Should 'NGO' be Re-termed?

The term “non-governmental organization” is a misnomer, a Canadian activist and author argues, explaining that most groups calling themselves NGOs are actually dependent on governments for funding and are most likely following government policies and priorities.

Yves Engler explores the case of Alternatives, a Canadian NGO, to back his argument.

“This group, which has ties to the progressive community in Canada and Quebec, has done some useful work in Palestine and Latin America,” Engler writes in a an opinion piece published on the Rabble. “But, at the end of 2009, the Canadian International Development Agency failed to renew about $2.4 million in funding the Montreal-based organization. After political pressure was brought to bear, Ottawa partly reversed course, giving Alternatives $800,000 over three years.”

But CIDA directed that the renewed funding only be used for projects in Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan, the author notes.

“One important problem for Alternatives and the rest of the ‘progressive’ government-funded NGO community is that their benefactor’s money is often tied to military intervention,” he argues.

Engler shares that several Canadian NGOs, including Oxfam Quebec and Alternatives, were “lured” to engage in Iraq by the 300 million Canadian dollars that CIDA said it was spending in the country.

“Canadian military personnel have repeatedly linked development work to the counterinsurgency effort,” he adds, citing as example the description of a Canadian commander of development work as a “useful counterinsurgency tool.”

Engler asks, “If even a ‘progressive’ NGO such as Alternatives can be pushed into working as a tool of the military, shouldn’t we at least come up with a better description than ‘non-governmental’ organization?” 

Concerns over the independence of NGOs from government policies and military aims are not unique to Canada. As Devex reported, an American policy analyst suggested the U.S.-based NGOs are increasingly becoming pawns of the U.S. government’s military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

About the author

  • Ivy mungcal 400x400

    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.