NGOs, Part I: So, What EXACTLY Do You Do???

I read an article by Michael Mascarenhas entitled “Sovereignty: Crisis, Humanitarianism, and the Condition of the 21st Century Sovereignty.” NGOs have been growing at a rapid pace over the past several decades and, in large part due to emergencies and crises, they have become the “go to” agencies for disaster response and relief. Due to these emergencies, NGOs have been experiencing a growth in sovereign power that, in many cases, allows them to supersede government agencies and even certain laws and policies. This sovereign power, Mascarenhas states, effectively allows NGOs to define “which populations to champion or ‘let live,’ and by default, which populations to ‘let die.’”

Mascarenhas went on to talk about how NGOs are also becoming economic enterprises and strategic business investments, employing the services of financiers to manage their books and receiving funds from corporate donors. He spoke about a particular NGO, Water for People, who has members on their Board of Directors that are CEOs and presidents of large companies involved in “water technology, facilities management and engineering and consulting.” Some of these corporate donors, Mascarenhas states, are even supplying the volunteer labor requisite of these NGOs to carry out programmatic work.

NGOs have caught some heat in recent memory in regards to how their funds are being dispersed or how effective they are in their work. In 2010, Haitian musician and rapper Wyclef Jean received some considerable criticism following the earthquake that rocked Haiti. He was accused to using funds that his foundation, Yéle Haïti, accumulated for personal expenses. Naturally, he denied these claims stating instead that his foundation did indeed make mistakes but that he never used the funds to pay off personal debts. Also in 2010, the German government began an investigation on AGEF under suspicion of embezzling millions of dollars in taxpayers money by overcharging the government for aid projects in Afghanistan and Iraq. AGEF denied these claims and called them a “smear campaign.” In 2012, a number of American “democracy workers” were arrested in Egypt, accused of “illegally operating pro-democracy programs and stirring unrest.” The perception was that these workers were strategically placed to influence internal Egyptian affairs. Some of these NGOs were actually funded, at least in part, by the United Sates government. According to the author of this article, it turns out that American NGOs are not-so-nongovernmental after all!

This led to a question that I posed: What exactly is the point of an NGO???

I am a HUGE James Bond fan and while I was reading these articles and discussing the content with my classmates and professor, I couldn’t help but think about the movie “Quantum of Solace.” In the 22nd installment of the James Bond franchise, Bond’s adversary was a gentleman named Dominic Greene, a member of the evil Quantum organization, who posed as an environmentalist and was the head of the Greene Project. This project’s work appeared to be ecological preservation, which was achieved by purchasing large pieces of land, but they were also planning a coup d’état in Bolivia in order to completely control their water supply. James Bond saw to the end of that. Hurray!

While this is a fantastical concept, I honestly don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility or even probability for such a dastardly deed to come to fruition. Due to the increasing growth and power of NGOs, it’s becoming a bit more difficult to regulate them and monitor exactly what is it that they do and whether or not they are effective in what they claim to be doing. True, some have opened up their books to the public and one can track where the money goes, can we really monitor what’s happening on the ground?

Annie mentioned that perhaps one way to regulate NGOs, or gauge their effectiveness, is to measure impact. What does that mean? Well, perhaps we could start by examining whether kids who were once illiterate are beginning to read and write and if malnourished children are beginning to gain weight because they now have something to eat. We can examine if women are beginning to find work because they’re receiving the education they need and doors of equal opportunity are beginning to open for them. We could also examine if persons displaced by disaster are finding new homes and new lives.

The sovereignty of NGOs continues to grow and corruption and deceit is almost a guarantee. I do not wish to paint ALL of these organizations in an exclusively negative light. There are some out there are that doing genuine work and are sincere in their efforts and NGOs can be extremely effective within the realm of transnational planning. I do believe that they are an incredible asset and can reach places and people that some governments cannot. Or will not. Nevertheless, as these organizations continue to remain in the forefront and are becoming increasingly involved in matter of foreign policy and development decisions, we need to be careful of what exactly is transpiring. We must tread softly.

The network of non-governmental organizations that claim to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas, and are centrally involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often use antisemitic themes and images in their campaigns. (PHOTO CREDIT:

The network of non-governmental organizations that claim to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas, and are centrally involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often use antisemitic themes and images in their campaigns. (PHOTO CREDIT:


2 thoughts on “NGOs, Part I: So, What EXACTLY Do You Do???

  1. Pingback: NGOs, Part II: So, What EXACTLY Can I Do??? | Transnational Planning

  2. Pingback: When there is a disaster, what should you do? | Transnational Planning

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