Articles authored by Fowler, Alan


The work of international non-profit-making NGOs challenges them to adopt a decentralised structure. We know little, however, about how this decentralisation is organised, and even less about its impacts on NGO performance. Based on studies southern Africa, this article identifies the gains and loses associated with the choice to decentralise. It goes on to pose questions about decentralisation as a critical variable for the organisational design of NGOs which need to be answered by more systematic comparative study.
Recent years have seen development NGOs making significant efforts to show how they are performing, a trend impelled by three factors: stricter requirements attached to official aid, which is a fast-growing proportion of NGO funds; doubts about NGOs claims to be more effective than governments; post-Cold War shifts in the role of NGOs, which increase their own needs to know what is being achieved, in order to manage the processes of organisational reorientation and transformation.
What does organisational decentralisation mean? What types of decentralisation can NGDOs choose from and what appears to be occurring? The author sets out answers to these questions and proceeds to analyse the pressures and forces involved in choosing, pointing towards devolution as the preferred option. The author argues that globalisation calls for a truly international response from NGOs, namely the formation of global associations. This article also appears in the Development in Practice Reader Development and Management.


The number of NGOs involved in development in the North and the South has increased dramatically over the last ten years, provoking calls for new partnerships between them. But Southern NGOs have often been disadvantaged in the search for true NGO partnerships, because they know too little about their Northern counterparts. This article therefore describes some important features of Northern NGOs. It then goes on to identify critical issues involved in negotiating partnerships with them.

When implementing a transformational global vision and mission, three problems typically confront international NGOs: aligning different levels of planning and strategy; balancing global analysis and priorities against local realities; and identifying measures that both indicate progress and promote and encourage innovation. This article reports on the efforts of CARE Internationals Latin America Regional Management Unit to address these problems by introducing reversals to common strategic planning principles and processes.

Essential Reading

The Origins of Wealth: Evolution, Complexity and the Radical Remaking of Economics, by Eric Beinhocker, Random House, Business Books, London, 2006 ISBN: 9780712676618, 526. pp.

Investing in the Immaterial: An Annual Digest for Practitioners of Development 2010/2011, by the Community Development Resource Association, Cape Town, 2011, 106. pp.

The Change Imperative: Creating a Next Generation NGO, by Paul Ronalds, Kumarian Press, Bloomfield, CT, 2010 ISBN: 9781565493254, 233. pp.

Practical Notes

Non-governmental organisations face increasing demands to be accountable and transparent. Both need sound and timely evidence. Ensuring that these demands are satisfied is a key responsibility of governance, but fulfilling this requirement is a frequent weakness. A comprehensive approach to self-analysis – known as GATE – can make governing bodies more effective by better leadership of organisational responses to such demands. GATE works by: (1) making common sense connections to visualise the links between internal operations and generation of results, reputation, and resources, which makes complexity understandable and manageable; and (2) using a question-based ‘alignment’ resource to guide discussion and decision-making.

The full article is available here: