DIY Development

At Together4Africa we believe it is important to question the role of DIY development NGOs and over the coming months we will reflect on what DIY Development NGOs are as well as their strengths and the potential pitfalls of DIY development.

Our member charities are typical DIY development NGOs in that they are absolutely tiny compared to those you will be familiar with and were, in most cases, set up after a trip to Africa that left their founders profoundly touched by the poverty they witnessed and may be even more by the resilience they encountered.

Libby James of Village-to-Village has done some research into this new phenomenon. Hereafter is an insight into her findings.

Over the past twenty years there has been an explosion in the number of NGOs working overseas. In the 1990’s the number of internationally operating NGOs had reached over 16,000 (Beigbeder, 1991) and by 2003 it was estimated this figure had leapfrogged to 40,000 (Kovach et al, 2003). Amongst these groups are a multitude of small (and tiny) charities.

A number of reasons have been cited for the explosion of interest in international development. Anheier et al (2001) observed that where you find ‘clusters of globalisation’ or ‘thick globalisation’, global civil society is strongest and most prominent. This notion promotes the idea that as individuals augment their connections to the world at large, they are more likely to think of themselves as global citizens and increase their support of international activities. The growing number of INGOs in this sense is a reaction to globalisation and sense of the interconnectedness of humanity (ibid).

Furthermore, the coverage of international issues on the television (and radio), has meant many people have grown up envisaging the suffering of some of the worlds poorest from the security of their own homes (Barber and Bowie, 2008). This exposure to international issues, from the likes of Comic Relief and Band Aid may go some way to explaining why the total donations made to development charities has risen faster than to any other charitable cause; almost seven-fold among the top 200 fundraising charities, from 1978 to 2004 (Atkinson et al 2008).

Perhaps it is the knowledge that many official channels of aid have failed to deliver on a huge number of their promises (Menocal and Rogerson, 2006); or the driving forces of a globalising world that encourages us to act as global citizens (Anheier et al, 2001). Today the pervasive belief that any individual from the comfort of their lives in the west can make a difference to those less fortunate, has seen the rise in the growing phenomenon of ‘Do-it-Yourself’ (DIY) Development (Mdee and James, 2011).

Over the coming months we will reflect on what DIY Development NGOs are as well as their strengths and the potential pitfalls of DIY development. While we do not wish to diminish the motivations of those involved in DIY development it is important to challenge the acceptance that simply by deciding to ‘do’ something individuals are able to systematically assist in long-term development.

We at Together4Africa believe it is important to question the role of DIY development NGOs. Especially as this growing phenomenon does not fit neatly into existing conceptions of development and aid effectiveness. While we firmly believe that DIY development NGOs can contribute to improving the livelihoods of people across Africa we also have an appreciation for the limitations of small NGOs in contributing to long-term and sustainable development. The role of DIY development NGOs in this sense is not an answer to every development problem and the role of the state and government cannot be understated. Nonetheless it helps to understand the growing sense of interconnectedness of a globalising world and a reaction to experiencing poverty from the outside looking in. In this sense it perhaps fits better into existing understandings of a ‘globalising and humanising civil society’ and an urgency to do something for people you care about, not an all out answer to development.

Taken from ‘The Comic Relief Effect: DIY Development NGOs’ written by Libby James, Programme Director of Village-to-Village

Anheier, H. et al. (2001) ‘Introducing Global Civil Society’, in Anheier, H., and M. Glasius, M. Kaldor (eds) Global Civil Society, Oxford University Press: 3-22
Atkinson A. B. and P. Backus, J. Micklewright, C. Pharoah, S.V. Schnepf (2008)Charitable giving for overseas development: UK trends over a quarter century, S3RI working paper A08/06, University of Southampton
Barber, M. and C. Bowie (2008) How International NGOs could do less harm and more good, in Development in Practice, 18(6): 748 – 754
Beigbeder, Y. (1991) The Role and Status of International Humanitarian Volunteers and Organizations, the Right and Duty to Humanitarian Assistance, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers: Dordrecht
Kovach, H., Neligan C. And Burall, S. (2003) The Global Accountability Report, One World Trust: UK
Mdee, A. L. and E. L. James (2011) ‘Small is Beautiful?’ Do-it-Yourself Development NGOs, presented at Making Development Inclusive Conference, University of Bradford 26th-28th January 2011
Menocal, R. A. and Rogerson, A. (2006) Which Way the Future of Aid? Southern Civil Society Perspectives on Current Debates on Reform to the International Aid System, London: Overseas Development Institute, Working Paper 259