Academic journal article Global Governance

Mission and Interests: The Strategic Formation and Function of North-South NGO Campaigns

Academic journal article Global Governance

Mission and Interests: The Strategic Formation and Function of North-South NGO Campaigns

Article excerpt

International advocacy campaigns allow the concerns of disadvantaged groups in developing countries to reach policymakers. However, recent research has challenged the motivations of the Northern nongovernmental organizations involved and raised concerns about the impacts of North-South NGO partnerships on Southern NGO control. This article addresses these concerns by developing a typology of NGOs based on their financial incentives and the rigidity with which they adhere to their established organizational mission. It then models interactions between NGOs of different types as a strategic game. In the game, NGOs decide whether to enter international campaigns and, if so, manage campaign function to maximize payoff. "Participation-oriented" Northern NGOs, whose supporters reward them for undertaking advocacy, were found to run lengthy but ineffective campaigns and focus on publicity. "Outcome-oriented" groups, whose supporters reward them for measurable achievement, were found to generate higher campaign intensity but exit after either early victories or costly difficulties. The model is illustrated with a comparative analysis of two different campaigns regarding the Narmada Dam project. KEYWORDS: nongovernmental organizations, campaigns, advocacy, participation, funding, strategic game.

REPRESSED OR DISADVANTAGED GROUPS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FREQUENTLY lack economic or political clout, and international advocacy campaigns have become a key means by which policymakers are forced to recognize their interests and claims. However, the formation and function of such campaigns remains poorly understood. How and why do nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from multiple continents, with diverse memberships and different languages, coalesce around a particular issue? Activists tend to depict campaigns as resulting from the international equivalent of a 911 call: Southern NGOs in distress reach out to Northern organizations, which feel morally compelled to respond. (1) Academic writing on the subject has largely accepted this explanation. (2) However, accumulating evidence indicates that Northern NGOs' involvement in international advocacy may be prompted by organizational goals that have little to do with local requests for aid. (3)

Similar uncertainty exists around the functioning of such campaigns and, particularly, the power dynamics between the various NGOs participating in them. The assumption of many academics and policymakers is that the supposed beneficiaries of international advocacy actively participate in goal setting and strategy planning, and fully consent to the advocacy undertaken on their behalf. International campaigns are often treated in the policy realm as simple magnifications of local interests and issues. Numerous case studies, however, dispute the idea that Southern partners in such campaigns have reasonable control over the strategies undertaken by their Northern partners.

We present a four-part typology describing NGOs in terms of how tightly they hold to their existing mission (are they "flexible" or "inflexible") and the type of incentives generated by their supporters (do they receive payoff for "participation"--undertaking activity--or for "outcome"--successfully concluding activity). Using this typology, we develop an integrated model of campaign formation and function as a strategic game. In the analysis, we assume that relations between Northern and Southern NGOs reflect the distinct interests of each organization involved. Southern NGOs tend to seek the resolution of a particular local problem, and require additional resources to continue a preexisting struggle. They tend to be amenable to multiple approaches to their problem, but focused on outcome. Northern NGOs tend to have well-defined, preexisting missions and thus have a strong interest in selecting local issues that match with, or can be redefined to match, their views and agenda. Each NGO will seek partners that suit their interests, so campaign formation is a result of bargaining. …

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