Humanitarian NGOs: Challenges and tends

I found this report while doing some searching on Oxfam and other organizations, and specifically how they work and compare to each other. The report was:

HPG Report
Humanitarian action and the 'global war on terrorism'
Chapter 3
Humanitarian NGOs: challenges and trends
Abby Stoddard
Center on International Cooperation, New York University

Available in PDF or on Google HTML cache.

This document categorizes NGO as being either US or European in focus.

  • Aid agencies have exploded, even inserting themselves in conflict areas that only the Red Cross used to involve themselves in.
  • UN aid agencies are beset with many problems.
  • NGO's are doing what we would expecting functioning states to do
  • "A handful of major players - CARE, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Oxfam, Save the Children and World Vision - dominate the international non-governmental landscape."
  • " In emergencies, these NGOs often serve as coordinator or lead agency for other, smaller organisations working in their niche area." Some, such as CARE and World Vision, began with a strong corporate model, while others, such as MSF and Oxfam, started out as looser umbrella organisations with more of a coordinating function. By the 1990s, a more confederated style of governance had begun to emerge across these organisations."
  • "Organisations like CARE and Oxfam have moved in a similar direction, cultivating partnerships with indigenous NGOs and focusing on project spin-offs that build indigenous capacity."
  • Section 3.2 talks a little about how organizations seems to be effected by their country, comparing MDM US/France with MDM Greece.
  • Section 3.3: "Today’s ‘super NGOs’ have evolved from one of three main historical strands: the religious, the ‘Dunantist’ and the ‘Wilsonian’":

    Today’s ‘super NGOs’ have evolved from one of three main historical strands: the religious, the ‘Dunantist’ and the ‘Wilsonian’. The religious humanitarian tradition is the oldest of the three, and is predicated on the basic tenets of compassion and charitable service. Although religious humanitarianism has its antecedent in missionary work in the European colonial empires, most religious humanitarian agencies, certainly the largest and most reputable ones, do not proselytise in any direct way, though many may combine religious values with social goals. Of the Christian faiths, Catholicism provides some of the largest and most visible aid organisations; CRS, Caritas and CAFOD, for instance, are all Catholic organisations. Catholic agencies have a religious purpose in ‘preaching the coming kingdom’, but this does not include evangelisation, and aid is delivered in the spirit of service and free giving, and as a vehicle for ecumenical rapprochement between the Catholic Church and other faiths.

    Of the Christian faith-based agencies, World Vision International is unusual in that, while it has a distinctly Christian message, it is not governed by an established Church. Rather, it defines itself as a ‘trans-denominational’ organisation, albeit one with Protestant leanings. Its field offices work in partnership with local secular and religious organisations of all faiths, and integrate faith into their activities in varying degrees depending on the country concerned. In Afghanistan, for instance, the organisation consists of a mostly Muslim staff, and its programmes are indistinguishable from those of secular agencies...

    The second strand could be labelled the ‘Dunantist’ tradition, for Henri Dunant, whose horrified reaction to the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in 1859 launched the Red Cross as a humanitarian movement based on the protection of civilians in war. Although its legal status, embodied in the Geneva Conventions, means that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is not an NGO, having the status of an international organisation, it was the originating humanitarian organisation in this tradition and the codifier of the core humanitarian principles. Some of today’s largest humanitarian NGOs have their roots in this tradition: Save the Children UK, for instance, was created in the Dunantist image at the end of the First World War to help war orphans, and to protect the rights of war-affected children. Oxfam began as a university movement to send food relief to Nazi-occupied Greece in opposition to British legislation barring aid to countries under occupation. MSF, though it emerged much later, is also firmly within the Dunantist tradition.

    The third strand, the ‘Wilsonian’ tradition, characterises most US NGOs. It stems from US President Woodrow Wilson’s ambition of projecting US values and influence as a force for good in the world. Unlike European organisations, with their political and intellectual roots and opposition to the actions of governments, Wilsonians see a basic compatibility between humanitarian aims and US foreign policy, albeit not necessarily particular policy acts (Rieff, 2002).Thus,CARE, the largest American NGO and a quintessential member of the Wilsonian tradition, came into being after the Second World War as the ‘Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe’, delivering surplus US army food parcels during the Marshall Plan. Wilsonian NGOs tend to have a practical, operational bent, and practitioners move back and forth between NGOs and government. In part, this closer identification with government emerged as a result of the particular trajectories of the American left. Whereas in Europe, the founders of humanitarian NGOs came from leftist movements, left-wingers in the US tended to gravitate towards human rights. One consequence of this has been a clearer demarcation than in Europe between human rights and humanitarianism (Rieff, 2002).
  • Some organizations shy away from contraversey and work closely with governments, while others picks who they say are the victim, takes sides and will be rebelloius towards goverments, like MSF.
  • O'Malley and Dijkzeul (2002) made a 'Mental Map of Large Internetional NGOs: "based less on humanitarian principles, and more on the nature of the relationships between governments and NGOs."
    Mental Map of Large NGOsThis relationship encompasses both the extent of agencies’ independence from donors, and their means of exercising influence, that is, the relative weight of advocacy as against operations."
  • "
  • Another way of categorising NGOs looks at the question of what sort of community they would like to institute
  • among themselves: one based on shared codes and rules and eventually a formal accountability structure, or a more
  • atomistic structure containing a collection of independent and diverse entities. Figure 3.4 (see overleaf) attempts this
  • new typology by superimposing this question onto the Dunantist and Wilsonian categorisation described above.
  • Viewed in this way, NGOs may be clustered not only by political independence and operational approach, but also
  • by where they stand regarding the cohesiveness of their
  • community. This also illustrates the cross-cutting alliances
  • between segments of NGOs, for instance the shared
  • enthusiasm for more formal cooperation between a portion
  • of the Wilsonian camp and the anglophone Dunantists."

  • The rest of the document was largely about NGOs working with governments and military, and human rights based model (which they are all moving toward especially the European tradition which has always focused on it) and code based accountability.
Related resources.


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