The growing number and increasing influence of CSOs initiated changes in the business sector’s perspective on partnerships. It also brought about greater participation by multiple actors in public service delivery. However, it is important to understand also how development thinking has affected the way in which partnership is understood in the civil society sector. In the 1970s NGOs from the South began to criticise the international aid system for allowing the development agenda to be set by donors based in the North (Kajese, 1987).
Northern NGOs responded by acknowledging that instead of treating populations in the South as passive ‘recipients’ of aid, they needed to recognise that the responsibility for development in the South should rest with them and civil society organisations based there (Kajese, 1987). In response, Northern NGOs began to scale down direct operations in the South and instead sought partnership with Southern NGOs in order to set joint agendas for the achievement of common development goals (Drabek, 1987).
New priorities were given to solidarity and a division of labour that reflected relative competencies, particularly the ability of Southern NGOs to access and represent populations in the South. However, this type of reform did not occur within the official aid system, which continued to implement externally-directed development models (Fowler, 1998). As a result, there remained a perception in the South of a power imbalance favouring Northern actors in setting the development agenda (Ashman, 2001).
Partnership re-emerged in the 1980s in association with the ‘participation revolution’ sparked by the research of Robert Chambers. Concentrating on the micro-level methods of development, Chambers’ work was a response to the arguments made by critics from the South. He sought to overturn ‘top-down’ approaches of infrastructure development that relied on financial and technical resources, instead emphasising the value of local expertise and skills. His method was to ‘put the first last’ by encouraging development to be directed and implemented by local communities in the South (Chambers, 1997).
Brett qualifies the way in which development practitioners have taken up this idea of ‘participation’. He draws a distinction between ‘weak’ participation – ‘consulting and informing’ intended recipients of program plan and design – and ‘strong’ participation involving authentic partnership between donors and recipients (Brett, 2000). He argues that states and donors involved in the international aid system support participation only in its weakest form.
This is because they regard it as a means to improve program efficiency, either through the contribution of labour and resources by ‘participants’ or because of the assumption that participant input at the design stage will ensure the sustainability of the project (Eyben & Ladbury, 1995). By contrast, the ethical foundation of many NGOs makes them more amenable to a stronger ‘people first’ approach that advocates partnership with local communities because participatory development is regarded as an end in itself (Lane, 1995).
In either case, participation discourse means that practitioners must engage in some form of partnership with local communities to legitimate development processes. A third development affecting civil society perspectives on partnership has been the predominance of the ‘good governance’ agenda since the World Development Report 1997. This theory promotes civil society development as a prerequisite to the development of ‘good’ government and argues that the ability of any society to form legitimate civil society organisations is dependent on their “differing endowments of social capital” (World Bank, 1997).
This idea of social capital1 comes from Robert Putnam’s work that equates high ‘stocks of social capital’ – personal trust, shared norms and an ability to reciprocate – with socio-economic development and the efficacy of public institutions in communities in Northern Italy (Putnam, 1993). Social capital thus represents the ability of individuals in any society to overcome the transaction costs of collective action (Putnam, 1993).
In this way, the good governance agenda has increased the importance of civil society actors, as has the neo-liberal agenda advanced by economic globalisation. As a result, states and donors in the international aid system are increasingly encouraging the idea of partnership as a means by which to shift responsibility for development to civil society actors. Consequently, partnership seeks to address inclusiveness, complementarity, dialogue and shared responsibility as the basis of managing the multiple relationships among stakeholders in the aid industry”.
It is not surprising, hence, that any steps towards addressing these problems are referred as contributing to ‘partnerships’. Partnerships are thus trying to embrace such complex tasks as bridging northern and southern organisations by creating strategic alliances based on the comparative advantages of both, uniting the efforts of like-minded organisations in their pursuit of advocating issues on global level, pushing forward the awareness of TNCs in corporate social responsibility and empowering the communities in the South by building their social capital.
This has led to the creation of a variety of partnerships2, both within and between sectors. For the purposes of the present research a broad distinction has been drawn between those intersectoral partnerships involving actors from diverse sectors and intrasectoral partnerships between organisations from the same sector. Nevertheless, development practitioners must seriously reconsider the use of ‘partnerships’ as it can create a ‘new stick with which the aid system will be beaten’ (Fowler, 2000).
Hence, it is important to see how international non-governmental development organisations (INGDO) are using the word ‘partnerships’ and what the common interpretations are. The section that follows looks at case studies of such INGDOs. Civil society diagram – from attachment 2. Practice and Meaning of Partnerships for International Non-Governmental Organisations
Realizing the importance of the partnership, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) like PLAN International engage deeply in the working on partnerships considering it a central mechanism to their developmental strategy that would cater for the requirements of, not only the donors and recipients, but also, the organisations themselves. Inter-organizational cooperation is seen as a pillar of the emerging development paradigm that seeks to mobilize the values and voluntary energy of citizen groups, the know-how and capital of business, and the legitimate authority of state (Jane Covey 2000).
Functioning in NGO partnerships, alliances, and networks is the hallmark of developmental activity of these organisations as there is a realization that they cannot “do it alone”, they have to pay attention to the other stakeholders, and, that they have to evolve a wider collaborative action in order to focus on their target areas – be it children welfare, women emancipation, combating the HIV/AIDS, or other aspects of human development etc, and, in order to deliver sustainable development services.
However as our research of international NGOs demonstrates below relatively sparse policies exist concerning the defining and working out of partnerships with many organisation using the terminology of partnerships loosely and in an ill-defined manner. Plan International currently does not have a comprehensive policy on partnership relations.
Operational relationships with other institutions differ widely depending on the capacity of the institutions, their negotiating ability, the duration of the proposed partnership and the legislative context which may limit relationships (Plan International’s International Board Meeting Basic Research Paper, 7-8 June 2002). Within Plan International it is widely held that the most common form of partnership developed is contracting which is the only form of partnership discussed in the Field Operations Book.
Plan International’s reporting requirements and the need for transparency in audit are often-cited obstacles to developing other forms of partnership with community-based organisations. Where other forms of partnership are developed, these are individually negotiated in the absence of corporate guidance (Plan International’s International Board Meeting Basic Research Paper, 7-8 June 2002). Plan International’s Program Principle of Co-operation deals with work in collaboration with community organisations, government bodies, NGOs and others.
However, although the principle states “work with the partners will be based on mutual respect, with specific rights and obligations for all parties” the supportive text is written very much in terms of the development of formal contracts, with no mention of capacity building or of long-term empowerment (Plan International’s International Board Meeting Basic Research Paper, 7-8 June 2002).