Strong and weak points of NGO's in development cooperation


Liaison Committee of Development NGO's to the European Communities

Conference of European NGO's

Conflict, Development and Military Intervention:

The role, position and Experience of NGO's


Brussels, 8-9 April 1994


Strong and weak points of NGO's


Contribution to the discussion by Henk Zomer,

director of Dutch Interchurch Aid and

vice-president of the Liaison Committee


Preliminary remarks.


*          The strong points of NGO's are not necessarily at the same time weak points of other actors in the field of humanitarian aid. International agencies and (supra-)national governments have strong points different from NGO's, complementarity can be better exploited, differences should not lead to antagonisms.


*          The strong points of NGO's can easily turn into weak points if not certain conditions are fulfilled, so they can also be weak points, the following list has to be seen in that perspective.


*          Beware of generalisation, there are too many differences between NGO's. Not only between "good" and "bad", but also between:

Specialised and generalistic NGO's

NGO's with long term involvement and with "Hit and Run" policy

Fully expatriate staffed and locally rooted NGO's

isolated NGO's and NGO's integrated in a wider family

one-sided (ideological) and "neutral" NGO's



*          Most NGO's have a policy of working on

Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (Theme of the World Council of Churches), the strong points of NGO's are to be seen in the light of this mission statement.





pre-disaster phase




as prevention of conflicts

target-group approach


Empowerment of the poor and the oppressed

analysis of society, politics and listening to all voices (not only to like-minded)

Strengthening of local organisations (civil society)

process-oriented more than project-oriented


reporting on human rights violations

use the right channels and be sure about facts


advocacy (voice for the


relations, directly and in networks, with relevant



establish and foster communication between (opposing) groups, build bridges, mediation

be trustworthy, if necessary confidential an always transparent and consistent


silent diplomacy or support to diplomacy

use the confidence created by the aid- and solidarity-



use of personnel presence as protection of local staff

modest attitude


disaster preparedness integrated in development work

integrated approach




includes disaster-mitigation

*early warning

*development projects to be designed with care for possible disasters

*communication arrangements

*stocks of goods and funds for emergencies



Relief phase



relief oriented to follow-up, (in development- perspective) or at least not destroying structures for future rehabilitation and development

use local resources, both material an human


prevention of tensions between local groups, creation of an atmosphere for reconciliation

knowledge of context and culture


freedom of action and independence (e.g. cross border operations)

no restrictions in political sense (strings attached to governmental funds?)


Phase of rehabilitation

Resuming development



continuity in activities and flexible transfer to next phase and changing circumstances

no hit and run approach


integration of disaster preparedness approach

learn the lessons from the past


start / continue reconciliation work







(every NGO want coordination but does not want to be coordinated)

in the field

in the home fund market





wrong images

"we are the (only) helpers!"

Use the code of conduct made by the liaison committee "images and Messages"


low cost (not only to be seen as a positive point) leads to un-professional behaviour

more is to be spent on evaluation, reporting and training


local NGO's / local culture

the policy to work with local NGO's has disadvantages that should be reckoned with.

local culture can play a negative role e.g. in the gender aspects.



Some additional remarks


Neutrality, Impartiality and Independence


* NGO's in general use this as a starting point for their policy, but not in the sense of international law but as a moral category.

Opting for the poor and the oppressed is often seen as a political choice and a deviation from neutrality.


* It is not always possible to work at both sides of the conflict, due to the character of the conflict or of (one of the) conflicting parties. This can be solved in good cooperation between several NGO's.



* The identity of an NGO (e.g. a church-related NGO) may not lead to discrimination on issues like race, ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation, religion, etc.; such discrimination would be conflict creation.


* Neutrality an impartiality may not be an excuse for silence in case of violation of human rights. It might however be necessary to pass information through in such a way that the continuity of the work is not put at risk, this can be done in a coordinated approach with other NGO's (division of labour).



Henk Zomer, Brussels, 8 april 1994