Asian NGOs' Success: An Alternative Model for Western NGOs?

    Members of the Tzu Chi Foundation hold a fundraiser for victims of the severe floods in the U.S. Midwest in 2008. Photo by: Vera Yu and David Li / CC BY

    The same corporate models that have driven Asia’s economic boom are now spurring the dramatic growth of the region’s non-governmental organizations, providing a promising alternative for plugging the funding gap left by North American and European aid donors that are still reeling from the impacts of the 2008 global financial crisis and leaning toward more conservative policies.

    By applying low-end manufacturing models of slashing administrative and personnel costs, and operating innovative businesses that are profitable, Asian NGOs, particularly those based in the region’s northeast, are increasingly expanding their operations overseas.

    An example is Taiwan-based Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, which has grown from a group of 30 housewives to one of Asia’s largest charitable NGOs, boasting branches in 72 countries. The foundation’s Da Ai Technology operates more than 400 recycling plants in Taiwan that turn plastic bottles into polyester yarn. The yarn is used to make hundreds of thousands of blankets, scarves, socks and hats that the foundation distributes to disaster-struck areas. Enterprises such as these have enabled Tzu Chi’s Taiwan branch to hand out a record $320 million in 2010.

    Meantime, Tokyo-based Peace Winds Japan has a volunteer-to-employee ratio of 4-to-1, a strategy that has helped cut the NGO’s salary expenditures even as it prioritizes local sourcing.

    The Tzu Chi Foundation, for its part, says it has 70,000 volunteers in Taiwan alone. This strategy allows the NGO to cover its own costs for instance, in overseas aid missions, and enables it to spend more of its money for charitable purposes.

    The formation of Korea’s NGO Council for Overseas Cooperation, meanwhile, is testament to the country’s expanding aid community.

    While economic growth has played a large role in allowing these countries to expand their development operations abroad, all of them also have stable democracies and high levels of education, technology use and access to information, observes The Guardian.

    About the author

    • Che de los Reyes

      As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.