A General Outline of Evolution of NGO


Non-Government Organization (NGO), as the name suggests, is not government organization and not found in most of the sovereign countries of the world. NGO and development work is not something that a country should feel proud off. As the name suggest, these NGOs try to fill the gaps of government organizations to deliver basic needs of citizens due to lack of relevant capacity issue e.g. quality human resource and funding. When a country somehow cannot manage to deliver its population-fundamental needs like food, cloth, housing, education, medication and basic services like drinking water, sanitation, electricity or access to health services- NGOs step in.

Since this is my first issue at the blog, I shall try to provide a brief sketch of how gradually, little by little, NGOs adopted key issues in their design of development projects in Bangladesh. I hope gradually, in my next blogs, I shall pick each issue and elaborate.

In Bangladesh, during independence war and particularly after independence, NGOs and development organizations started functioning to support nascent government as it was struggling with limited resource. NGOs started with extending support in rebuilding infrastructures, distributing food aid, helping in health services and advising in national policy making.

Like in many other countries, NGOs and development organizations from former colonizer countries came first, followed by organizations from other global super powers. Initial NGO work was mostly limited to emergency rescue and construction work, mostly done by volunteers, followed by relief work.

Development projects had their initial focus on asset transfer to poor people in terms of food, clothing, educational material and house building material. Neo-natal health, reproductive health was another major focus, as Bangladesh is densely populated country and population growth rate was alarming. NGOs and development organizations promoted female empowerment very seriously and employed educated females to address mainly reproductive and female health issues. Side by side transferring improved technology in improving agricultural production also received tremendous funding and became successful.

Naturally both the issues called for ‘community mobilization’. NGO workers were seen organizing meetings at homesteads with groups of people. It was not very easy to overcome social and religious stigma. Thus NGOs had to develop smart strategies to promote ‘gender issues’. The benefits can be observed in increased number of female in national workforce.

Soon it was identified that usually the momentum gets slowed or even lost completely once the project support is withdrawn from a particular area or group. So, the concern for ‘sustainability’ of project work became evident. NGOs were desperate to find ways to sustain their work.

It was understood that social development or change has to be ‘institutionalized’ and there has to be a driving force behind it. Money, the opportunity to make profit and alternative ‘income generating activity (IGA)’, became obvious method for achieving that. ‘Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) development’ and ‘Micro Credit’ were easily the two means, become very popular among NGOs and development organization as implementation approach. NGOs and development organizations also started working with local administration and people’s representatives for the sustainability of project work as their support was essential.

At this time around, donors were also eager to expand trade with development funding. The concept of ‘Aid for Trade’ was no longer something to be ignored. Another major issue was concern for protecting ‘environment’ or reducing ‘disaster risks’. So, naturally new ideas were needed to address development focus and economic progress.

The concepts like ‘value chain development (VCD)’ or ‘market development (MD)’ were promoted to identify overall constraints that were hindering more production and income generating potential. NGOs and development organizations adopted VCD as approach and picked potential products or services that can, not only ensure more profit to beneficiaries but also make the process self-sustaining.

In an attempt to make efficient functioning of VCD and economic benefit to ‘trickle down’ to all level of people, involved in the core VC and auxiliary VCs to make an impact of a community to solve community based fundamental problems, the need to bring change at policy level was urgent to remove barriers and ensure engagement and benefit of all.

So, NGOs and development organizations started designing ‘advocacy’ projects to impact national level ‘policy making’. Now, the danger arises, if NGOs and development organizations start giving advocacy on national policy formulation, then the issue of sovereignty come to play. Government needs to safe guard the overall interest of the country. Clearly, there can a fine line about the responsibility of a sovereign state and scope of NGO involvement in national development outline.

I tried to provide a brief on gradual changes in NGO activities in Bangladesh. I hope to pick specific topic from my next blog.