Recent research in the field of development aid persuasively problematises aid relationships and begins to reveal their significance for the real-life application and effectiveness of international development cooperation. Until insights from such research percolate through aid machineries such as the OECD DAC and its workings, the country-level consequences of universal aid frameworks and prescriptions will continue to be insufficiently foreseen, and in some cases unexpectedly problematic. This paper is about an in-depth, qualitative study of the application of the Paris Declaration (PD) on Aid Effectiveness in Colombia. This middle-income, non aid-dependent country with a prolonged and complex internal armed conflict and a poor human rights record, hitherto on the margins of international aid circles, has fast assumed a high-profile role in them via its adoption of the PD.
The study stemmed from a conviction that PD application in Colombia has unanticipated consequences, with under-appreciated impacts on the strategies of donors and social actors. Donors are subject to an attempt to push them (back) into a technocratic corner. In this politically complex context where donors' presence owes at least as much to concerns over Colombia's international human rights performance as to classic aid donor concerns with widespread extreme poverty, this is worrying and undesirable. It also has serious implications for the tripartite aid dialogue process established in 2003, involving Government, donors and social actors. This, for all its flaws and frustrations, is unique and important in a historic context of polarised, antagonistic and violent relationships between the state and left-wing advocates of human rights and social democratic principles. It will require skilful and opportunistic responses by both donors and social organisations to turn this conjuncture to their favour, in the sense of strengthening their leverage on the Government in relation to human rights, poverty, conflict and democratic governance.
This Practice Paper aims to contribute to ongoing reflections and debates taking place among aid practitioners about if, and how, big international NGOs (BINGOs) can be more effective agents of ‘progressive social change'.
It summarises a series of conversations that took place among seven members of the Institute of Development Studies Participation Power and Social Change team and staff from eight BINGOs between July 2008 and March 2009. During the conversations, participants considered how internal and external factors influence the potential of BINGOs to contribute to shifts in power relations; greater realisation of rights; and enhanced economic, political and social justice for poor and vulnerable people.
All of this was encapsulated in the term 'progressive social change'. At the end of the process, participants agreed that there is considerable scope for many BINGOs to pursue a more progressive agenda. They recommended that similar conversations need to continue and branch out, both in topical range and in participants in order to stimulate the kind of reflection and organisational learning required to do so.
This paper includes accounts of discussions, case studies shared by participants, inputs from academic critiques of BINGOs and practical tools to feed into such deliberations. It explores the types of changes that BINGOs are trying to achieve, the approaches they use - their models of change, and challenges and tensions commonly perceived to prevent BINGOs pursuing more radical social change agendas.
Provocative questions are raised as a means to help practitioners identify changes that their organisations need to make in order to more actively pursue social, economic and political justice. In some instances inspiring examples from BINGO participants suggest means to do so. References to organisational theory, meeting discussions and BINGO case studies are used to interrogate assumptions about how large complex organisations behave and to identify lessons that may be used to inform efforts to transform BINGOs into more effective agents of progressive social change.