Non-governmental organizations

First aid, then poverty

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Aid organisations pose as the noble saviours of the needy. In fact they often reinforce and deepen exploitation

Bob Geldof was recently invited to Australia to talk about world poverty. His fee was £100,000 - and of course he flew first class. It was one small chapter in the story of an industry whose gross earnings put it fifth behind the world's largest economies - the aid industry.

The issue has dramatically entered the news again, with the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile and the continuing drama of Darfur. It confronts you every day as the charming young "chuggers", with their umbrellas and yellow jackets, deliver their charity scripts with a smile.

Friends of the Poor or of Neo-Liberalism?

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The rise of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the past 30 years has been dazzling.

NGOs are typically private, not-for-profit, bodies that carry out humanitarian work or provide basic social services, often working in the Global South. There are an estimated 37,000 international NGOs with global reach, one fifth of them formed in the 1990s. The number of smaller NGOs operating within a single country is far larger - there are an estimated one to two million in India alone.

Are You Being Served?

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There's more to the role of NGOs than meets the eye.

Left wing activists raised one issue repeatedly with me when I spoke at a number of meetings in Pakistan a few months back: 'What can we do about the NGOs? How can we stop them continually damaging struggles?' The vehemence of the questioning would surprise many activists in the west. The plethora of non-governmental organisations that have sprung up in the last two decades are usually thought of here as campaigners who expose the misdeeds of corporations and governments. In Naomi Klein's No Logo they were presented as part of the 'swarm' that was going to paralyse corporate power.

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