Practitioners who are seeking to influence potential development interventions must first take into account the three types of possible development intervention. These are those which: evolve around societal change; those which seek to work with the government; those who work culturally at the grassroots level. In order to assess the extent to which the skills, capacities and attitudes of practitioners dealing in advocacy and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in this area will influence the success or otherwise of these development interventions relates specifically to the type of development intervention being undertaken and the means by which the practitioner seeks to become involved in the processes (Fowler, 1997). All of these interventions interact with one another and so if one approach is adopted it will essentially utilise aspects of the others and have effects on other areas. What must be considered is that when working, for example, at the higher structural levels, one must take into account the constraints and opportunities which exist at this level will impinge on the possibility of successful intervention at the lower levels. Therefore, in answering this question it is necessary to assess in detail these different levels of approach and the means by which a practitioner could influence the success levels of development intervention. It is also necessary to establish the cultural constraints which should be considered in any attempt to develop successful interventions. As such it is therefore important to discuss the role of advocacy and NGOs and the means by which their practitioners may participate in development interventions. Essentially this can be done at the macro, meso-, or micro intervention levels and each of these will produce various consequences and as such should be employed in different situations.
First of all it is necessary to illustrate the role of advocacy and NGOs. NGOs are a non-business organisation which has been legally constituted and they are created by persons, legal or otherwise, which are not related to the government in any way. In some instances, an NGO may be funded by a government, but even if this is the case, they do not have governmental status and they ensure that governmental officials are excluded from their membership. They are often deemed to be ‘civil society organisations’ which act in the interests of a specific area, such as the volunteer sector, civil society, grassroots organisations, self-help organisations and the independent sector to name some of their purposes. NGOs can operate at national or international levels (Edwards and Hulme, 1992). Internationally there are said to be around 40,000 organisations in operation, but some countries have far greater national numbers. For example, India has between one and two million. They are also often divided into operational and advocacy based organisations. The primary purpose of an operational NGO is to evolve the design and implementation of development-related projects. They can be further divided according to whether they are relief-oriented or development-oriented organisations and the type of service provision they choose to adopt. Therefore, NGOs are created for a number of purposes and as well as the potentials purposes as listed above, these organisations can be religious or secular; service delivery or participation, and; public or private oriented. In comparison to operational NGOs, advocacy NGOs are created in order to defend or promote a very specific cause. As such, their general purpose is to raise awareness or knowledge of a subject or they can also be used as a measure to lobby events and gather activists.
Advocacy “is the pursuit of influencing outcomes – including public-policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions – that directly affect people’s current lives” (Cohen, 2001). This therefore indicates that advocacy is the deliberate process of speaking out in order to exert some influence regarding an idea or person. Cohen (2001) states that advocacy is used as a means to change people’s lives. The purpose of this method of intervention depends specifically on the issue at question and this definition which is value neutral is not necessarily the means in which advocacy operates in practice. There are a number of forms of advocacy, of which the most popular form is seen to be social justice advocacy (Kothari and Minogue, 2002). As Cohen (2001) stated, his definition does not account for power relations, a person’s participation as well as the vision of a just society. The use of advocacy is therefore as a means of changing the way things currently are to the way things should be in, in a bid to create a more even and just society in which social justice prevails. In seeking to move from the unjust before and just after, advocacy employs actions which may be in contradiction to the economic, political and social situation prevalent in society and in which these procedures are being employed and instead they seek to questions a number of things, such as: the way in which policy is administered and policy solutions as well as participating in the agenda of specific and important issues, be engaging and inclusive and target political systems. As well as social justice advocacy, there are many other forms which include but are not reduced simply to: interest group advocacy; ideological advocacy; media advocacy, and; bureaucratic advocacy. Therefore, advocacy relates to maybe numbers of approaches and methods as well as a variety of purposes. As with the abundance of NGOs, advocacy groups are employed at national and international levels and have varying purposes. The rise of globalisation has resulted advocacy beyond countries’ borders. The prevalence of international advocacy is employed where external influence is necessary as a means of easing the communication between internal groups and their government (Cohen, 2001).
Based on this initial analysis of the role of NGOs and advocacy, it is apparent that a practitioner of one of these may be in a powerful position to influence development interventions. However, in order to further gauge the potential for their skills, capacities and attitudes to influence these in a successful or other manner, it is necessary to assess the different means of development interventions which could be employed and therefore assess the influence these necessary factors of a practitioners work could have on the success of the intervention.
Macro-level development measures are employed at a broad societal level and as such seek to provide widespread social change and due to this extensive nature they are generally employed in post-conflict societies. However this is not always the case and there are examples of societies where this method of intervention has been employed where there has been no violent conduct. For example, this method may well be employed in a society which has ‘failed’ due to a lack of political and social policy in place to maintain a developing and constructive means of living. The use of macro-level interventions is generally as a means of building infrastructure but can extend as far as creating new foundations of democracy. In recent years, development studies have adopted the study of violence in a society and the effects this should have on the design, implementation and evaluation of development objectives. Indeed, in 1998, a report from the Carnegie Corporation stated:
“Most wealthy nations do not yet perceive distant civil wars and the occasional complex humanitarian emergencies they cause as a serious threat to their own security, but these wars have become a moral concern, a political distraction, and a rising financial burden. Among developing countries and the newly independent states of the former Soviet bloc, these political disasters are causing enormous human hardship locally and are generating millions of refugees and various other social, economic, and political disruptions. These tear at the foundations of regional and international order. They also cause the destruction of billions of dollars worth of investments by the World Bank and other development agencies, and large amounts of scarce foreign assistance now must go for relief and reconstruction, rather than for more productive purposes”(Stremlau and Sagasti, 1998).
Therefore the political economy of war is an important area of study and those countries, such as Mozambique, Sudan, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka, which are currently undergoing conflict within their territories should be studied and researched in terms of the indirect costs of the conflict on the economy and society rather than concentrating this study directly on the actual fighting.
Meso-level development interventions generally seek to shape developing countries capacity in operational terms which relates to both technical and political aspects. The types of societies in which this method of intervention is employed are those countries which have experienced a high level of economic decay and also where there are high levels of division in the society in terms of income inequality as well as ethnic defragmentation (Rodrick, 1997). These societies also tend to have weak institutional means of dealing with potential conflict and so in these conditions there is generally an inherent lack of working democratic institutions. If a country can be seen to be developing successfully, there must be institutions which are based on the norms and values of the society which they occupy and these are in conjunction with other organisations which also promulgate these norms and values. These include the state and market and these play a major role in shaping the society’s institutions and are critical in allowing the successful development of a society. As such, it is inherently important that these institutions and the organisations which influence these are working in a democratic way and also in a manner which replicates the norms and values of the society in a constructive manner which will allow political, economic and social growth (La Palombara, 1994). This requires good governance and the ability to repair and create institutional frameworks which are acting in accordance with the country’s democratic values. A lack of strong institutions would result in the inability to deal with conflict transformation and it would not be possible to bridge the various groups in society stably and in ways which accommodate the mutually accepted norms and values.
Micro-level development deals with issues at the local level but it is here that these interventions will face more difficulties and conflicts as these will interact on local levels. At this level there is likely to be less resources and expertise to deal with conflict at this level. It is believed that conflicts at this level are often harder to resolve than macro-level wars. At this level the main concerns are to deal with the poverty the population face as well as environmental protection yet even these are generally dealt with separately in inquiry and policy. In working at this level, the practitioners are side-stepping the government and are dealing directly with those in need to try to help them often in a reactionary manner (Goodhand, 2001).
NGOs and Advocacy in Practice
According to the assessment above, it appears as though NGOs and advocacy can influence the political, economic, cultural and social spheres of a country dramatically if the practitioners operate in a meaningful manner, taking into account the cultural norms and values of the country and introducing practices which address the development intervention issues appropriately. The potential impact of an NGO is enormous as SustainAbility (2009) highlights. Indeed they point out that:
With global reach, powerful brands, and a mission to hunt out corporate malpractice, NGOs can powerfully influence the marketplace and climate for business – either as high profile challengers or as partners in finding new solutions.
They go on to note that the not-for-profit sector is valued at roughly $1 trillion per year globally and therefore attracts a vast amount of attention. The rhetoric and activities undertaken by NGOs are critically important in influencing public opinion and in aiding conflict resolution and as such they play a vital role in ensuring that the information they offer and the manner in which they operate avoids moral condemnation of a culture or society which can be seen to be biased. For example, in the Israel/Palestine conflict in the Middle East, there has been condemnation of NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as they are seen to use language in describing the conflict which reinforces their particular political opinion rather than providing a comprehensive picture. Amnesty International was seen to have made unsubstantiated claims that Israeli responses “are being carried out with reckless disregard for civilian life” (Kosky, 2008). He believes that although there has also been condemnation of Hamas’ actions, a false moral has been created in equivalence with Israel’s responses. He goes on to highlight that:
Under international law, Israel’s responses to aggression are entirely legal, while Hamas is guilty of aggression and war crimes in its unprovoked bombardment of Israeli civilians. Instead of examining the moral and legal reality, these NGOs employ a highly simplistic interpretation of international law, which legitimizes aggression and the use of human shields by groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah (Kosky, 2008).
Therefore, this illustrates that the capacity and attitudes of the NGO as the practitioner in this instance can have negative effects on the overall situation and provide the general public with wildly distorted opinions regarding the conflict. In this sense the intervention cannot be considered to be successful. As such it is critically important that NGOs and Human Rights groups must ensure that they do not practice this irresponsible and immoral use of legal rhetoric and appreciate the far-reaching influence that this can exact (Robinson et al, 2000). There are also many factors which affect NGO influence, action and performance on local and national service delivery and policy. These include the premise of the creation of the NGO, for example, the objectives of Oxfam would be different to that of Greenpeace as they have different objectives which were as the basis of their creation. Also, the creation of such a large number of NGOs has articulated a new lexicon which has changed the boundaries of negotiation and advocated new norms. As such, the creation and basic premise of NGOs has had radical influences on both local and national levels in terms of policy and delivery. Indeed, NGOs can be seen to be of increasing influence at all levels: local, national and global. This is because at the global level the number of NGOs has increased dramatically worldwide; NGOs are also now seen to dominate agenda setting in political arenas, and, environmental NGOs can be seen to be responsible for environmental interests coming internationally to the fore.
As such, the influence of NGOs reaches far beyond their actual numbers and their power extends to the strengthening of civil society. Edwards and Hulme (1992) indeed believe that NGOs are “one of the institutional forms that can deepen [civil society]”. This is not to say that NGOs should automatically be viewed as agents capable of enacting democratisation. Fowler (1997) believes that NGOs are too often credited globally as having a leading role in initiating democratic societies. This credit is often reflected in them being seen to be acting alongside UN agencies and financial institutions or against them but this is not always the case. It is therefore hard to assess, on a general level, the extent to which the skills, capacities and attitudes of practitioners influence the success or otherwise of development interventions. Therefore it is important to consider the alternative roles NGOs and advocacy can play at project and policy levels which can be seen to work more at the meso- or micro levels of intervention. Here the NGOs are not seeking to influence political systems as a whole but seek to address specific issues which could in turn lead to more strategic policy if the development interventions on a small local level are replicable.
In assessing their influence, it is also important to discuss the advocacy strategies these practitioners employ. Ideally NGO advocacy give the poor and disadvantaged groups in a particular society the tools they require to influence public policy and allow them to implement their policies. This is in conjunction with them challenging the status quo prevalent in a society and as such addressing the issues of social injustice which cause inequality and therefore defend people’s human rights and promote democracy (Jordan and Tuijl, 2000). As such, the work undertaken by NGOs should be in accordance with the rights-based approach which is a burgeoning approach in this area that places emphasis on the rights of a country’s citizens and the duty of the State to provide the poor amongst them with the necessary services. NGOs should therefore seek to ensure that in undertaking development interventions they abide by this means of working and ensure that their values do not influence what is actually best for the citizens they are seeking to aid (Eade, 2002). Here, this reflects that the skills, attitudes and capacities of the practitioners can have massive effects of the success of development interventions. Indeed the ethos of the practitioner and their beliefs can cause complex problems when they are dealing with unfamiliar cultural groups and political arenas which may be at odds with their beliefs and also with what they are familiar with.
MacPherson (2009), in his study of the implications for NGO-government partnerships in Southern Tanzania found that socio-cultural, economic, hegemonic and discourse-based power were major factors in determining the role the NGO could play in undertaking an effective advocacy role. Indeed the role of advocacy impacts on an agency’s other activities as in, for example, adopting the rights-based approach, there will be a number of challenges and these will come at a considerable cost to those parties which have an interest in the outcomes of the work. Indeed, it is important to note that the work of NGOs is vital in overcoming conflict in many areas and also in ensuring that valuable work is undertaken to help many people living in poverty across the world but the capabilities of these practitioners must be assessed and worked on wherever possible to ensure that socio-cultural and political barriers between societies are overcome to ensure that their work is successful. What needs to be exacted from the advocacy and other work of NGOs is the ability to leverage this support for further development thereby influencing agency practice but also in leaving a legacy for future development (Chapman and Fisher, 2000).
In conclusion, the extent to which the skills, capacities and attitudes of practitioners influence the success or otherwise of development interventions varies according to the ethos and means of undertaking advocacy of the specific NGO involved. This also depends on the means by which involvement is undertaken. As mentioned previously, practitioners can become involved at different levels of engagement, the significant ones of which are to: evolve around societal change; those which seek to work with the government; those who work culturally at the grassroots level. This will greatly influence the effect of their work and the chances that this development intervention can be deemed a success. In seeking to determine the actual extent to which a practitioner’s skills, capacities and attitudes will affect the success of an intervention is rather qualitative and will depend on a huge number of factors. As there is such a large number of NGOs operating for different purposes and under a different rhetoric, it is impossible to account for them all in one statement. Indeed the role of NGOs has been viewed in general terms very differently, from some people believing that they take the place of popular movements for the poor, to others believing that they are imperialist and operate in a racialised manner in dominated countries (Cohen, 2001). Therefore, the role of an NGO raises questions and their development intervention is not always viewed as necessary and successful. This would be largely due to the attitudes and capabilities of the practitioners and the lack of ability to suitably transfer these to other cultures. However, the annual budget of NGOs runs into hundreds of millions of dollars and they are created in order to aid where they can and to the best of their abilities. The extent to which this is possible revolves around a number of factors including the skills, attitudes and capabilities of their staff and so it is important to ensure that the most capable NGOs are employed in the right situations and their work is undertaken in a systematic manner taking into account the underlying cultural, social, political and economic forces working within the country and ensuring that their work does not try to imperialise the cultures they work within.