With the temperature dipping as low as 7°C, going to Chiang Rai during the country’s coldest days in decades was probably not the brightest idea. But the famed Thai winter is often the number one reason why most people visit Thailand’s northernmost province.
The province is among the most ethnically-diverse regions in the country with hill tribes inhabiting the lush Indochina mountains. The mighty Mekong river basin also passes through these fertile valleys marking the shared borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. This area—also called the Golden Triangle—is notoriously known as the center of opium trade in the region over the past decades.
Another must-visit in the city is the obscure yet visually stunning Wat Rong Khun, popularly known as the White Temple, just a few kilometers south of the city center.
Wat Rong Khun
Wat Khua Khrae Muang
Wat Phra Singh
Golden Triangle, the shared borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar.
More pictures here.
#gradschoolproblems perfectly sums up how my 2015 went by as this was the year I finished my coursework and started working on my ~beloved~ thesis.
Looking back, the only thing that really stuck to me this past year—aside from the glistening limestone islands of Halong Bay and the sea of yellow and green from Lopburi’s sunflower fields—was the obscene amount of coffee I’ve consumed writing papers and reviewing for exams.
Grad school got me pretty much preoccupied this year that most of my posts essentially captured the frustrations, fears, and fulfillment most grad students feel as well as the constant struggle on keeping our sanity intact. Yes, the struggle is real.
As this year comes to an end, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite posts this year. May the new year be as memorable and fruitful. As Nate Ruess puts it: “If you’re lost and alone or you’re sinking like a stone, carry on. May your past be the sound of your feet upon the ground, carry on.”
Bracing up for an awesome 2016!
Words to live by in 2015: Underpromise, overdeliver.
Sweaty palms and the restless calm.
Secret glances and those missed chances.
Mind games waiting to be played.
Those three damn words no one dare to say.
Commodification of the highest highs and senseless sighs.
Thornless stalks and flowery talks.
Unspoken truths and silent promises.
Deafening whispers and sugar-coated curses.
Drowning myself with bottles of liquid courage.
Just enough to heave one clear message.
Picking the right letters to complete the sentence:
‘Come, be a witness to my existence.’
Heart momentarily skipping.
I’m just but a person feeling feelings.
All the risks I’m willing to take.
So please be my next mistake.
You know it’s midterms week when you have obscene amount of caffeine and a tall stack of readings as dinner. #onedaymore
Onism (n.): the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience.
Arguably one of the best vids in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows web series! Other favorites: nodus tollens, sonder, zenosyne, kenopsia, and socha.
You know it is the finals week when you start running solely on coffee and deadlines. It all starts perfectly as you begin to write a to-do list planning your every waking minute. You consider doing an outline as a warm up for a week’s worth of hardcore crossfit for the brain. Then, it all goes downhill from there.
You start looking for a new font to use on your outline, research on the proper word usage of ‘towards/toward’ and ‘effectiveness/efficacy/efficiency’, and purposively search for articles on why people procrastinate. Then, you decide to take a ‘power nap’ which involves using Facebook for hours cyberstalking random campus crushes, secretly hating other friends and their summer vacation photos, and getting stressed by posts on Nepal, Veloso, and Pacquiao.
You wake up around 2AM and question whether having coffee at that hour is acceptable. You panic and start writing random stuff like this. You wake up the next day, jog around campus while waiting for your laundry to finish, and then have a full bowl of academic guilt and a cup of scalding and bitter truth as your breakfast.
I was once told that grad school is like Hunger Games. You are told how privileged you are to be there yet you can’t remember why you volunteered as a tribute. #gradschoolproblems
You know you’ve been in Thailand long enough when night markets become your go-to place to grab dinner under THB100.
Thesis guilt (noun): that nagging uneasiness you feel every time you decide to do ‘less important’ stuff rather than scanning related journal articles or revising your theoretical framework.
It is also that consuming feeling of guilt every time you think of doing even the most mundane non-thesis-related activities, such as catching up on your movies and TV series backlog, doing your laundry, going out for some drinks, taking a shower, or even sleeping. #gradschoolproblems
Dear Bangkok, I know we have a love-hate relationship but this past year has truly been amazing.
The library may not be the most ideal place to celebrate anniversaries but I need to stay here today because I do not intend to celebrate our second anniv stuck here writing my thesis. I promise I’ll make it up to you this weekend.
Vicious cycle of literature review: Spending the entire day reading a pile of journal articles and related lit then end up writing just two sentences as summary. #gradschoolproblems
Dear 27-year-olds, take it easy. No one has it all figured out. Signed, a 28-year-old.
Life lessons from the field: How to get away from barking dogs and how to politely say no when someone invites you for lambanog.
There’s nothing more consuming than dealing with those gloomy clouds of self-doubt. We often go through life aimlessly drifting and wading through this neck-deep water filled with unmet expectations and gnawing fears. But we also find ourselves purposively pushing ourselves further and deeper armed with that profound sense of confidence and confusion of where we’re really headed.
We are all but wanderers in this sea of worries and triumphs.
This report, the Development Plan for Tha Luang District, describes the current development status of Tha Luang District in Lopburi Province and aims to provide recommendations to local authorities and other relevant organizations for future district development planning.
The report summarizes the current situation, problems, potentials, and needs for the following key sectors: (a) natural resources and environment; (b) agriculture; (c) non-agriculture covering industries, trade and commerce, and tourism; (d) infrastructure; and (e) social sectors including public health, education, and local governance. Additionally, project proposals were developed, which are expected to contribute in the further development of the district.
This report was prepared by students of the Rural-Regional Planning Workshop course from January to May 2015 under the Regional and Rural Development Planning (RRDP) master’s and doctoral programs at the Asian Institute of Technology.
Lopburi is one of Thailand’s oldest provinces and once served as a hub for key kingdoms of the region. The province became an important seat of civilization for influential Southeast Asian empires including the Khmer and Ayutthaya regimes. Formerly known as La-Wo or Lavo, the province is strategically located on the east side of the mighty Chao Phraya River in the central plains of Thailand.
In the late 1600s, King Narai—arguably the most influential king in the province’s history—declared Lopburi as the second capital of the country. He established and fostered a strong trade relationship with France and other Western countries, which led to the rapid development of the province. At present, Lopburi Province is famous for the hundreds of monkeys roaming around its city streets and the sea of yellow and green from the large sunflower fields.
Tha Luang District was initially established on 15 November 1978 when the subdistricts (tambons) of Kaeng Phak Kut, Nong Phak Waen, Sap Champa, and Tha Luang were split off from Chai Badan District. On 26 May 1989, Tha Luang received its full district status. The district is subdivided into six tambons, namely: Hua Lam, Kaeng Phak Kut, Nong Phak Waen, Sap Champa, Tha Luang, and Thale Wang Wat. These subdistricts are further subdivided into 45 villages. At present, there are five Tambon Administrative Organizations (TAOs) in the district.
A brief look on climate finance in the Philippines
Thousands of Filipino families are still reeling from the devastating impacts of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the central Philippines almost two years ago. Tagged as the strongest storm to ever hit land, this natural calamity killed almost 6,300 people and has displaced millions of climate refugees (National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, 2014). The storm’s aftermath has highlighted the increasing threats faced by countries, such as the Philippines, from the damaging effects of the rapidly changing global climate.
According to the GermanWatch, the Philippines was the most disaster-affected country in 2013 (Kreft, Eckstein, Junghans, Kerestan, & Hagen, 2014). Aside from strong tropical storms, the Philippines is also considered a major hotspot for other climate-related hazards, such as landslides, floods, and droughts, largely due to the country’s location and general topography. Extreme weather patterns due to climate change pose a serious threat to millions of Filipinos as an overwhelming majority of country’s population heavily rely on climate-sensitive sectors, including agriculture, forestry, and fisheries.
These issues—alongside exponential population growth, rapid urbanization, and unsustainable use of natural resources, among others—further increases the country’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Aside from these, World Bank (2013) estimates that the Philippines contributes about 0.3 percent of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and this may likely increase due to heavy industrialization and prevalence of carbon-inefficient practices. While the country’s GHG emissions may be relatively small compared to other countries, there is still an imperative need to build the country’s capacity to respond and mitigate these climate change risks.
Laying a solid foundation
Since the late 2000s, the Philippine government has put in place several legal frameworks and implementing mechanisms to scale up local climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives. Among these was the Republic Act (RA) 9729 or the Climate Change Act of 2009, mainstreaming climate change in national plans and policies. This landmark legislation also established the Climate Change Commission (CCC) to oversee its effective implementation. Through the CCC, the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change (NFSCC) was adopted in 2010, outlining the specific targets in building climate-resilient communities. Other key strategies were adopted thereafter, including the National Climate Action Plan and the adoption of the People’s Survival Fund.
Current national targets for climate adaptation and mitigation are also enumerated in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011–2016. Broadly, the PDP 2011–2016 pushes to (a) strengthen institutional capacities for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation (DRR/CCA) programs; (b) improve adaptive capacity of communities; (c) reduce vulnerability of ecosystems and biodiversity; (d) promote greener technologies and practices; and (e) utilize untapped renewable and alternative energy resources.
Investing for the future
Over the last few years, large amounts of funds—both from domestic and international sources—have been invested to support these initiatives. Legally defined in RA 9729 (2009), climate finance covers the “allocation of public resources towards the climate change adaptation and mitigation requirements of the country and vulnerable communities, through frameworks, mechanisms, and processes that are equitable, accountable, transparent, and are in line with the national development goals.”
According to National Economic and Development Authority, the Philippines received a total of USD 2.21 billion of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2011 to support 78 climate change programs and projects. Almost half (55 percent) of these ODA-assisted initiatives focused on adaptation and only 16 percent on mitigation. Of these initiatives, 60 programs and projects (77 percent) are grant-assisted, while the remaining 23 percent were funded through loans (Centeno, 2012).
Multilateral and bilateral funds have been earmarked as part of the international commitments on climate change including those channelled under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), such as the Adaptation Fund and Green Climate Fund. These fund sources are financed by voluntary contributions of heavily industrialized countries as well as proceeds from Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) initiatives adopted in compliance with international agreements, such as the Kyoto Protocol.
As of May 2015, around USD 10 billion-worth of climate investments have been pledged under these mechanisms. However, only USD 5.5 billion have been officially operationalized (World Bank, 2013). The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has also allocated a total of USD 8.8 million from 2010–2014 and about USD 7.5 million is proposed for the next GEF funding cycle (CCC, 2015). Other independent investments have also been pledged through the country’s partnership with other national governments and aid agencies, including Australia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
Mobilizing local investments
The Philippines has leveraged increased national investments on CCA/DRR initiatives in the past couple of years. While it only represents a small percentage of the national budget, local climate appropriations have remarkably increased from 0.9 percent in 2008 to 1.9 percent in 2012. This allocation now covers around 0.3 percent of the country’s current gross domestic product (World Bank, 2013).
However, a closer review of the country’s climate expenditures reveal that a large percentage of the national budget is spent on the infrastructure and energy sectors. In 2013, the Department of Public Works and Highway allotted around USD 450 million for flood control and management projects. On the other hand, the Department of Energy set a USD 84-million budget to enhance the country’s energy efficiency.
Most of the national projects implemented in past years focus on adaptation. These initiatives include the promotion of organic and climate-smart agriculture by the Department of Agriculture and building up the capacity of PAGASA, the national weather agency, on weather and flood forecasting and disaster risk reduction. In terms of mitigation, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources raised its budget to USD 1.5 billion in 2013, most of which are for the National Greening Program primarily targeting to replant 1.5 billion trees over 1.5 million hectares of land from 2011 to 2016.
In 2012, the Philippine government also established the People’s Survival Fund, a special allocation from the national budget to finance long-term adaptation and mitigation measures. Local government units and CCC-accredited organizations can access this special fund amounting to PHP 1 billion (about USD 22 million). Local initiatives that can be supported by this fund include setting up early warning systems, providing climate risk insurance to farmers, building local capacities, and enhancing information dissemination.
Efforts have also been made to further engage the private sector in scaling up their adaptation and mitigation initiatives. However, private sector’s involvement remains to be limited since majority of these projects are implemented under corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes. Claudio (2012) explained that most business entities in the country focus on enhancing their compliance to environmental standards and regulation, improving their use of natural resources, and increasing awareness on climate change and other key environmental issues. On the other hand, public-private partnerships (PPPs) have only focused on a few profitable sectors, including infrastructure, water services, and energy. Weak policy and institutional mechanisms continue to be major barriers for increased private sector engagement. Further support can only be leveraged if sustainable incentives are adopted, including tax breaks and other non-fiscal incentives.
The future of climate finance
The challenge now is to align these investment and strategies to long-term climate change adaptation and mitigation plans and policies, especially at the grassroots level. Building the capacity of local governments and laying out effective implementing mechanisms is critically important since these local units are in the frontline to respond to these risks. Best practices on climate adaptation and mitigation at the community level should also be replicated, scaled up, or integrated into local development plans and programs.
Good governance and transparency should also be championed once legal and institutional frameworks have been set. Climate finance would only be effective if funds are properly used.
Instead of solely relying on foreign investments in the form of loans and grants, there is also a need to establish sustainable financial mechanisms at the local level. The trade-not-aid debate argues that more emphasis should be given in strengthening the institutional capabilities of governments and making local and global markets work for sustained local growth. Eliminating financial barriers and promoting strengthened partnerships with the private sector would make aid much less necessary.
Centeno, J. (2012). Climate Change Financing in the Philippines [Powerpoint presentation]. National Economic Development Authority.
Claudio, C. (2012). Climate Change Adaptation: Best Practices in the Philippines. Manila: DENR. Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1DR4qed.
Climate Change Act of 2009, Republic Act No. 9729, 14th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. (2009). Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1IamQbE.
Kreft, S., Eckstein, D., Junghans, L., Kerestan, C., & Hagen, U. (2014). Global Climate Risk Index 2015: Who Suffers Most From Extreme Weather Events? Berlin: German Watch. Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1OQ4YaT.
National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. (2014). NDRRMC Update on the Effects of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Quezon City, Philippines: NDRRMC. Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1IamYYI.
National Economic and Development Authority. (2011). Philippine Development Plan 2011–2016. Pasig City, Philippines: NEDA. Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1VOAtGU.
World Bank. (2013). Getting a Grip on Climate Change in the Philippines. Washington, DC: World Bank. Accessed 17 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1H5dyfv.
Recent estimates have shown that the share of the population living on less than USD 1.25 per day has remarkably decreased in the last few years. This notably has been used as a benchmark in the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal (MDG) whose first target is to reduce global poverty by this year. However, more and more people continue to live under the vicious cycle of poverty, especially in fragile states often affected by perpetual or prolonged armed conflict, poor governance, or high competition for natural resources. Does the achievement of MDGs truly reflect the improving status of countries when it comes to combatting global poverty?
Conventional views on poverty often focus on how much a person or family earns per day. This myopic view on poverty undermines and oversimplifies the complex and multidimensional nature of poverty. Aside from addressing income deprivation, the limited access to basic social services should also be targeted.
A better way to assess a country’s wealth is to look into how it treats the most marginalized and underprivileged sectors of the society. Rights-based development advocates for a holistic, people-centered approach to development, making sure that universally accepted human rights are not violated and are duly respected. In a nutshell, it argues that development requires the achievement of universal human rights.
British sociologist Peter Townsend pioneered the idea of looking into relative deprivation as a key indicator in defining poverty (McLachlan, 1983). His definition differentiated relative poverty to absolute poverty. Traditionally, absolute poverty can be measured through a standardized set of unit, usually through income or consumption-related values. As an example, the MDGs would define an individual to be poor if he or she lives on less than USD 1.25 per day. To Townsend, it is important to consider not just the income-related values but also non-income measures, such as access to basic physiological, safety, and social needs. He also emphasized that poverty should also be assessed in the sociocultural space and time wherein which deprivation occurs (Ferragina, Tomlinson, & Walker, 2013).
This income-biased view on poverty has resulted to the limited impact of poverty reduction strategies implemented in recent years. The early 2000s mark the emergence of microfinance programs as a response to address global poverty. This promising market-driven model for poverty reduction, alongside its emphasis on adopting a more participatory approach to development, led to its rapid popularity. Among the major arguments for microfinance include the lack of access to formal banking institutions and the increasing household debt among poor communities. However, it seems that it has since lost its track due to some of its unintended consequences, including the burgeoning debt among poor farmers.
Other countries also launched conditional cash transfer (CCT) schemes or government-supported programs that directly provide monetary assistance to indigent individuals. However, recent experiences have shown that these schemes have not been able to target the poorest of the poor and have also cultivated a culture of dependency and mendicancy among its beneficiaries. In the Philippines, ADB (2015) estimates that almost 30 percent of the budget allocated for the national CCT program did not go to the poor.
Instead of focusing on raising incomes, more emphasis should be given in empowering and building communities’ capacities. A key determinant of empowerment is that has to inherently come from within the community. It implies the communities can only empower themselves by consciously deciding to make choices relevant to them. External development agents can only facilitate and set up the conditions within which communities can empower themselves.
Asian Development Bank. (2015). To Foster Inclusive Growth, Tackle Inequality and Climate Change. Manila: ADB. Accessed 25 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1BQgXDw.
Ferragina, E., Tomlinson, M., & Walker, R. (2013). Poverty, Participation, and Choice: The Legacy of Peter Townsend. London: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Accessed 25 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1KfStpD.
Guardian Interactive team, Harris, C., & Provost, C. (2013). Millennium Development Goals: Big Ideas, Broken Promises? The Guardian. Accessed 25 June 2015, from http://bit.ly/1xVvU3t.
McLachlan, H. (1983). Townsend and the Concept of ‘Poverty’. Social Policy and Administration, 17 (2), 97–105. doi: 0.1111/j.1467-9515.1983.tb00181.x
Initially, man’s understanding of development is only limited to economic growth. Conventional economic theories put emphasis on establishing a free market to hasten economic growth, ergo for development. However, recent experiences of many developing countries have shown that a boost in a country’s financial sector does not necessarily mean an improvement in the overall well-being of its citizens. Several studies have provided strong evidences positing that economic growth alone does not guarantee the reduction of poverty and a better quality of life especially in Third World countries.
The widening rich-poor gap and prevailing social inequalities continue to hamper development in many countries. In fact, higher income inequality within countries is linked with slower economic growth, higher poverty incidence, higher unemployment rate, and other retrogressive impacts. More emphasis should be given to the equal distribution of income and of opportunity.
South Africa’s experience in recent years perfectly illustrates the incongruence between fueling economic growth and development. The rapid rise of the BRICS economic bloc signify the apparent shift of global economic dominance from traditional developed economies to the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. With all its population and economic assets combined, the BRICS makes up almost one-fifth of the world’s economy (Willis, 2011).
However, despite significant improvements in South Africa’s economy in last few decades, majority of its population are still living below the poverty line and have limited access to social services. These may be due to weak institutions and prevalent corruption in the country, some of which are remnants of the anti-poor apartheid practices adopted in previous decades. Recent estimates show that South Africa’s Gini coefficient — a quantitative measure of a country’s level of inequality — is at 0.69 (Bhorat, 2013). A value of 0 signifies perfect equality, while 1 signifies inequality.
Exponential population growth and rapid urbanization in recent years have also become a challenge to many countries. One of its major consequences is the increase in welfare burden or the actual or perceived social and economic costs to support non-working or marginalized sectors of the society. Instead of reaping the fruits of the demographic dividend gained with a larger population, populous countries endure the so-called Malthusian trap where the income gained through economic growth or technological advances are subsequently lost due to continued population growth.
Due to stiff competition for resources, rapid population growth has also lead to the rise of cities of the poor and the informal sector. Since 2007, more people now live in sprawling urban areas than in rural villages. Thus, while poverty may often be attributed to rural communities, poverty is increasingly becoming an urban phenomenon (UN Habitat, 2007). Major megacities often have a large poor communities, many of which are involved in informal economic activities.
As the post-2015 sustainable development agenda starts taking shape, countries and other relevant institutions should focus on making economic growth more inclusive. The value of ensuring equal access to these economic gains while also conserving Earth’s limited resources should be further emphasized. To reduce persistent inequality, governments should target leveraging sustainable investments on basic social services, such as health and education. In the long run, this would strengthen the human resource base of a country and, thus, might be able to contribute in driving sustained development.
Ahmad, M. M. (2014). Expectations and Achievement in Development Planning [Powerpoint slides]. Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.
Bhorat, H. (2013). Economic Inequality Is a Major Obstacle to Growth in South Africa [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/1K3KFFR.
Todaro, M. P., & Smith, S. C. (2012). Economic Development (11th ed.). Boston: Addison-Wesley.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme. (2007). State of the World Cities 2006/7. Nairobi: UN-Habitat.
Willis, K. (2011). Theories and Practices of Development (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
World Bank. (2008). New Directions in Development Thinking. In G. Secondi, The Development Economics Reader (pp. 9–27). New York: Routledge.
Widespread criticisms in the 1980s regarding conventional top-down approaches in delivering social services paved the way to the rapid growth and expansion of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Putting emphasis on the expanded role of the civil society — with NGOs as its main actors — was largely seen as a response to the inefficiency of governments and markets in driving development. As part of the shift towards the so-called new policy agenda, significant amount of multilateral and bilateral aid poured in to developing countries, with non-state actors serving as a magic bullet in alleviating poverty and promoting social welfare (Edwards & Hulme, 1996).
NGOs were seen as a potent force due to its strong linkages with communities and its people-centered approaches to development, initially seen as more efficient and cost-effective in providing basic social services. Aside from filling in these gaps, NGOs also played a vital role in promoting strengthened community participation, empowerment, and democratization at the grassroots level (Willis, 2011).
However, many now question the effectiveness and legitimacy of NGOs as providers of development alternatives. Banks, Hulme, and Edwards (2015) tried to take a closer look on the impact of the NGOization of development and described how NGOs have seemingly lost their touch in recent years. Broadly, Banks et al. argued that inflated views on the role of NGOs in eliciting social change still remain. After an extensive review of recent literature, the authors identified key NGO weaknesses including (a) its heavy reliance on foreign donors; (b) the professionalization of the development industry; and (c) the failure to promote community ownership of development initiatives at the local level.
Most development initiatives — especially in Third World countries — are fueled by foreign donors. Due to very stiff competition for funding, Banks et al. (2015) emphasized that NGOs are oftentimes forced to tailor policies and programs that would fit the donor requirements and not necessarily those that fit local needs.
As such, NGOs tend to focus on projects with quantifiable and tangible outcomes where donors can easily measure the “success” of these initiatives. Common quantitative measurements include number of children vaccinated, number of housewives who took part in livelihood workshops, number of food aid recipients, number of latrines built, etc.
Most NGO projects are seen to be mere band-aid solutions rather than targeting the underlying causes of poverty and other social inequalities. The authors explained that this narrow focus on “short-term results and value for money” can offset long-term — albeit “soft” — development goals, such as promoting equality and empowerment. There is also the risk of benefit fraud, where the impact of “successful” achievements are overemphasized, while failures are underreported or oversimplified.
The “business” of doing good
The pouring in of foreign funding to developing countries, as well as the increased influence of globalization, led to an increase in high-paying jobs offered to the educated middle class, which Robert Chambers notably called the uppers. Several empirical studies have described how these development tourists can influence local communities’ decision-making process and manipulate — or more aptly facipulate — initiatives based on preconceived biases or notions. To Chambers, true development will only be achieved once uppers start “handing over the stick” to the lowers. Cronyism between development organizations and local elites can also put the community into a disadvantage since it can effectively ignore the voices of community members who are more marginalized (i.e., poor, less educated, staying far from village centers, etc.) or may share opposing views.
The emergence of the so-called super rich, an elite few who hold a majority of global wealth, also propelled the rise of new philanthropy, where there recently has been an observed increase in their influence in the global socio-political and development agenda. These individuals, mostly heads of multinational profit-earning companies, invest in NGO projects and other charity-related initiatives. Many of these individuals have sustained their wealth by lobbying for government policies or programs aimed at protecting their interests. To some extent, this can also influence NGOs’ policy and program direction, making a case for some to argue that NGOs continue to be “agents of imperialism” and “maintain the dominance of free market capitalism” (Petras, 1999; Banks et al., 2015).
Helping people help themselves
Banks et al. (2015) suggested that NGOs, operating on the good governance dogma, need to “return to their roots” and, at the same time, adopt innovative approaches in addressing inequality and poverty. NGOs, at the very least, can act as intermediaries in “building bridges” between communities and decision makers and in setting up the conditions within which communities can empower themselves. At its most basic, community empowerment is both the process and outcome of enabling communities to make informed decisions. A key determinant of empowerment is that has to inherently come from within the community.
Recent evidences have also emphasized the positive impact of NGOs in promoting collective action and participatory governance. However, as emphasized by Suleiman (2012), one must be careful in equating community empowerment with NGOs’ assumed role in fostering democracy.
Repressive government regulations and the increasing bureaucracy in NGOs also remain to be a challenge, highlighting the prevailing mistrust among governments, civil society, and local communities. Banks et al. (2015) underscored the need for a better understanding on the inter-linkages between these key sectors. Stronger partnerships should be established and each sector should be given enough public space and autonomy.
As a follow-up to the authors’ earlier work in 1996, the article provided an up-to-date review of current discourses on NGOs’ efficacy and efficiency. In a nutshell, it revealed that the challenges faced by NGOs two decades ago continue to exist — although in a more complex manner. This complexity is much more apparent especially in summarizing the wealth of knowledge and experience in NGOs’ work in the last few years and in differentiating the role of NGOs with other civil society actors.
A minor weakness of the article is it works on the assumption that all NGOs operate in the same manner. It failed to recognize the diverse approaches and contexts wherein NGOs work. From a practical standpoint, the article might also be seen to be a little too prescriptive, portraying the perceived divide between development academics and practitioners.
Ahmad, M. M. (2015). The Rise and Growth of NGOs [Powerpoint slides]. Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand.
Edwards, M., & Hulme, D. (1996). Too Close for Comfort? The Impact of Official Aid on Nongovernmental Organizations. World Development, 24 (6), 961–973. Accessed 8 March 2015, from http://bit.ly/1ISwQez.
Petras, J. (1999). NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 29 (4), 429–440. Accessed 11 March 2015, from http://bit.ly/1IWn7T1.
Suleiman, L. (2012). The NGOs and the Grand Illusions of Development and Democracy. Voluntas, 21 (1), 241–261. Accessed 11 March 2015, from http://bit.ly/1ISwS62.
Willis, K. (2011). Theories and Practices of Development (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.