NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

6 posts / 0 new
Last post
japesc08
japesc08's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/17/2011
NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

My name is Jordan Pescrillo and I am currently a Global Studies major completing my final year at St. Lawrence University. My blog, "The NGO Monitor" is a research journal (so bear with me if I go a little off topic sometimes...) for my year-long honors project. I will attempt to critique grassroots humanitarian approaches of non-government organizations (NGO) particularly in East Africa and South Asia. My experiences studying abroad in Kenya, interning at Soft Power Education in Uganda, and working on establishing a NGO in Nepal will help aid the conversation as well as share my personal stories as well as others who live abroad. I hope to continuously address a SLU alumni named Katie Nelson's question: "Are we really changing anything?" Also, in the age of social media, I hope to identify the changes in local, grassroots NGO work as more people obtain access to media and global networks.

So, what is a NGO anyway? Well, it depends on who you ask. The UN claims that NGOs are "independent citizen organizations" and are often "the most effective voices for the concerns of ordinary people in the international area" who advocate for human rights, the environment, social programs, women's rights and sometimes unintentionall political change. NGOs range from large, international NGOs to community based or grassroots, to city-wide, and to nationally based NGOs. They also vary in orientation. They are mostly classified as: service oriented, empowering, charitable, and/or participatory.

Why do I care? The first week I entered St. Lawrence, I received an e-mail from a Nepali student named Brijlal Chaudhari that simply stated, "Do you want to go to Nepal? Do you want to help educate people in Nepal?" Ever since then, I have been involved in an organization called Literacy for Nepal at St. Lawrence. I had the opportunity to get my first look at grassroots organizations on the ground in Nepal in the summer of 2009. My experiences in Nepal quickly ended my naive perspectives of NGOs and their agents for social change. Although I believed our cause was making a substantial difference, the challenges and dramatic influence of foreign aid slowly began to be revealed.

188 Library in Nichuta, NepalMy critique of NGOs continued when I studied abroad in Kenya in the fall of 2010. We probably traveled to dozens of NGOs and interacted with foreign-owned NGOs on a daily basis. Through some truly empowering experiences as well as horror stories of robbed NGOs and kidnappings, I have begun to ask more critical questions about the nature of NGOs in a globalized age. I hope to take positive local experiences from my point of view as well as many I met in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to develop a revealing understandings of NGOs and the identities they help produce in the developing world.

189 "Soft Power" in Bujagali, UgandaWhy should this matter to you? Well, I am guessing you have donated a dollar at your favorite coffee shop or have or know someone who has adopted a child via Save the Children. Have you ever wondered if that dollar truly was making it to the child you donated it to? Do you have proof that you made a positive difference the day you opened your wallet? The purpose of this blog is to begin revealing the underreported nature of NGO accountability and the various local voices of people affected by NGOs on a daily basis.

Steve Knight
Steve Knight's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/28/2011
Re: NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

Don't forget about the work of Celia Nyamweru and Mwenda Ntarangwi on the SLU KSP!

Onward and Upward,

Steve Knight

japesc08
japesc08's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/17/2011
Re: NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

Thanks Steve! Celia is one of my major inspirations at SLU!

bmlong08
bmlong08's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/26/2011
Re: NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

I think this is a really interesting topic and I'm excited to follow your blog! The issue of corruption in NGO's is an alarming issue that we both saw studying abroad in Kenya and one I saw even further during my independent stay in Zanzibar. I look forward to seeing what you dig up about NGO's in that area! In relation to social media I think this is a great focus (although I am a little bias since this is my blog topic); I think you will find helpful material in this area. Are you going to analyze any NGO's you participated in, such as Dorobo? I look forward to your next blog post, keep up the good work!

japesc08
japesc08's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/17/2011
Re: NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

I was thinking of comparing an NGO that works with the Maasai and Dorobo. Isabel and I were discussing if there was a difference between organizations working with the Maasai and the Hadza. Please respond to that post or if you have any ideas of sources for that blog, let me know! Thanks Bond!

isabelborman
isabelborman's picture
Offline
Joined: 08/24/2011
Re: NGOs: Do Gooders or Agents of Empire?

I think this is a very important topic and I often contemplate this issue.  In fact it is part of the reason why I have slightly shifted my studies away from development of countries in Africa.  I cannot wait to see your research!

Isabel Borman

St. Lawrence University Class of 2012