GASPP News no 4

GASPP Policy Brief
No 4 January 2003


International Non-State Actors and Social Development PolicyPaul Stubbs
Associate Senior Researcher
University of Sheffield


This brief discusses the role of international non-state actors in the complex multi-lateralism of social and development policy marked as it is by a high, and sometimes seemingly unfathomable, degree of institutional fragmentation and competition. It focuses on two broad groups of actors,international NGOs (INGOs) and international consultancy companies (ICCs), who are key players in the global politics of aid and development but whose activities are rarely scrutinised with analytical precision and, indeed, rarely studied together. Adopting an historical perspective, the brief shows how international non-state actors must be situated within wider trends in aid and development policies.

Hence, in the context of a neo-liberal policy agenda, many leading INGOs reorganised so that they became closer to emerging ICCs, as consulting, outsourcing, and sub-contracting became key features of aid and development policy. Throughout the 1990s, in the context of declining ODA, and increasing spending on emergencies, trends towards concentration and oligopolisation amongst private development actors grew apace, fuelling short-termism, projectisation, and intense competition within the aid market, and detracting from wider critical development thinking and action.

A new aid and development regime focused on co-ordinated poverty reduction has many positive elements, including an attempt to ensure greater coherence, co-ordination and consistency of policy actions, to meet the agreed, time-bound, and measurable International Development Goals (IDGs). The brief outlines a number of possible scenarios for the role of international non-state actors within the new regime. Most likely is that the regime will provide added impetus to existing tendencies towards concentration, oligopolisation, mergers and consortia amongst non-state actors, since it will be these emerging supra-national agencies and alliances who will be the only ones with sufficient capacity to engage in the more complex and coherent programming being developed and likely to increase in importance in the future. This scenario has considerable implications for Southern NGOs and groupings who may not be considered as ‘leaders’ of these consortia so that they may become locked, again, into relations of dominance and subordination within a newly revitalised Western development apparatus.

Notwithstanding concerns about the abilities and willingness of international non-state actors to support the provision of public services and to address wider social policy frameworks, the major problem identified is that the new regime is being implementedwithin the core principles of the new public management which infuses all development actors. In particular, the problematic effects of competitive tendering and contracting, in the context of the obvious imperfections of the aid market, are noted.

The brief ends with a series of recommendations and broad suggestions for Finland and like minded countries, in favour of a clearer rule-based international system. Suggestions include: more research on the effects of subcontracting; greater attention to quality control, standards, and appraisal; a renewed focus on gender mainstreaming within consultancies; the enhancement of transparency combined with wider sectorally-based evaluations; the removal of pricing anomalies; and a focus on local capacity building.

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