Our world is changing quickly and profoundly. Rich and poor – regardless of where they live – are faced with increasingly ‘thick’ problems and social change is more politicized and contested than ever before. And yet, most international development NGOs (INGOs) keep offering ‘thin’ solutions to these problems. Solutions geared to measurable material success. Solutions that are aimed at increasing participation in unsustainable economies and polities. In December 2011, The Broker began hosting a debate to address these problems and the future of INGOs. It took place in the context of the Hivos knowledge initiative ‘Future Calling’. This special report is a follow-up to that debate, taking into account the many views and opinions submitted to the ‘Future Calling’ blog by contributors.
There is general agreement that INGOs need to change course. In his article originally written as a ‘think piece’ for the Hivos initiative, Michael Edwards examines various options open to INGOs, suggesting it is time for INGOs to leave behind the trodden path and explore new avenues. He sums up these options by asking whether INGOs should be retired, replaced or rejuvenated.
Ellen Lammers suggests in her article that it is decision time for INGOs. They are trapped in a midlife crisis and need to adapt to a changing globalized world with shifting power centres – in which the West is losing ground to emerging powers – and a redistribution of the world’s poor populations. These problems cannot be solved by a single government, country or INGO. The main challenge ahead is to bring together different economic, social and political players, locally and globally, to collectively safeguard the world’s global goods.
If INGOs are going to successfully adapt to a changing world and introduce appropriate structural change, they are going to have to leave their comfort zone and re-politicize themselves, argues Evert-Jan Quak in his article. That means challenging political, social and economic power relations – by joining social movements and supporting the poor and those who fight for justice in emerging powers, in the West and in poor countries.