The term NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) seems to be deceptively simple. However it has been defined by different individuals and scholars. According to Asian Development Bank the term non-governmental organization refers to “an organization not based in government, and it is not created to earn profit”. United Nations defines it as “private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interest of poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services or undertake community development”. The first definition is over-simplistic and leaves out important aspects of why NGOs are formed. However, the United Nations definition looks complete in itself as it gives emphasis to the idea that an NGO is an agency that is primarily engaged in work relating to the areas of development or humanitarian work at local, national and international levels. Another usefully concise definition is that provided by Vakil (1997), who states that, “NGOs are self-governing, private, not-for-profit organizations that are geared to improving the quality of life for disadvantaged people’’. This definition completes everything that may have been left out by the two definitions above. Three things now come outstanding about NGOs: they are not in government, they are private, they form to uplift the lives of the poor, they are non profit entities. We can therefore easily contrast NGOs with other types of groups such as trade unions, organizations concerned with arts or sport, and professional associations.
In terms of their structure, NGOs may be large or small, formal or informal, bureaucratic or flexible. In terms of funding, many are externally funded, while others depend on locally mobilized resources. Some may be well resourced and affluent, while others may be leading a ‘hand to mouth’ existence, struggling to survive from one year to the next. There are NGOs with highly professionalized staff, while others rely heavily on volunteers and supporters. In terms of values, NGOs are driven by a range of motivations. There are secular NGOs, as well as increasing numbers of ‘faith-based’ organizations. Some NGOs may be charitable and paternalistic, others seeking to pursue radical or empowerment-based approaches. A single NGO may combine several of these different elements at any one time. Morris-Suzuki (2000) notes that ‘NGOs may pursue change, but they can equally work to maintain existing social and political systems’. This is to mean that mostly NGOs tend to continue or promote what people of the area consider to be of paramount. It is then not surprising in Zambia to find NGOs that foster the development of agriculture, such as planting of Cassava in western province since the crop is considered vital in uplifting the standards of the people in the area. A key point to note is that NGOs can now almost be seen as a kind of tabula rasa, a ‘blank slate’, onto which a range of current ideas, expectations and anxieties about development are now projected (Lewis 2005). For example, for radicals who seek to explore alternative visions of development, some NGOs may be seen as vehicles for progressive change. In some parts of the world, NGOs have gained legitimacy because they were part of struggles against dictatorship, or because they provided support to independence movements from colonialism. Even in Zambia, we have some NGOs that offer good solutions to the problems affecting the poor people. Such NGOs as Transparence International Zambia (TIZ), Women for Change, FAWEZA are examples to give. These give a wide range of services to the people, from education, watchdog against corruption and gender issues.Women for Change for example has been instrumental in spearheading women movements in Zambia. In the remaining part of the paper, we shall turn to the strategic advantages of NGOs in development. We shall also explore their various weaknesses or disadvantages in the development process of a country. As we have already...
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