Making sense of NGOs

It seems that any and every organization which does not fall under the direct structure of the state-system is fairly or unfairly labeled as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). Indeed the term ‘NGO’ is widely used and while it is a matter of fact that there are over a few thousand of them existing in Nagaland state, it is however true that not all of them are NGOs per se and neither can they be defined or classified as such. These underlying issues are dependent on how a people organizes itself and the structures it implements as a basis of mobilization and organization.

In a community-based society like the Nagas, concepts of representation, decision-making and service is rooted within the organic structures of village and community organizations which are consistent with its value and worldview. As such, organizations like the Hoho, students, youths, women and mothers which are representatives of a community or a peoples cannot and should not be classified as NGOs. It would be an error of political and social judgment to do so. Whether the classification of ‘NGO’ is caused as a matter of convenience or a result of political pragmatism remains a question. Nevertheless, what remains certain is that generalization of a spectrum of organizations into the classification of an ‘NGO’ is creating concerns around issues of representation, accountability, transparency, decision-making and value. 

One of the trends in Nagaland is that after a ‘Society’ registers itself under the Registration of Societies Act, it is not only classified as an NGO but slowly assumes the role and life of a perceived NGO. While most of the registered societies slowly become dependent on the State and perhaps even a willing or willing part of the system; an NGO in its true form essentially remains independent and assumes the roles of a watch-dog, advocate and partner to strengthen or complement initiatives from a people perspective. It is of essential need to distinguish between semi-Government NGOs, Societies, NGOs and community-based organizations. 

It is a reality there has been a global growth in the number, scope and activities of NGOs driven by rather extraordinary confluence of wide-ranging – even divergent – domestic and international trends. And while NGOs have been depicted as saviors of failed economies in some circles, they are reviled as stooges of Western imperialism in others. Interestingly an NGO’s development model centers in providing a “safety net” to address the needs of the impoverished and marginalized, while encouraging “self-help” at the grass-root. This idea of “democratizing development” through local and international NGOs, Sheila Carapico says is consistent with neo-liberal or global-liberal private sector solutions to social problems, and more generally with the privatization of social services and institutions. By contradicting the principles of democratic values it ironically disempowers the very people it seeks to empower. Is this what we really need?