NGOs and Peacebuilding

Alice Konig
Monday 5 February 2024

In this presentation, Visualising Peace student Samuel Huff discusses some of the scholarship he has been reading on the role played by different NGOs in peacebuilding. He looks particularly at the decisions that they take over whether or not to frame their work explicitly as ‘peacebuilding’. Below the video, you can find a summary of the publications he discusses. These are also available in our Visualising Peace Library.

van der Gaag, Nikki, and Cathy Nash. ‘Images of Africa,’ November 1987.

This report, a joint effort combining the research of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and international NGOs, explores the influences on public perception surrounding the Ethiopian Famine of 1984. The report’s findings indicate that public perception of the event was largely shaped by images shared by the media and NGOs. Images seen in television coverage and in advertisements were shown to shape the public’s perception not only of the famine in Ethiopia, but Africa as a whole. Visuals shared through the media developed an image of Africa as a uniform entity, victimised, impoverished, and plagued by hardship. The report explores further how the media perpetuated orientalist views of the continent through specific types of publications. The authors also show that NGOs contributed to the sensationalising image of Africa promoted in the media, raising questions about the impacts of different types of advertisement on public perceptions and operations of NGOs themselves. As NGOs work to create peace, how can they attract funding without creating a victimising image of those they intend to serve?

Chandra, Anita, and Joie Acosta. “The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Long-Term Human Recovery After Disaster: Reflections from Louisiana Four Years After Hurricane Katrina.” In The Role of Nongovernmental Organizations in Long-Term Human Recovery After Disaster: Reflections From Louisiana Four Years After Hurricane Katrina, 1st ed., 1–14. RAND Corporation, 2009.

This paper seeks to address the roles of NGOs and the challenges they face in the process of responding to crises. Using specific situations where NGOs faced challenges in their responses to Hurricane Katrina, the authors develop a series of identified obstacles and potential solutions to each of these issues. The solutions discussed by the authors are structural, suggesting changes to specific laws and policies of the American government that hindered NGO response to Hurricane Katrina. The paper goes on to describe potential future areas of research that, if explored, may further improve how NGOs are able to respond to disasters. Interestingly, the authors frame NGOs in this chapter as organisations that contribute significantly to human recovery, which can also be interpreted as personal peace or peace in place. Human recovery, as defined by the authors, includes anything that promotes the restoration of systems and structures that contribute positively to mental and physical well-being.  

Farid, May, and Chengcheng Song. ‘Public Trust as a Driver of State-Grassroots NGO Collaboration in China.’ Journal of Chinese Political Science 25, no. 4 (1 December 2020): 591–613.

Farid and Song’s article discusses how NGOs in China seek to gain public trust, specifically through the cultivation of relationships with the state. The authors show that for many Chinese NGOs, working closely with the Chinese government, especially with local governments, is a crucial way in which organisations can gain the trust of those they are intending to work with. The first step in an NGOs work is building trust and connections with whoever the organisation intends to work with. These relationships allow an organisation to work effectively in a particular area. In the case of China, one of the primary mechanisms by which NGOs build trust with the public is through alignment with local governments. The authors not only show that trust in local governments and NGOs are linked, but that building a relationship with the government allows NGOs to operate much more smoothly due to increased funding and ease of access to gain the legal permits required to operate in China. The authors demonstrate that to effectively promote peace in China, many organisations choose to develop relationships with the Chinese state.

Walton, Oliver. ‘Conflict, Peacebuilding and NGO Legitimacy: National NGOs in Sri Lanka.’ Conflict, Security & Development 8, no. 1 (1 April 2008): 133–67.

In this article, Walton uses three case studies of national NGOs in Sri Lanka to investigate how and why NGOs face crises of legitimacy when working in areas shortly after a conflict has occurred. This paper demonstrates the complexity of the relationships that NGOs maintain with donors as well as political stakeholders. Walton argues that both donors and political stakeholders exert influence on NGOs, which can have negative consequences for their legitimacy and thus their peacebuilding efforts. Walton views legitimacy for NGOs, national NGOs in particular, as the recognition of the organisation’s right to exercise power. This legitimacy is something that is very flexible and can increase or decrease among different stakeholders in a certain organisation at any time. To be able to carry out peacebuilding operations, NGOs must carefully balance all these interests and protect their legitimacy among their different stakeholders. Interestingly, this article uses the terminology of ‘peacebuilding,’ recognising the role that NGOs play in developing peace in the world today.

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