Building civil society through partnership: lessons from a case study of CRWRC

Civil society is increasingly seen as a necessary element of sustainable human development. Some Northern NGOs hope to contribute to the development of civil society by partnering with Southern NGOs. Recent scholarship, however, shows that partnerships are frequently dominated by the Northern NGO, thus inhibiting the establishment of vibrant, locally owned and managed civil society organisations. This paper explores some of the practical reasons for this failure and suggests strategies for working within what Alan Fowler calls `authentic partnerships'. Such partnerships keep Northern NGOs from dominating and thus help foster a climate more amenable to the growth of civil society. Suggested strategies for promoting authentic partnerships address funding, working relationships, phase-out, advocacy, and evaluation of the partnership itself. The paper draws on a case study of the partnership work of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), a North American faith-based NGO.