NGO: the new Missionary
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are difficult to define, but history gives a simplification.
In the colonial era, churches of the West would send missionaries to 3rd world colonies. Their mission was to spread Christianity while helping the locals. This help included education, literacy, social justice, health and economic development. With the secularization of the western world, missionary work has been replaced by something more worldly, NGOs.
NGOs utilize the same good intentions to help solve problems; involving health, education, environmental protection and economic development. While criticizing NGOs may seem harsh, their effects and outcomes must be analyzed. Especially since NGOs are major participants in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
NGOs & CSR
NGOs & CSR are becoming synonyms due to the ‘strategic partnerships’ between NGOs and corporations. Corporations have moved beyond ordinary advertising to CSR. Saving the world is much better publicity. However, corporations are not good at this and need help. NGOs on the other hand, are purpose built help-others & save-the-world machines. This is a marriage made in bourgeois heaven. Corporations provide the money, NGOs save the world with it. Businesses get good public relations, and NGOs get funding to help solve problems.
NGOs & CSR – Quid Pro Quo
Corporations don’t just give money to NGOs out of altruism. They expect something in return. This is typically marketing related. Being seen helping to solve the world’s problems is an important part of brand management and advertising. CSR is 21st century public relations and NGOs make it easy. Give them funding and call it a strategic partnership. They do modern missionary work, and the corporation gets to claim some credit.
Many businesses actually listen to critics and feel guilty for profit seeking. Devoting funds to CSR supposedly absolves some of their capitalist sins. NGOs, by taking the funds are acting as the medieval church did. Selling indulgences to provide temporal remission of corporate sins.
The Problem with NGOs & CSR
While NGOs have good intentions, they also have many criticisms. These include:
- NGOs represent the same imperial relationship between the western world and the developing world, as seen in missionaries.
- NGOs are a product of Neo-Liberalism. They embody the privatization and decentralization of state functions.
- They absorb local resources that would otherwise be used by locals or local governments.
These are however, academic issues.
A more practical concern is their funding. Since NGOs take funding from corporations, they may be inclined to serve corporate interests. This satisfies their current donors and induces new corporate sponsors. Corporations fund NGOs as part of their CSR and CSR is marketing driven. NGOs may then conduct activities that look good to consumers. Photo Ops and pretty pictures, while the domain of CSR, are becoming common with NGOs.
Strategic partnerships between NGOs and businesses are the new trend. With closer relationships, NGOs may be acting as a corporate marketing department. Choosing and conducting projects based on their advertising merit.
An organization or person is typically accountable to who pays it. Governments are accountable to taxpayers, managers are accountable to shareholders, etc.
NGOs are increasingly being funded by corporations as part of Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR has already been shown to be unethical. By taking part in CSR, NGOs are adding to their list of criticisms.