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Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding Essay

Every functioning society is made up of the civil society which generally represents social as well as civic organizations which operate on voluntary basis. Such organizations are different from parastatals and other commercial organizations as they are mostly non-profit.

As much as such organizations have shared values, goals and purpose, it is difficult to differentiate them completely from other organizations as there are no clear boundaries between them. Since civil society embraces diversity, organizations that characterize it are inclusive but not limited to, self help groups, church based organizations non-governmental organizations, social movements, community groups, business associations and women organizations.

The civil society organizations receive funding from different agencies but in most cases, they depend on the donor funding. For instance, United States has a goal of funding many such organizations in the developing countries. Therefore, most of the civil society organizations depend on international donor funding (Howell & Pearce, 2002). With that background in mind, this essay shall discuss the limitations and possibilities in creating the civil society though international donor funding.

It is important to point out the meaning of international funding to be in a position to understand the limitations and the possibilities on the same in creating the civil society. International donor funding refers to the financial aid accorded to the foreign countries and agencies. As highlighted in the in the introductory, United States is a perfect example of an international donor since it finances various categories of civil society organizations.

The funds are used either to establish or carry out various activities that help achieve the goal and purpose of that particular organization. Other donors include United Nations institutions such as UN Population Fund as well as UNICEF. Other countries that provide donor funding include, Germany, Scandinavian countries, Netherlands and Britain. Donors also constitute private institutions such as various Development Banks and Gates Foundation.

Donor funding may not be the only financial aid for civil society but in most cases, it is the main source of funding. Therefore, a critical analysis of the civil society organizations illustrates that donor funding is very significant in creation and development of civil societies.

As much as there is much debate concerning the same, focusing on the funds from such organizations illustrates that they are of great benefit to the civil society. Although it is not all non governmental organizations that are grouped among the civil society organizations, donors have got a lot of influence on such organizations. In that case, being the main source of fund, donors are better placed in creating civil society organization (Higgott, Bieler, & Underhill, 2004).

Although funding of the civil society organizations by the international donors leads to increased dependence on the financial aid, that ought not to be a limitation since the condition can be solved. Studies of Edwards & Hulme, (1997) illustrate that financial dependence can be reduced if the international donors can establish local organizations, where they can be channelling funds.

Consequently, such organizations can take up the role of financing civil organization in the region. Most importantly, local institutions created by the donors are very effective not only due to the fact that they are better positioned to make funding decisions but also due to the fact that such organizations are independent of the local state and therefore, they cannot be controlled by the same.

International donors are very crucial in the civil society not only due to offering financial aid but also for the other roles they play such as capacity building as well as consultation and collaboration. Some of the tasks undertaken by the civil society organization like fighting corruption cannot be done by one organization as it requires the input of other stake holders.

Therefore, the international donors are better placed to help the civil society in achieving its goals and objectives. Most importantly, international donors ensure that the civil society organization are working effectively since financial support is only guaranteed to organizations that are performing and committed to meeting their goals and objectives.

Capacity building is one of the major roles of the civil society. In order for such organizations to be in a position enhance capacity building in the community, they require much support not only from the state government but also from the donors.

Specifically, donors are very instrumental in capacity building since they ensure that the civil society organizations develop skills as well as facilities that are necessary in achieving their goals and objectives. In most cases, donors achieve their role of capacity building in the civil society by offering training as well as other technical assistance. Finally, donors are best placed in helping the civil society develop integrity as well as accountability which is very vital to ensure not only existence, but also success (Shafi, 2004).

Donor funding especially in the developed countries contributes greatly to the attainment of the millennium development goals. For instance, in many countries in the developing regions, control of a disease like malaria has been made possible by funds from the international donors.

Most of the projects that fall under the civil society organization operate under the mandate of the international donors. As much as the issue may end up being politicized, ideally, international donors are best placed in creating civil society organizations since they may not have other interests other that offering humanitarian support to the target population.

Therefore, since one aim of the international donors is to provide the financial aid and foster development in the third world countries, the same may facilitate the creation of the civil society (Ahmed & Potter, 2006). However, government interruption should be limited since internal and international politics may act as a hindrance.

Although international donors may be better placed in creating the civil society, there are still a number of limitations to the same. International donors are not only affected by national but also by the international politics and in most cases, such political interests impede smooth learning of the civil society organizations.

Political interests end up affecting vital decisions in the programs being funded by the international donors. In most cases, international donors avail funds to foreign non-governmental organizations that embrace policies that they identify with.

For example, a country like United States which falls under the category of the great donors funds in most cases only the organizations that adopt its policy at home. Since the country has got a policy against abortion, it ends up denying funds to all the organizations involved in reproductive health that fail to adopt the anti-abortion policy. As a result, such non government organization ends up lacking enough funds to carry out various reproductive health activities.

More specifically, studies of Mayhew, (2002) indicate that after the gas rule was established and re-imposed in United States, United States Agency for International Development availed financial support only to non governmental organizations that adopted the same rule. Consequently, due to lack of enough funds, other organizations which were denied funding could not be in a position to function properly; a condition which led to an increase of maternal deaths.

More often than not, international donors end up supporting a specific program hindering civil society organizations from offering integrated services. Although the main goal of the government and the donors is to offer integrated services, research done on some African countries such as Kenya and Zambia illustrates that in one department, there are a number of donors offering financial help to a single specific unit.

Due to such a situation, it has been difficult for the service providers to offer integrated services. In that case, it is clear that impending with service integration is a strong limitation of international donor in creating civil society. More to that, further studies illustrate that in some instances, there has been duplication of some services by donor agencies such as USAID caused by poor coordination and lack of streamlining (Mayhew, 2002 ).

Creating civil society using international donors result to some conflicts which is an important limitation. Studies of Edwards & Hulme (1997) illustrate that while providing funding to the local NGOs, donors end up creating contradictory policies. For example, although donors maintain that their main aim is to strengthen the civil society, they usually end up reducing the ability of the state to meet the needs of the civil society.

Due to the programs which are supported by the donors, a condition of cost recovery occurs in different sectors like education and agriculture and the situation increases the inaccessibility of the services offered by the state to the less fortunate in the society.

The same studies argue that it is evident that donors weaken the civil society instead of strengthening them since their main interest is to use the civil society organizations to channel aids. Nevertheless, that does not negate the fact that the financial aid is not necessary but only points out that donors overlook a very important role of strengthening the civil society.

The relationship between international donors, civil society organizations and the citizens is an important limitation that ought to be taken into consideration. In most cases, the donors and the NGOs form very close relations which ends up affecting the effectives of the civil society since the same can result to major conflicts DeMars, (2005) and White, (1999). For example, it is clear that most donors use the top bottom approach which is characterized by professionalism, centralization, materialism and short term goals.

On the contrary, the civil society organizations are characterized by the bottom up approach, voluntarism, long term goals as well as decentralization. Due to cost effectiveness, donors usually prefer to work with NGOs which causes a problem since they end up employing professionals and using costly facilities like the vehicles. Since donors usually have got short term objectives, they are not too much concerned with the quality of work at the ground level (Barr et al 2005).

In an attempt to illustrate the differences between civil society organizations and the donors; studies of Edwards & Hulme (1997) illustrate a case relating to experience between the World Bank and an NGO in Sri Lankan. The study explains that while the NGO officials have to travel by bus even overnight to attend a meeting; the World Bank officials usually use air transport and lodge in the most expensive hotel.

Although most of the time the donor calls for a meeting of urging the NGOs not to be wasteful on the resources, the meeting does not make much sense because the donors expenses are too high compared to the expenses of the NGO officials.

Worse still, most of the powerful donors like the World Bank end up setting priorities for the civil society organization, a situation that leads to more conflicts. Instead of putting targets, the donors and the NGOs should engage in dialogue concerning different strategies as well as the objectives (Clarke, 1998).

As highlighted in the introductory part, most of the civil society organizations are not well able financially compared to the donors. While this may be an advantage, it can still be a limitation because as highlighted earlier, most of the local organizations are usually intimidated and fail to communicate their views. Consequently, since they represent the views of the majority, they may end up not meeting the needs of the local people. In addition, there is a big difference between the management of the NGOs and the donors.

For instance, the management and more so on the finance department may not be as developed and as a result, crises may occur since the donors may not understand the problem. As a result, due to rapid growth, there is a usually a breakdown of management leading to lack of transparency which may end up being disastrous especially when it is related to accounting (Ebrahim, 2003). However, that is a problem that can be solved although it requires much input from the concerned stakeholders.

Currently and in most countries, the civil society is marked by international donors who are the main source of funds. They are not only involved in providing financial aid but also play other roles such as offering support and collaboration as well as capacity building.

Therefore, as the study has indicated, donors play an important role in creation of the civil society as funds are very important in carrying out the objectives and the activities of the organizations. It is then possible to create civil society using funds from the international donors. However, the review of literature has indicated that there are a number of limitations of using international donors in creating civil society.

The study has indicated that depending so much on foreign aid can end up eroding legitimacy. Secondly, too much dependence on the donor support affects the relationship between donors and the civil society organizations.

A critical analysis of the issue has illustrated that such a relationship may be contractual since donors continue to fund an organization as long as it meets the target and provides the best services (Fowler, 1998).

Lastly, since most donors have got control on the organizations they support, the problem ends up raising a question of accountability. More specifically, civil society organizations being funded my donors end up having multiple accountabilities since they have a duty to the government, local citizens, and the donors.

The issue of accountability is a limitation as it is very significant and measures the performance of an organization. Therefore, the study has indicated that there are both possibilities and limitations of creating civil society through international donor funding. Nevertheless, it would be important for more research to be carried out since the situation is a matter of concern especially in the third world countries as their civil society organizations largely depend on the international donors for funding.

Reference List

Ahmed, S. & Potter, D. M. 2006. NGOs in international politics. West Hartford: Kumarian Press, Inc.

Barr et al. 2005. The governance of NGOs in Uganda. World Development, 30 (4), 657-679.

Clarke, G. (1998). The Politics of NGOs in South-East Asia: Participation and Protest in the Philippines. Oxon: Routledge.

DeMars, W. E. (2005). NGOs and transnational networks: wild cards in world politics. London: Pluto.

Ebrahim, A. 2003. Accountability In Practice: Mechanisms for NGOs. World Development, 31 (5), 813–829.

Edwards, M., & Hulme, D. 1997. NGOS, States and Donors: Too Close for Comfort? New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Fowler, A. F. 1998. Authentic NGDO Partnerships in the New Policy Agenda for International Aid: Dead End or Light Ahead? Development and Change, 29 (1), 137–159.

Higgott, R., Bieler, A. & Underhill, G. 2004. Non-State Actors and Authority in the Global System. London: Routledge.

Howell, J. & Pearce, J. 2002. Civil society and development. London: Lynne Rienner Publishers .

Mayhew, S. H. 2002. Donor Dealings: The Impact of International Donor Aid On Sexual and Reproductive Health Services. Retrieved from

Shafi, S. A. 2004. Civil Society and Political Elites in Palestine and the Role of International Donors: A Palestinian View. Retrieved from

White, S. 1999. NGOs, civil society and the state in Bangladesh: the politics of representing the poor. Development and Change, 30, 307-326.

This Essay on Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding was written and submitted by user Eden Kerr to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Eden Kerr studied at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, USA, with average GPA 3.4 out of 4.0.

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Kerr, E. (2019, May 31). Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding [Blog post]. Retrieved from

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Kerr, Eden. "Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding." IvyPanda, 31 May 2019,

1. Eden Kerr. "Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding." IvyPanda (blog), May 31, 2019.


Kerr, Eden. "Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding." IvyPanda (blog), May 31, 2019.


Kerr, Eden. 2019. "Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding." IvyPanda (blog), May 31, 2019.


Kerr, E. (2019) 'Possibilities and Limitations of Creating Civil Society though International Donor Funding'. IvyPanda, 31 May.

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