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NGOization, Foreign Funding, and the Nicaraguan Civil Society

Abstract

A substantial section of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the global South depend on foreign funds to conduct their operations. This paper explores how the availability of foreign funding affects their downward accountability, abilities to effect social change, and their relative influence in relation to traditional grassroots, membership-based organizations (GROs), which tend not to receive such funding. Drawing on a case study of Nicaragua, we challenge the notion that foreign funding of domestic NGOs leads to the evolution of civil society organizations, which have incentives and abilities to organize the marginalized sections of society in ways to effect social change in their interests. Instead, we find that foreign funding and corresponding professionalization of the NGO sector creates dualism among domestic civil society organizations. Foreign funding enhances the visibility and prestige of the “modern” NGO sector over traditional GROs. This has grave policy implications because foreign-funded NGOs tend to be more accountable to donors than beneficiaries and are more focused on service delivery than social change-oriented advocacy.

Résumé

Une grande partie des organisations non-gouvernementales (ONG) de l’hémisphère sud dépendent de financements étrangers pour conduire leurs opérations. Cet article explore la façon dont les financements étrangers affectent la responsabilité au sein de ces organisations, leur capacité à amener des changements sociaux, et leur influence relative vis-à-vis des organisations de base traditionnelles fondées sur l’adhésion (ODB) qui ne reçoivent généralement pas de tels financements. En nous basant sur une étude de cas au Nicaragua, nous remettons en question l’idée que le financement étranger d’ONG locales amène à faire évoluer les organisations de la société civile, leur donnant la motivation et les moyens nécessaires pour organiser les groupes sociaux marginalisés dans le but d’améliorer leur condition. Nous constatons qu’au lieu de cela, le financement étranger et la professionnalisation du secteur des ONG qu’il entraîne crée une dichotomie entre organisations de la société civile locale. Le financement étranger améliore la visibilité et le prestige des ONG « modernes » au détriment des ODB traditionnelles. Ce fait a des conséquences politiques importantes car les ONG recevant des financements étrangers sont généralement plus responsables vis-à-vis de leur donateurs que de leur bénéficiaires et plus concentrées sur l’exécution de services que sur une action visant au changement social.

Zusammenfassung

Viele nicht-staatliche Organisationen auf der Südhalbkugel sind bei ihren Tätigkeiten auf Gelder aus dem Ausland angewiesen. Dieser Beitrag untersucht, wie sich die Verfügbarkeit ausländischer Mittel auf die vertikale Rechenschaftspflicht dieser Organisationen, ihre Fähigkeit, soziale Änderungen zu bewirken und ihren relativen Einfluss im Hinblick auf die traditionellen mitgliederbasierten Basisorganisationen, die in der Regel keine derartigen Gelder erhalten, auswirkt. Beruhend auf einer Fallstudie von Nicaragua hinterfragen wir die Auffassung, dass eine Finanzierung inländischer nicht-staatlicher Organisationen mit ausländischen Mitteln zu einer Entwicklung von Bürgergesellschaftsorganisationen führt, die daran interessiert und in der Lage sind, gesellschaftliche Randgruppen zu organisieren, um soziale Änderungen in ihrem Interesse zu bewirken. Stattdessen kommen wir zu dem Ergebnis, dass die Mittelbereitstellung aus dem Ausland und die entsprechende Professionalisierung des nicht-staatlichen Sektors einen Dualismus unter den inländischen Bürgergesellschaftsorganisationen schafft. Eine Finanzierung aus dem Ausland erhöht die Visibilität und das Ansehen des „modernen“nicht-staatlichen Sektors gegenüber traditionellen Basisorganisationen. Dies hat gravierende organisationspolitische Folgen, da sich nicht-staatliche Organisationen, die mit ausländischen Mitteln finanziert werden, in der Regel gegenüber ihren Spendern mehr verpflichtet fühlen als gegenüber ihren Leistungsempfängern und sich mehr auf die Leistungserbringung konzentrieren als auf eine Interessenvertretung, bei der soziale Änderungen im Vordergrund stehen.

Resumen

Una parte sustancial de las organizaciones no gubernamentales (ONG) en el Sur global dependen de fondos extranjeros para llevar a cabo sus operaciones. El presente documento explora cómo la disponibilidad de financiación extranjera afecta a su responsabilidad hacia abajo, a sus capacidades para efectuar el cambio social y a su influencia relativa en relación con las organizaciones tradicionales locales basadas en la afiliación de sus miembros (GRO, del inglés grassroots organizations), que tienden a no recibir dicha financiación. Basándonos en un estudio de caso de Nicaragua, cuestionamos la noción de que la financiación extranjera de ONG nacionales lleva a la evolución de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil, que tienen incentivos y capacidades para organizar las secciones marginadas de la sociedad de forma que efectúen el cambio social en su interés. En cambio, encontramos que la financiación extranjera y la correspondiente profesionalización del sector de las ONG crean dualismo entre las organizaciones nacionales de la sociedad civil. La financiación extranjera acentúa la visibilidad y el prestigio del sector moderno de las “ONG” sobre las organizaciones locales (GRO) tradicionales. Esto tiene graves implicaciones políticas porque las ONG que reciben financiación extranjera tienden a ser más responsables ante los donantes que beneficiarias y se centran más en la entrega de servicios que en la defensa orientada al cambio social.

摘要

第三世界国家的许多非政府组织(NGO)依赖于外国资金来运转。本篇论文探索外国资金的可得性如何影响其向下问责机制、带来社会变革的能力以及相对传统草根式的以成员为基础的组织(GRO)的影响力。基于对尼加拉瓜的一个案例研究的分析,我们质疑一个观点,即国内 NGO 的外国资金导致公民社会组织的演变,公民社会组织有动力也有能力组织社会中被边缘化的群体以带来社会变革,服务于这些群体的利益。相反,我们发现,NGO 领域的外国资金和相应的职业化对国内公民社会组织有着影响双重。一方面,外国资金加强了“现代化” NGO 行业相对传统 GRO 的知名度和声望。另一方面,这有着重大的政策影响,因为相比受益人,由外国资金支撑的 NGO 通常对捐款人更为负责,更关注服务的提供,而不是以社会变革为导向的倡导活动。

ملخص

هناك جزء كبير من المنظمات الغير حكومية(NGOs) في الجنوب العالمي يعتمد على الأموال الأجنبية لإدارة عملياته. هذا البحث يقوم بدراسة كيف أن توافر التمويل الأجنبي يؤثر على هبوط مساءلتها ، القدرة على التأثير في التغيير الإجتماعي، وتأثيرها النسبي فيما يتعلق بالقاعدة الشعبية التقليدية، التي تعتمد على عضوية المنظمات (GROs)، التي لا تميل للحصول على هذا التمويل. بالاعتماد على دراسة حالة نيكاراجوا، نحن نتحدى فكرة أن التمويل الأجنبي للمنظمات الغيرحكومية(NGOs) المحلية يؤدي إلى تطور منظمات المجتمع المدني، التي لها الحوافز والقدرات لتنظيم القطاعات المهمشة من المجتمع بطرق لإحداث التغيير الاجتماعي في مصالحهم. بدلا من ذلك، نجد أن التمويل الأجنبي والمهني المطابق لقطاع المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGO) المحلية يخلق الثنائية بين منظمات المجتمع المدني. التمويل الأجنبي من شأنه أن يعزز وضوح الرؤية وهيبة قطاع المنظمات الغير حكومية(NGO) “الحديث” على القاعدة الشعبية التقليدية (GROs). هذا له إنعكاسات السياسات الخطيرة لأن المنظمات الغير حكومية (NGOs) الممولة بتمويل أجنبي تميل إلى أن تكون عرضة للمساءلة من الجهات المانحة أكثر من المستفيدين وأكثر تركيزا” على تقديم الخدمات من الدعوة الموجهة التغيير الاجتماعي.

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Notes

  1. Hansmann (1980) suggests that nonprofit organization focused on service delivery were more credible than for profits delivering the same services because the former could not distribute profits—the assumption being that the opportunity to distribute profits leads the for-profit organizations to cheat. Thus, nonprofit scholars have offered an institutional explanation (the nondistribution constraint), why nonprofits are virtuous. In contrast, political scientists and development scholars studying NGOs focused on advocacy have offered an ideational argument as to why NGOs are trustworthy.

  2. As shown by AbouAssi (2012) in the context of Lebanon, the magnitude of NGO acquiescence to changing donor demands depending on their degree of resource dependence and diversity of their donor portfolio.

  3. Skocpol (2003) notes how structural pressures are leading NGOs in the United States to become more professionalized and Washington focused.

  4. Mobilization and empowerment aspects of NGOs need to be differentiated. As described by Stiles (2002), the mobilization perspective views NGOs as seeking to mobilize the marginalized against the status quo. In this sense, NGOs are pitted against both the state and market actors. Empowerment perspective suggests that NGOs enable marginalized to realize their potential and participate more effectively in social and economic activities. A typical example would be micro-credit organizations such as the Grameen Bank which allows the marginalized to overcome the failures in the credit market and get capital to participate effectively in market processes. Our paper focuses on the ability of traditional grassroots organizations, in contrast with the modern NGOs, to mobilize citizens to assert their rights.

  5. The Sandinista worker’s confederation (CST), however, put the number as high as 86 % by the end of the 1980s (O’Kane 1995).

  6. Union membership count from Polakoff and La Ramée (1997) and Vázquez (2008); percentage calculated from total labor force data provided by the World Bank (www.data.worldbank.org, accessed 4/27/10). Before 1979, union membership was 11 % (O’Kane 1995).

  7. We recognize the heterogeneity in these categories in Nicaragua—many “grassroots” organizations have been or are affiliated with political parties, and some “NGOs” may be more responsive to their constituents than corrupted membership organizations.

  8. There is an unintentional parallel between these attitudes and the relationship of modern NGOs with promoters and communities and the vanguardism of the revolutionary ideologues of the FSLN in the 1980s (Mattson 2007). Although NGOs might oppose the phrasing, they aim for the same goal of the FSLN, to “guide, instruct, and transform the immature masses; at the same time…listen[ing] to the people and empower[ing] them” (Quandt 1995, p. 267). This is implied in the top–down prescriptive relationships with promoters and communities. Just as Serra (1991) noted of the 1980s, the role of the grassroots today is primarily consultative, if at all involved, in the policy advocacy process of NGOs. While the revolutionary ideologues have been replaced by (or often simply become) the development experts, the voice of the grassroots remains muted.

  9. Based responses to question CP5 from eight surveys since 1991, when 49.86 % of respondents (n = 698) affirmed participating to resolve a community problem. This declined steadily until 2004, when only 29.16 % (n = 1423) affirmed a similar statement, though now qualified to include only the most recent year. At the lowest point, 2006, the result was only 22 % (n = 1750). In 2010, the result was 31.48 % (n = 1534). The recent upward turn is encouraging, but the overall trend is still steeply negative.

  10. AIDH, Asofenix, CENIDH, CIPRES, FEDICAMP, FMCP, INPRHU, KEPA, MCN, RNDDL, TESIS.

  11. Asofenix, CENIDH, CIPRES, CPDH, FEDICAMP, FMCP, MCN, TESIS.

  12. CENIDH, CIPRES, CPDH, FEDICAMP, FMCP, MCN, and TESIS.

  13. Asofenix, CIPRES, CPDH, Centro Humboldt, FEDICAMP, FMCP, MCN, TESIS.

  14. Those not observed were: AIDH, CODENI, INPRHU, IPADE, KEPA, RNDDL.

  15. www.mcnicaraguense.org

  16. www.cenidh.org

  17. www.cpdh.org.ni

  18. http://ibw.com.ni/~ixchen

  19. www.ccer.org.ni

  20. www.codeni.org.ni

  21. http://inprhu.org/

  22. http://www.ipade.org.ni

  23. Mattson (2007, p. 130) describes a nearly identical process for a campaign for women’s rights.

  24. www.tesisnicaragua.org

  25. No website.

  26. The remaining five focus more explicitly on service-provision.

  27. The exceptions were limited to training and capacity- building of government officials or employees (Centro Humboldt, INPRHU, IXCHEN, and TESIS) or simply serving as a government subcontractor (AsoFenix).

  28. While the definition of “food and a good space” is a small restaurant or office for most promoters, NGOs often hold upper level workshops and coordination events in the luxury hotels and restaurants in Managua.

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Chahim, D., Prakash, A. NGOization, Foreign Funding, and the Nicaraguan Civil Society. Voluntas 25, 487–513 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-012-9348-z

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Keywords

  • Central America
  • Nicaragua
  • Foreign funding
  • NGOs
  • Civil society
  • Accountability