Non-governmental
Organizations (NGOs) promote and enable social, political, and economic change (Lewis
and Kanji, 2009). These organizations accomplish this in various manners,
however, they all strive to achieve their goals of facilitating development and
bettering the lives of neglected populations. NGOs have been working towards improving
the world for centuries now. However, although they weren’t new, it wasn’t
until the late 1900’s that they were recognized as a central component to
development. As NGO’s engage in this process, they have established a unique
relationship with the state and governing bodies. Previously, their relationships
fluctuated between supportive and repressive, but without backing NGOs have a
more difficult time accomplishing their goals (Atingdui, 1995). Today, some of these
relationships have improved and now successfully further development in fields
such as emergency response, human rights, policy development, and research. This
essay will examine the role of NGOs in development today and will analyze the
NGO, the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), and evaluate if they
are on track to fulfill their objectives for the future.

In
the 1900s the world created the “new policy agenda” and found itself looking to
implement the concept of “Global Governance” (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). The idea of global
governance suggests that a body outside of the state monitors and addresses
social and political issues in an effective and dependable manner (Gordenker,
1995). To do this, NGOs act as a “third sector” that balance the needs of both
the individuals they are serving and the governments they are working under
(Lewis and Kanji, 2009). NGOs are difficult to define because of the variety of
forms they come in. Nevertheless, there are key components that most NGOs
embody. First, they are private organizations. This means they are separate
from the government and receive funding either through donors or campaigns.
Although NGO’s can be hired by various governments to implement certain
policies or programs, NGOs remain separate from the state and are
self-governed. Self-government is another key characteristic of NGOs. Finally,
NGOs often operate without earning a profit and by using many volunteers. It
was thought that by creating this type of body there would be increased
development and benefits for the individuals in need. This is because NGOs remove
governments from the solution and replaces them with local individuals who are
closer to the matter. The local participation made NGOs truly gain strength and
support from the public. “By the late 1970s, in the face of growing economic and
social problems, the state became increasingly unable to meet the welfare needs
of the population, and demands began to shift toward private voluntary
associations” (Atingdui, 1995). Therefore, when “development
debates were moving more towards environment, gender and social development,
NGOs already operating in this area moved closer to the aid system” (Lewis and
Kanji, 2009). This was a big step for development because NGOs cost less, which
means more funding can go to supporting different causes. Today, there are an
estimated 35,000 NGOs working towards various causes world-wide (Lewis and
Kanji, 2009).

My
chosen non-governmental organization to analyze is the African Medical and
Research Foundation (AMREF). This foundation was originally established in 1957
by doctors Michael Wood, Archibald McIndoe, and Tom Rees (Amref Health Africa,
2017). After having worked in Africa as reconstructive surgeons, these three
doctors saw the scarcity of hospitals and health services available to citizens
particularly in remote areas (Amref Health Africa, 2017). To alleviate some of
this, they created a mobile health facility that brought medical expertise to
places of need. Their mission was to be ‘committed to improving the health of
people in Africa by partnering with and empowering communities, and
strengthening health systems” (Amref Health Africa,
2017). Over the past sixty years, this NGO has expanded to include mobile
medical services, advocating for stronger health systems, and disease control
initiatives (Amref Health Africa, 2017). Today,
there are twelve national offices in various countries that contribute to these
projects (Amref Health Africa, 2017).

In
contemporary development, there are essentially three roles of NGOs. However, often
one NGO will engage in all three of these roles. The first and fastest growing
section is service delivery. NGOs that operate in service delivery provide underprivileged
individuals and developing communities with essential services that their
governments either don’t provide or are of low and unreliable quality. Not only
do they provide these goods, but service NGOs often also actively engage in
research and training (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). My chosen NGO, AMREF, actively works in this sector. AMREF works to
improve the health of individuals living in Africa. They offer treatment,
prevention, and care as well as diagnosis and surgical services. However, they
also conduct research and through peer reviewed journals provide valuable
knowledge on disease prevention and health related issues that African
communities experience. Some critics claim that NGOs, such as this one, allow
governments to step away from the issues at hand, removes citizen’s ability to
request services from the government, and puts the responsibilities of problem
solving solely on NGOs (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). However, this claim does not
stand up when investigating major NGOs. AMREF, for example, works with the
local communities but also partners with local authorities. AMREF Health Africa
has “A strong regional presence, working with over 100 poor and marginalized
rural and urban slum communities as well as district health authorities and
Ministries of Health and Education in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South
Africa, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda” (Amref Health Africa, 2017). By maintaining
this level of involvement with district health authorities, AMREF Health Africa
ensures the government is still held accountable for health issues that arise.

Although
NGOs are often associated with assisting in emergency responses and the relief
that they provide distressed communities, the second role they take on is
acting as a catalyst for change. These organizations “bring about change
through advocacy and seeking influence; they aim to innovate and to apply new
solutions to development problems” (Lewis and Kanji,
2009). When attempting to advocate for various causes, it is crucial that
these NGOs utilize their connections and relationships with other organizations
and the governments. Acting as an advocate is a challenging role for NGOs
because they are often challenging current policies and questioning a
governments ability to assist with issues that arise in their country (Lewis
and Kanji, 2009). Because of the nature of their work, NGOs must respect the
rules and laws of the country they are working in. While some governments are
more receptive than others, these relationships are imperative because NGOs are
encouraging policy changes that combat an issue at its roots. Therefore, NGOs
are often most successful if they are in good-standing with the government they
are trying to engage. Continuing with the previous NGO, in November of 2017, AMREF
announced that they will be partnering with the Advocacy Accelerator for a new
initiative that is aimed at “increasing capacity and support for youth to
advocate for policy changes to advance gender equality and sexual and
reproductive health rights in Kenya” (Amref Health Africa
Launches Initiative to Catalyze Youth Advocacy in Kenya, 2017). Through this
two-year campaign, AMREF strives “to promote youth-led advocacy with local
decision-makes on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights topics”
(Amref
Health Africa Launches Initiative to Catalyze Youth Advocacy in Kenya, 2017). This
is a significant issue that the youth face, but because of their broad reach, range
of alliances, and their cooperation with local decision makers and states, the
African Medical and Research Foundation aims to hold governments accountable
and effectively apply pressure to organize policy changes, such as this one.

      The third way that NGOs operate in
contemporary development is through the creation of partnerships. Partnerships
are when two or more organizations work together towards a common goal or
project. When NGOs engage in partnerships their partners include other NGOs,
corporations, or governments. As mentioned previously, having these
relationships allows NGOs to be more successful with their initiatives. For
example, in Ghana once independence was gained, the government recognized that
they needed partnerships with the local nonprofit institutions as they would be
able to assist the government develop in ways they could not achieve alone (Atingdui,
1995). For this reason, Ghana’s government encouraged the development of certain
NGOs. It was these supported NGOs that felt a greater sense of stability and
were able to accomplish more (Atingdui, 1995).

 Previously, AMREF Health Africa has utilized
partnerships in many ways. In May of 2013, AMREF signed onto a partnership with
Fintrac to “undertake agri-nutrition, youth and gender integration in the Kenya
Horticulture Competitiveness Project” (AMREF Signs Partnership with Fintrac,
2017). This partnership was designed to combat poor nutrition in Kenya’s
population. Partnerships like these facilitate such a strong backing that
results will be evident and prove the claim that the more support a NGO can gain
for their cause, the higher their initiatives success rate. 

            Recently, the New
Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) named AMREF Health Africa as one of
their essential partners in their health initiative (Amref Health Africa, 2017).
This is a direct result of AMREF’s large regional presence, multi-disciplinary
workforce, widespread experience in health development, and their $60 million
per year funding base (Amref Health Africa, 2017).
Their strength and commitment to providing health services to African
communities has been ever-present in the projects that they have taken on in
the past, and will continue to take on in the future. To help guide future
endeavors, AMREF produced a business plan comprised of seven strategic
directions to help them attain their vision of lasting health in Africa. Their
strategic priorities were to be achieved between 2007-2017. These priorities included
“making pregnancy safe and expanding reproductive health, reducing morbidity
and mortality among children, scaling up HIV and malaria responses, preventing
and controlling diseases related to water and sanitation, increasing access by
disadvantaged communities to quality medical and diagnostic services,
developing a strong research and innovation base to contribute to health
improvement in Africa, and developing a stronger more unified AMREF” (Amref
Health Africa, 2017). To reach their goals, they “engage in service delivery as
a means for building capacity of health professionals, testing innovative
approaches and undertaking research operations” (Amref Health Africa, 2017). Although
2017 hasn’t finished, and therefore the final results of these strategic
directions have not been concluded, it is evident that AMREF is well on their
way to reaching their goals. Currently, they have projects running in Ethiopia,
Kenya, Southern Africa, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Senegal and each
country has had varied success. For example, Ethiopia currently has demonstrated
success through the 26 projects running throughout the country and the annual $9.7
million funding them (Amref Health Africa, 2017). This money funds effective
projects that have changed the number of people with access to clean drinking
water from 3,480 in 2011 to 16,241 in 2013 (Amref Health Africa, 2017). Furthermore,
they have achieved 9,450 medical consultations and over 4,000 surgeries (Amref
Health Africa, 2017). While this information was released a few years ago and
updated numbers have yet to be published, their projects have continued over
the past couple years and furthered the development progress in these regions.

            In closing, its evident NGOs have
established a significant role in promoting development. These organizations
act as service providers, advocates, and partners to promote political and
social change in underprivileged communities. In this effort, they tackle
challenges such as emergency response, human rights, policy, and research. When
discussing each of these roles, this paper assessed the way in which AMREF
utilized each role to reach their objectives. From analyzing AMREF’s current
projects, it is evident that they are on the path to fulfilling their stated
goals. The success of AMREF’s projects demonstrates the impact NGOs can have in
the world. While these organizations face challenges with every project, the relationships
that they have with local citizens, other NGOs, and governments allows them to
see changes in the way of life in underprivileged communities and the policies
that govern them.