Global Partnerships and Development

Olympio Barbanti, Jr.

September 2004

Millennium Goal 8 - Develop a global partnership for development

Complex interdependence

The idea of global partnerships for development converges with the notion of complex interdependence adopted by UN itself, which states that any actor's action has reciprocal, consequential effects in the international system. That is, one person's action may influence someone else on the other side of the world. If one country is very poor, it affects not only its own population but also the international community, mostly in negative ways. Therefore, it is imperative that all countries should help each other to develop.

Aid given by rich countries

However, most aid given to developing countries obeys the political priorities of the donors. In other words, the aid given follows the donor's agenda. In Brazil, for example, most environmental aid goes to the Amazon forest, even though there are other ecosystems in more need, such as the Atlantic Rain forest. Donors often assume that their development processes and social realities are good and should be replicated elsewhere. It is common for Western donors to only fund organizations that fit Western models, which, frequently, do not take into account the local politics.

Civil society

This occurs largely because the current model of economic development has found two new roles for the civil society: one, it can replace and/or complement public services, and two, it can develop market functions, such as buying and selling. The political function is not addressed because, in many scholars' views, the history has already achieved an end, to borrow Fukuyama's words. This discourse, which encompasses the concept of "third sector," does not, however, "address the material inequities that underpin civil society organizations or the role of such groups in alleviating poverty or reproducing patterns of social and economic hierarchy." (Howell and Pearce, 2001: 233)

Overall, such behavior reflects donors' overestimation of what Western history and culture has to offer to developing countries. This has been reflected in the common strategy of helping developing countries by giving money, without paying enough attention to where that money goes. Thus, much of the aid given was directed to friendly but ineffective projects. According to Margareth Carvalho, fund-raiser of the Pro-Nursery Movement (MLPC):

"There was a change in the world scenario itself and these agencies had to stop doing this. Some time ago people came from the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries with bags full of money to give out to organizations all over the country. It was over by mid-'90's."

Nowadays, donors demand that local "partners" become self-sustainable, a euphemism that means they are required to raise their own funds. This has been an ongoing source of conflict. Projects that have been supported for years by foreign financial aid have had to adapt to this new reality. This is a reflection of the mainstream approach to the triad of state, civil society and market, which sees a free market as the fundamental principle of economic organization.

There are two main views of this triad. One, more radical, argues for a minimal state, while a moral order emerges from an unwilled and self-regulating social interaction. A second, which is commonly adopted by donor agencies, still grants to the market a central position, but recognizes that state and society must act to guarantee socially valued outcomes. This does not mean to say that the economic system cannot be funded on capital, or that the state should be interventionist. It does, however, mean that that the state together with society should ensure regulatory framework that not only foster capital accumulation, but also minimizes the negative effects of the market on the natural environment and on the social fabric.

In this setting, civil society should monitor the transparency and accountability of the state. This alternative yet liberal view comprises a number of critiques of development. Especially those theories that argue that economic growth, urbanization, industrialization and the contemporary capitalist model are the only routes to economic development. This is a more European view of civil society, one which tries to promote a more socially responsible capitalism.

Social responsibility of the private sector

The private sector currently develops partnerships with the public sector as well as with other private enterprises. In some cases, private companies have created their own "company NGOs," in order to be, or at least appear to be socially responsible. In many cases, such CNGOs do not have well-defined identity. It is common, for example, that these organizations carry the company's name, but function in their own premises. Additionally, it is common that people working for local NGOs, may they be CNGOs or just NGOs, are not fully qualified to work with social issues. This is mostly true due to the rapid expansion of NGOs worldwide.

In one case, a large, private Telecom company decided to create its own institute to work with social issues, mostly childcare. Because the institute carried the company's name, the public became confused about the services it really provided. Additionally, the company, as well as its institute, did not have at first a clear idea of what would be the institute's role.

Many partnerships have been established between private corporations and NGO's, which allow the corporations to improve their image and the NGO's to benefit from the corporation's expertise. Ana Borges, executive-director of Telemig Cellular Institute explains:

"UNICEF participation began with the definition of the institute's target of action. (...) At first, we needed to have internationally acknowledged partners with a consolidated name, so people could trust us and join us. (...) Therefore UNICEF has been participating in our discussions, bringing their expertise. They have a broader view than ours. I think over 90% of what they say is incorporated into our work."

Meaning of "partnership"

Despite the good relationship in this case, there are others in which the meaning of "partnership" became blurred because donors wanted control over the NGO's agenda. International priorities do not always match local needs. Moreover, each donor has its own timing and bureaucratic procedures, so if a NGO gets funds from various sources, it often gets jammed with paperwork.

Such situations may be concealed conflicts, mostly because aid beneficiaries avoid showing their dissatisfaction. Overall, the lack of conflict resolution training for local beneficiaries prevents them from negotiating with funding agencies. It is paramount that aid agencies realize that working with local NGOs are not the same then strengthening local NGOs, which demand real partnership on an equal basis.

Use the following to cite this article:
Barbanti, Jr., Olympio . "Global Partnerships and Development." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: September 2004 <>.

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