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Actors and Agency in Global Social Governance$

Alexandra Kaasch and Kerstin Martens

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198743996

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198743996.001.0001

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NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

(p.175) Chapter 9 NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance
Actors and Agency in Global Social Governance

Johannes Kruse

Kerstin Martens

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the role of NGOs as actors in global social governance. First, the chapter reviews how different disciplines have dealt with NGOs as actors, highlight the contributions of the existing literature, and identifies research gaps. Despite numerous studies on NGOs, little research has addressed them as actors in global social governance. Undertaking a quantitative assessment of NGOs working on issues of global social governance, the chapter finds that their number has increased both in absolute and in relative terms over the last decades and that they hold a significant amount of resources. Examining three mechanisms of global social governance, the chapter finds that NGOs play an important role with regard to redistribution, regulation, and social rights. Concluding, the chapter highlights its contribution to the study of NGOs and civil society in global social governance and make suggestions for future research.

Keywords:   NGOs/civil society, global social governance, redistribution, regulation, social rights


Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play a prominent role in global social governance. The news is full of specific examples of how these actors advocate for, contribute to, and monitor different global social policies in issue areas as diverse as education, labour, health, and humanitarian relief. A coalition of NGOs has, for instance, initiated the Right to Education Project that aims at mobilizing support and advocating for a meaningful interpretation and implementation of the right to education on a global scale. The Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) has been delivering food, hygiene, and clothing packages to meet some of the basic needs of the people. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a major donor, spending almost US $2 billion a year on its global health programmes. Together, these seemingly disparate policies make up a part of what we call global social policy.

In the last two decades global social policy has emerged as a distinct field of scholarship, yet the aspects of agency and actors remain underspecified (see the Introduction by Kaasch and Martens). This is particularly true for NGOs in global social governance. Despite the growing interest in the field, only a few studies have explicitly conceptualized NGOs as actors in global social governance. Rather, the literature has mostly focused on the role of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) both as arenas and actors of global social governance (see Deacon 2007; Yeates and Holden 2009; Yeates 2008). We employ the term global social governance to connote the complex and sometimes messy set of public and private structures and processes through which global social policy is produced.1 Global social policy then refers to the set of policies that address issue areas such as health, education, and labour on the transnational or supranational level. These policies can be expressed in terms of redistribution, regulation, and economic as well as social rights. In this chapter, we seek to (p.176) address the lack of research on NGOs in global social governance. Building upon the existing research on NGOs working on different social issues and stemming from different disciplines, we seek to conceptualize NGOs explicitly as global social governance actors. We argue that such a perspective is necessary to fully appreciate how global social governance is conducted and implemented.

The rest of the chapter is structured as follows. In the first section, we discuss different approaches to and conceptualizations of NGOs in global social governance. By reviewing how different disciplines, including international relations, sociology, and comparative welfare state research, have dealt with NGOs as actors, we highlight the contributions these studies have made and identify a research gap in the existing literature. In the second section, we take the first steps toward a quantitative assessment of the importance of NGOs for global social governance. In doing so, we look at the absolute and relative number of NGOs working on global social policy, the issues they engage with, and the resources they have at their disposal. The third section highlights the different contributions NGOs make to global social governance through the mechanisms of redistribution, regulation, and rights. We conclude by summarizing the main findings of this chapter and making suggestions for future areas of research.

Approaches to NGOs and Global Social Policy

Although NGOs are by now considered a standard feature of global politics, there is no commonly accepted definition of NGO (Martens 2002; 2003). The term ‘non-governmental organization’ is a post-Second World War expression initially coined by the United Nations (UN). When the UN Charter was adopted in 1945, it stipulated in Article 71 that ‘non-governmental organizations’ could be accredited to the UN for consulting purposes (Martens 2003). Especially since the 1980s, the term NGO also became a popular self-description for societal actors of all sorts engaged outside the UN framework, both internationally and nationally. As such, it has been increasingly adopted by academics as well as by activists themselves. Although these definitions have sometimes been controversial and contradictory when compared with other labels, such as civil society organization or transnational social movement organization, NGO remains the most widely applied notion in academic works. However, the term NGO has been criticized for its unhelpful connotations and inaccuracy—particularly since it was structured from the governments’ point of view and gained its boundaries in reference to them as ‘non-governmental’ (see, for instance, Götz 2008).

Elsewhere, NGOs have been conceptualized as ‘formal (professionalized) independent societal organizations whose primary aim is to promote common (p.177) goals at the national or the international level’ (Martens 2002: 282). NGOs are societal actors because the members of an NGO are individuals or local, regional, or national branches of an association (which, again, comprise individuals)––and usually do not include official members, such as governments, governmental representatives, or governmental institutions. NGOs promote common goals because they engage in the support of public goods. NGOs are independent because they are primarily sponsored through membership fees and private donations. While they may receive some financial funding from governmental institutions, they should not be under their control. NGOs can be professionalized, because they may have paid staff with specific training or skills. They are formal organizations, because they maintain a permanent office, headquarters, and staff (and also a distinct recognized legal status in at least one state). Many NGOs today operate only within the national sphere; to qualify as international, NGOs have to be composed by members from at least two countries in which no country is dominant, and also exercise their activities in more than one country (Martens 2002).

For the purpose of this chapter, we consider all organizations that fulfil the above definition and that are working on social policy issue globally or across borders as global social governance NGOs. This includes NGOs engaged in issues such as health, education, humanitarian relief, development aid, and labour. Importantly, as this list of issues suggests, there are many NGOs that also fall outside this scope, such as groups working on the environment, human rights (narrowly understood), conflict and security, sports, or culture.

In this section, we will describe how NGOs have been studied by different disciplines namely International Relations (IR), sociology, comparative welfare state research, and development studies. We will then address the scarce literature on global social policy that has explicitly addressed NGOs as actors in their own right. In reviewing these studies, we will highlight their contributions but also point to research gaps in the existing literature.

In IR, scholars have increasingly challenged the notion that states are the only important actors and argued that NGOs have become prominent and important players in global politics (Mathews 1997; Salamon 1994). Subsequent studies have been interested in questions of how NGOs form transnational advocacy networks (von Bülow 2010; Keck and Sikkink 1998), select their topics of interest (Carpenter 2007), promote norms (Risse et al. 1999), and influence other actors including states, international organizations, and transnational corporations. In addition, the literature has also critically discussed the contributions NGOs make towards the legitimacy and accountability of global governance as well as the legitimacy and accountability of NGOs themselves (Bexell et al. 2010; Erman and Uhlin 2010; Steffek and Hahn 2010).

Sociologists, too, have extended their approach beyond the ‘nation-state framework of analysis’ (Robinson 1998: 562) and became increasingly (p.178) interested in societal actors on the global level. Social movement scholars for instance have recognized the importance of global social movements (Khagram et al. 2002; della Porta and Tarrow 2005; Tarrow 2005) and their formal elements, the so called transnational social movement organizations (Smith 2002; 2005). They have paid particular attention to the prospects of a global justice movement and the ability of activists to extend solidarity beyond borders, create transnational links between activists, and challenge existing modes of political and economic globalization (Pleyers 2010; della Porta 2007).

In the context of comparative welfare state research, the literature has discussed the role and importance of non-profit organizations, or the ‘third sector’ (Anheier 2001; Powell and Steinberg 2006). In this literature, the third sector has been defined as all private, self-governing, non-profit, and voluntary organizations. The term third sector refers to a distinction from the other two sectors, namely the government and the market (Anheier 2001; 2005). Most of the literature has discussed how non-profit organizations deliver essential social services, particularly in countries outside Europe (Leibfried and Mau 2008: xix). Looking at the United States, studies have pointed out that the trend to privatize public services to third parties and the shift in decision-making power from federal to state and sub-state level ‘have made private, non-profit organizations the primary deliverers of these [public social] services’ (Marwell 2004: 265). Overall, literature in this area has studied the role these organizations play in the provision of social services on the national level and their impact on the larger welfare state regime. While this literature has repeatedly pointed to the expansion in both scale and importance of the third sector worldwide (Gidron and Bar 2010), it has largely neglected to study these organizations outside the framework of the nation state.

Development studies have often understood NGOs simply as a solution to the undersupply of specific (and largely isolated) public goods (Besley and Ghatak 2006; Edwards and Zadek 2003). Furthermore, the literature has discussed whether NGOs promote or hamper economic growth in developing countries. Engaging with these kinds of questions, some authors suggest that development NGOs have a positive impact on human capital (for example education, health), thereby fostering economic growth (Murdie and Kakietek 2012). Frequently, NGOs are understood to have distinct advantages over state and business actors in terms of flexibility, efficiency, and effectiveness. This literature has, however, failed to look beyond individual policy issues and aggregate economic growth and has not explicitly understood NGOs as global social governance actors.

The emerging literature on global social policy has rarely studied NGOs as actors in their own right, despite generally addressing issues of governance (but see Martens 2001; Stubbs 2003; Lewis 2013; Deacon 2007: chap. 5). Instead, most of the literature has focused on IGOs, such as the World Bank (p.179) (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), both as actors influencing global social policy issues and as arenas in which ‘wars of positions’ take place (Deacon et al. 1997; Kaasch 2013). The literature is often organized according to policy fields, with individual studies dealing with global social policies addressing health, labour, education, or development.

Taken together, the disciplinary approaches reviewed above have either dealt with NGOs but not sufficiently within the area of global social policy (IR, sociology, development studies) or have addressed global social policy and the impacts of globalization on social policy but not acknowledged NGOs as important actors (comparative welfare state research, global social policy studies). As this stock-taking exercise makes clear, it is necessary to conceptualize NGOs working on issues such as health, education, or labour explicitly as actors in global social governance.

A Quantitative Assessment of Global Social NGOs

In this section, we aim to carry out a descriptive quantitative assessment of the importance of NGOs for global social governance. Any such endeavour is made difficult by a lack of data concerning global social policy in general and the role of NGOs in particular. Despite these limitations, we hope to provide indicators for the number of NGOs engaged on global social policy and the funding available to these organizations.

NGOs by Issue Area

In order to provide data on global social policy NGOs compared with other sectors such as the environment, human rights, and peace and security we draw on the Transnational Social Movement Organization Dataset. Drawing on the Yearbook of International Organizations, Jackie Smith and Dawn Wiest (2012) have compiled a dataset of international NGOs, or what they call transnational social movement organizations, with detailed information about their founding dates, issue focuses, and the geographic scope of membership. The dataset includes 10,000 observations for the time frame from 1953 to 2003, each of which represents an NGO at a given time. For each entry the dataset offers up to four organizational goals from a list of eighty-nine different issues. They then formed aggregate categories, such as human rights, environment, and peace, from these different issues (Smith 2004). For our (p.180) purposes, the aggregate categories used by Smith and Wiest to describe the NGO population are unsatisfactory, since they do not include a category of global social policy. We have therefore decided to go back to the original eighty-nine possible organizational goals and aggregate them into eight new categories that in our mind more adequately capture the population of NGOs. The categories are the following: human rights; global and national political reform; peace; environment; social policy and development; global economy and business; culture and information; and nationalism and self-determination.2 This enables us to follow changes in the composition of NGOs and their primary issue areas.

As Figure 9.1 shows, organizations working on social policy and development have formed an important part of the NGO population. Already by 1953, they made up roughly 10 per cent of all NGOs and were the fourth largest group. After the end of the Cold War, they surpassed NGOs working on global or national political reform as well as NGOs focusing on peace and disarmament. Now, they form the second largest group after human rights NGOs. In 2003, they constituted 24 per cent of the NGO population.

As Figure 9.2 shows, all groups of NGOs, with the exception of those in the category ‘nationalism and self-determination’, have risen in absolute numbers. Thus, it is important to note that the changes in relative shares, as shown in Figure 9.1, mask the increase in the absolute number of NGOs. While the dataset accounts for 103 organizations in 1953, it includes over 1,000 NGOs

NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

Fig. 9.1. International NGOs by issue area, percentage of population, 1953–2003. Data retrieved from Smith & Wiest (2012); categorization is our own.

NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

Fig. 9.2. International NGOs by issue area, absolute numbers, 1953–2003. Data retrieved from Smith & Wiest (2012); categorization is our own.

for the year 2003. Note, however, that the numbers displayed in Figure 9.2 add up to more than 1,000 NGOs because in the original dataset organizations can have up to four goals, which sometimes puts them in several aggregate categories. In addition, we grouped some of the issues of the dataset into more than one category. This is, however, not only a problem but represents a new reality as an increasing number of NGOs have adopted and work on multiple issue areas under the umbrella of a larger global justice perspective. Noticing this trend, Smith has argued that this increase in multi-issue global justice organizations might be due to the increasing visibility of global economic integration in the 1990s, which highlighted ‘connections between economic inequalities and other problems’ (Smith 2004: 270). However, the shift from single issues to broader campaigns does not need to be solely related to the increasing interconnectedness of issues, but might also be due to changes in the political environment, a strategic response to audience concerns, or a way for organizations that have fulfilled their mission to secure their organizational survival (Bloodgood 2011).

Resources for Global Social Policy

Measuring the amount of resources NGOs spend on global social policy is very difficult. One rough indicator is the percentage of official development (p.182) assistance (ODA) that is delivered to and through NGOs (see also Davies 2012). Development funds channelled through NGOs are earmarked and are meant to fund projects initiated by the government that provided the funding. In contrast, development funds provided to NGOs, so-called core support, allows NGOs to implement their own projects and activities. In 2011, all major donor countries together distributed more than US $16 billion of ODA through NGOs and allocated an additional US $2.4 billion as core support. That means that these countries allocated about 14 per cent of their total ODA to and through NGOs (OECD 2013). As Figure 9.3 shows, most of the money channelled through NGOs was spent on basic social infrastructures and services (including education, health, population politics and reproductive health, government, and civil society) as well as humanitarian assistance (particularly emergency response), with small portions being spent on economic infrastructure and services as well as production (including food aid).

In addition to funding provided by governments, NGOs raise an important and growing share of their budget for humanitarian and development assistance from private sources (Büthe et al. 2012). As Figure 9.4 shows, aid by private organizations defined as all ‘transfers made by private voluntary agencies and NGOs in cash, goods or services for which no payment is required’ (OECD 2014a) has risen steadily over the years: In 2012 it

NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

Fig. 9.3. Development aid channelled through NGOs, in billion US dollars

Source: OECD (2011: 58)

NGOs as Actors in Global Social Governance

Fig. 9.4. Aid by private organizations, in billion US dollars

Source: OECD (2014a)

amounted to US $29 billion for private organizations in DAC countries, compared with the US $134 billion in development aid provided by these countries in the same year (OECD 2014a; 2014b). This trend is driven in part also by the growth of large foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which spent more than US $3billion on its programmes (mostly global development and global health issues) in 2011 alone; this is more than is provided by Switzerland, Denmark, or Finland in development aid.

As a result, large NGOs such as Save the Children, Médecins sans Frontières, Plan International, or World Vision have large financial resources at their disposal. Save the Children US, for instance, has an annual budget of over US $500 million, with all Save the Children organizations combined having revenues of over US $1 billion.

The quantitative assessment we undertook in this part of the chapter leads to two conclusions. The number of NGOs engaged in global social governance is on the rise both in absolute and relative terms. In the years from 1953 to 2003 their number has increased substantially, and they now form one of the largest sub-groups, second only to human rights NGOs. In addition, the data on their resources is indicative of the scope of their engagement on global social policy issues. In the years covered by the data, the sum of NGOs funding has grown and it represents a significant part of the overall resources spent on global social policy. Even exogenous shocks such as the protracted global financial and economic crisis have, so far, not resulted in an overall decline. In sum, the presented data shows the significance of NGOs for global social (p.184) policy. We will investigate in the next section how far these numbers translate into significant contributions to the mechanisms of global social governance.

NGOs and Their Contribution to Global Social Governance

In the following section, we will highlight the different contributions NGOs make to global social governance. In doing so, we distinguish between three different mechanisms by which global social policy is produced: regulation, redistribution, and rights. These three mechanisms are commonly understood as making up the core of any social policy regardless of whether it is carried out on the national or supranational level. Deacon (2003: 14), for instance, notes that ‘[s]ocial policy historically has been about interventions of a social redistributive kind, of a social regulatory kind and of a social rights kind’. Similarly, social policy on the global level is said to make use of a similar ‘mix of regulation, redistribution, provision of services and guaranteeing of basic rights’ (George and Wilding 2002: 192). In evaluating the contribution NGOs make to these three mechanisms of global social governance, we will provide examples from two core domains of global social policy: labour and health.

Regulation or regulatory policies are a pivotal element of social policy. By employing different legal instruments such as guidelines, regulations, or laws, regulatory policies aim at delivering better economic and/or social outcomes, thereby raising human welfare. Analytically, we can distinguish different forms of global social regulation on whether they are led by states and IGOs, NGOs, business, or by different combinations of these actors (Abbott and Snidal 2010). Regardless of whether regulatory efforts are led by NGOs or other actors, NGOs often play an important role along the different stages of the regulatory process. Looking at labour regulation, an important example for how NGOs can sponsor new regulation is SA8000, a voluntary standard that aims to improve labour and social conditions. Initially created by the Council on Economic Priorities, a US NGO, the standard is now administered by Social Accountability International (SAI), which incorporates business, trade unions, and NGOs in its governance structure (Hassel 2008; O’Rourke 2003). NGOs, however, do not only design and promote their own regulation but also serve as ‘watchdogs’. In this way, NGOs ensure that companies and states adhere to the core labour standards put forward by the International Labour Organization (Douglas et al. 2004) and fulfil their obligations in the context of the Global Compact (Meyer and Stefanova 2001; Schäferhoff et al. 2009). Examples from the domain of global health regulation show that NGOs do (p.185) not only serve as entrepreneurs for new regulation and enforcers of existing ones but also work to identify and alter harmful regulation. Many NGOs, for instance, have argued that the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights should not hinder access to medicine in developing countries (Matthews 2012). Forming a larger coalition, these NGOs were helpful in shifting the power balance within the WTO negotiations in favour of developing countries, and the negotiations eventually strengthened considerations of public health over intellectual property rights (Odell and Sell 2006). Struggles over global health regulation do not only take place in intergovernmental fora. Rather, NGOs also address business directly as in the case of the campaign against the commercialization of infant formula in developing countries. This concerted NGO campaign raised awareness of the issue but also targeted one specific multinational company, Nestlé, in an effort to change its behaviour (Sikkink 1986). As these examples from labour and health have shown, NGOs can play an influential role in creating, shaping, and monitoring regulation aimed at global social policy. However, much of this regulation comes in the form of voluntary codes or non-legally binding soft law, and, hence, cannot fully address the deficit of global regulatory governance in the global economy (Vogel 2010).

Redistribution is understood here as the systematic reallocation of resources between countries and within world regions to improve the welfare and ensure that basic human needs are met (GASPP 2005). Analytically we can distinguish two ways in which NGOs influence redistribution: 1) many NGOs promote policies that are dependent on resource redistribution or advocate for global redistribution as such; and 2) NGOs themselves are important vehicles or mechanisms through which global redistribution takes place. As advocates for global redistribution, NGOs have lobbied states, international organizations, and business to adopt policies that ensure that basic human needs are met. Regularly, the implementation of these policies requires the mobilization and redistribution of resources from the global North to the global South. In this way, some have argued to ‘take seriously the possibilities for global redistribution of incomes as a mechanism to end poverty’ (Melamed 2009). A prime example is the advocacy efforts by NGOs to increase countries’ ODA to meet the 0.7 per cent target or—in times of financial crises—to not cut back on their aid budgets (Clemens and Moss 2007). Other campaigns have argued for the introduction of the Tobin tax on financial transactions, which should generate revenue for development purposes (Brassett 2009). The successful debt cancellation campaigns have taken a different route by asking to relieve the poorest countries of their ‘unsustainable’ external debt, thereby freeing up new resources for human welfare (Busby 2007). NGOs are also vehicles through which a large share of the global funds for global social policy is dispersed. Much of the literature on NGOs working on (p.186) development issues and/or humanitarian relief has noted that they are indispensable in the role of service providers. Conceptually we can distinguish three different ways in which NGOs can be engaged in service delivery: contracting, independent provision, and co-production (OECD 2009: 30–3). In contracting, NGOs implement projects on behalf of (donor) states, international organizations, and large private foundations, which oversee their activities and provide the necessary funding. NGOs can also provide these public services independently by raising the needed revenue themselves, for instance via donations. This has been the prevalent mode for many humanitarian relief organizations. Co-production has been defined as ‘the provision of public services (broadly defined, to include regulation) through a long-term relationship between state agencies and organized groups of citizens, where both make substantial resource contributions’ (Joshi and Moore 2004: 31). As the figures on the financial resources channelled through and by NGOs quoted above have shown, NGOs are still becoming more prominent players (at least in absolute terms). As these illustrative examples show, NGOs play an important role both as advocates for and vehicles of global redistribution.

Global economic and social rights are the third mechanism of global social governance. NGOs have also increasingly adopted a rights perspective in their advocacy. While NGOs’ engagement on human rights has a long tradition, NGOs are increasingly adopting a discourse centred on economic and social rights. Illustrative examples are the right to basic services such as education, health, and housing as well as an adequate standard of living, which are advocated by many NGOs (Hickey and Mitlin 2009; Nelson and Dorsey 2007). In the context of global social policy, the increasing currency of this rights perspective has several important consequences: one result with regard to the NGO community is that traditional boundaries between service and advocacy organizations have become more permeable as many NGOs have increasingly supplemented their focus on providing under-provided public goods with enabling local communities ‘to make rights-based claims towards their own governments’ (Lecy et al. 2010: 234). This has also enabled a shift in who is held accountable. While traditional human rights advocacy has focused on the state as both the prime bearers but also violators of human rights, the new focus on economic and social rights provides the benchmark against which a whole new set of actors can be assessed. These actors include international organizations such as the WB and the IMF, donor/rich states and poor states, transnational companies, and potentially even other NGOs or foundations (Nelson and Dorsey 2007). In addition, the adoption of rights language might also serve as a justification to internationalize or globalize social policy issues since human rights have been an international topic. Furthermore, the discursive turn towards economic and social rights also serves as a way to contest the role of markets and market-based mechanisms (p.187) (Nelson and Dorsey 2007). In the case of HIV/AIDS, for instance, arguments drawing on the global social rights discourse have proven as a successful frame in the struggle for access to affordable medicine (Hein and Kohlmorgen 2008; Hein 2007).

As this review of redistribution, regulation, and social rights has shown, NGOs make important contributions to all three mechanisms of global social governance: by facilitating, designing and monitoring regulation on health, labour, and other issues of social policy, NGOs help to establish standards aimed at increasing human welfare. They also support efforts to increase the amount of resources allocated to global social policy by advocating and sponsoring global redistribution. In their work, NGOs have increasingly adopted a rights-based perspective to frame, argue, and advocate on social issues. While here we have, for the sake of simplicity, discussed regulation, redistribution, and rights as separate mechanisms of global social governance, the three are actually highly interconnected and dependent on each other. The successful implementation and safeguarding of social and economic rights, for instance, is often dependent on the availability of resources generated by global redistribution. Similarly, regulatory policies may fall short of their potential if they are not coupled with a rights-based perspective as a normative benchmark.

Conclusion and Future Research

In this chapter we have assessed the role of NGOs in global social governance. In a first step, we have taken stock of the widely dispersed literature on NGOs and global social governance. While reviewing different disciplinary approaches to the study of NGOs as global social governance actors, we have highlighted their respective contributions and gaps. In this context, we have argued that studies have either focused on NGO actors in different policy fields but not within the area of global social policy or have addressed global social policy without explicitly including NGOs as relevant actors. As a result, we argue that the literature has so far failed to adequately capture NGOs as distinct actors in global social governance. We suggest that it is worthwhile to conceptualize NGOs as global social governance actors in their own right and empirically analyse their agency through the lenses of an analytical framework that borrows insights from both IR and welfare state and social policy literature. In a second step, we have undertaken a quantitative assessment of the involvement of NGOs in global social policy. The available data suggests that the number of NGOs working on global social policy has increased both in absolute and in relative terms and that these NGOs are also able to distribute a sizeable amount of resources. In the last section of this chapter we have (p.188) highlighted the different ways in which NGOs contribute to global social governance. By distinguishing between three different mechanisms of global social governance—regulation, redistribution, and rights—we were able to show the extent of their involvement.

We want to use the remaining space to outline avenues for future research on the role of NGOs in global social governance. In particular, we argue that future research can profit from combining the considerable insights about NGOs generated by IR and sociology with a research agenda that is driven by classical research questions of social policy. In the following, we will outline three research questions that seem particularly promising. 1) What type of global social policy do NGOs promote? 2) How do NGOs make decisions about their activities? 3) What are the implications for their legitimacy, power, and influence?

The first research venue addresses the question of what impact NGOs’ engagement has on global social policy itself. The literature on the welfare state has critically discussed the outsourcing of core welfare state programmes to private actors under labels such as neo-liberalization of welfare, new-public management, and welfare retrenchment (e.g. Achterberg and Yerkes 2009; Ilcan 2009; Ryner 2004). While the involvement of private actors in domestic social policy arrangements has been criticized as the retreat of the state, NGOs involved in global social policy are generally, albeit with some exceptions, seen much more favourably. However, we know very little about the long-term effects they have on the political and welfare system of those countries that they are active in. Two examples can be given of how this translates into relevant research questions: first, we might expect that the large number of strong, well-resourced NGOs crowd out state institutions in the competition for scarce resources from international (and sometimes domestic) donors. As a result, in such a case we might see the prevalence of short-term NGO projects to provide basic services, while the implementation of more universal public services is stalled. Thus, the question arises whether such a ‘tension between state-building and non-state service delivery’ exists, and if it does, how to deal with it (Batley and McLoughlin 2010: 131). Second, the work of NGOs raises not only the question whether or not they crowd out the state but also in how far their engagement modifies or changes regime types. The literature has long acknowledged the existence of different types of welfare states or social policy arrangements (Esping-Andersen 1990; Wood and Gough 2006). The question here is whether the specific mix of regulation, redistribution, and social rights advocated by NGOs has an impact on the larger welfare state or social policy patterns.

A second promising research area opens up the black box of NGOs. It poses questions about how these organizations actually go about their work on global social policy. We need to know more about how NGOs are actually (p.189) organized, how their international structures work, and which type of networks and coalitions they build. Rather than treating NGOs as uniform actors, such an approach acknowledges the large variation of organizations and their activities, and studies this variation as well as the internal and external factors influencing it. This can be exemplified by looking at the two specific instances of NGO behaviour: advocacy and service delivery. The first example of such research are studies that have pointed out that the national origin of NGOs can influence their advocacy activities (Stroup and Murdie 2012; Stroup 2012). In the context of global social policy, this raises the interesting question of whether NGOs are more likely to promote proposals that resemble the policies of their home country. If so, NGOs could become a source of policy diffusion, which itself is an important topic of research. Another illustration of this research agenda includes studies on what affects NGO service delivery. Much of the literature has emphasized the comparative advantage of non-state actors to implement projects effectively. We know, however, very little about how NGOs allocate their resources and choose the targets they deliver services to (but see Dreher et al. 2010).

Finally, the significant involvement of NGOs in global social governance raises questions of legitimacy, power, and influence. The literature on NGOs has already dealt extensively with the normative benefits that derive from the consultation and participation of NGOs in IGOs and with regard to their involvement in diverse policy areas. With regard to global social governance, we argue that political science and particularly the IR literature can make valuable contributions to identify, examine, and understand the power relations between NGOs as well as between NGOs and other relevant actors such as multinational companies, states, bureaucracies, and IGOs. Examples of pertinent questions that come to mind include: what is the role of NGOs in global social policy if activists at the World Social Forum complain about an increasing ‘NGO-ization’ (Reitan 2011)? What relations do development NGOs have with the donors and recipients of their aid, and what are the implications thereof? Which discourses of global social policy are promoted by NGOs, how influential are they, and what consequences does that have for global social governance at large (compare, for instance, Dogra 2012)? These questions require us to understand NGOs as political actors in global social governance, a task for which political science and IR are particularly apt.

As we have argued throughout this chapter, the role of NGOs as actors in global social governance deserves significant attention. Future contributions should move beyond single case studies on individual subfields of global social policy and address some of the overarching themes that we have outlined above. By systematically analysing their contribution to global social governance both in quantitative and in qualitative terms, we hope that this chapter serves as a first step in such an enterprise.

(p.190) Acknowledgements

This chapter has benefited from detailed critical comments provided by the participants of the workshop, in particular Ingo Take and Alexandra Kaasch. We would also like to thank Mehmetcan Sinir for research assistance.


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(1.) See Dingwerth and Pattberg (2006) for a conceptual discussion of the term global governance.

(2.) Two other categories, ‘religion’ and ‘right-wing agenda’, have been dropped from the charts since they together account for less than 1 per cent of all NGOs. Both categories, however, might be under-reported (Smith 2004: 268).