Radboud Centrum Sociale Wetenschappen

Opleiders in Mens en Maatschappij

One Big Development Cooperation Family? Or not?

In September 2015, world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The SDGs that tackle the well-known global issues, such as ending hunger (SDG 2), achieving quality education for all (SDG 4) and combating climate change (SDG 13), are often deemed most important. However, achieving the first 16 goals would be an enormous challenge without SDG 17 - “strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development”.[1]

A successful agenda by 2030, requires active involvement of everyone and cooperation between governments, private sector, and civil society. Over the past 20 years, the reform of the international landscape, the arrival of new actors, as well as new areas for development, has changed the development cooperation system.[2] However, competition amongst NGOs for limited resources and position still characterises development cooperation. At the beginning of this month, 131 Southern Civil Society Organisation wrote an open letter to INGOs, pleading to “work with us, not against us” uniting under the hashtag #ShiftThePower.[3] In this light, the question arises whether the growing diversity of actors are willing to contribute to achieving the agenda are invited to cooperate within the development cooperation system, and if not, how that system needs to change. 

With the arrival of new actors to the field, “traditional” actors in the development field are being challenged, resulting in a competition for funding, legitimacy and recipients..[4] One of the actors that is playing an increasingly important role, yet receives little to no recognition are Private Development Initiatives (PDIs). PDIs are often founded by ‘ordinary’ citizens who, for instance, during trips to developing countries get inspired and want to give back to the community that welcomed them.[5]

These actors contribute to development in a different – non-traditional – way. They normally do not receive funds from large donors and have a voluntary character as most people involved in PDIs combine it with a paid job. They are often small in scale and offer direct support for organisation, communities, or certain groups. PDIs’ work is characterized by a people-to-people approach, having permanent direct contact with the beneficiaries of their programs. Moreover, they have little overhead costs, which ensures that a larger budget could be invested in their projects.[6]

Despite these advantages, PDIs are not always considered part of the larger international development family, as their contributions are not fully recognized and often do not receive any governmental financial support. In the Netherlands, for example, there has been a decline in public and governmental financial support for PDIs in the past ten years. Reasons for this are besides budgetary cuts, also reforms in the criteria for applying to public and governmental financial support, which are often not met by PDIs. As in the Netherlands organisations prepared for the Power of Voices call for funding, PDIs were by forehand already excluded as they could not met the threshold conditions.

SDG 17 calls for the creation of a partnership for sustainable development. Solutions to poverty, inequality, hunger, climate change, among other complex problems that can only be achieved by looking at them from different levels, perspectives, disciplines and ways of working. For this, it is crucial that every actor in the development field - including the PDIs- are recognized for their working ways and impacts. When we talk about development, we talk about inclusion. But how do we expect to achieve an inclusive world if the development agenda is conducted in an excluding way by traditional development actors?


This blog was written by Alejandra Flecha Corvetto & Romana Osman, on the lecture on Citizen Initiatives by Sara Kinsbergen


[1] UN. (2017). Sustainable Development Goal 17. https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg17

[2] Alonso, J. A. (2018). Development cooperation to ensure that none be left behind. http://cdp.un.org

[3] OpenDemocracy. (2020). An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/transformation/an-open-letter-to-intern...

[4] Kinsbergen, S. (2019). The legitimacy of Dutch do-it-yourself initiatives in Kwale County, Kenya The  

   legitimacy of Dutch do-it-yourself initiatives in Kwale County, Kenya. Third World QuarTerly, 40(10), 1850–

   1868. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436597.2019.1644497

[5] Kinsbergen, S., & Schulpen, L. (2013). From tourist to development worker. Private development initiatives in the Netherlands. https://www.cairn.info/revue-mondes-en-developpement-2013-1-page-49.htm#

[6] Kinsbergen, S., & Schulpen, L. (2013). From tourist to development worker. Private development initiatives in the Netherlands. https://www.cairn.info/revue-mondes-en-developpement-2013-1-page-49.htm#