The Strengths and Weaknesses of NGOs

The Strengths and Weaknesses of NGOs


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Free Essay on The Strengths and Weaknesses of NGOs


A Non-governmental organization (NGO) is a citizen-based group which operates autonomously from the government, for the purposes of serving particular social or political purposes with no intention of making profits. These civil societies are usually organized at the community, national or international level (Smith, 2005). This work seeks to use experiences from Liberia, a country located in the global south, to explore the strengths and the weaknesses of NGOs as development agencies. Liberia is a country that is slowly recuperating from the effects of a civil war which claimed the lives of over 270, 000 people. This conflict also rendered hundreds of thousands homeless, thereby, making them either refugees or internally displaced persons. Moreover, property worth millions of dollars was destroyed including government buildings and institutions. Consequently, the war served to decline the economy of the country with studies showing that, presently, it is only an eighth of its value prior the war. Three quarters of the population in this country lives in severe poverty, with no sufficient health, education, food, water and sanitation services (Ellis, 2007). This pathetic state of affairs justifies the involvement of NGOs in this nation.

Main Arguments

Since the year 1990, the number of NGOs in Liberia has been on the rise owing to factors such as the civil war, influx of refugees from neighboring Sierra Leon, and the recent Ebola epidemic. Presently, Liberia has several NGOs in operation: ActionAid Ebola, USAID, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Adventist Health International, Africare, Americares, American Jewish World Service, The American Red Cross, Amref Health Africa, Baptist World Alliance, Brac Ebola, Brothers Brother Foundation, Catholic Relief Services, and Concern Worldwide. Moreover, the following civil society bodies are based in this country: CDC Foundation, DirectRelief, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Global Giving, Global Children Hope, Global Health Ministries, MAP International, Medical Teams International, MedShare, Med Sans Frontiers/ Docteors Without Borders, Stop Hunger Now, Samaritan’s Purse, Salesian Missions, Plan, Net Hope, PCI Global, and Project C.U.R.E (Kamradt-Scott et al., 2015).

According to Feeny and de Silva (2012), since the year 2003, the international community, through NGOs, has awarded Liberia billions of dollars in aid. For instance, in the year 2011 alone, the country received $765 million in aid to assist in various development projects as reported by the OECD. This figure was actually 73% of its gross national income. Data from OECD also shows that the UN spends above $500 million annually on its peace keeping program in this country.

Liberia has derived a number of benefits from the civil society organizations operating there. Firstly, various NGOs have focused on improving the country’s education sector. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) is a good example of organizations whose resources have played a pivotal role in boosting the education system in this country. GPE, established in the year 2002, is a multi-stakeholder partnership and financing platform whose main focus is galvanizing support for education in developing countries (Winthrop and Matsui, 2013). This platform targets the poorest as well as the most vulnerable children in these countries. GPE sources funds from developing nations, donors, civil society, teacher organizations, the private sector, philanthropists and international organizations. In Liberia, GPE continues to support the government to improve learning and equality by strengthening the education system. Moreover, GPE assists the government of Liberia to create good quality plans for the education sector. Once these plans are developed, GPE convinces donors to finance them and this helps to reduce the fragmentation of aid as well as the transaction costs which would be involved if these donors were to issue the aids independently (Menashy and Dryden-Peterson, 2015).

Liberia became a member of GPE in the year 2007, after which, the education sector plan was initiated. This plan covers the period 2010-2020 and aims at giving the citizens of this country a shot at opportunity in terms of access to a quality, appropriate, and relevant education. GPE has awarded Liberia a total of $40 million to implement this education sector plan. The GPE program in this country generally aims at improving the management capacity as well as accountability for the construction of schools, as well as the procurement and distribution of teaching and learning resources (Winthrop and Matsui, 2013). Through this program, the education sector has achieved several constructive results. Firstly, a total of 303 classrooms have been build and furnished. Secondly, 60 housing units have been constructed for use by teachers. Thirdly, through the plan, the ministry of education has come up with standardized guidelines for the construction of schools. Moreover, the plan has enabled the ministry of education to procure a total of 1 million textbooks for classes 5 to 9, which also have accompanying teacher’s guides (Menashy and Dryden-Peterson, 2015).

Additionally, grades 1 to 4 have benefited from 1.4 million supplementary reading books while school grants have been issued to 2, 579 schools. Further, through the funds provided by this group, the education sector in this country has been enabled to construct schools in rural areas including primary and early childhood schools. Certainly therefore, NGOs have played a pivotal role in strengthening the education sector of Liberia and this emphasizes the importance of the donor community to this global south country (Winthrop and Matsui, 2013). Through improving curriculum delivery in schools, these NGOs ensure that this country is able to get competent professionals who can be utilized in various sectors of the economy to assist with development. Also, by financing the education sector, the NGOs ensure that the resources which the government would have allocated to this sector are used in other sectors of the economy where they can spur development.

The United States, through the USAID, has supported Liberia greatly in getting back to its feet after the Ebola epidemic. In the year 2009, USAID awarded the health sector of this country grants which accounted for 22% of the total health budget this year. Liberia considers the United States as the most preferred ally in its journey to recovery following the epidemic which devastated lives hugely. The USAID has given Liberia a total of $62 million to finance a four-year program aimed at providing health services at over 100 government clinics (Gostin et al., 2014).

USAID is also assisting Liberia in the field of education. According to the Liberia Monitoring and Evaluation Program (2014), this body partners with the University of Liberia as well as the Cuttington University in the creation of Centers of Excellence, whose focus is that of expanding access, enhancing quality and improving the relevance of higher education programs in the fields of engineering and agriculture. Certainly, these fields are key to development and are therefore anticipated to enable Liberia to solve most of the post-war challenges it is currently experiencing. USAID has also started a Center of Excellence in Health and Life Sciences through creating a partnership between the University of Liberia and the Indiana University. The focus of this Center of Excellence is to assist the University of Liberia in acquiring teaching and learning resources for the fields of medicine, nursing, life sciences, midwifery, and public health (Liberia Monitoring and Evaluation Program, 2014). Certainly, by enhancing the ability of the University of Liberia to offer quality training in health care, USAID is assisting the country in combating various epidemics in the future. This is bound to ensure that this country does not experience health disasters which claim the lives of those who are supposed to participate in building the economy. As such, by ensuring the good health of its citizens, Liberia will have the human resources required for development.

During the Ebola outbreak, USAID provided logistical support to Liberia’s Ministry of Education to help it train school personnel in the prevention of Ebola as well as in the creation of awareness. Moreover, USAID helped this country in monitoring and implementing an elaborate Ebola response program. If NGOs such as USAID had not responded to the Ebola outbreak in this country, certainly, more devastation would have been caused and this would have destroyed the country’s economy even further. This move therefore demonstrates the role played by NGOs in helping Liberia develop (Liberia Monitoring and Evaluation Program, 2014).

NGOs work towards giving poor countries such as Liberia a large sum of capital in aid in order to spur economic growth. Such aid is awarded as donor countries believe that, poor third world countries are incapable of eradicating poverty on their own since their citizens are not well empowered to earn and make investments. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that, the aid given to Liberia has been ineffective in eradicating poverty and has actually occasioned more challenges in this country. Firstly, the aid given to Liberia by donor organizations has made the country over reliant on foreign assistance (Bräutigam and Knack, 2004; Moreira, 2005). This aid has served to create an impression that, donor communities are wealthy and are therefore supposed to give assistance to this country as it is poor. As a result, instead of focusing on the creation of open and effective economic institutions, the leaders in this country have lost focus and see it as their right to get assisted in the event of disasters such as the recent Ebola one. Liberia offers labor, raw materials and markets to the donors operating there, thereby, enabling them to procure a sustainable development at the expense of the country itself (Lancaster, 2008).

Moreover, when foreign aid is given by these donors, Liberia fails to create other incentives for development, thereby, worsening the country’s poverty condition. Further, through foreign aid, the powers and authority of the government of Liberia have been heightened, thereby, making internal conflicts inevitable. The government here has been using the resources provided by donors to fuel various political agendas and create policies whose effect has been to aggravate poverty and impede growth (Lancaster, 2008; Helman and Ratner, 1992).

According to Leonard and Straus (2003), aid from NGOs has also served to increase the amount of debt, thereby, destabilizing the economy of Liberia. When poor countries such as Liberia are in debt, they expend the revenues they receive on servicing the debts and this makes them lack capital for economic growth. Liberia has resulted to various drastic measures in a bid to pay the immense debt occasioned by foreign aid. These measures have included but not limited to retrenchment of workers, rising of taxes, and restrictions on the importation of consumer goods. The measures have been adopted as the country believes that, by failing to pay up these debts, Liberia would cease to get more foreign aid in the future. Clearly, these measures have served as an impediment to development in this country. This is therefore a good example of the destruction foreign aid is having on (Liberia Fosu, 1996; Moreira, 2005).

Liberia has also been subjected to dangerous levels of manipulation by the NGOs operating within it. These donors for instance give conditions such as cutting down of government services in order to lower deficits characterizing the budget. Reducing government services in Liberia has been to the effect that the social contract between the government and its citizens has been badly weakened, thereby, making it harder for the government to rally citizens around various projects which can spur development (Fearon et al., 2009; Moreira, 2005).

Donor agencies have also been accused of capitalizing on the hopelessness of Liberians to force them to render donor countries their political support. Moreover, these bodies force the government of Liberia to develop certain policy changes so as to get the aid they desperately require. Liberia has also been forced by these groups to enact various trade rules which favor the countries giving the aid. As such, the NGOs have succeeded in procuring an economic advantage for their countries at the expense of poor Liberians (Fearon et al., 2009; Lancaster, 2008).

Liberia’s overdependence on aid has resulted to various issues which act as an impediment to development. Firstly, according to Leonard and Straus (2003), annual budgets in this country have collapsed under the unbearable weight of donor projects and policy stipulations. Depending on aid has made Liberia unable to carry out a sound budget restructuring which is needed by economic crisis. The problem of aid fragmentation has indeed gotten worse. Moreover, repetitive budgeting and the management of cash flow have been exacerbated. Owing to the provision of large volumes of aid for a protracted period of time, hard budget constraints have been divorced from government calculations in terms of what is affordable and sustainable. Additionally, owing to overreliance on donor aid, Liberia doesn’t give the process of collecting revenue the strict effort it requires. As such, businesses here can easily evade paying taxes. When a large amount of money is amassed as a result of tax evasion by individuals, it can be used to buy arsenal to fuel further conflict (Moreira, 2005; Atkinson, 1997).

Overdependence on aid has also made Liberia less keen in charting its own development strategies, thereby, making it harder for this country to develop. The country’s policy autonomy has been substantially reduced as donors give many conditions in order to release their funds. Effectively, the government’s accountability to its own citizens has been undermined. It has become increasingly harder for the leadership in this country to plan development programs as aid happens to be highly unpredictable in terms of its amount and time of crediting. Moreover, the government of Liberia spends so much time engaging with donors such that it fails to take time to develop its own development policies. Additionally, overreliance on donor aid has made the government of Liberia unable to dictate the areas it needs to invest in to spur development as the donor groups control where funds are to be utilized (Lea, 2015; Rotberg, 2002).

Overdependence on donor NGOs has also nurtured a self-defeating conviction in the minds of Liberians, in which they believe that, their country cannot survive the upheavals it goes through without the support of donors. This conviction has been capitalized on by rich western governments, which they use to advance their economic exploitation agenda. Moreover, the NGOs providing aid to Liberians do not give incentives to leaders and bureaucrats to carry out public sector reforms that can strengthen institutions, thereby, making a positive contribution to the country’s development agenda. If the aid provided to Liberia is to have a positive economic impact, the donors must force leaders to make credible commitments to terminate such support after certain duration of time (Lea, 2015; Ayittey, 1999).

NGOs in Liberia force the government to invest in social areas such as education and health at the expense of others that can assist the country to procure development. For instance, the energy infrastructure in this country is majorly disadvantaged when compared to that of other countries in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. In the year 2011, the distribution of electricity in this country was for instance so poor that only 1% of the Monrovian urban population could access it. Certainly, by failing to invest in energy, Liberia makes itself unable to invest adequately in key economic sectors such as the manufacturing sector, thereby, making development a mirage (Lea, 2015; Goodhand and Atkinson, 2001).

Liberia’s economy has awarded privately owned foreign capital an overly attractive investment environment characterized by a high growth rate attributable to concession-based production of minerals such as iron-ore and rubber. The country actually offers foreign capital an investment climate considered to be one of the best in the underdeveloped world, and this has led to a growth rate that surpasses that of every other country in the globe. This growth yielded a per capita income of about $123 in the year 1960. During this time, although this country was procuring a sustained increase in outputs for goods and services, there was no commensurate institutional growth as well as technological advancement. As such, there was no improvement in the welfare of rural economies in this country, thereby, showing that, this country was experiencing growth without development (Lea, 2015; Wright, 2008).

The too high amount of donor aid provided to Liberia is now fueling rampant corruption. Some of the resources awarded by these donor agencies have been used in creating inorganic, bloated and uncalled for bureaucracy between the government of Liberia and the NGOs. Owing to these effects, it has now become very easy for the resources to be siphoned into unnecessary ventures. As such, not all the funds given to the NGOs by donor countries are ending up being invested to spur development. Moreover, the economic climate that occasioned aid bureaucracies has created unproductive organizations that give their output in terms of the amounts of money distributed as opposed to the services delivered to those who deserve them. A crop of corrupt, unaccountable, overpaid and meddling bureaucrats have been imposed on the citizens of this country, thereby, making it extremely difficult for local businesses to thrive. It is worth mentioning that, the people who get trapped in corruption owing to donor aid are those who are considered to be the cream of the society. As such, these smart people, who ordinarily would be helpful in developing sound policies for development, end up being wasted (Lea, 2015; Moreira, 2005).

Donor aid has also served to destroy democracy in Liberia. For governments to stay in power in this country, all they need to do is to nurture a good relationship with donors and this ends up dis-enfranchising the citizens. As long as the ruling regime pays the army and other security apparatus, the views of the citizens become valueless. Although these resources provided to the impoverished by NGOs can serve to alleviate hunger in the short term, they eventually lead to the disruption of local agricultural markets, thereby, leading to the inability of Liberians to create their own resources which can feed them in a sustainable way (Lea, 2015; Feyzioglu et al., 1998).


The foregoing discussions have highlighted a number strengths of NGOs. As seen, the aid awarded to Liberia by NGOs has been utilized in improving the management capacity as well as accountability for the construction of schools, as well as the procurement and distribution of teaching and learning resources. Moreover, these resources have been used in expanding access, enhancing quality and improving the relevance of higher education programs in the fields of engineering and agriculture. Certainly, these fields are key to development and are therefore anticipated to enable Liberia to solve most of the post-war challenges it is currently experiencing. In the health front, USAID has provided logistical support to Liberia’s Ministry of Education to help it train school personnel in the prevention of Ebola as well as in the creation of awareness. NGOs also have a number of associated weaknesses. As seen, when foreign aid is given by these donors, Liberia fails to create other incentives for development, thereby, worsening the country’s poverty condition. Other disadvantages of aid have included increasing the amount of debt, thereby, destabilizing the economy, creating a self-defeating conviction in the minds of Liberians, fueling rampant corruption, dangerous levels of manipulation by the NGOs, concession-based production of minerals such as iron-ore and rubber, dictating terms of trade, forcing investment in areas which cannot create development and forcing the government to offer the donor country its political support. In conclusion therefore, donor aid through NGOs serves to impede development as the countries awarding it do so with vested interests.


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