Northern Governmental Organisations: between the free market and the nation state
Samarendra Das and Miriam Rose
The NGO sector is one of the world’s largest industries. In 2009 there were 3.3 million NGOs (or 1 for every 400 people) in India alone,1 with money pouring in from Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs), Western donor agencies and philanthropic funds.
Though some critiques of the big NGOs and humanitarian aid have reached the mainstream media in recent years, the general Western perception is that NGOs are doing important and effective work on behalf of millions of deprived people without a voice.
This article gives an alternative perspective. Based on conversations with grassroots activists and marginalised communities in India and Africa over many years of our work on extractive industries, we draw together the common critiques of advocacy and development NGOs in the ‘Third world’ or ‘global South’ – from their role in dividing and co-opting people’s movements by professionalising activism, to their lack of accountability to the people they claim to represent. We show that, behind the ‘rights based’ rhetoric, NGOs consciously or unconsciously serve the neoliberal interests of donor countries, institutions, and even companies.