NGO Governance: A Debate

The governance of NGOs implies the totality of functions that are required to be carried out in relation to the internal functioning and external relations of organizations. NGOs are not political parties, nor are they grassroots social movements. Th

March 17, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 09, No 17, March 18,2016 (Chaitra 5,2072)

The governance of NGOs implies the totality of functions that are required to be carried out in relation to the internal functioning and external relations of organizations. NGOs are not political parties, nor are they grassroots social movements. Their identity crisis lies in the fact that they are in-between and go-between.

Non-government organizations (NGOs) play a key role in the development process. They are renowned for their innovation, participatory approaches, social inclusions, flexibility, and their advocacy on key social and economic issues.  NGOs have role both in supply and demand side governance.

The NGO sector is funded primarily by INGOs and bilateral donors.  The last two decade have been marked by an increased involvement of NGOs in the development process in Nepal. NGOs have contributed significantly, notably during the period of violent conflict when there was minimal presence of the government outside district HQs and during the post-earthquake disaster. 

NGOs are one set of association within ‘civil society and they have different shapes and sizes. Heterogeneity within the NGO sector makes NGO governance issue a debate in Nepal and other South Asia.  Here I present my views contributing to debate about NGO governance:

•         Shared space between NGO governance and NGO management:Governance and management are distinct and separate functions. Governance deals with future directions, long-term strategies and exercise oversights, while the management manages day to day operations.

Creating and sustaining appropriate governance structures and processes are complex and challenging given the dynamics between the different people in the governance system, managing strong personalities and building a team.  Shared space should be complementary, not overlapping for accountable NGO governance.

•         Ambiguity about NGO board:There are concerns about the composition and style of functioning of NGO board.  Family boards, invisible boards, staff boards, political boards and professional boards are all in practice. They affect interpersonal relationships and group dynamics within and between board and management.

Legal provisions must be clear to promote internal NGO governance while promoting volunteer and professional spirits of people as well as members of constituencies.

•         Blurred line between social movements and NGOs:Project based approach and staff of NGOs as inspired by donors empowers and supports for community mobilization, campaign and social movements in many cases.  Oncesocial movement take a larger space, leaders of movement tend to get more attracted to political party appointments or NGO project, and the whole movement subsides to campaign and then community mobilization.

NGO governance as influenced by internal and external factor directs NGO management to support for community mobilization. The whole dynamics of social movement, NGOs and political parties should be addressed through policy guidance and monitoring for accountable NGO governance.

•         Founder-leader dynamics:It is seen in many national NGOs that the founder is the leader of the NGO for a substantial period of time. While it provides leadership with continuity, such situation creates the vision, values and perception of the founder. Most members get associated with the founder-leader that weakens internal governance.

Effective NGO governance is critical to keep the organization true to its identity – vision, mission, and values; motivate staff members;  improve accountability and contribute to the impact of the work; and maintain and enhance wider public confidence.  We need both liberal laws and self code of conduct to streamline governance issues within NGOs so that NGOs can better contribute to quality and accountability of their works.

Dr. Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached atprabin.manandhar11@gmail.com

Dr. Prabin Manandhar

Dr. Prabin Manandhar

Dr. Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is the Former Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at the Ka

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