which designed the "peace dividend" with a five-year financing plan for rebuilding and developing the Palestinian economic system and infrastructure. Thereafter, international support for the Palestinian people started coming in from several resources and through several programs. Financial promises took various forms, came with significant conditions and were funnelled into the PNA in a disorganized way.

Assistance funds reached more than $6 billion dollars at the end of the first half of 2004, leading to a typical yearly per capita assistance level of $310 per head. This is regarded as one of the biggest levels of aid in the world (Birzeit University 2005).

During the ten years following the Oslo Accords, these considerable amounts of international aid performed a significant role in improving Palestinian infrastructural facilities and decreasing the harmful effects of Israeli practices. However, the support was not made part of a systematic national plan for development and reconstruction. First of all, a significant part of all funding has gone toward covering the fees of international experts. Furthermore, much of the support has been held hostage to the advancement of the peace process. Finally, a huge part of it has been earmarked for efforts which will serve to avoid failure in the peace process. These factors have restricted the role of international assistance in developing the Palestinian community and building up its domestic capabilities.

In addition, there have been numerous questions brought up by local and international experts regarding the effectiveness of this support in assisting the Palestinian economy in 1) freeing itself of its serious dependence on Israel, and 2) strengthening the Palestinian community by achieving extensive, sustainable development (Berzeit University 2005).

According to Dr. Le More, there are three primary difficulties that the international community experienced with regards to aid to Palestine. Firstly, aid to the opt is extremely politicized, and state policies are frequently prioritised over the real needs of Palestinian residents and their individual rights. In the lack of an obvious long term plan for Palestinian statehood and development, donors' techniques became temporary in character and based on their own governments' plans (Le More 2008).

Attention needs to be given both to places where aid is prioritized, and just as significantly, to places where it is not. For example, farming is not really amongst donors' priorities as it involves land and water - both politically delicate issues. The same can be suggested for aid to refugees, and that can be seen as a primary indicator of aid effectiveness, or ineffectiveness (Le More 2008).

Secondly, is aid doing more damage than good? Aid to the oPt constituted 32% of the Palestinian GDP in 2008. This level of commitment from donors is not sustainable. Although donors' funding prevents much hardship, the aid offered has had little effect on economic growth and Palestinian development (Le More 2008).

Thirdly, accountability is another challenge, from the viewpoint of both the PA and Israel. The PA's relationship with Palestinian civil society is not a good one, since it gives the Palestinian people a feeling of absence and neglect of ownership. Also, the international community has been unable to keep Israel accountable for its actions (Le More 2008).

Hiver (2010) argues that aid is superficial and does not cope with the primary problem, whatever that may be. A crucial aspect to the continuous receipt of aid is that people can develop a poor self-image, and feelings of worthlessness as a society, leading to negative effects with regards to any person's recognised social status.

He also claims that aid, in the context of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, is simply holding a significant humanitarian catastrophe at bay. It is uncertain if, should aid by the international community stop, Israel would fulfil its obligations as an occupying power, such as that it currently neglects to do so.

Another discussion proposed by Hiver (2010), is that international aid has misshapen the Palestinian community, in that Palestinian NGOs don't have a clear and specific strategy on resisting the occupation. Case in point, the World Bank has made an effort to depoliticize the conflict and treat it in economic terms alone, using NGOs to apply the bank's neo-liberal policies.

On a better note, in Hiver's perspective aid could also transform the conflict. As donors now perform such an important role in the conflict, they now have the capability to influence Israel in ways that they previously could not. (Hiver 2010) This would need a shift in donor strategy to one in which donors pressure Israel to fulfil its obligations as an occupying power. By doing so, donors could support the occupied population in a much more efficient way than by offering aid alone.

Harvard professor and expert on Palestinian development, Dr. Sara Roy's research into the conflict emphasizes the need for a political agreement that is appropriate to both parties and which connects politics and development - something that has consistently escaped h international community (Roy 1999).

The main assumption is that only authentic sovereignty will bring Palestinian development, and that foreign aid performs a vital role in these efforts. Currently however, aid is being used to compensate for the lack of a more effective political process.

Like Le More, Roy claims that by assisting Fatah, at the cost of Hamas, the Palestinian arena is further damaged when dealing with Israel. Palestinians reconciling with each other, Dr Roy claims, is the most immediate problem facing inhabitants - something which the international community is blocking by favouring Fatah over Hamas.

According to Roy, the donor community is seeking technical alternatives to political problems. The international community has consistently failed to tackle Israel; instead it is donating large amounts of aid to the oPt to compensate for a deficiency in diplomatic action. Through the international community's disinclination to deal with Israel, Israel has been permitted to perpetuate its policies in the oPt, neglecting its legal responsibilities with impunity, and thereby amplifying the issues that aid is specifically trying to deal with.

While Barghouti (2011) highlights the point that 'support' for the Palestinian people translates into assistance for those Palestinians living in the oPt, a minority, at the cost of those in exile or residing under conditions of legalized discrimination as is the case with Palestinian citizens of Israel. He argues that the development design being used in the oPt is basically defective and is being seen by Palestinians as trying to 'slightly relax Israel's colonial chains, not to break them' (Barghouti 2011). A combination of the supply of basic needs by donors -the responsibility of Israel as the occupying power - and a politically neutral position, has led to the denial of Palestinians' basic rights. By doing so, donors have, in the terms of Desmond Tutu, selected 'the part of the oppressor' (Barghouti 2011).

The most stunning example of this denial of primary human rights is in Gaza, a case which UN special rapporteur for human rights in the oPt, Professor Rich Falk, describes as a 'prelude to genocide', and British Prime Minister David Cameron describes as a 'prison camp' (Barghouti 2011). Still, donors continue to tend to particular projects which are distanced from those that deal with the main cause of people's suffering. Barghouti argues, "Why cannot funders, aside from 'fixing damaged pipes', make an effort to keep Israel to account for causing this human and environmental catastrophe? That may prevent it from destroying later on what is being set today with those financing states' 'taxpayers money'" (Barghouti 2011).

Barghouti also creates a link between the development model being used by donors in the oPt, and that which has been continuously used in the global south, which uses the same primary concept: 'we set the priorities, you adopt them as yours, or else we cut funding' (Barghouti 2011). The capability of donors (the greater part of which are former colonizers) to use their political and financial strength to undermine Palestine's transition from one of de-colonization and self-determination to a so-called 'peace process' and more recently to 'state building' (so Palestinians can prove that they deserve freedom) highlight the enormously negative long-term effect donors are causing to the Palestinian battle for freedom. Not only has the obsession with a 'peace process' decreased Palestinian rights, but it has also given Israel the most useful alibi while it is constantly colonizing Palestinian land and denying Palestinians their rights (Barghouti 2011).

According to Cronin, Western powers have a clear historical responsibility to Palestine as they are responsible for dividing Palestine in the 1940s. He focuses on the point that it is Israel, as the occupying power, that is accountable for the wellbeing of the occupied population, and not international governments. International law is clear in this regard, and although certain agencies and organizations, such as the ICRC, are able to help the local population in cases of scarcity of resources, their role must be restricted and not treated as a substitute for the responsibilities of the occupying power (Cronin 2011, 73). Cronin also takes the perspective that donors were misdirected in assisting the foundation of a future Palestinian state following the Oslo Accords in 1993, as they were actually only institutionalizing the dispossession of the occupied population, while at the same time restricting the prospects of freedom (Cronin 2011, 77).

The EU, as a main donor to Palestine, can apply influence on Israel. Yet, it has continually failed to do so, even when this contradicts European policy. A main part of the European 'security strategy' implemented by member states in 2003 is adherence to international law. While sanctions have been enforced on other states for breaches of international law, Israel has remained insulated, even though it is a 'serial abuser of international law' (Cronin 2011, 85). According to Cronin, in this context the risk is that international aid is perceived by Palestinian public opinion as a compensation for a lack of political will. In order to avoid this risk, aid should be increasingly linked to advocacy work, in order to make maker and international public aware of the political rules that accompany the huge humanitarian needs of the Palestinian community.

2.3 Accountability, Stakeholders and Beneficiaries

2.3.1 Accountability in General

The term 'accountability' comes from the Latin phrase meaning "to count" and its first known use was in 1794 (Merriam 2011). The term came from the sense that a 'count' was necessary for charges left in someone's care. (Dario 2011) Later, the term took on significance as an abstract noun referring to "the capacity of, and the obligation on, someone to produce an account". (Dario 2011).

Public authorities were known to 'respond' to their public's critique of their performance and actions, but were not held 'accountable' until the 1980s. The phrase accountability does not actually exist in other languages; 'responsibilité' is used in French, 'responsabilidad' in Spanish, and 'verantwortlichkeit' (answerability) in German. Each of these terms has a close connection with 'responsibility' in English.

In this thesis, accountability is used in the sense of "an actor (an individual or an organization) being 'accountable' when that actor recognizes it has made a promise to do something and has accepted a moral and legal responsibility to do its best to fulfil that promise" (Cutt & Murray, 2000; Fox & Brown, 1998; Najam, 1996; Paul, 1992).

Because accountability involves a promise to accomplish something, it is natural to think of accountability as a connection between two or more actors. In theory, however, an actor could experience and act as though it were accountable to an abstract goal. An INGO, for example, could reasonably say that it is accountable for the achievement of some transcendent ethical value, such as the development of individual rights, the extension of support to the deprived, or efficient reaction to some immediate individual need, such as the need for food or the stopping of genocide. An INGO might feel responsible to these ethical goals in addition to the requirements of its financing systems, associates or even customers.

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In this perspective, the main accountability is to 'the cause', and the goals of others are important only insofar as they relate to this essential duty. This definition deliberately contains the term 'responsibility' to help describe a connection between the two terms and recognize the intertwining connection between them as is extensively used among most scholars (Shamina and Potter 2006, 126). Responsible actions are those that, following recommended processes, are able to achieve expected outcomes.

Accountability is a significant notion, showing whether or not those processes and outputs that are regarded as responsible are actually having the proposed effect. Let us assume a project targeting cholera through the distribution of 200 Aqua tabs to a cholera-affected community can responsibly adhere to the organization's rationalization for this purchase and distribution. In this case, being accountable doesn't mean only providing data on the distribution, but also being able to explain how the tabs actually reduced the risk of cholera spreading throughout the community.

In academia, there is disagreement regarding whether accountability is recognized as a process or an outcome, similar to the way democracy is both a process and an outcome. Accountability can be understood as a sequence of continuous debates among stakeholders, rather than a definition or interpretation (Michael and Hulme 1996, 11). That is to say that accountability is not an output, and there is no miracle formula for accountability. Accountability is not simply procedural, nor is it confined only to an end goal.

Accountability is also both a commitment and a willingness to act in ways that in the context of are the situation (Jem 2006, 1). In some situations accountability mechanisms may oblige an organization or individual to be organized in giving consideration to their actions. In others, an organization or individual may see advantages in offering an account of their actions. Accountability also indicates 'rights of authority' in that those calling for an account are asserting rights of authority over those who are accountable, such as the right to demand answers and to impose penalties (Richard 2000, 555).

Changes in a political system and management objectives have incorporated the term 'accountability' into United States parlance. "Democracy is a continual correction of mistakes", and in this way democratic leaders are held accountable to their community by providing regret, details, actions and possible resignations (Sholte and Aaart 2004, 211). Since the public is directly engaged in choosing, and in some situations ousting leaders, the idea of accountability simply suits the democratic context. Hence elections are often seen as a key technique in applying democratic accountability.

Applying the idea of accountability to global governance is a more difficult task. There is a small connection between voters in democratic societies and the actions of representative systems in global governance organizations, but this link is weak in practice (Sholte and Aaart 2004, 211). For example, people themselves are incapable, in most situations, to take global organizations to court.

The deficiency of accountability between citizens, governments and global governance has allowed room for civil society to represent the demands of citizens, especially marginalized and vulnerable communities. "To ask about accountability is not merely to ask whether INGOs 'responsibly' exercise their power, but instead whether a basis exists for them to be invested with such power in the first place" (Kenneth 2009, 176).

Like many contemporary terms applied in politics, such as sustainability or globalization, accountability seems to be heading in the direction of becoming a fundamentally contested concept, a term that has become a placeholder for the debate it involves. If accountability does become a contested concept, it would reduce its significance, and the lively debate around it would diminish. One way of preventing this scenario is to add extra conditions to the original term, thereby adding depth. For example, "political globalization" or "cultural globalization" provides more details than the term "globalization" itself. Furthermore, the phrase "accountability to beneficiaries" provides a better context for understanding.

Another way of further defining accountability is to distinguish between functional/procedural accountability and strategic/substantive accountability. Realistic accountability encompasses the bureaucratic and internal functions of an organization, "accounting for sources, resource use and immediate impacts" (Michael and Hulme 1996). It answers the questions: are they performing in a sensible, cautious manner? Are they transparent with their spending? Are they maintaining an accurate record of their actions and spending?

Strategic accountability looks further into the outcome and effects of the organization, accounting for the impact of the organization and its effects on a broader scale (Michael and Hulme 1996). It questions whether the organization is investing its funds appropriately. This thesis is mainly concerned with strategic accountability.

2.3.2 Stakeholders and Beneficiaries

Accountability is an indefinable and uncontrollable term unless the stakeholders to whom the individual or organization is to be responsible are identified. Each stakeholder delivers its own set of objectives, making it difficult for individuals acting within an organization to decide how to best address all angles in a way that boosts impact. In this thesis a stakeholder is defined as any individual or group who has a legal responsibility, moral or material interest, in the actions of an NGO.

Generally, the list contains the donor (private, public, or corporate), the government from the donor country, the host national government, the host local government, the impacted community (which can be further disaggregated by factors such as gender, age, the disabled, the poor, business owners, etc.), the INGO board and other leadership bodies, partner agencies (such as Southeast NGOs), professional organizations and the program team. These factors are portrayed in the diagram below (Alex). All of these groups are distinct and can be further split up by special interests based on the actual program, which is why a particular stakeholder analysis for each program is a necessary first step in adding accountability parameters to the beneficiary's framework (Cavill 2007, 240). "Since the relative importance of the relationships is context and case-specific, the INGO must review all the relevant legal, moral, ethical and political claims made on them and make a strategic decision about which claim carries the most weight" (Szporluk 2009, 341). All stakeholders play a monitoring role in the activities of the NGO based on their interest in its activities.



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Figure 3. INGO stakeholders

Not all stakeholders will see the benefits of the activities of an INGO. With most INGO interventions there will be tradeoffs, or winners and losers. With most international interventions, an essential query relevant to accountability is: who benefits, and who suffers the consequences (Lewis and Wallace 2000, 54).

Beneficiaries are a specific element amongst stakeholders as they are the individuals most likely to be directly impacted by NGO program activities or outputs. In social and economic development, these individuals are generally considerably economically and/or socially deprived, and living in a developing state. For the purpose of this thesis, they are the primary stakeholder whose viewpoint must be considered. A beneficiary is determined in this thesis as any individual or group who is a member of the targeted society, whose interests the project or program is designed to promote.

Beneficiaries living in poverty have distinct limitations that present particular challenges when holding an organization accountable. This is because these individuals are generally not accustomed to having a voice in local governance. In many developing countries, police and other systems designed to give people security may prevent such individuals from obtaining these services when they have problems or issues. Many vulnerable groups are even scared of voicing their concerns since it could only make their situations worse.

Finally, the above definitions will set the stage for developing the "accountability to the beneficiary's" definition in chapter three, and will build the basis of the arguments this thesis puts forward. As this chapter has shown, a great part of the challenge in measuring accountability lies first and foremost in arriving at a common meaning for each term, a challenge that the larger international community has yet to, and may never, overcome.


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