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NGOs in a Liberal Democratic Society

The Sri Lankan Experience


03 / 1994

According to a Directory of Development NGO’s in Sri Lanka published by IRED in 1991, there are 293 NGOs here. Starting with relief, charity or community service based programmes most of them have now moved into development.

A development NGO consists of people whose objective is to stimulate facilitate and support initiatives of the poor to improve their quality of life. They are not organisations of the poor themselves. People’s Organisations (POs)of which there are an estimated 25,000 are associations formed by the poor themselves. Most of them function as conduits through which handouts from the government or NGOs are distributed at grassroots level. Only a few have the objective of a strictly developmental nature.

In the 1970’s there was a slowing down of the growth of NGO communities in Sri Lanka placing us about 10 years behind other Asian countries. As such. these organisations are not familiar with the tools and methodologies of accessing necessary support for them.

Kost NGOs are located in and around Colombo which is the seat of political and adminsitrative power and the centre of commerce and business activities. Thus, they can provide advanced infrastructure facilities such as sophisticated telecommunication systems; quick easy transport services close proximity to Colombo Airport and the harbour and close to many donor support services agencies in the capital. This helps Colombo based NGOs to carry out their functions without the constraints their provincial and district level counterparts have to meet. But they are national in character and their constituency is the grassroots communities covering the entire country as far as their objectives go. Most of the 293 NGOs mentioned in the IRED directory are development oriented in the private social sector of the country and includes only those that have been established on Sri Lankan initiative. The comprise Sri Lankan organisations which while being private and non-profit making provide services of a development nature for the poor and underpriviledged sections of the population. These services differ in quality from those provided by the government.They are smaller structures democratic less hierarchical with participatory management systems flexible and provide more space for individual initiative and incentives for mobilising creative and socially committed social workers. They do not need to work within a political patronage system and are able to reach the poor and understand the micro processes relating to development.

Development NGOs have a set of comparative advantages that eminently qualify them to play an increasingly important role in development at grassroot level.

They should be encouraged to expand the scope of their activities which will need more and more resources which the Northern NGOs are willing to provide if they demonstrate their management capabilities. Unfortunately most NGO management packages offered to NGO’s are directed at building up NGO capacity to function as efficient sub-contractors of programmes and projects designed by the donors themselves and reflecting donor priorities and policies of the international aid system rather than of indigenous Asian communities. Today NGOs need management strategies and tools so that they do not continue to become more dependent on the finances of foreign donors.

IRED has sponsored a programme of alternate financement and self financement for NGOs and POs. They need to think of their own priorities without being too influenced by others ideologies to really establish their own strength and growth.


ONG, democracia, autofinanciamento, financiamento alternativo

, Sri Lanka


Only then will NGOs be able to reflect totally and genuinely the priorities and aspirations of the Sri Lankan people and not those of the International Aid System.


Literatura cinzenta

FERNANDO, Sunimal, DEVELOPMENT SUPPORT SERVICES OF THE IRED PARTNERS IN ASIA, Support Services for Development (pvt)ltd. Sri Lanka

IRED Asie (Development Support Service) - 562/3 Nawala Road - Rajagiriya - Sri Lanka Tel : 94 1 695 481 - Fax : 94 1 - 688 368

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