GreenMarked is an NGO that promotes sustainable living. But does it have what it takes to achieve its objectives? Is there a receipt that should be followed to leave a mark?
Let’s start saying one thing: NGOs can and do play a key role in promoting sustainable living, as they are able to successfully tackle social and environmental issues by providing critical goods and services. NGOs do not only advocate for environmental justice; they are also able to collect information, implement policies, co-operate with policymakers, and assess and monitor environmental protection and sustainable development. In other words, they are unique actors that allow constructive participation of the civil society in global environmental governance.
That said, let’s now pay attention to the factors and conditions that influence environmental NGOs’ work and make them achieve their objectives. Are there conditions under which NGOs generally thrive? For example, do big NGOs perform better than small ones?
Predictably, the possible factors are several. Nonetheless, after looking at the literature, possible conditions are the dimension of the NGO, the presence of connections with the government, being engaged with the local community, and co-operating with other NGOs.
Clearly, it would also be interesting to see whether a combination these factors is required for the NGO to succeed: for example, NGOs not only may need a connection with the government, but they may also need to be big in size.
To test these conditions, we could look at the LIFE Program. The LIFE program is an essential instrument used by the EU to protect the environment and promote sustainable development. NGOs that participate in this scheme aim to contribute to the implementation, updating, and development of the EU’s environmental and climate policy. NGOs elaborate a project, apply for EU funds, and if this proposal is coherent with EU’s mission, they get up the money to achieve their objectives. There’s plenty of documents and reports related to this program – it’s great for this investigation.
Let’s look at the already completed projects, then: which ones achieved the objectives they had set?
Interestingly, NGOs with similar characteristics didn’t perform in the same way: some of them failed, while other succeeded. In other words, there is no combination of conditions able to explain either the positive or the negative performance of the NGOs. Indeed, no condition seems to be necessary, sufficient, or a combination of the two. Why?
One possible explanation is that the relations NGOs have with the conditions is what they make of them. The same relationship can be fruitful or dangerous; different context can make the same action problematic or easy to implement. For example, working alone can be great for some NGOs, as the work is streamlined and focused; but if there are sudden problems, maybe having a stable partner to rely on is not a bad idea. Similarly, co-operating with the governments may be great for certain projects; but if the obstacles set by them are too burdensome, it’s a problem for the NGO.
To conclude, a “silver bullet” able to improve the work of NGOs in the environmental field does not exist. This means that there is no “perfect combination” of conditions that can or should be adopted by GreenMarked. To achieve its objective, it must find its own way.
This article is an extract of the paper “Always look at the bright side of LIFE”, Tosoni, J., (2018) (Unpublished Master’s dissertation). KU Leuven, Belgium.