The Influence of South Korean NGOs on State Aid Policy

By Moon, Kyungyon | Asian Perspective, April-June 2016 | Go to article overview

The Influence of South Korean NGOs on State Aid Policy


Moon, Kyungyon, Asian Perspective


AFTER THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK OR North Korea) made an official request to the international community for aid in 1995, the aid campaign of the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) spread to become a nationwide movement. The nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that had a steering role in South Korea's campaign for aid to North Korea not only contributed to stimulating assistance and moderating the general public's antagonistic view toward North Korea but also expanded inter-Korean exchange and cooperation for peace and security on the Korean peninsula. These NGO campaigns brought significant improvements to South Korea's civil society environment. Some of their notable accomplishments include securing permission to raise funds through an automatic response system (ARS, currently the major fund-raising tool for international development and cooperation NGOs); gaining permission to raise funds in public places;1 allowing expenditure on organizational administration to increase from 0 to 15 percent of raised funds; and establishing an NGO support system (NGO Council 2005).2 Due to their significant role in providing aid to North Korea from 1995 to 2007, NGO activities have been described as a second nationwide movement, following the democratic movement of the 1980s (Lee 2009).

However, by 2013 these NGOs had become largely irrelevant. They are barely surviving, along with their umbrella organization, the NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea. The major cause of their downfall is the stagnation of the inter-Korean relationship that has persisted since the Lee Myung-bak administration took power in 2008. But the rupture of the inter-Korean relationship is not the only reason.

Rather than tackling the domestic structures affecting government-NGO relationships, I analyze the NGO movement and organizational management in order to pinpoint what changed the influence of South Korean NGOs on government aid policy to North Korea. I then consider strategies to revitalize the role of NGOs as political actors in the state's policymaking process.

I use the phrase "NGOs for aid to North Korea" to cover all NGOs that participated in providing aid to North Korea from 1995 to 2007. They include religious organizations, medical associations, labor unions, and women's unions that established specialized units under their organizational structures and organized fund-raising activities. There are also NGOs established independently with a single issue-specific mandate and expertise in international development and cooperation. However, these latter types are difficult to distinguish as a number of international development and cooperation NGOs have participated in providing aid to the DPRK and still have teams or departments assigned to this objective. My study uses "NGOs for aid to North Korea" primarily as a concept to refer to organizations founded to aid the DPRK, engaged in related activities, and registered by the ROK Ministry of Unification with the corporations permitted to engage in North Korean programs.

My focus on the organizational capacity of NGOs in their advocacy and organizational management proceeds as follows. I start by examining theoretical aspects of the mechanism and dynamics that NGOs use to exert influence on government poli- cymaking. I then analyze the development and decline of NGOs for aid to North Korea in order to identify the factors that affected their level of influence on ROK government aid policy to North Korea. Lastly, I explore recommendations for strategies to achieve sustainable NGO influence on government policymaking.

Theoretical Discussion of NGO Influence

NGO Functions and Partnership with Government

The effectiveness of NGOs established for a common purpose is determined by their relationship with government and civil society. Their roles are typically classified into service delivery, advocacy, research, and civil education (Carothers and Barndt 1999; Stromquist 1998). …

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