Mission and interests: the strategic formation and function of North-South NGO campaigns.

Author:Pallas, Christopher L.
Position:Essay
 
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International advocacy campaigns allow the concerns of disadvantaged groups in developing countries to reach policymakers. However, recent research has challenged the motivations of the Northern nongovernmental organizations involved and raised concerns about the impacts of North-South NGO partnerships on Southern NGO control. This article addresses these concerns by developing a typology of NGOs based on their financial incentives and the rigidity with which they adhere to their established organizational mission. It then models interactions between NGOs of different types as a strategic game. In the game, NGOs decide whether to enter international campaigns and, if so, manage campaign function to maximize payoff. "Participation-oriented" Northern NGOs, whose supporters reward them for undertaking advocacy, were found to run lengthy but ineffective campaigns and focus on publicity. "Outcome-oriented" groups, whose supporters reward them for measurable achievement, were found to generate higher campaign intensity but exit after either early victories or costly difficulties. The model is illustrated with a comparative analysis of two different campaigns regarding the Narmada Dam project. KEYWORDS: nongovernmental organizations, campaigns, advocacy, participation, funding, strategic game.

REPRESSED OR DISADVANTAGED GROUPS IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FREQUENTLY lack economic or political clout, and international advocacy campaigns have become a key means by which policymakers are forced to recognize their interests and claims. However, the formation and function of such campaigns remains poorly understood. How and why do nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from multiple continents, with diverse memberships and different languages, coalesce around a particular issue? Activists tend to depict campaigns as resulting from the international equivalent of a 911 call: Southern NGOs in distress reach out to Northern organizations, which feel morally compelled to respond. (1) Academic writing on the subject has largely accepted this explanation. (2) However, accumulating evidence indicates that Northern NGOs' involvement in international advocacy may be prompted by organizational goals that have little to do with local requests for aid. (3)

Similar uncertainty exists around the functioning of such campaigns and, particularly, the power dynamics between the various NGOs participating in them. The assumption of many academics and policymakers is that the supposed beneficiaries of international advocacy actively participate in goal setting and strategy planning, and fully consent to the advocacy undertaken on their behalf. International campaigns are often treated in the policy realm as simple magnifications of local interests and issues. Numerous case studies, however, dispute the idea that Southern partners in such campaigns have reasonable control over the strategies undertaken by their Northern partners.

We present a four-part typology describing NGOs in terms of how tightly they hold to their existing mission (are they "flexible" or "inflexible") and the type of incentives generated by their supporters (do they receive payoff for "participation"--undertaking activity--or for "outcome"--successfully concluding activity). Using this typology, we develop an integrated model of campaign formation and function as a strategic game. In the analysis, we assume that relations between Northern and Southern NGOs reflect the distinct interests of each organization involved. Southern NGOs tend to seek the resolution of a particular local problem, and require additional resources to continue a preexisting struggle. They tend to be amenable to multiple approaches to their problem, but focused on outcome. Northern NGOs tend to have well-defined, preexisting missions and thus have a strong interest in selecting local issues that match with, or can be redefined to match, their views and agenda. Each NGO will seek partners that suit their interests, so campaign formation is a result of bargaining. Moreover, the Northern NGOs are in a stronger bargaining position because they can select among multiple Southern bargaining partners.

Our central findings pertain to campaign function: we argue that the Northern NGO's emphasis on participation or outcomes has important implications for how the campaign is run and whether it is likely to succeed. If Southern NGOs campaign with outcome-oriented Northern NGOs, the ensuing campaign will be intensive but hard to sustain over time. An outcome-oriented Northern NGO is motivated to invest in campaigning, but is also motivated to depart from it as soon as nominal success is achieved or if its resources seem likely to be better used elsewhere. By contrast, alliances between Southern NGOs and participation-oriented Northern NGOs prompt durable, but perhaps less effective campaigns. The Northern NGOs benefit from participation, so they have little incentive to invest strategically in the successful conclusion of the campaign.

These findings highlight the importance of recognizing the different incentives of various NGOs. International campaigns play an important role in bringing international attention to Southern issues, but they are not simple rescue operations in which Northern NGOs throw themselves selflessly into the defense of local interests. For policymakers interested in improving the representation of Southern interests, these findings serve as a cautionary note: the power imbalance between Northern and Southern NGOs may distort the way Southern interests are presented or weaken the ways in which they are pursued. The silver lining is that the findings may help Southern NGOs better advance their interests as they bargain with Northern NGOs on campaign formation and function.

Current Theories of Campaign Formation and Function

We define an NGO campaign as a systematic course of action to achieve a specific policy change such as a reduction in human rights repression or environmental deterioration. To lay the foundation for our analysis, we reviewed the extant literature on campaign formation and function. This review shows that the extant literature offers limited insight into the strategic dimensions of campaign formation and function.

Campaign Formation

The most widely recognized theory of campaign formation is the boomerang theory. (4) which stands out for its strong empirical grounding and identification of specific mechanisms of NGO influence. (5) Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink suggest that international campaigns form in three stages. First, local activists encounter local blockages in addressing a local problem. (6) For instance, villagers whose lives have been negatively affected by illegal logging find their efforts to halt the logging stymied by corrupt government officials. Second, the local activists reach out to international actors such as international environmental NGOs. Third, these new international partners utilize their resources and political position to apply pressure to the local blockage. Thus the international NGOs attract media attention to the logging problem, organize a boycott of the illegally harvested wood, or persuade allied politicians to cajole the corrupt local politicos to change their ways.

The boomerang model is a depiction of North-South interaction. In Keck and Sikkink's model, the local and international NGOs are not explicitly defined as Southern and Northern. (7) However, all of their contemporary examples feature local NGOs based in the developing countries of the Global South collaborating with international NGOs based in the industrialized states of the Global North. Others building on their work, such as Thomas Risse, (8) also emphasize this dichotomy. This is not to say that international NGOs do not exist in developing regions, but the boomerang theory assumes that local organizations call on international actors that possess political or social clout lacking in the developing country setting. (9) In practice, this means calling on actors from the Global North.

While Southern interests and actors play a role in most international campaigns, evidence indicates that the boomerang model is incomplete. In particular, many international campaigns develop because of the interests and drive of Northern policymakers and activists. In his discussion of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Kenneth Anderson strongly questions its ties to grassroots actors, concluding that "international NGOs collectively are not conduits from 'the people' ... from the bottom up. Rather, they are a vehicle for international elites to talk to other international elites about the things ... that international elites care about." (10) In her discussion of the international campaign against extrajudicial killings, Ann Marie Clark notes that the effort coalesced primarily because of the drive of US and European advocates. (11) Similarly, Clifford Bob argues that international NGOs tend to have much greater freedom in choosing local partners than local NGOs have in choosing international partners. (12)

These observations reflect an important empirical reality: the long-term goal of many international campaigners is to change Northern-authored policy rather than to simply overcome a Southern blockage. For example, international efforts to aid local NGOs resisting dams in places like India, Nepal, and Uganda are linked to a broader international push to limit big dams or reform the World Bank. (13) Paul Nelson describes how Christian Aid's work with activists in Jamaica, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines reflected the international organization's global agenda of stopping structural adjustment. (14) While Amnesty International seeks to address human rights violations in specific countries, it also attempts to build international legal precedents for global application. (15)

NGOs also need financial resources: funding to pay for staff salaries, rent, travel, and...

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