Program on Philanthropy and Social Innovation (PSI)

International Assistance

Download a printable version of this summary


Shepard Forman is founder and director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University. Previously, he directed the Human Rights and Governance and International Affairs programs at the Ford Foundation, where he also was responsible for developing and implementing the Foundation's grant making activities in Eastern Europe. Forman received his Ph.D. in anthropology at Columbia University and did post-doctoral studies in economic development at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex, England. He served on the faculty at Indiana University, the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan. He is co-editor of Good Intentions: Pledges of Aid to Countries Emerging from Conflict and Multilateralism and U.S. Foreign Policy: Ambivalent Engagement (both with Stewart Patrick) and Promoting Reproductive Health: Investing in Health for Development (with Romita Ghosh).  Forman received his B.A. from Brandeis University.

Abby Stoddard is a Research Associate at New York Universitys Center on International Cooperation, where she coordinates research and project activities on issues in international humanitarian assistance.  She has a Masters of International Affairs degree from Columbia University, a B.A. from Barnard College, and is currently a candidate for a Ph.D. in Politics at New York University. Previously, she worked for 10 years in the field of international relief and development assistance, most recently as Program Director for Doctors of the World-USA.  She is a contributing author to studies in international humanitarian affairs published by the Overseas Development Institute, London.

Return to Table of Contents

Chapter Summary

Shepard Forman and Abby Stoddard

During the past 30 years, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become key players in international relief and development efforts. But violent new intrastate conflicts, a shrinking pool of public funding, and other forces have complicated their operations and challenged their principles. According to authors Shepard Forman and Abby Stoddard, both of New York Universitys Center on International Cooperation, NGOs stand at a crossroads that is forcing them to reexamine their role in world crises as well as their organizational structures and operational tactics.

This analysis is part of the broader assessment of The State of Nonprofit America, coordinated by Dr. Lester M. Salamon of the Johns Hopkins University and published by the Brookings Institution Press in collaboration with the Aspen Institute.

Globalization is one of the most potent forces confronting international relief and development NGOs, and it has presented opportunities as well as challenges. On the downside, globalization has resulted in shrinking public sector funding coupled with fraying social safety nets in many developing nations and formerly socialist countries. Private charitable giving has failed to fill the gap. But on the other hand, globalization has also unleashed a flood of commercial capital, which is pouring into developing countries at a 500-percent higher rate than a decade ago, offering both a new source of fundraising and possibilities of private sector partnerships.

Forman and Stoddard contend that the future of NGOs will include increasing numbers of partnerships with firms interested in penetrating developing markets. But, they say, these so-called cross-sector alliances must be approached with caution. NGOs must find a way to maintain their independence while forging closer partnerships with the private sector.

Maintaining independence amid collaboration is not a new challenge for international relief and development NGOs. In their historical analysis of the rise of the NGO sector in this field, Forman and Stoddard demonstrate how complex relationships with donor governments, as well as host governments, have prepared foreign relief and development organizations to handle such situations. Its a skill NGOs must also exercise in dealing with the trend toward the indigenization of relief efforts, which has fueled the rise of new indigenous organizations in developing countries. Sometimes northern NGOs find themselves in awkward competitions for funding with these new organizations that they have helped to create and strengthen.

Like collaboration, funding is an ongoing challenge for NGOs, although the sectors current financial problems are exacerbated by heightened global instability, which has thrust NGOs into a more prominent role than ever in humanitarian and development assistance. NGOs must face this challenge with a general lack of endowments and reserve funds, especially in the area of rapid humanitarian crisesin which responses must be mounted before grant applications can be made.

NGOs funding problems increased when the United States slid into recession last year. Organizations that invested their endowments or reserves in the stock market lost a large portion of their buffer. And, in the wake of September 11, many people in the field of international assistance fear that attention and resources will be diverted away from efforts outside regions of concern to the counter-terrorist agenda.

Other challenges threatening NGOs are personnel and security problems, which have accelerated as combatants in some civil conflicts have ceased viewing humanitarian workers as off-limits targets. Unrealistic public expectations and increasing demands from donors for evidence of effectiveness also present growing challenges.

Forman and Stoddard believe the NGO sector will succeed at meeting its many new challenges, because, as they demonstrate, international relief and development has always been a highly introspective field capable of adaptation. But they say the NGO landscape will change dramatically during the next five years. They predict that the trend toward professionalism and homogenization of operating standards that is underway will accelerate. They also believe the large and reputable northern NGOs will continue to solidify their market dominance among the tightening circle of international agencies. Ultimately, Forman and Stoddard think NGOs will devolve into global networks of international affiliates with locally based capacitynetworks in which southern NGOs play an increasingly vital role.