Non-governmentalOrganizations (NGOs) promote and enable social, political, and economic change (Lewisand Kanji, 2009). These organizations accomplish this in various manners,however, they all strive to achieve their goals of facilitating development andbettering the lives of neglected populations. NGOs have been working towards improvingthe world for centuries now. However, although they weren’t new, it wasn’tuntil the late 1900’s that they were recognized as a central component todevelopment. As NGO’s engage in this process, they have established a uniquerelationship with the state and governing bodies.
Previously, their relationshipsfluctuated between supportive and repressive, but without backing NGOs have amore difficult time accomplishing their goals (Atingdui, 1995). Today, some of theserelationships have improved and now successfully further development in fieldssuch as emergency response, human rights, policy development, and research. Thisessay will examine the role of NGOs in development today and will analyze theNGO, the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), and evaluate if theyare on track to fulfill their objectives for the future.
Inthe 1900s the world created the “new policy agenda” and found itself looking toimplement the concept of “Global Governance” (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). The idea of globalgovernance suggests that a body outside of the state monitors and addressessocial 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 boththe individuals they are serving and the governments they are working under(Lewis and Kanji, 2009). NGOs are difficult to define because of the variety offorms they come in. Nevertheless, there are key components that most NGOsembody. First, they are private organizations. This means they are separatefrom the government and receive funding either through donors or campaigns.Although NGO’s can be hired by various governments to implement certainpolicies or programs, NGOs remain separate from the state and areself-governed.
Self-government is another key characteristic of NGOs. Finally,NGOs often operate without earning a profit and by using many volunteers. Itwas thought that by creating this type of body there would be increaseddevelopment and benefits for the individuals in need. This is because NGOs removegovernments from the solution and replaces them with local individuals who arecloser to the matter.
The local participation made NGOs truly gain strength andsupport from the public. “By the late 1970s, in the face of growing economic andsocial problems, the state became increasingly unable to meet the welfare needsof the population, and demands began to shift toward private voluntaryassociations” (Atingdui, 1995). Therefore, when “developmentdebates were moving more towards environment, gender and social development,NGOs already operating in this area moved closer to the aid system” (Lewis andKanji, 2009). This was a big step for development because NGOs cost less, whichmeans more funding can go to supporting different causes. Today, there are anestimated 35,000 NGOs working towards various causes world-wide (Lewis andKanji, 2009).Mychosen non-governmental organization to analyze is the African Medical andResearch Foundation (AMREF). This foundation was originally established in 1957by doctors Michael Wood, Archibald McIndoe, and Tom Rees (Amref Health Africa,2017).
After having worked in Africa as reconstructive surgeons, these threedoctors saw the scarcity of hospitals and health services available to citizensparticularly in remote areas (Amref Health Africa, 2017). To alleviate some ofthis, they created a mobile health facility that brought medical expertise toplaces of need. Their mission was to be ‘committed to improving the health ofpeople in Africa by partnering with and empowering communities, andstrengthening health systems” (Amref Health Africa,2017). Over the past sixty years, this NGO has expanded to include mobilemedical services, advocating for stronger health systems, and disease controlinitiatives (Amref Health Africa, 2017). Today,there are twelve national offices in various countries that contribute to theseprojects (Amref Health Africa, 2017).Incontemporary development, there are essentially three roles of NGOs. However, oftenone NGO will engage in all three of these roles. The first and fastest growingsection is service delivery.
NGOs that operate in service delivery provide underprivilegedindividuals and developing communities with essential services that theirgovernments either don’t provide or are of low and unreliable quality. Not onlydo they provide these goods, but service NGOs often also actively engage inresearch and training (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). My chosen NGO, AMREF, actively works in this sector. AMREF works toimprove the health of individuals living in Africa. They offer treatment,prevention, and care as well as diagnosis and surgical services. However, theyalso conduct research and through peer reviewed journals provide valuableknowledge on disease prevention and health related issues that Africancommunities experience. Some critics claim that NGOs, such as this one, allowgovernments to step away from the issues at hand, removes citizen’s ability torequest services from the government, and puts the responsibilities of problemsolving solely on NGOs (Lewis and Kanji, 2009). However, this claim does notstand up when investigating major NGOs.
AMREF, for example, works with thelocal communities but also partners with local authorities. AMREF Health Africahas “A strong regional presence, working with over 100 poor and marginalizedrural and urban slum communities as well as district health authorities andMinistries of Health and Education in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, SouthAfrica, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda” (Amref Health Africa, 2017). By maintainingthis level of involvement with district health authorities, AMREF Health Africaensures the government is still held accountable for health issues that arise. AlthoughNGOs are often associated with assisting in emergency responses and the reliefthat they provide distressed communities, the second role they take on isacting as a catalyst for change. These organizations “bring about changethrough advocacy and seeking influence; they aim to innovate and to apply newsolutions to development problems” (Lewis and Kanji,2009). When attempting to advocate for various causes, it is crucial thatthese NGOs utilize their connections and relationships with other organizationsand the governments. Acting as an advocate is a challenging role for NGOsbecause they are often challenging current policies and questioning agovernments ability to assist with issues that arise in their country (Lewisand Kanji, 2009). Because of the nature of their work, NGOs must respect therules and laws of the country they are working in.
While some governments aremore receptive than others, these relationships are imperative because NGOs areencouraging policy changes that combat an issue at its roots. Therefore, NGOsare often most successful if they are in good-standing with the government theyare trying to engage. Continuing with the previous NGO, in November of 2017, AMREFannounced that they will be partnering with the Advocacy Accelerator for a newinitiative that is aimed at “increasing capacity and support for youth toadvocate for policy changes to advance gender equality and sexual andreproductive health rights in Kenya” (Amref Health AfricaLaunches Initiative to Catalyze Youth Advocacy in Kenya, 2017). Through thistwo-year campaign, AMREF strives “to promote youth-led advocacy with localdecision-makes on gender and sexual and reproductive health and rights topics”(AmrefHealth Africa Launches Initiative to Catalyze Youth Advocacy in Kenya, 2017). Thisis a significant issue that the youth face, but because of their broad reach, rangeof alliances, and their cooperation with local decision makers and states, theAfrican Medical and Research Foundation aims to hold governments accountableand effectively apply pressure to organize policy changes, such as this one. The third way that NGOs operate incontemporary development is through the creation of partnerships. Partnershipsare when two or more organizations work together towards a common goal orproject. When NGOs engage in partnerships their partners include other NGOs,corporations, or governments.
As mentioned previously, having theserelationships allows NGOs to be more successful with their initiatives. Forexample, in Ghana once independence was gained, the government recognized thatthey needed partnerships with the local nonprofit institutions as they would beable to assist the government develop in ways they could not achieve alone (Atingdui,1995). For this reason, Ghana’s government encouraged the development of certainNGOs.
It was these supported NGOs that felt a greater sense of stability andwere able to accomplish more (Atingdui, 1995). Previously, AMREF Health Africa has utilizedpartnerships in many ways. In May of 2013, AMREF signed onto a partnership withFintrac to “undertake agri-nutrition, youth and gender integration in the KenyaHorticulture Competitiveness Project” (AMREF Signs Partnership with Fintrac,2017). This partnership was designed to combat poor nutrition in Kenya’spopulation.
Partnerships like these facilitate such a strong backing thatresults will be evident and prove the claim that the more support a NGO can gainfor their cause, the higher their initiatives success rate. Recently, the NewPartnership for African Development (NEPAD) named AMREF Health Africa as one oftheir essential partners in their health initiative (Amref Health Africa, 2017).This is a direct result of AMREF’s large regional presence, multi-disciplinaryworkforce, widespread experience in health development, and their $60 millionper year funding base (Amref Health Africa, 2017).Their strength and commitment to providing health services to Africancommunities has been ever-present in the projects that they have taken on inthe past, and will continue to take on in the future. To help guide futureendeavors, AMREF produced a business plan comprised of seven strategicdirections to help them attain their vision of lasting health in Africa. Theirstrategic priorities were to be achieved between 2007-2017.
These priorities included”making pregnancy safe and expanding reproductive health, reducing morbidityand mortality among children, scaling up HIV and malaria responses, preventingand controlling diseases related to water and sanitation, increasing access bydisadvantaged communities to quality medical and diagnostic services,developing a strong research and innovation base to contribute to healthimprovement in Africa, and developing a stronger more unified AMREF” (AmrefHealth Africa, 2017). To reach their goals, they “engage in service delivery asa means for building capacity of health professionals, testing innovativeapproaches and undertaking research operations” (Amref Health Africa, 2017). Although2017 hasn’t finished, and therefore the final results of these strategicdirections have not been concluded, it is evident that AMREF is well on theirway to reaching their goals. Currently, they have projects running in Ethiopia,Kenya, Southern Africa, Uganda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Senegal and eachcountry has had varied success. For example, Ethiopia currently has demonstratedsuccess through the 26 projects running throughout the country and the annual $9.7million funding them (Amref Health Africa, 2017). This money funds effectiveprojects that have changed the number of people with access to clean drinkingwater 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 (AmrefHealth Africa, 2017). While this information was released a few years ago andupdated numbers have yet to be published, their projects have continued overthe past couple years and furthered the development progress in these regions. In closing, its evident NGOs haveestablished a significant role in promoting development. These organizationsact as service providers, advocates, and partners to promote political andsocial change in underprivileged communities. In this effort, they tacklechallenges such as emergency response, human rights, policy, and research.
Whendiscussing each of these roles, this paper assessed the way in which AMREFutilized each role to reach their objectives. From analyzing AMREF’s currentprojects, it is evident that they are on the path to fulfilling their statedgoals. The success of AMREF’s projects demonstrates the impact NGOs can have inthe world. While these organizations face challenges with every project, the relationshipsthat they have with local citizens, other NGOs, and governments allows them tosee changes in the way of life in underprivileged communities and the policiesthat govern them.