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Breakdown in PakistanHow Aid Is Eroding Institutions for Collective Action$

Masooda Bano

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780804781329

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804781329.001.0001

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Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?

Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?

(p.119) 5 Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?
Breakdown in Pakistan
Stanford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter provides the survey results of Pakistan's forty largest civil society organizations, half of which use development aid and half of which don't. The survey focused on the motivation of the group leaders, the groups' membership, and the organizational performance of these forty groups. This survey was conducted as a way to test the hypothesis that was expressed in the previous chapter: that the main reason why aid breaks down cooperation within civil society groups is because it changes group performance and the behavior of group leaders. This chapter argues that aid actually has a negative impact on collective action, which then results in a negative impact on the ability of an organization to achieve its development goals.

Keywords:   civil society organizations, survey, development aid, motivation, membership, organizational performance, aid, cooperation, collective action, development goals

Although there are various additional factors which affect the creation and destruction of social capital, only one broad class of these is especially important. This is the class of factors which make persons less dependent on one another…. When, because of affluence, government aid, or some other factor, persons need each other less, less social capital is generated.

James Coleman, Foundations of Social Theory, 1990, 321

We can celebrate the civic-mindedness of wealthy individuals and families who give so much, yet at the same time realize that their largesse brings attenuated democratic responsiveness—as the public fisc subsidizes ever more top-down civic funding, which in turn exempts increasing numbers of nonprofit and voluntary endeavours from the need to amass widespread popular support.

Theda Skocpol, Diminished Democracy, 2003, 231

In the literature on cooperation and related notions of trust and social capital, the role of a force external to the parties directly involved in an action in either enhancing or breaking down cooperation has attracted much attention. Although some argue for the beneficial impact of the external force, others point to its destructive potential. For instance, seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes ([1651] 2010) found that an external force in the form of a Leviathan was necessary for bringing about civic order. Similarly, the extensive literature of economics on the problems of collective action—as captured in the Prisoner's Dilemma, Hardin's (1968)“Tragedy of the Commons,” and (p.120) Olson's (1971)Logic of Collective Action—argues for third-party intervention through state imposition of private property rights as a solution to problems of cooperation. On the other hand, James Coleman (1990), the key theorist on social capital, argues that external intervention that makes people less dependent on each other breaks down social capital. He conceptualizes government aid in times of need as one such intervention that, by making people less dependent on each other, often reduces social capital. This chapter is concerned with the impact of one such outside force—international development aid—on cooperation between initiators and joiners. It addresses two interrelated questions: (1) Does international development aid restrict cooperation between initiators and joiners and break it down where it already exists? (2) Does this shift occur because international development aid provides material incentives that lead to material rather than ideal motivation in the initiator, thereby reducing the initiator's efficacy and efficiency?


To address these questions, a countrywide survey was designed that compared twenty voluntary groups whose initiators take international development aid, that is, NGOs, with twenty of those whose initiators rely mainly on contributions from local joiners, that is, VOs (see Map 5.1). The rationale for undertaking this comparative analysis was that controlling for the source of funding would help identify trends emerging in response to international development aid. If we find clear differences on three attributes (ability to mobilize joiners, motivation, and performance) in the two types of organizations under study—NGOs and VOs—then we can establish some correlation between these trends and the availability of international development aid.

Organizations selected within both categories served constituencies external to themselves, that is, they were other-regarding groups; the difference between the two, however, was their source of funding. Drawing on the literature on aid and NGOs reviewed in Chapter 1, the term NGOwas used for those civil society organizations that choose to rely primarily on development aid to execute their program. This did not rule out the possibility that some of them might also mobilize funds domestically. The term VO, on the other hand, was used for organizations outside the donor-funded chain who choose to rely primarily on public donations and volunteers to advance their cause. Because these donors and volunteers are of different kinds (regular and irregular), the term memberswas used to cover all categories of supporters who facilitate the working of VOs. (p.121)

Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?

Map 5.1 Pakistan: Main Cities Covered in the Survey

The sample was developed on the basis of purposive and maximum variation sampling because it helped capture maximum variation within the NGOs and VOs in terms of scale, geographic distribution, and sector variation (see Table 5.1). This method made it possible to test whether the issues being studied are sensitive to these variations. It also meant that the NGOs selected could be funded by any kind of Western donor—multilateral, bilateral, or international NGO. The approach was to select the most prominent cases—determined by their scale of operation, annual budgets, funding levels, and reputation among donors, government officials, media, and research institutes. The logic was that if the best examples from the two types of organizations failed on a specific indicator, it would then be reasonable to suspect that the less established organizations stood even less of a chance of performing better. Carroll (1992) (p.122) used a similar logic in his study by selecting thirty NGOs that were identified as “well-performing” in some respect by the concerned donor agency.

The organizations were identified in discussions with staff members of seventeen prominent international donor agencies operating in Pakistan, by consulting their annual funding reports, and by analyzing previous surveys and reports on NGOs in Pakistan (Aga Khan Development Network 2000; Leadership for Environment and Development 2002; Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy 2002; NGO Resource Centre 2003a, 2003b). Thus the survey included the most prominent and largest NGOs and VOs in the selected categories across Pakistan. A sample size of forty was selected to enable me to conduct all the interviews personally; this allowed consistency in data collection while allowing space for covering maximum variations within each category. It also enabled me to observe the locations, physical infrastructures, and organizational cultures of the surveyed groups.

A semi-structured questionnaire was administered to the chief executive of each organization. It was designed to measure three factors: the ability to mobilize members, the motivation of the leaders, and the organization's performance. A correlation was suspected among these factors given that the NGO literature noting lack of members also refers to high salaries of NGO leaders and questionable performance (Tvedt 1998; Henderson 2002). Where possible, brief discussions also took place with some of the staff members and volunteers. Organizations' publications, such as annual reports, introductory brochures, and weekly or monthly newsletters, were also analyzed. Taking cues from Putnam and Tocqueville, two indicators were developed to measure each organization's ability to mobilize collective action: the presence of local donors and the presence of volunteers who contribute freely of their time to advance the work of the organization for no material gain.

Economic anthropologist Jean Ensminger's (1992, 10) reasoning—“How else can we be confident with any degree of scientific certainty that an ideological commitment exists except in terms of what people are prepared to forgo for its service?”—helped to develop indicators to measure the motivation and ideological commitment of the leaders of the organizations. Measuring performance was more complex. The survey was designed to test organizational, not project, performance. It therefore examined the organization's ability to survive and stay focused on its stated vision rather than measuring specific outcomes of the projects implemented by the organization. Table 5.2lists the key indicators developed to measure the three factors. (p.123)

Table 5.1 Sample Selection

Selection Criteria



Sector Variation

9 education

9 education

5 health and sanitation

7 health

2 child rights

2 legal aid

2 purely advocacy based

2 purely advocacy based

2 microcredit (6 others did microcredit in addition to their core programs)

100% claimed gender and governance as cross-cutting themes; 3 focused exclusively on women's rights


25% nationwide

30% nationwide

30% provincewide

30% provincewide

40% districtwide

35% districtwide

5% CBOs

5% CBOs


5 Punjab

7 Punjab


5 Sindh

8 Sindh

4 federal capital

1 federal capital

5 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

3 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

1 Baluchistan

1 Baluchistan

(1.) Nationwide organizations have a main office in the capital and regional offices in the provincial capitals; provincewide organizations have a main office in the provincial capital and field offices at various locations in the province; districtwide organizations focus on a district; CBOs operate within certain areas of a city or at the village level.

(2.) The sample represented the varying density of voluntary organizations across the four provinces in Pakistan; Sindh and Punjab have the largest concentrations of voluntary organizations and Baluchistan has the smallest (NGO Resource Centre 2003b).

Table 5.2 Indicators




Ability to Mobilize Collective Action

Presence of local givers Presence of volunteers

Direct and indirect volunteers

Motivation and Ideological Commitment

Material sacrifice

Leader's salary

Initial investment

Origin of the organization Commitment to beneficiaries Material comfort

Organizational spending

Organizational Performance

Empowerment vs. dependence Advocacy vs. service delivery Agenda setting vs. agenda following Sustainability vs. fluctuations Elite representation vs. grassroots representation

Annual budgets; stable objectives Socioeconomic background of leaders

(p.124) The data gathered through the survey was triangulated against the findings of a survey of public perceptions of these organizations. Because all individuals in a given society can potentially be joiners of an NGO, this book argues that public1perception of NGOs' commitment, performance, and ability to mobilize joiners carries much analytical weight.2Methodologically, this approach is said to take inspiration from the Participatory Assessment tools, which draw from the broad participatory research methods led by Robert Chambers (1997). It emphasizes the need to involve the perspectives of those who are affected by a particular intervention. Voices of the Poor, a four-volume series produced by the World Bank (Narayan-Parker 2000) that documents the poor's perspective on what poverty is relative to the perspective of those who are working to remove poverty, relies on the Participatory Poverty Assessment method. Given that in the development literature the term NGOis defined mostly in terms of what the experts and international aid agencies view it to mean, it was considered important to gauge what the term means to the general public. Therefore, during the course of my fieldwork I asked all respondents about their familiarity with the term NGO—what it means to them and what they think of international donors' funding of civil society organizations.

This question became a regular feature of my fieldwork. At the same time, this soliciting of views from the general public was supplemented by the views of certain groups that come into direct contact with NGOs. Important among these groups were the international aid agencies that fund NGOs; the media, which cover NGO events and comment on the work that NGOs do; the bureaucrats and politicians whose work, or lack thereof, is often the target of NGOs' critique; and the maulavisin the mosques, who are often presented as heavily opposed to NGOs because of the latter's liberal outlook. Unlike the general public, these specialized groups, because of their direct involvement with NGOs, could have vested interests in promoting one image of NGOs over another. For this reason it was considered necessary to solicit their views specifically, in order to see how much those views would add to our knowledge of NGOs' ability to mobilize joiners, their commitment, and their performance.

(p.125) Mobilizing Collective Action: Evidence on Membership Structures

The survey revealed a marked difference in the ability of the two types of organizations to mobilize members: all twenty of the VOs included in the survey relied on indigenous donations as opposed to only three NGOs. Even for the three NGOs, the amounts of the local contributions were insignificant and consisted of corporate rather than individual donations, so all of the NGOs relied almost exclusively on development aid. As for volunteers, although both types of organizations reported difficulty harnessing a big number, 100 percent of the VOs reported having a core pool of volunteers, whereas none of the NGOs did. There were two types of arrangements with volunteers: 80 percent of the VOs had paid staff members while volunteers provided specialized services, and 20 percent of the VOs were run entirely by volunteer members. Service and Development, a women-run organization, had a core group of six volunteers that supported the leader in the management and running of the organization. Similarly, Irtiqa, an organization of university professors and thinkers in Karachi that worked to promote freethinking, relied on the voluntary time investment of four core members.

All of the VOs with paid staff had at the same time volunteers who provided their professional services free of charge to promote the organization's mission. All of the VOs that ran schools or orphanages mentioned having an understanding with prominent doctors and dentists who provided free services to the children served by the VO. Among the NGOs, on the other hand, the only “volunteers” were the interns—young students or recent graduates who joined the organization with the explicit intention of gaining a job in the development sector.

However, even many of the VOs recorded difficulty retaining volunteers or inducting new ones from the younger generation, and most of them attributed this difficulty to the rise of the “NGO culture.” The president of the All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA), the oldest women's rights organization in Pakistan, held the view that younger females often volunteer with other intentions: “Once trained, they quickly move on to set up their own NGOs where they can make good money.”

In addition to the regular volunteers, the VOs also had a big pool of indirect volunteers. The initiators of the VOs as well as the regular volunteers mentioned that they were always able to get concessions on purchases and professional services. For example, volunteers at Service and Development explained that they were able to keep their costs low because they could get large discounts from (p.126) shop owners. “We tell them that it is for a good deed. We say to them, you make so much profit; by giving this concession you will become part of this good deed too,” explained one of the members. The members of Service and Development were confident that individuals respond favorably when they are convinced that the work is being undertaken for a good cause and that the person undertaking the work is not making a personal profit from it. This issue arose repeatedly in interviews with members of the VOs. Such support seemed to be a critical means of keeping the costs of their work very low. None of the NGO members interviewed, however, demonstrated the ability to mobilize such support.

At the same time, four VOs that had started to draw on international development aid reported problems. The Maternity and Child Welfare Association, a VO that in the last decade had started taking international aid, reported serious problems due to this move. The organization almost collapsed with the influx of such aid. “The real volunteers got disheartened. The really genuine worker leaves when he sees money come into play. The people who are more interested in personal gains start getting attracted to the organization,” said the current president of the organization. In the case of a small CBO another negative effect of accepting international aid was that people refused to pay even the small membership fee they used to pay before. As one respondent said, “They now say that you are gaining profit out of this work. They say that in fact you are hiding away the money.”

The survey thus indicates a clear absence of joiners, as both givers and volunteers, from NGOs (see Table 5.3). The question, then, is, Is it a matter of choice or of inability on the part of the NGOs? The survey results show it is true that NGOs in general do not work to mobilize local joiners because they prefer to focus their energies on international donors who provide big donations. At the same time, the survey shows that NGOs are unable to mobilize members even when they need them, and a few examples show that even those organizations that had members prior to taking development aid lost them upon receipt of aid.

Ninety percent of the NGOs surveyed acknowledged their inability to mobilize local joiners. Many said that fluctuations in aid flows in response to the political developments in Pakistan have made them think about exploring indigenous

Table 5.3 Mobilizing Collective Action

Collective Action



Presence of local givers



Presence of volunteers



(p.127) funds, but so far they have not been able to figure out how to do that. The inability of NGOs to mobilize joiners was also visible in a public accountability drive launched by the bigger NGOs in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. The Baluchistan Citizen Sector Self-Regulation Initiative—2003 Code of Conduct campaign requires its participants to become more transparent in their activities and accounts in order to improve their public image. The inability to mobilize members as donors and volunteers was also the most striking aspect of NGOs in the survey of public perceptions of NGOs. The critiques of NGOs were overwhelming.

The term NGOwas instantly linked in the public's mind to international development aid and conjured up consistently negative images. Except for a few staff members in international development agencies, all respondents expressed concern about NGOs' agendas, motivations, impacts, and representative natures. Even those staff members of international donor agencies who supported the NGOs acknowledged that the public image of NGOs is negative. Most interesting of all is that even a majority of the staff members of NGOs interviewed accused other NGOs of inappropriate behavior. Given that in the literature on NGOs, public perceptions of NGOs are rarely covered, the following section draws on the public perception survey to give a taste of views on NGOs held on the ground. However, in order not to distract from the objective analysis of the survey, which focused on forty organizations, only a few of the quotes from the public perception survey are provided here.3

Across the various socioeconomic and professional groups surveyed, NGOs were critiqued for their lack of performance as well as for their lack of commitment. Within activist circles a common critique was that NGOs have depoliticized society. In a country where continued military intervention has suppressed political parties and political activism, NGOs have helped to attract the political (p.128) activist away from politics. These critics argue that by promoting the concept of self-help, NGOs are shifting responsibility away from the state and in the process depoliticizing society. According to Akhtar Sheikh, the key initiator of the People's Rights Movement (PRM), one of the cases analyzed in Chapter 3, “The NGOs' negative impact is that social change has become a business. The assumption is that you can do a job and also bring a change.” In his view, the idea of paid activists has changed the very culture of activism. “The issue is that once an activist gets used to the comfortable lifestyle of an NGO, then the primary focus becomes the survival of the NGO, which is his means of income, rather than the work itself,” he added. His experience was that if you hold a protest after 5:00 P.M. or on a Saturday, the NGOs' staff members do not come.

Other members of the PRM had similar concerns. “An organization like ours is based on a constituency. We have to be responsive to them. By the same token, the NGOs have to be responsive to their donors. These donors are their constituency,” explained one donor. He added, “PRM is different from an NGO because we do not see if money is coming for the work that needs to be done. We just do it. There is zameen-asman[earth-sky] difference in the work of NGOs and PRM. No NGO picks up issues that we pick up.” Another member, who has more than ten years' experience of working with a high-profile local NGO on advocacy issues, said the reason he eventually left was that his work showed him “when it comes to critical issues, NGOs cannot resist the donor and government pressure.”

A representative of a highly reputed VO that consists of senior academics and intellectuals in Karachi argued, “NGOs are being used as gospels of globalization. We hate to be called an NGO because the general impression is that NGOs are funded by foreign money.” He elaborated, “We are not drawing big salaries; we are a dedicated group of friends. All intellectuals appreciate this platform. The late Hamza Alavi was with us. We are in the fifteenth or sixteenth year of our existence.” The female head of a very radical women's rights organization that operates more like a provincewide movement said, “These NGOs need us. They come to us when they need people to demonstrate and show public power. They give money to cover the cost of our members' participation.” Commenting that these NGOs are run on the basis of money, she said, “The NGOs are good for providing jobs; they are not the rasta[road] to najat[salvation].” She mentioned that her organization's own work had been affected by the arrival of development aid because many younger members had been tempted into opening NGOs rather than working on this group's voluntary platform. “These NGOs have come from where? They are (p.129) an outcome of a deliberate policy to make our workers give up their ideals. They have come to stop the zaehnie shaoor[mental consciousness],” she said. In her view, the NGO phenomenon is part of the United States' planning to gain control over the entire world. “NGOs don't bring revolutionary people forward,” she added.

Because the maulavisare among the groups that NGOs always accuse of defaming them, during the fieldwork I tried to solicit the views of some maulavisin the areas I covered. All of the maulavisinterviewed viewed NGOs as a continuation of Christian missionary work. Unlike the other individuals I interviewed, the maulavisseemed to have no consciousness of the international development system. They all blamed NGOs for promoting Western values for monetary gain and viewed them as part of a Christian missionary agenda. Interestingly, however, it was in the rural areas and small towns that the clergy had an additional, very strong critique of NGOs. In these communities, the term NGOhas become synonymous with a woman who has lost complete respect for her own value system. In these areas, NGOs are the big concern of the clergy's Friday sermons. A staff member of the biggest women's rights NGO in Pakistan noted that it is common for ordinary people in rural areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to say, “An NGO visited today; it was wearing high heels and a short skirt.” Although he sat in an organization that funds NGOs and was reasonably progressive, this official shared the public's concern about the culturally insensitive and supposedly completely westernized ideas of the two key nationwide women's rights NGOs.

However, the most damaging evidence of the negative perception of the term NGOin Pakistani society came not from the Marxist-oriented activists or the uninformed maulavisbut from the surveyed NGOs who admitted this problem, as well as from the staff of donor agencies. Almost half of the senior staff members of donor agencies interviewed admitted that many NGOs were set up to attract donor aid for personal gain rather than out of a real commitment to a cause. Furthermore, none of the NGOs included in the survey denied that the term NGOis very negatively perceived by the public. Only three of the twenty NGOs interviewed set aside these perceptions as baseless. The majority argued that the negative perceptions of NGOs are based on solid grounds. Seventeen respondents from the NGOs surveyed maintained that NGOs were formed for personal gain rather than to serve a public interest. They claimed, however, that their own organization was different.

The executive director of an education-focused NGO in Karachi that had recently received a large USAID project had this to say about NGO culture: (p.130) “NGOs are not grassroots organizations. People in NGOs are visible in speeding cars.” He was of the view that what reaches the grassroots through NGO projects is a very small portion of the actual amount available. “For most NGOs the vision is not clear; they keep changing their kibla[direction of prayer]. They keep wearing new clothes according to the weather. If donors disappear, they will disappear too,” he added. A senior official of an NGO that has become prominent in the Tharparkar Desert maintained, “Criticism of NGOs is by and large valid. Most of the NGOs are involved in some kind of corruption.” In his view, NGOs have become family inheritances that the father hands over to the daughter. This reference to “daughter” was also a critique of the dominance of upper-class, foreign-educated women in the NGO sector. “The NGOs are more involved in fashionable jargon. The offices of NGOs in Islamabad are better than the office of the Somalian Embassy,” he added. Thus, in his view, big NGOs are more financially resourceful than the governments of poor countries.

One of the top officials of a well-established child rights NGO in Islamabad admitted, “Sometimes it comes as an embarrassment to say one is from an NGO. NGOs are more like business today; they are not voluntary.” As she saw it, NGOs get the money first then have to find a way to spend it; VOs, on the other hand, know first what they want to do and then go out to gather funds for it. “The NGO movement will collapse when international donors withdraw,” she said. The director of a small NGO in Bahawalpur that in the last four years had acquired quite a few donor-funded projects shared his reservation about disclosing publicly his identity as head of an NGO when he said, “When sitting in a train I will never say that I am the president of an NGO. The people will say you are a Daku[bandit], you embezzle money.”

The executive director of a Lahore-based NGO that had recently received a multimillion-dollar project from USAID said that he avoids introducing himself as an NGO representative when he goes to the beneficiary groups because of the negative image the term evokes. “I try to explain our work to the community members without using the term NGO. But when I explain that we do projects with development money, the people say with that disappointed tone, ‘Oh! So it is an NGO.’”

The perceptions of the general public, of specialized groups (including representatives of international donor agencies), and of NGOs, although they are not to be seen as objective data, do support the survey results—that NGOs struggle to win members because of their negative and self-serving image; that (p.131) the ordinary public makes a clear distinction between VOs and NGOs; and that anyone familiar with the term NGOimmediately associates it with international donor aid.

Measuring Motivation

The organizational survey also reveals stark differences between the motivation of leaders of NGOs and the motivation of leaders of VOs (see Table 5.4).

Material Sacrifice

In the VOs, none of the leaders were paid for their work; they all worked voluntarily. In the NGOs, 100 percent of the leaders were paid for their work, and 95 percent admitted that their salary was higher than the salary of an equivalent position on the government pay scale. Hence, whereas for the leaders of NGOs their work at the organization was their source of income, for the leaders of VOs their work at the organization was completely voluntary, and often in addition to their professional duties elsewhere. Most VO leaders had also made major financial contributions to setting up the organization. Whereas the absence of any monetary benefits in the form of salaries makes it possible to argue that the initiators of the VOs were primarily motivated by ideological incentives, in the case of NGOs it is difficult to establish this claim given that there were clear material incentives for undertaking the work that at times were even more rewarding than what the initiator could receive in the marketplace.

Table 5.4 Measuring Motivation




Leader's Salary

100% drew a salary; for 95% it was more than the salary of an equivalent position on the government scale

100 percent worked voluntarily; they also invested their own resources in the organization

Organization's Origin

6 were the continuation of donor projects

3 were initiated as a response to a particular incident

2 were the continuation of donor consultancies

6 including 2 of the largest women's rights NGOs, resulted from exposure to Western education

17 were initiated as a moral compulsion to address a common problem

5 were responses to local needs

Beneficiary Population

Project was designed first, beneficiary population was chosen later

Existence of a beneficiary population led to the birth of the organization

Material Comfort

100% were located in a posh area

None were located in a posh area

100% had modern buildings

25% had no office building

100% were located away from the project site

65% had offices at a project site

Majority had four-wheel-drive vehicles

None maintained four-wheel-drive vehicles

(p.132) Origin of the Organization

An organization's origin is also indicative of the motives of its leaders. The survey shows that an NGO's origins indicate material incentives for the initiators and a VO's origins are embedded mainly in ideological incentives. Continuation of an already existing donor project and the desire to implement a development idea were the two main reasons that leaders gave for starting their NGOs. Six of the twenty NGOs surveyed were established at the closure of a foreign development project when the foreign donor in charge of the project helped the local staff set up local NGOs so that the local manpower trained during the course of the project and the physical infrastructure that was developed would not go to waste. Those who had joined these aid projects as a means to earn a living became leaders of these local NGOs. These individuals had been paid when they joined and they were paid in the new setup. Two of the other NGOs surveyed had come about when their leaders, who had worked for a donor's consultancy project, realized the potential to expand the work by forming an NGO.

In addition to this, the other key explanation for the origin of some of the NGOs interviewed was the initiator's exposure to Western liberal ideas. Two influential women's rights NGOs were set up by initiators who had studied in Western universities. On their return to Pakistan, these initiators had felt the need to challenge the existing gender roles in their society. The same was true for leaders of four other large NGOs in the survey. They had also been exposed to development ideas through foreign education. Nonetheless, with the exception of one NGO, in all these cases, from the very beginning setting up an NGO also ensured the initiators a good income. Five of these from the very start drew on international development aid whereas the one that was set up prior to the availability of development aid moved to receive it as soon as it became available. The existence of clear monetary incentives to undertake this work does not completely rule out the possibility of commitment to ideals on the part of these NGO initiators; it does, however, make it difficult to prove their commitment. It is, thus, difficult to test whether it was the possibility of getting funding for that particular project or a reaction to a local need that made these initiators start the NGO, especially given that they were all well-versed with development discourse and knew which issues were on top of the donors' funding agendas. The initiators of five other NGOs surveyed claimed to have started the NGO in response to a local need. Interestingly, four of these NGOs had started their work with local donations but later moved to receive funding from international donors.

In the case of VOs, on the other hand, there were two main explanations for their origin: one, they were the response of an individual or a group to a (p.133) particular incident that moved them; or two, they resulted from the realization by a group of individuals who were influential in a given context that a public problem needed to be addressed. Three of the VOs in the survey had originated when the initiators were moved by a particular incident. For example, Anjuman-Faizul-Islam, one of the oldest VOs in Pakistan, was set up in response to a famine in Bengal that left many children orphaned. The other seventeen VOs originated because either one individual or a group of friends or acquaintances felt morally compelled to do something in response to a common need. For example, the APWA, which until the 1970s was very influential but has now been sidelined by the development agencies and the NGOs because it consists largely of women who are housewives rather than professionals, was set up by the wife of the first prime minister of Pakistan in response to the perceived need to mobilize women to contribute to the development of the newly born country. The APWA aimed to engage these women in professional roles while encouraging them to maintain their primary roles as wives and mothers.

The initiators of these organizations had no links to international development aid. These organizations started because the founders decided to use their own resources and seek the help of people around them to address the issues they thought were important. Therefore, whereas, in the case of the NGOs, the survey indicates a strong link between their initiation and the availability of international development aid, in the case of VOs, the reason for their initiation seems to be an urge to respond to a need that matches the initiators' value system. With the exception of one, all of the NGOs surveyed started with the initiators being compensated at the market rate for their work, whereas in the case of the VOs, all of the initiators started by putting in their own resources voluntarily. Arguably they might have sought some social rewards, such as prestige or social status, but there was no evidence of them drawing any economic benefits.

Commitment to Beneficiaries

If commitment to certain ideals can be measured in terms of how consistently the leaders work with the organization's beneficiaries, the VOs surveyed fared better than the NGOs. For all of the VOs it was the existence of a clearly defined beneficiary population that motivated the leaders; on the other hand, for the NGOs, no specific beneficiary population acted as a motive. For the NGOs, organizational aims were determined by the development projects they had received from their donors, and actual beneficiaries were then sought to match the requirements of the project. Even organizations that worked in a particular region, such as the Thar Desert, focused on different locations, and thus on (p.134) different beneficiaries within that region, on the basis of the requirements of specific donor projects. As a consequence, the majority of NGOs surveyed had a continuously changing target population.

Material Comfort

The survey also shows that the initiators of NGOs enjoy much more material comfort in their work than the initiators of VOs. The difference between the two types of organizations was most marked in terms of what was spent out of the organization's resources on making the work environment comfortable for the leaders. All but one of the NGOs surveyed had their offices in the more expensive areas of town in modern buildings with the latest facilities, such as air conditioning and computers. Furthermore, their project sites were usually some distance from these offices. All of the NGOs had many vehicles; many had four-wheel-drive vehicles parked outside their offices.

The VOs, on the other hand, had quite humble offices. Five of them had no office building of their own and were run out of the house or office of the leader. For example, CARE, a VO working on education, does not have an independent office space; its team operates out of a small portion of the commercial office of the initiator. Also, strikingly, thirteen of the VOs had offices at the project site. In contrast to the NGOs' offices, these offices generally consisted of three to four rooms and were very basic. Only two of the VOs maintained offices away from their project site. However, even these were located in small flats in commercial areas of Karachi rather than in the affluent localities that housed the NGOs. The bigger NGOs in the main cities in particular had very lavish offices and expensive vehicles.

Measuring Performance

The indicators developed to reflect organizational performance also revealed marked differences between the VOs and the NGOs (see Table 5.5).

Empowerment Versus Dependence

In policy debates on NGOs, VOs and NGOs are often assumed to work with different philosophies: NGOs are expected to undertake development projects that will lead to empowerment and self-reliance within communities; VOs, on the other hand, are assumed to be more concerned with addressing the immediate needs of communities, which often leads to dependence. The survey shows that in using the language of participation NGOs are clearly ahead of VOs. The two types of organizations differ markedly in their use of development (p.135)

Table 5.5 Measuring Performance




Empowerment vs. Dependence

All claimed their work was different than that of VOs; all defined development as making people stand on their own feet. All were well versed in development discourse.

None of the VOs believed in handouts; even the smallest believed in making people stand on their own feet. None spoke development discourse; all relied on religious or moral diction or Marxist vocabulary.

Advocacy vs. Service Delivery

Advocacy-based NGOs focused on workshops and seminars. Social mobilization was interpreted as self-help.

Advocacy-based VOs were very political and much more radical than NGOs. Mobilization was political and often driven by Marxist thinking.

Service-delivery NGOs were neutral toward the state; they focused on moving toward the market.

Service-delivery VOs were neutral toward the state and focused on social responsibility among the well-off.

Agenda Setting vs. Agenda Following

Smaller NGOs were more vulnerable to donor pressure but bigger NGOs were not fully independent.

85% refused aid on ideological grounds; 15% did not pursue due to complicated paperwork.

20% had started to accept donor aid but registered problems.

Sustainability vs. Fluctuations

All showed dramatic fluctuations in annual budgets in response to aid flows.

Annual budgets were stable, recording only gradual increases or decreases.

Activities kept changing in response to aid flows.

The focus of activities was stable.

Elite Domination vs. GrassrootsRepresentation

Leaders came from middle- and upperincome groups.

Leaders came from middle- and upperincome groups.

lingo. NGOs' leaders continually used words like gender equity, empowerment, beneficiaries, and sustainability. Theirs is a language perfectly in tune with the vocabulary of the international development agencies. The actual understanding of these development concepts was limited to a handful of the bigger NGOs, but the use of the jargon itself was widespread, across the NGO spectrum. Among VOs, however, the language used was very different. Among the service delivery VOs, the language was drawn mainly from religious obligation and a sense of moral and social responsibility; the advocacy-based VOs drew from either religious or Marxist vocabulary. Thus, a VO and an NGO undertaking the same activity, such as running a school, used very different language to explain their main objective. The respondents from NGOs talked about education being a millennium development goal, about the benefits of non-formal education models, and about their knowledge of other international experiences, such as BRAC. The respondents from the VOs undertaking the same activity, however, talked about personal experiences that had convinced them (p.136) of the need to provide education facilities to poor children, about their sense of social responsibility that motivated them to do this work, and about learning from their own local experiences.

So, even though the two types of organizations used different languages, there was no evidence that the two languages necessarily dealt with different types of activities. None of the respondents from VOs, for example, used the word empowerment, but each of them talked about helping their beneficiaries to “stand on their own feet.” Each of them aimed at making the poor self-sufficient rather than making them dependent on charity. Even those VOs that had started on a very small scale just to provide immediate relief had eventually expanded their work to address the causes of poverty and deprivation. Service and Development was a very good example of this process. A VO started by two women with very humble ambitions to provide food rations to a few poor families, it soon expanded to providing education scholarships and imparting vocational training, because the initiators realized that distributing food rations alone would not enable the poor families they served to get out of poverty. It is therefore difficult to argue that NGOs work toward empowerment of their beneficiaries but VOs do not. Representatives of an NGO in Bahawalpur that had grown from being a small self-help organization to being largely donor dependent expressed the same view: “Eventually the work we do is exactly the same as we did before receipt of aid money. We ran a school then and we run a school now, but the language is very different.”

Advocacy Versus Service Delivery

Advocacy work that aims to make the state accountable is viewed as a major contribution of NGOs; the VOs, on the other hand, are often viewed as service- delivery focused. The survey shows, however, that advocacy is an equally important activity for NGOs and VOs. Among the NGOs, only four claimed to be primarily advocacy based, and even these had some service-delivery projects. The rest were mainly service-delivery organizations but also engaged in some advocacy work. Among the VOs, the same held true. Five of them were primarily advocacy oriented whereas the rest primarily undertook service delivery, with a small advocacy component.

Furthermore, the survey shows that VOs are more political than NGOs in their advocacy claims. The dominant work model among both advocacy and service-delivery NGOs was to set up self-help village organizations. To the NGOs surveyed, community mobilizationwas a nonpolitical term: the emphasis of this mobilization activity was on making communities pool their resources (p.137) in order to provide a common good and then to establish good contacts with the government line departments. The advocacy-based VOs, on the other hand, equated community mobilizationwith political mobilization. For these organizations, public rallies and demonstrations demanding equitable distribution of economic growth within society through land reforms, water distribution, and reduction in defense spending were key concerns. These VOs were often more confrontational in their tactics than NGOs; whereas NGOs mainly engaged in publishing brochures, disseminating information about rights among the affected communities, and hosting conferences and workshops in hotels, VOs relied heavily on protests, walks, hunger strikes, sit-ins in front of the parliament, and demonstrations that at times led to imprisonment. Thus the two types of organizations differed in terms of the nature of the issues they took up for advocacy and also in the methods they used.

Agenda Setting Versus Agenda Following

Whether an NGO is an agenda setter or an agenda follower for the donor is one of the critical measures of its performance. The survey findings are not surprising: because NGOs depend on donor agencies rather than on a large constituency of local supporters, they have much less control over setting their agenda than VOs do. More interesting, the survey reveals a stark difference among the NGOs too. An overwhelming majority of the VOs surveyed did not want international development aid for this very reason; they argued that foreign aid comes with its own agenda and leads to an attitude of dependency. In the words of the leader of one advocacy-based VO, “An organization like ours is based on a constituency. We have to be responsive to them. By the same token, the NGOs have to be responsive to their donors. These donors are their constituency.”

The NGOs, on the other hand, had a very different approach to international donors. Their main justification for relying on international development aid rather than on local fund raising was, they argued, that more money is available through the former. The bigger NGOs generally had no complaints about donors. They were confident in their ability to resist donor pressure to promote an agenda they did not support. They also had no fear of donor money running out. In fact, they argued that they did not have to go to the donors to seek funds; rather, the donors themselves came to them with project proposals. The smaller NGOs, especially those in remote areas, on the other hand, had many complaints about international donors and about the donors' relationships with NGOs in the big cities. Some blamed the bigger NGOs for cultivating special links with donors, others blamed the donors, and some blamed both. They (p.138) argued that the bigger NGOs invested in networking with donors and thus got all the big projects. “What do these Islamabad-based NGOs know about the problems in Southern Punjab?” complained the head of a medium-sized NGO in Multan who was very critical of donors' tendency to give the big projects for rural Punjab to these NGOs.

The smaller NGOs were also very open in admitting that their agendas were completely dictated by the donors. “If you go against the donor he will completely sideline you,” said the initiator of one of the smaller NGOs in Bahawalpur. In his experience, each and every line of the contract was dictated by the head office of the international donor and the NGO was simply asked to implement the project. “The NGO system is over, it is all contractorship now,” he added. The NGO leaders did distinguish between bilateral and multilateral donors and international NGOs in terms of the freedom they gave to the local NGOs to plan their own work, but the survey findings show no signs that different donors have different impacts on an NGO's ability to mobilize members and on the motivation of its leaders.

The survey thus indicates a difference between how international donors interact with the well-established, bigger NGOs and how they interact with the relatively newer and smaller NGOs and CBOs, especially those located in remote areas. There is a good technical explanation for this. The staff members in bigger NGOs are normally more educated and well versed in development discourse and concepts, and because they have been around for a long time they are more tactful in negotiations with donors. Donors' experience with the bigger organizations makes them trust these organizations more than the smaller and newer NGOs, over whom they logically feel the need to have greater control. However, analysis of the overall work trends of the NGOs surveyed shows that although the bigger NGOs might be in a position to ward off direct pressure from the donors over specific projects, their overall work preferences are heavily shaped by the international donors.

The survey shows that all of the NGOs, including the bigger ones, had adapted their activities to their donors' preferences. In the 1980s, donors' funding preferences in Pakistan revolved around women's rights; in the early 1990s they revolved around microcredit; beginning in the mid-1990s donors focused on community empowerment and mobilization; and at the time of my fieldwork their focus was on governance and devolution. The annual reports and brochures of the NGOs show that all of them have followed the same trends. This does seem to indicate that the overall agenda of NGOs is eventually controlled by the donors, or that the liberty that the bigger NGOs enjoy is limited (p.139) to rejecting or accepting a particular project and not the overall area of intervention. Many local staff members of the donor agencies admitted their influence. In the words of a local official at the UK Department for International Development, “These NGOs all act as contractors; there is no disputing that.” Similarly, one of the senior staff members of the Trust for Voluntary Organizations (TVO), a donor agency, admitted, “Beggars cannot be choosers. The donors are like shop owners; they are selling certain ideas. If you are willing to work with those ideas, they will give you money; otherwise you move on to the next shop.” He added, “There is no NGO here who will say no to a donor, except a very few big ones. I have seen a lot of NGOs who stay alive by working on child labor one year and moving on to another sector the next year.”

The international donors' influence over the agendas of the NGOs can also be studied by observing the NGOs' involvement in the governance debate occurring in Pakistan at the time of the fieldwork. One issue that repeatedly came up in discussions with various groups was the complete absence of critique from the NGOs about General Musharraf's military government. Given that donors link NGOs with the promotion of democracy in developing countries, one would have expected the NGOs in Pakistan to resist military rule. The NGOs, however, were completely silent on the issue. Although governanceand public participationwere central to the work of all the NGOs surveyed, none of them, not even the most established advocacy NGOs, were participating in the democracy-versus-military debate taking place in Pakistan. A senior director of one of the largest advocacy NGOs, which at the time was also running many donor-funded projects on governance and decentralization, admitted, “Our failure to take an active part and strong position on LFO [Legal Framework Order, a collection of constitutional amendments that legitimized General Musharraf's rule] has been a weakness. It is an issue that the NGOs did not take any position on it.” He added, “There was no intellectual dilemma involved in opposing LFO. All I can think of is that the project workload creates lethargy toward pursuing some of these issues.” This comment indicates that even for bigger NGOs, reliance on donor money leads to promoting project guidelines rather than what is actually thought to be important.

Due to General Musharraf's support of the “war on terror” since September 11, 2001, all major donors were very supportive of his regime at the time of the fieldwork, which translated into large aid flows to Pakistan. At that time, governance—or more specifically, devolution—was the buzzword in international donor and government circles. Almost all donor aid to NGOs was coming through the devolution plan. To criticize General Musharraf's (p.140) government or have it removed threatened the millions of aid dollars coming to NGOs through the devolution plan. For example, the USAID, which at the time of the fieldwork was disbursing some of the biggest projects to NGOs, had returned to Pakistan, after having withdrawn in the late 1980s, as a sign of support to General Musharraf's policies. The complete silence of NGOs about General Musharraf's regime and the absence of any support from NGOs for the opposition parties was thus not a surprise. It did, however, quite strongly demonstrate the donors' ability to influence the agenda of the NGOs, regardless of the NGOs' scale. The influx of aid to Pakistan in the post-2001 period also highlights the financial vulnerability of NGOs that are reliant on development aid, because aid flows to Pakistan are very vulnerable to the country's geopolitical positioning.

Sustainability Versus Fluctuations

The ability of NGOs to sustain their activities beyond the donor funding cycle is a key concern in the NGO literature. Annual budgets, which indicate the scale of activity of an organization, are useful indicators of the stability of an organization. The survey shows that the annual budgets of NGOs fluctuate dramatically. At the time of the fieldwork, on the whole, NGO budgets were larger than those of VOs. This seemed linked to the massive expansion of aid flows to Pakistan after September 11. The budgets of some NGOs multiplied more than a hundred times over a period of two years. The availability of large projects from new donors, such as USAID, dramatically enhanced the budgets of three major NGOs whose members I interviewed. One NGO had received Rs. 29,250,000 (£292,500; US$488,475), a considerable amount for an organization whose previous budget had been a little over a million rupees (£10,000; US$16,700). Another organization's budget expanded from Rs. 11 million to Rs. 30 million over one year, and then to Rs. 40 million the following year. As acknowledged by the head of one of the NGOs that had recently received such a project, this growth raises questions about the capacity of organizations to absorb and disburse such money efficiently. For the VOs, on the other hand, the financial expansion was more gradual, but at the same time more stable. No VO recorded such dramatic expansion or reduction in its budget.

Ihe survey also noticed clear differences in the continuity of work between the NGOs and the VOs. The NGOs were very clear that they would carry on a project only as long as there was development aid to support it. In the words of one of the NGO representatives, “We will do the work while we are being paid for it. We can't do it once the funding runs out.” For the VOs, on the other (p.141) hand, there was no concept of the work coming to an end; there was no talk of running a project. This is visible in the approach taken by CARE, a VO in Lahore that has taken over responsibility for improving the quality of education in ten municipal government schools near Lahore. The chief executive of CARE argued, “When taking over schools from the state, we ensured that we get them for at least ten years, because entering into three-year contracts is the approach of the international donors, not ours. We believe in staying involved till the target is achieved.”

Elite Domination Versus Grassroots Representation

The survey records no difference between the economic and social backgrounds of the initiators in the two types of organizations. The leaders of both the NGOs and the VOs came mainly from the upper- and middle-income groups. The majority of them were well educated, with most of the leaders of the NGOs having foreign degrees in development-related subjects. Thus the assumption that giving aid to NGOs will enable members from low-income groups to initiate their own NGOs does not hold true. In the words of the head of a small NGO in Bahawalpur, “NGO work is for educated people; it is not for the common man. A common man cannot write proposals, use e-mail, and the fax machine.”


The survey results thus show that initiators who rely on international development aid fail to mobilize joiners. They also show that those who receive international development aid are motivated by material motives, or that material motives clearly exist in addition to ideological motives, whereas those who rely on the support of local joiners are primarily motivated by ideals, with no proof of material incentives playing a significant role. Finally, the survey results also support the claim that the performance of the VOs is better than that of the NGOs on all of the indicators selected for this study.

Chapter 3argued that joiners join initiators on the basis of shared ideals, and that they select an initiator by making rational judgments about the motivation and performance of the initiator. The findings discussed in this chapter support this argument. They show that the initiators who are able to mobilize joiners are those who demonstrate clear signs of commitment to their stated ideals and visible signs of high performance, whereas those who fail to show these signs fail to mobilize joiners. The analysis in this chapter thus supports the analysis developed in Chapter 3and reaffirms the existence of a correlation between the initiator's performance and motivation and the ability to mobilize joiners (see Figure 5.1). (p.142)

Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?

Figure 5.1 strong Correlations

Does Aid Break Down Cooperation?

Figure 5.2 Plausible Causality Chain

At the same time, this chapter's analysis points to another strong correlation: between the availability of development aid and the increase of material motivation and the worsening of performance on the part of NGO initiators. Analysis of the public's perceptions of NGOs indicates the likelihood of a causal relationship among the three elements whereby international development aid causes material motivation, which, in turn, causes poorer performance, and these factors, in turn, restrict an NGO's ability to mobilize its members (see Figure 5.2).

This conclusion raises two questions. First, why should international development aid lead to material motivation? After all, the international donor also claims commitment to certain ideals—often to universally expressed human rights. Second, why should material motivation on the part of the initiator lead to poor performance compared to the performance of an initiator motivated by ideals?

It is these two questions that are the focus of attention in the next chapter. However, before addressing these questions, the chapter reexamines the existence of the correlations just proposed by analyzing three cases in which initiators initially drew on indigenous funds but then moved to receiving international development aid, to see if there are indications of a causal relationship between international development aid and the rise of material motivation and the worsening of performance on the part of the initiators.


(1.) The term public, as used here, includes everyone who is a citizen of the country under study. This is a loose categorization, but it is used here so that the views of all sections of the society can be included. Ordinary citizens as well as government officials, journalists, and others were all interviewed in their capacity as individual members of the society rather than as representatives of the positions they held.

(2.) For detailed coverage of the public perceptions of the term NGOin Pakistan, see Bano (2008a).

(3.) One small exception to the analysis presented here is found in Hunza, one of the six northern districts of Pakistan. Hunza was the only place where the local population did not associate negative connotations with the term NGO. In their experience, the term NGOwas closely linked to the Aga Khan Foundation, which had been the main development player in the region. This is an exceptional scenario, for two reasons. First, although the Aga Khan Foundation has in the last two decades become heavily involved with development projects funded by international donors, it is not an NGO in the sense defined in this study; it is primarily a religious platform that has moved into development work. Second, although many small CBOs have mushroomed in this area under the patronage of the Aga Khan Foundation, there is still no NGO culture in the area like the one seen in the rest of the country. The importance of religious values in building a favorable relationship between communities and the Aga Khan Foundation is also reflected in the fact that the population of Hunza is overwhelmingly Ismaili—that is, they are followers of Aga Khan.