NGOs and the Legitimacy of International Development
Sophie E. Smyth
Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law
Kansas Law Review, Vol. 61, No. 2, 2013
Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-43
The influence of NGOs in international development policy and practice has grown exponentially since the end of the Cold War. These NGOs’ agendas now compete with donor states’ in setting the priorities for international development assistance. Indeed, many NGOs now claim that the legitimacy of international development institutions depends on their inclusion in institutional governance. Several prominent policymakers have expressed a similar view. This article challenges that position.
I maintain that legitimacy is the wrong basis on which to stake out a claim for greater NGO involvement in international development institutions. I show that the legitimacy of an international development institution, like the legitimacy of a government bureaucracy, derives from the legitimacy of the states that created it and depends on its due and efficacious discharge of the mandate such states confer on it. Therefore, if the member states of a development institution mandate that NGOs be included in governance, NGO inclusion is critical to that institution’s legitimacy. Absent such a mandate, however, an international development institution’s legitimacy depends on its carrying out the pre-determined tasks and goals of the states that create it. As international bureaucracies, development institutions’ legitimacy equates with efficacy. NGO participation independent of, and unrelated to efficacy, has no bearing on an international development institution’s legitimacy.
Whether NGO participation in governances contributes to a development institution’s efficacy is a matter for empirical research. General principles suggest that NGO participation contributes to a development institution’s credibility both within developing and developed countries. Lessons gleaned from the recent experience of development institutions further support that view. If efficacy depends on credibility and credibility depends on NGO involvement, several conclusions follow; the design of new development institutions should include a space for NGOs, existing institutions that exclude NGOs should change. Paradoxically, NGO participation as a contributor to increased institutional credibility could also contribute to an institution’s legitimacy. How and why we get to that result, however, matters.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 70
Keywords: Legitimacy, Bureaucracy, NGOs, Civil Society, International Governance, International Development, World Bank, Efficacy, Global Health, Global Environment, Institutional Credibility, Global Justice
JEL Classification: K23, K00, K33, K32, K30
Date posted: August 14, 2012 ; Last revised: November 6, 2012