Nongovernmental Organizations in Nepal: Roles and Policy Issues
- 1. Historical Background
Nongovernmental organization (NGOs) are proliferating in the world today, and their role in development process, especially in the developing nations, has gained wide recognition. They have become supplementary agencies often more successful than government authorities in reducing the problems of disadvantaged places and people (Ojha, 1996).
The emergence of formal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) is a relatively recent phenomenon in Nepal. However, the concept of community-based organization (CBO) has a long historical tradition. At present, the scope of the NGO community has broadened in both number and character.
People-based or community-based systems are not new to Nepal. Social welfare and non-profit entities in Nepal can be traced back to the Lichhavi period. But many of the people-based organizations gradually eroded after the unification of Nepal and the subsequent Shah-Rana rule. Modern volunteerism in Nepal in the form of providing temporary relief through social welfare was introduced by Tulsi Mehar. In the early 1950s, Tulsi Mehar set up the Gandhi Charkha Parcharak Mahaguthi, which functions now as the Mahaguthi. The Paropakar Sanstha established in 1954 to alleviate the suffering of cholera victims in Kathmandu Valley is another example of an organized philanthropic effort. It has now become a voluntary movement of medical care for the poor with more than 15 medical centers and voluntary medical distribution systems in the country. There are some 18 national and eight regional philanthropic organizations providing assistance to the poor, with branches operating in different parts of the country (ADB, 1999). For instance, the Nepal Red Cross Society, the Family Planning Association of Nepal, the Nepal Children’s Organization, and the Mother’s Club are the major welfare organization. Some of these have networks in most districts of Nepal.
Since the early 1980s, Government of Nepal has regarded the role of NGOs as that of facilitators of change whose contributions are essential to the achievement of its development goals. One of the major thrusts of the 1983 National Population Strategy was to mobilize NGOs and community organizations in population and fertility reduction programs. Similarly, the Government’s Basic Needs Program (1985) underlined the need to involve NGOs and the private sector in reaching basic need targets. Under the new government, both the Congress and Communist parties highlighted the indispensability of collaboration between the government and the NGOs, and encouraged the formation of community-based organizations (CBOs) and their village-level participation in Nepal’s development efforts.
Official attempts to foster NGO activity did not materialize during the Panchayat period. Many NGOs, particularly those headed by professionals, preferred to register under the Company Act, in the absence of alternatives. These NGOs often were connected to socio-economic and technical consulting firms. Since the introduction of democracy, most of these institutions have re-registered as NGOs, with such names as New Era, Centre for Women and Development, and Search Nepal, During the Panchayat era, the government feared that NGOs would become vehicles for political activities. The proponents of volunteerism therefore put forward welfare activities as the essential NGO objective. This was less of a threat to the Panchayat system. The NGOs that had social and professional standing but refused to be subjected to the Social Service National Coordination Committee (SSNCC’s) domination still were too small to be of much influence. Community activities undertaken by some non-NGO groups in rural areas were carefully watched by government operatives suspicious of disloyal activities.
The SSNCC Act was introduced in 1977 and formed the SSNCC to coordinate, and supervise the NGO activities in Nepal. During the autocratic Panchayat period (1960-1990), the NGO sector grew very slowly because of difficulty in its establishment.
- 2. NGO’s Growth Pattern
As mentioned earlier, the NGOs in Nepal developed from the early period of history. In the post 1990-period there has been mushroom growth of NGOs in the country. In the first half of the 1990s, national and local level NGOs mushroomed (see Table 1). The rapid growth in the number of NGOs in Nepal indicates a number of structural trends (Bhattachan, 2004). There was only one NGO in 1927, four by the year 1951. During 1977-78, only 17 NGOs were registered with the then founded SSNCC, now the social welfare council (SWC), and in 1991-92, there were just 393. By 2006-07, the total number of NGOs registered with the SWC has reached 24,804. As the majority of such organizations are not affiliated with the SWC only registered at District Administration Offices (DAOs), the total number of NGOs can be estimated to be more than 60,000.
As seen in Table 2, the largest numbers (14,989) of NGOs are related to community and rural development activities and the least (80) numbers of them are concerned with aids and abuse control activities. According the figures provided by the SWC, the largest number (15,209) are registered in the Central Development Region, followed by the Western (3,093).The lowest number (1,675) is in Far-western Development Region (see Table 3).
Table 1: Number of NGOs Affiliated with the Social Welfare Council 1977-2007
|Year||No. of NGOs||Year||No. of NGOs|
Source: SWC, 2008.
Table 2: Number of NGOs Affiliated with the Social Welfare Council by Sector 2007/08
|Aids and abuse control||80|
|Handicapped and disabled||527|
|Community and rural development||14989|
Table 3: Number of NGOs by Development Regions 2007/08
Source: SWC, 2008.
- 3. Role of NGOs in Nation Building and the GO-NGO Relationship
With immense increase in its workload, it is difficult for the government to manage and control on its own all the activities of the nation. Moreover, because Nepal is an underdeveloped country, the treasury of the nation is mostly consumed in paying the government employees for their services and in maintaining peace and security. NGOs have become important development actors in Nepal since the introduction of democracy in 1990, and there is increasing awareness of the role of NGOs in national and international forums. The Constitution of Nepal 1990 has provisions for the mobilization of nongovernmental organizations for the fulfillment of the guiding principles of the state. In this regard, the GO-NGO relationship is essentially positive but their cooperation lacks formal structure. The government is concerned about the accountability of NGOs, but it lacks capacity to monitor their activities effectively, and largely fail itself to demonstrate a good accountability. NGOs have also become significant employment generators, and are closely involved in working with people at the grass-roots level.
Government emphasizes the importance of promoting community-based development through NGOs and local users groups as an efficient means of serving local people. National planning efforts in the recent past have expressed strong support for NGOs with the placement of NGOs leaders on government advisory boards and committees. However, a widening gap remains between the plans’ stated policies and the creation of an enabling environment for NGOs to participate effectively in achieving the objectives and timely monitoring of NGO’s activities (Dahal and Bongartz ,1996).
Two major problems in the development of good GO-NGO relation are the increasing politicization of the bureaucracy and the rapid turnover of civil servants. With each change of government, key civil servants in the ministries and the planning bodies at both central and district levels are changed. The change in government causes a major change of civil servants and this seriously affects policy decisions and program implementation. We can see lack of adequate linkage and communication between government ministries and NGOs. Many high-level officials are reluctant to recognize NGOs because as the organizations grow more professional, they become a greater challenge and threat to the government. The government worries about NGO capacity to influence public opinion about poor government performance.
The most crucial and important barrier to further cooperation of NGO is the highly politicization of the NGOs. The activities of many NGOs have been influenced by personal, political, and other self-centered interests rather than collective spirit. However, there are many professional NGOs with high credibility and reputation for quality work that do not want to be subject to party politics. But the situation since democracy has been uncertain with periodic political maneuvering propelled by party politics. NGOs cannot avoid being affected and many feel pressured to align themselves politically. The external funding agencies need to support the professionalism of NGOs and to reject the political pressures.
- 4. SWOT Analysis concerning Nepalese NGOs
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been born and nurtured as products of some individual or groups’ perception and are supported to non-profit making, voluntary, service oriented-organization, either for the benefit of a grassroots organization or of other members of an agency;
Organizations of private individuals who believe in certain basic social principles and who structure their activities that are servicing;
Social development organizations assisting in empowerment of people;
Independent, democratic, non-sectarian people’s organizations working for the empowerment of economic and/or socially marginalized groups;
Organizations not affiliated to political parties, generally engaged in working for aid, development and welfare of the community;
Organizations committed to analyzing the root causes of the problems trying to better the quality of life especially for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized in urban and rural areas;
Organizations established by and for the community without or with little intervention from the government; not only charity organizations, but they are work on socio-economic-cultural activities;
Organizations flexible and democratic in organization and attempts to serve the people without profit for themselves.
The above stated points indicate the general values and norms expected of the NGOs and practically they are trying to practice their activities in one particular area by utilizing the local knowledge with small scale intervention. NGOs can respond more quickly than the major multilaterals in providing relief services. One of the positive sides of NGOs in Nepal pointed out by a respondent is that they try to bridge the gap made by often the government and private sectors, which are weak to respond to people’s needs and aspirations (Dahal and Bongartz, 1996). But there may be many more questions and queries about such organizations. To get answer to these questions, strength, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis will help to identify the role and importance of the NGOs as presented below.
They are near to the field and they can easily establish rapport with community leaders and community people, because they work with them not only for them.
Activities which need people’s participation and cooperation could be done by NGOs better than government officers, because they approach them as friends and helpers not as bureaucratic officials.
They could help to establish link with local government offices, district government offices, central government offices, and international agencies.
They could help to get legal assistance to the needy people and protect the rights of the vulnerable sections of the people from exploitation and violence.
The role of NGOs has become more effective in bringing about positive changes in policy matters by putting pressure to the government and by conducting advocacy. As the government has also listened to the voice of the NGOs and
brought about timely changes, the significance of NGOs has increased.
As the working pattern of the government offices is slow, it is obvious that NGOs can work more quickly and swiftly.
Capacity and efficiency in social mobilization constitute the greatest advantage the NGOs have.
A common weakness among NGOs with regard to knowledge and learning management is the lack of documentation, dissemination and updating of experiences, and transforming these into theories or framework that could further enhance their chosen line of work. Project reports are written but for the sole purpose of fulfilling the donor’s requirement, lack of proper documentation and publication of learning’s prevents deeper reflection on the impact of programs of organizational mandate.
Unfortunately self-evaluation and self-transformation of NGOs is absent in Nepal.
The national elites and dominant social groups often misuse NGOs. NGOs run by the family members and close relatives of former Prime Ministers and secretaries apart from the members of the National Planning Commission (NPC) and influential politicians were indulging financial irregularities.
Most of the donor supported NGOs are financially not sustainable. Once the donor pulls out its support, many would collapse and some would shrink in size of their staff, programs, coverage areas and activities. Most NGOs have tried to build their image by resorting to propaganda events like seminars and workshops in the town particularly in capital city. They rarely go to rural area to provide services to the rural people and continuously loss of volunteerism.
NGOs have been misused as the workplace for particular persons, their family members, relatives and other nearest and dearest persons. Some NGOs have been established at the initiation of politicians to fulfill their vested interests. They have misused the organization as a ‘begging bowl’ for earning money for
themselves. Sometimes they raise new issues and make a project proposal in
such a way that it satisfies the donor though such projects may not be based on the true analysis of problems and they only create experimental site for foreign donors and stepping stone to enter politics.
Many organizations are established in Nepal throughout the country and at grassroots level, too. But they lack the clarity of vision as to what they want to do and where they want to head. In most districts the main objectives of the NGO was found to be to extract fund from donors and build relations with them. There is lack of social perspective among such NGOs. They also lack skill to work together with poor people, but are found using development jargons frequently.
Since the inception of the Eighth Five Year Plan (1992-1997) the Government of Nepal decided to consider nongovernmental organizations as development partners. It was the most important opportunity for nongovernmental organizations.
Many issues of social transformation have been raised during the period of conflict. These issues need to be addressed effectively in the days to come. This will provide a great opportunity to the NGOs to use their knowledge, and show
their skill and efficiency.
There is too much work of reconstruction in the country after the settling of the major conflict. The government alone would not be able to perform such a huge task and welcomed the NGOs through the ongoing interim plan. Hence, the
NGOs from across the country will get an opportunity to play their role in the
reconstruction of the country.
If the International NGOs go to the field the people think that they are donors. So they expect money from them for anything. But this problem is not a serious matter for a local organization. For this reason too, most of the INGOs are forced to use the local NGOs to implement their programs.
The constant failure of state and market in coping with the problems of poverty, inequality, insecurity and powerlessness of the people, destruction of the environment, and degradation of moral values, ethics, and culture has widened the engagement of NGOs in strengthening the direct contact of donors with the people and fostering necessary relief support to development process.
Almost all of the donor agencies and INGOs are adopting the competitive grant system in values and norms, and in basic operating guidelines but those NGOs that are runs by top politicians are getting fund without competition it is the major threat and challenge for other NGOs which are headed by general public.
In many cases, it is found that donor agencies like to make partner to national level professional NGOs. According to them, they have expertise in relevant project and can make attractive reports in English. Owing to this, local-level NGOs closely related to project sites and from rural areas are intentionally and automatically by-passed because they lack the high-skilled professional expertise and are weak in English.
Weak monitoring and supervision mechanism of government and seeing by one single eye to every NGO is the prejudice for those like characters NGO.
Skilled human resource is one of the elements essential for running an organization in a well-managed way. The activities of the NGOs should be effective enough to give people a good impression about the organization and they need skilled human resource for managing all their activities. It is even more
challenging for an organization to develop and maintain its human resource.
If the persisting lawlessness continues and the corrupt officials both in NGOs and government agencies go unpunished, the situation will be more challenging even for the clean NGOs.
- 5. Areas requiring improvement
According to our traditional ideology, social service means to dedicate oneself voluntarily to the service of the society and it is a procedure for making oneself humble by dissolving the self ego. So, each NGO needs to be clear and aware about these points: Are they for the service to the society or for the service of their own? What are the NGO activists – volunteers or paid employees? They claim they are dedicated to the sustainable development of the society, yet the question remains as to how many NGOs will survive if INGOs stop giving them donation? However, irrespective of various bad comments about the NGOs, there still are some good NGOs that have earned good prestige and affection from the society. In sum, the following points will be supportive to the fair and sound movements of the NGOs:
- 1. Transparency and accountability
In order to be accountable to the society, NGOs should take the questions raised by the public, and make their own evaluation on a regular basis. Unless the issues of transparency and accountability are implemented, NGOs would not be able to run their program properly to achieve their objectives.
- 2. Coordination among NGOs
There should be good coordination among NGOs, INGOs, and donor communities. Common goal should be formulated to address the national priorities. By the proper coordination among the various development partners, we may reduce the duplication of projects by which huge amount of resources could be saved.
- 3. Transformation
In response to the changing external environment, organizations need to re-align previously identified strategies with its mandate, redefine the roles played by NGO’s in relation to each other, strengthen its accountability and consolidate its membership. Particularly, it is not only appreciable but also it may be necessary for change these four major aspects (a) defining/redefining organizational mandate (vision, mission), (b) NGO governance and management capabilities, (c) program development and management, and (d) value formation based on the original mandate of NGOs as social change agents.
- 4. Local resource mobilization
All NGOs are advocating about the sustainable development and they even say that sustainability is one of the sole values of their organization. But in practice most of them almost neglect the local resources; they compete with each other to get more funds from donors rather than generating and mobilizing the local sources.
- 5. Free from political influence
Some NGOs are working as sister organizations of political parties, and thus brought disgrace on entire NGOs. So, they should not show inclination towards any political parties.
- 6. Free from family limits
The organization are claimed to be social organizations but they function like a private limited company. Working under family limits, review and evaluation will not be effective.
- 7. Regular reporting and documentation
The organizations working in rural areas have developed close relationship with the community. They usually give much importance to work. The community also trusts them. But they do not keep record of the activities carried out in the field. Lack of written document will make it difficult for the donor agency and the stakeholder to authenticate the work. So, the organizations should make habit of keeping record of all the activities.
- 8. Similarity in word and deed
There is no similarity in the word and deed of the people involved in NGOs. They usually give big talks on rights of child and women but they employ children as domestic servants at home. They do not show respect for women of their family. If they do not follow what they teach, all their activities will be redundant.
- 1. Coordination
If the government and nongovernmental sectors work in collaboration, the excluded, deprived and oppressed classes of people could be benefited. The government itself cannot reach all remote and deprived areas proportionally and the NGO sector does not have enough technical know-how. Therefore, the participation and engagement of NGOs and GOs is inevitable. So, there should be a separate mechanism to ensure coordination between the NGOs and the government. A coordinating body should be set up to evaluate the activities of the NGOs.
- 2. Monitoring and supervision
Monitoring of the activities of the NGOs should be conducted to find whether the activities of the NGOs are consistent with the government policy and national priority. A provision of reward and punishment will be desirable in this regard.
- 3. Government policy
Government policy towards NGOs should be very clearly defined by assessing their overall activities, nature, and necessity.
- 6. Conclusion
The importance of NGOs in properly utilizing foreign help and the resources and infrastructures available with in the country has increased a lot in the present context when the government’s responsibilities have enhanced immensely. The current policies of economic and political liberalization have led to an acceptance that institutions outside government can play a positive role as partners. The growth of NGOs in Nepal reflects this change of policy. As discussed widely that NGOs are seen successful in some sector like the areas of empowerment, raising environmental concern among the people, helping the rural people by facilitating to organize the saving and credit cooperatives, various income generating activities through skill development trainings. The government itself cannot reach all remote and deprived areas proportionally. Therefore, the participation and engagement of NGOs is important. Even though, the national policies have clearly mentioned the level of relationships between the government and the NGOs, if the nongovernmental sector is to be made more accountable to the people and participatory in true sense, a strict code of conduct should be enforced.
In the changed context, the responsibilities of the NGOs have been further increased, and there has been various questions raised simultaneously about the dual characters of the NGOs. For instance, they are never tired of advocating democratic practices and public participation but they usually do not hold any election in their own NGO. They give the key posts to their own relatives. They claim to be free from party politics, but in reality they are the ones who enjoy playing political games. They do what their international donors want them to do rather than what is the need of the country, and they create disorder in the society by arousing high ambitions in the hearts of the people. It has become an overarching challenge to the NGO sector. All these challenges should be overcome in the coming days.
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Acharya M., 2000, “Non-Government Organization-led Development in Nepal” in Bhattachan K.B. and Mishra C. (eds.), Developmental Practices in Nepal, Central Department of Sociology and Anthropology, TU, Kirtipur.
Bhattachan, K.B. 2004, “NGOs in Nepal” in T. Gautam (eds.), Non-Government
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Dahal, D. R. and B. Heinz, 1996, Development Studies: Self-Help Organizations, NGOs and Civil Society, Nepal Foundation for Advanced Studies, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Kathmandu.
Ojha, E.R. 2007,”Curbing the Crux of the Cause of Nepal’s Underdevelopment,”
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A Report on
Nongovernmental Organizations in Nepal; Roles and Policy Issues
Name: Ishwar Kumar Bhattarai
Exam Roll No. 9620113 ( Private )
T.U. Reg. No.: 6-1-999-848-2004
Central Department of Public Administration
In Partial fulfillment of the requirement for the Master degree
on Public Administration (MPA)
Central Department of Public Administration