NGOs and knowledge generation in the urban context

The world of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) keeps expanding daily as governments both from the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ shrink in their ability to provide basic social services. The global financial crisis which started half a decade ago has had a profound effect not only on governments but also the NGO sector. NGOs have become more and more professionalised in what they do. They are now ‘gap-fillers’ playing the role of ‘micro-governments’ in social services provision.

There used to be a time when these organisations were localised in the rural areas but, of late, there is a significant movement in that we are seeing many of them trekking from the rural into the urban areas. This is, no doubt, following a global trend which has seen a global shift of more people moving from rural areas into cities than ever before. While this is happening, there is a yawning gap in our understanding of these entities, particularly in their role of knowledge creation.

I was in Cape Town, South Africa, last month (July 15-27) where I presented a paper on ‘Organisational learning: project-based approaches in non-governmental development organisations’. Part of my argument was because of their proximity to the local contexts, NGOs, based on their work, create lots of knowledge. How this knowledge is managed, used and with what effect, remains very thin in the public domain.

I want to us to open up this debate, controversial as it may be. It is worthwhile in our quest to fully appreciate the contribution these entities make in the field of development, especially in the context of urban settings.

Jonathan Makuwira is a senior lecturer in International Development at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies (GUSS), in Melbourne, Australia. His research focuses on but is not limited to: the role of non-governmental organisations in development; urban poverty; basic education and development; disability inclusive development; participatory development and partnership building in development.


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