Radboud Centrum Sociale Wetenschappen

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Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity


During the 1950s, development efforts were largely centered around economic growth. However, over the course of time, the focus shifted towards poverty reduction as the main objective of the development agenda. The UN Millennium declaration in 2000 marked this objective with the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with its very first goal aimed at poverty reduction. With the successor of the MDGs: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the objectives are even wider in scope, by including more goals, more stakeholders and responsibility for everyone: calling it ‘project everyone.’ In doing so, the SDGs stipulate that everyone has a responsibility and opportunity to make the world more equal and sustainable. Over time, not only the objective of development has changed, but also its actors. The traditional actors within the development landscape: the state, the market and civil society, have now been joined by alternative players, such as celebrities, companies, private foundations and citizens - like you and me! (Banks & Hulme, 2014)


Schulpen and Huyse (2017) stress that citizens can no longer be viewed as passive subjects in the field of development cooperation. Instead, they are development workers, which makes them a group of actors in the development field that is worth taking into account. At a time where development aid is under increasing political and budget pressure, there are tens of thousands small scale initiatives set up by ordinary citizens. These initiatives come under different names, including MONGO (My Own NGO), Private Development Initiatives (PDIs) and do-it-yourself-aid (Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity, 2017).  Sara Kinsbergen, lecturer at AMID and researcher at Anthropology and Development studies has been fascinated by these citizen initiatives and has successfully defended her thesis on this topic in 2014. In her work, she points out that we cannot ignore their potential: over the years, they prove to excel in service delivery and deliver efficiently on a small-scale. At the same time, however, it remains important to be critical. While there are stories of long term success, it should also be noted that PDIs often operate without proper knowledge of the region and a lack of proper monitoring hinders the learning process and eventually even the possibility of contributing to sustainable change (Kinsbergen, 2014).

Sara Kinsbergen states that 70% of the people involved in her research start their PDI after having visited a developing country. They are mainly active in Sub-Sahara Africa and Asia – with a strong representation in India, Indonesia, Ghana and Kenya. Additionally, PDIs are in particular active in the field of education and health care, aimed at direct poverty reduction (Kinsbergen, 2014). In response to the 2014 kidnapping of two Italian girls involved in a small, self-started NGO in Syria, Tom Arcaro (professor of sociology of Elon University and author of ‘Aid Worker Voices’) asked aid-workers about their views on MONGOs. He found that MONGOs have a mixed, yet mostly negative, image among aid workers.  At the same time, however, people do recognize their potential:


“Some can grow to be great organisations as long as they learn from their mistakes and have clear leadership which understands the complexities of the issues they are dealing with.”

 “There is plenty work to be done, problems, issues to be addressed. Plenty spaces for MONGOs. And it is good as well to have a variety of organization.”

 “Can’t write all off with one brush. If they are filling an actual gap that can be a good thing. The big boy NGOs are not necessarily flexible or nimble so small can be good. However, the ones that show up without a clue are making things worse.”

For more responses, see: https://blogs.elon.edu/aidworkervoices/?p=462.


There are citizen initiatives in many different shapes and sizes, with different strengths and weaknesses. Nonetheless, the people involved are generally strongly motivated and committed, and are able to ensure that the money goes where it is supposed to go. And you can help too! Even from your own comfortable couch. Take a look at the UN Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World (UN, 2019) below – and get started!



Banks, N. and Hulme, D. (2014). New Development alternatives or business as ususal with a new face? The transformative potential of new actors and alliances in development? Third World Quarterly 35(1): 181-195. 
Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity (2017), In eadi-nordic2017 website. Retreieved from http://eadi-nordic2017.org/2016/12/13/citizen-initiatives-for-global-solidarity/
Kinsbergen, S. (2014). Behind the Pictures: Understanding Private Development Initiatives. Also see: https://www.ru.nl/caos/vm/kinsbergen/
Schulpen, L. and Huyse, H. (2017). Editorial: Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity. The New Face of European Solidarity. Forum for Development Studies, 44(2): 163-169.
UN website. (2019). Retrieved from : https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/LazyPersonGuide.pdf

Written by Annemieke van de Riet & Elsa van Zoest