It is with deep regret that we inform you of the postponement of the 14th biennial International Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR). Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, we believe the responsible decision is to postpone the Montreal conference this year. We are pleased that we have been able to reschedule for July 12-15, 2021 in Montreal. All papers, panels, posters, roundtables that have been accepted to ISTR 2020 will be automatically accepted to ISTR 2021.
While a virtual conference during the originally scheduled dates would be an alternative, ISTR’s small staff means that our infrastructure — both technological and logistical — cannot accommodate it in the given time frame. We will begin to work on a plan to bring some panels and workshops to our members virtually. Postponement of the conference does not preclude scholarly conversation via other means. Please allow us some time to explore various options and share information about how to do this in the coming weeks. This includes students accepted to the PhD Seminar, who will receive a separate communication about their participation.
We are most grateful for the hard work of our Academic Committee, Montreal Host Committee, and PhD Seminar Co-Chairs. We want to acknowledge their efforts over the past months to organize an excellent conference.
As you may be aware, postponing the conference has serious financial implications for the Society. ISTR counts on its membership dues to support the ongoing operations and initiatives of the association. As mentioned above, we will be working hard to adapt and provide meaningful opportunities for member engagement this year. If you are not already a member, we hope you will join. If your membership has expired, we encourage you to renewby visiting www.istr.org/membership
We are offering 3 options for your 2020 Conference registration fees:
1. Refund the full conference registration
2. Apply the registration funds to the 2021 Conference
3. Donate the registration fee to the Society
Please click HERE for: refund, apply to 2021, or donate
We would like to thank each of you for your patience and understanding as we continue to navigate this historic public health crisis. We appreciate the notes of support and encouragement we have received to date. We always like hearing from you and appreciate any additional thoughts or ideas you would like to share.
On behalf of the officers and members of the board, we hope that you and yours remain safe and healthy in this trying time.
With deep appreciation,
Ruth Phillips ISTR President
On behalf of ISTR Executive Committee, Conference Committees and Staff
The health and safety of our members is our foremost priority. Given the general concern about traveling due to the spread of Covid-19, ISTR is extending the early registration deadline to Monday, April 27, 2020.
The Montreal Tourisme Office is keeping us informed about developments locally and we are monitoring other public health website. Montreal is currently a low-risk destination for community spread of Covid-19.
If you decide not to attend we will refund your conference registration in full. Due to the extraordinary circumstances, we will not charge the usual administrative fee on refunds.
We will keep monitoring the global situation and will provide updates.
We look forward to seeing you in Montreal. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Margery Daniels, at email@example.com.
ISTR 2020 will take place at Concordia University, which is easily accessible by the nearest metro station: Guy-Concordia – right next to the university. It is located in one of the busiest areas of Montreal’s downtown and there is plenty to see and do right in this area of the city. Its multipurpose and multiethnic character is illustrated by a staggering number of restaurants, pubs, stores, apartment buildings, and small businesses.
Guy-Concordia metro station was inaugurated in 1966 as part of the first metro line that was built to make the provision of public transport in Montreal more diverse and practical leading up to the 1967 International Exhibition. The Expo would transform Montrealers’s view of the world at a time when the province was coming out of the “Grande Noirceur” (The Great Darkness of conservative politics in Quebec) and diving right into the “Revolution tranquille” period of intense socio-political change in the province.
Around the station
Coming out of the station, you will have no problem finding a place to eat no matter which direction you might take. The area remains alive at all times!
With some luck, you might be able to get a table at the École des métiers de la restauration et du tourisme de Montréal (EMRTM, 1822 boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, 514 350-8049). There you will get an excellent meal for a more than reasonable price. You will contribute at the same time to the professional training of students in cooking, tourism, and wine counseling. L’École des métiers de la restauration et du tourisme de Montréal is located in a magnificent Victorian building built in 1887 by the Montreal architect Alexander Francis Dunlop. The renovation work of the building was executed with the highest respect of the environment in mind, and the building has recently received a LEED-Silver certification.
You might find the Putting-Edge Glow in the Dark Mini-golf to be a fun experience. Yes, this is an inside minigolf experience in a dark but amusing environment! An unusual and relaxing group activity in a place where the outside weather does not matter (1259 Guy street, 514-507-8106). A particularly fun activity if your children are with you during the Conference.
For those who appreciate fine arts, the , just a few minutes from the metro, is a MUST! Founded in 1860, the MBA is the museum par excellence. Since 2013, a patrimonial church adjacent to the museum is now part of the museum. The Salle Burgie, as it is now known, has been transformed into a 444 seat auditorium for concerts and conferences (1339 Sherbrooke street west).
Interested to see what is left of the New France period in the Montreal downtown area? You can visit the Domaine des Messieurs de Saint-Sulpice (2065 Sherbrooke west). The vast and green domain harbors the Tower, the College de Montreal, a private French secondary school for boys and girls, its buildings and chapel, the Grand Seminaire de Montréal also with its buildings and chapel, and the last remnants of the old fort of the Mission de la Montagne (1675). It is located at the foot of the fort that gave its name to the street du Fort, where Marguerite Bourgeoys founded a school for young American girls. During the summer, the Grand Seminaire organizes visits which again provides an opportunity to learn about the rich history of Montreal.
The Montreal Masonic Memorial Temple is a historic masonic temple located on the corner of Sherbrooke Street and St. Marc Street (1850 Sherbrooke Street West, Montréal, 514 -933-6432). Opened in 1930, the work of the architect John Smith Archibal was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2001, as an example of one of Canada’s most elegant buildings in the Beaux-Arts style. The Masonic Memorial Temple, as its name suggests, was conceived as both a meeting place for the Masonic order as well as a memorial to the Freemasons who served and gave their lives during the Great War of 1914-18. An interesting fact about the Temple: the first true Masonic temple was established in 1825, in Old Montreal, where the Marché Bonsecours stands today.
ISTR’s professional development workshops are designed by our own members, and respond to perceived needs within our own community. This year we have a number of special sessions and workshops planned for the conference – you can read all about them on our website.
This year, one ISTR member is organizing a special kind of professional development workshop entitled “The impact from within – voicing our emotions in research.” The intention of this workshop is not to propose a theoretical discussion, but rather to create a space where PhD students, scholars at different career stages, and practitioners may voice some of the personal issues they have experienced while doing research, such as experiencing feelings of rejection, failure, judgement, isolation, procrastination and pressure to excel. Through a fishbowl format of interaction, we will start off the conversation and invite participants to join the conversation at any time. And then together the group will discuss and share different strategies for coping with these stresses.
The workshop is being organized by Fabio Prado Saldanha, a PhD student at HEC Montréal. He writes, “As a PhD candidate doing research with vulnerable young people living in the deprived outskirts of a huge metropolis, I was confronted with realities that had never before been tangible for me. Doing research in places where barricades were built to prevent police from getting into the territory, and where drugs and weapons were deliberately displayed made me reflect beyond my role as a researcher while staring at structural social inequalities that I hardly feel able to change. After collecting my data in such environments, I came back to my hometown in Canada, and started to transcribe my interviews. The shock I felt was even stronger then. As I sat in front of my computer in a well-equipped house, I started to feel different emotions than I had when I was in the field. Feelings like injustice and impotency really hit hard on me, culminating in even further negative moods that arouse throughout different periods of the day, until the moment that I searched for medical help and I was diagnosed with depression.”
The aim of this workshop is to create a safe, respectful, and welcoming space where participants may feel comfortable voicing the emotions they have experienced in research. Discussants are not previously determined: the audience itself will co-create the discussion. Although themes will be emergent-oriented, some topics will be proposed – such as family-work balance, insecurities about choices made, etc. –, with the intention to share strategies that we have developed to cope with our vulnerable situations in research.
As a community of researchers, if we intend to create impact in society with our research, it is also useful to take a look at these impacts from within.
If you plan to attend this workshop and would be willing to help get the conversation started, please email Secretariat@istr.org and let us know.
This award, established in 2006 by an anonymous donor, is given once every two years at the biennial ISTR conference to the author of the best dissertation in the field of comparative study of civil society organizations, nonprofit organizations, philanthropy, and voluntarism and related issues. The purpose of the award is to encourage young scholars to enter the field of nonprofit and philanthropic studies throughout the world. The winner this year was chosen from among 60 other entries from 28 countries. The overall quality of the entries, the diversity of the topics approached, the scope of areas addressed, as well as the spectrum of research methods utilized, left a very positive impression with the members of this year’s Selection Committee.
This year’s winner is Andrew Heiss, Brigham Young University, for his PhD thesis Amicable Contempt: The Strategic Balance between Dictators and International NGOs.
Examining the activities and adaption of international nongovernmental organisations (INGOs) in the context of increasing global restrictions on civic space, Andrew’s dissertation addresses the paradox that while INGOs’ service and advocacy activities can threaten the legitimacy and power of authoritarian regimes, numerous autocratic states still allow the work of INGOs; similarly, despite limitations and restrictions on their own activities, numerous INGOs continue to operate in these countries. Thus, the idea put forward and explored throughout the dissertation is that the relationship between INGOs and autocratic regimes is a state of amicable contempt: each party is aware that the other both threatens and supports their existence.
Focusing on the timeframe of 1991 to 2014, and on the three cases of Egypt, Russia and China, the dissertation addresses questions about: Why do regimes allow INGOs to work in their country? What influences INGO decision making in restrictive environments? How do regimes reap the benefits of INGOs programming? How do INGOs adapt to restrictions? A creative, detailed and thorough examination of an increasingly important international issue, the dissertation thereby provides a strong theoretical basis for examining INGO-dictator relationships. Additionally, it offers a diversity of practical findings that can be used by local and international NGOs to manage risk and to improve their likelihood of survival and impact of their work.
The Selection Committee also acknowledges the merit and achievements of the two other finalists.
Nora Derbal, Freie Universität Berlin, Charity for the Poor in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 1961–2015.
Sara Compion, University of Kentucky, Volunteering And Democratization In Southern Africa: A Structural And Cultural Analysis.
Abdulrazak Karriem, University of Western Cape Town, South Africa and Lehn M. Benjamin, Indiana University, United States, for their article, “How Civil Society Organizations Foster Insurgent Citizenship: Lessons from the Brazilian Landless Movement,” February 2016, Volume 27, Issue I, pp 19-36.
Jasmin Slootjes, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Thomas Kampen, University for Humanistic Studies, The Netherlands for their article, “Is My Volunteer Job Not Real Work? The Experiences of Migrant Women with Finding Employment Through Volunteer Work,” October 2017, Volume 28, Isuue 5, pp 1900–1921.
Stefan Toepler, George Mason University, and Publications Committee Chair presented the award to Andre-Anne Parent; Stéphanie Tourillon-Gingras; and Christian Jetté, Université de Montréal for their poster The Entre-Maisons Ahuntsic – A Collaborative Project at the Hearth of Low-rent Housing Units. Click here to see the award-winning poster!
“It is the task of the publications committee to select and confer the best poster presentation award. Doing so is a very delightful task; our only regret is that we cannot offer any publications opportunities along with the award. That said, in selecting our awardee, we look for both intellectual and visual appeal of the poster. Intellectually, we look for clearly presented statements of the research question and approach that also convince through concision. Visually, we like posters that utilize different design elements without being distracting and that easily guide the eye along … bonus points go to posters that manage to do so without overtaxing the eyes of the grey-haired crowd and do not force us to open the magnification app on our iPhones. There were many highly fascinating posters, but this one had the best overall package.”
PhD 3 Minute Thesis
Ruth Phillips, University of Sydney in Australia and President-Elect of ISTR, presented the award for the PhD 3 Minute Thesis to Fanny Dethier for her presentation titled Seeing Through NPOs. A new innovation for ISTR, this experimental competition offered a light-hearted way for students in the ISTR PhD Seminar to practice the art of distilling their ideas down to the core questions and concerns in 3 minutes and 1 PowerPoint slide. Ten students all gave very good presentations during the seminar and the experience was fun for the audience. A prize was awarded to the person who made the case for their research in the most clear and compelling manner, and the winner made her presentation to the entire plenary. You can view a video of her presentation (at the end of the opening plenary) by clicking here.
But besides the fun, the 3-minute thesis teaches important lessons – research should be designed to be useful, and in order to be useful (and in order to funded!) the users need to understand it and believe in it. Sometimes 3-minutes are all we have to get the attention of our audience.
It is ISTR’s hope that this competition provided an opportunity to make the wider conference attendees more aware of the PhD seminar, and hopefully inspired the students to feel more connected to the larger group of scholars and begin to see it as their research home into the future.
Guest post by Franz Koranyi who is writing a PhD on ‘philanthropic engagement in community-based networks in the field of education’ at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany.
Do you know that feeling of anticipation preceding an important presentation or event? You anticipate your own excitement, helpful feedback of others, interesting encounters and wonder how you will experience the ambiance of the event. Preparing for the fourth ISTR PhD Seminar from 8th to 10th July on the train to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, I had this exact feeling. Like Mieke Berghmans I expected to have the (rare) opportunity to talk, discuss, and work with other early career researchers who are all interested in the same field, concerned with phenomena such as the third sector, philanthropy and social entrepreneurship. This promised the chance to discuss my PhD in a different way than I present it to my peers in educational science.
From the moment I arrived at the hotel, the feeling of excitement became a feeling of joy. We had all been booked in the same hotel which meant that we met right before the start of the seminar. Having been given the opportunity to share a room, I first met my roommate from Jamaica. This was a perfect match since he not only is a very empathetic person and great roommate, but also works on the engagement of foundations. So, we were on the same page from the very beginning. Arriving at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, we experienced a very welcoming atmosphere that instantly made us feel comfortable. After hearty welcoming words by the organizers Pelle Åberg (Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University College) and René Bekkers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), and an interesting keynote speech by Taco Brandsen (Radboud University), we were ready to go for very valuable two seminar days. In the following I am going to sketch three aspects that in my opinion significantly shaped that experience:
Group sessions: a key element of the PhD Seminar were the group sessions of about six or seven students and two faculty members. Every student had 45 minutes that were approximately divided into 15 minutes of presentation and 30 minutes of discussion. As stated by Mieke Berghmans this turned ‘normal’ presentations at conferences upside down, thereby providing more space for discussion of ideas, concepts, and most importantly challenges that you face at the moment. What I found to be most special in comparison to other workshops was that presentations went completely without slides. Instead, prepared with the abstracts of each participant, we sat together speaking to and discussing with each other. This implied for the presenter to come straight to the point; otherwise you risked that your audience would lose your line of thought. Still, in cases of confusion participants could easily make additional clarifications. The group sessions had a very positive atmosphere as described for the years before by Christiane Rudmann, and we received valuable feedback by students and faculty members alike.
Community: another important element of the PhD Seminar was the interaction outside of group sessions. There were tons of opportunities to enter into conversations with each another: We mingled in breaks (with delicious catering), enjoyed a lovely BBQ together, drank a glass of wine at the reception, or danced at the PhD party (to the music played by René Bekkers and band). This allowed us to meet fascinating people from all over the world in a more informal setting (more than 50 students from over 20 countries). At the same time, the range of interests was overwhelming, ranging from measuring the third sector in Malaysia for the first time, seeking civil society and the public sphere in social media, to research on volunteering by vulnerable groups. All the interaction gave us the opportunity to connect with each other and exchange not only knowledge, ideas, and daily challenges in the PhD life, but also talk about matters apart from our academic identity.
Professional development: the PhD seminar as well as additional workshops during the conference provided the opportunity for us to also think about our future careers. During the seminar we were offered three workshops on scholarly identity, the tenure track, and getting published that were chaired by a faculty member. These were open formats, in which information on the subject was mixed with personal experiences and stimulated by additional participant inputs as well as questions. For example, scholars in third sector research often face the challenge that they need to specialize in another discipline since (at least in Europe) schools in nonprofit / third sector studies are rare. Thus, we discussed what strategies are suited to cope with this challenge. Furthermore, during the subsequent ISTR conference, there were more workshops on professional development such as ‘post-doc opportunities’, ‘teaching and learning’, ‘non-academic job market’, ‘navigating job-market and career strategies’ and ‘academic job interviews’. These workshops provided food for thought and offered opportunities for further exchange on our future plans.
These are only three aspects of the PhD Seminar, however, there was even more to experience (e.g., a 3 Minute Thesis Competition as described by Steph Haywood) that would not fit into the space of this post. Thus, I highly recommend applying for the next ISTR PhD Seminar in 2020 – because of both the excited feeling before meeting your fellow PhD colleagues and the joyful, interesting, and valuable experience during the seminar sessions, social exchanges, professional development workshops and many more. A big thank you to the team at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the ISTR, the faculty members and all the fellow PhD students for making this experience possible. I am looking forward to seeing you at another seminar or conference.
The following is an overview of a special roundtable ISTR is hosting at this year’s conference.
Philanthropy’s role in advancing sustainable development attracts a lot of attention. However, very few figures are available to date on the volumes and sectors of philanthropic flows supporting development. To address this lack of reliable and comparable data, the OECD produced the report on Private Philanthropy for Development. The report calls into question long-held assumptions about the volume, nature and potential of foundations’ engagement in developing countries, and the role they can play to support the SDGs.
The report examines philanthropic resource flows for development purposes, as well as foundations’ priorities, practices and partnering behaviors. It presents fresh perspectives and action-oriented recommendations to optimize philanthropy’s role in support of sustainable development.
This report offers practical insights for government policy makers and decision makers in civil society organisations, social enterprises and foundations. It results from close co-operation between the OECD Development Centre’s Network of Foundations Working for Development (netFWD) and the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate.
The ISTR Conference will host a round table introducing and presenting the 2018 OECD Report on Private Philanthropy for Development. Lorenzo Pavone, Head (Acting), Partnerships and Network Unit, OECD Development Centre, will present the report’s ground-breaking data and fresh perspectives on how to optimise philanthropy’s role in support of sustainable development.
Following this, the panel will discuss the report’s findings and its implications. Panel participants include:
Whenever I go to a conference, the thing I dread most is panels.A typical panel is a show about nothing. Sure, it worked on Seinfeld—but they had comedic geniuses obsessing over the perfect script and a whole cast of skilled actors and producers making it sing. (Though panels do have some recurring characters: I’m sure you’ve met The Rambler, The Spotlight Hog, and The Mansplainer.)
Panels aren’t going away any time soon. Since I end up sitting on them and moderating them on a regular basis, I decided to see if I could fix them.
And by fix them, I mean run a panel that doesn’t ruin your day. Here are my guidelines:
CHOOSING THE CAST
1. Keep it small. In my experience, the best panels have a moderator and no more than two or three guests. Just like in teams, less is more. Larger panels create more communication and coordination difficulties. It’s impossible to find a rhythm with six people on stage. People just sit there waiting to make their point.
2. Invite people who complement each other. I’ve suffered through panels that flop because the participants have nothing in common and because they have totally redundant perspectives. You need a mix of similarities and differences. In psychology it’s called optimal distinctiveness. Every panelist should fit into a common topic but stand out based on having unique insights or experiences.
3. Design for relationships between the panelists. A group of strangers sitting on stage together is a recipe for disaster. A great panel feels like being a fly on the wall for an actual conversation between friends or sparring partners.
Don’t just think about the qualities that you want in individual panelists or moderators; invite people who actually know each other. They’re used to having conversations together, they’re familiar with each other’s views, and they’re more likely to be comfortable debating and disagreeing respectfully.
If they haven’t connected before, have them spend some time getting to know each other. Even a quick email exchange followed by five minutes face-to-face backstage can help build rapport and give time to compare notes on what to cover (and avoid).
SETTING THE STAGE
4. Encourage the panelists to talk to each other. A rookie mistake is when panelists are all having individual conversations with the moderator. That’s just a bunch of one-on-one interviews slapped together—you would never do that in a meeting or at a party.
Maryellen Reilly introduced me to a creative way of nudging authentic discussion: invite each participant to ask a question of one other panelist. Along with catapulting them into a natural back-and-forth, it’s fascinating to see what they most want to learn from one another.
5. Ask them to keep their comments short. The most compelling responses are usually no more than 60 seconds. That’s where you start pushing the limits of conversational attention span and violating the natural flow of back-and-forth. Go longer and you’re just doing sequential monologues. Short answers open the door for burstiness, where it sounds like the panel is literally bursting with ideas. The energy picks up, people veer off script and actually build on one another, and there’s more room for unexpected wisdom and spontaneous humor.
6. Don’t let every panelist answer every question. That immediately devolves into mind-numbing turn-taking. No one has something interesting or informative to say on all the topics.
7. Tell them you might interrupt them. The moderator’s job is to guide the conversation to make it worthwhile for the audience. So if panelists start rambling, you need to jump in with a comment, a fresh question, or a redirect. At first I struggled to do that—I was afraid of being disagreeable. But I found that when I told panelists in advance that I might interrupt them, the awkwardness melted away. It’s not rude to interrupt them once you have their permission.
PREPARING THE SCRIPT
8. Start by asking for a story. Panels fall flat when participants never get to share their knowledge—and the audience has no context for why they’re there. Sometimes moderators try to solve that by reading lengthy bios for each panelist, which is a huge waste of time. Just introduce them with a few highlights that explain why they’re on stage, and invite them each to tell a story on the topic.
9. Pose questions that make the audience—and the panelists—think. The richest questions often start with why (to get at motivation/purpose) and how (to get at strategy/tactics). It can also help to surface tension, which doesn’t have to be with other panelists; you can prompt them to challenge conventional wisdom or their own past experiences.
Two of my favorite questions are “What’s the worst career advice you’ve gotten?” and “What’s something you believed early in your career that you now think is wrong?” Sometimes it helps to give them the questions in advance, both for peace of mind and for reflection time.
Another trick is to have the audience ask their questions at the beginning of the panel instead of the end. As Kumar Gargpoints out, it helps the panelists get more specific and more practical.
10. Run a lightning round. Come ready with a few questions that panelists can answer in a word or a sentence. Other than an opening story, that’s the only time you want everyone to chime in: it’s a great way to get diverse ideas on the table swiftly and represent everyone’s voice. It can be a fun appetizer early on if there’s a burning question where you want to surface a range of views, a nice interjection to keep the conversation moving if it’s dragging in the middle, or a strong closing if you want to wrap up with a light, memorable Q&A.
It’s always reassuring to hear successful people open up about their vices. What was your worst idea ever? What task do you procrastinate on? When do you feel the most self-doubt?
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at Wharton, a #1 New York Timesbestselling author, and the host of the TED podcast WorkLife. He shares insights in his free monthly newsletter, GRANTED.
The following is a guest post reflecting on one of the roundtable sessions at the upcoming ISTR Conference organized byAlan Fowler, Honorary Professor Chair in African Philanthropy, Wits Business School and Professor Emeritus, International Institute of Social Studies andKees Biekart, Associate Professor International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.
The problem of trust. Can non-governmental organisations dedicated to development and humanitarian relief (NGOs) be trusted? Does their legitimacy matter! NGOs will surely answer that their credibility is essential. Without it, fundraising becomes more difficult, supporters retreat, governments become (more) suspicious and media thrive on adding to the negativity. A recent highly publicized flurry about the behaviour of a few NGO staff and remedial actions taken are a bit of a distraction from the systematic forces that appear to be eroding the legitimacy and credibility that these organisations have built up over many decades. What is going on and why now?
Ending of a golden era? A golden decade of NGO legitimacy, public standing and support from official aid agencies started to ebb away as one millennium gave way to another. Four erosion processes appear to weave together.
Comparative advantages. Really? One is a challenge to NGO efficacy. Doubts about NGOs being more effective than other development actors in reaching and working with the billion poor at the base of the pyramid are growing. Compelling evidence to the contrary is difficult to find. Faith in NGOs’ comparative advantages in relief and development faded and gave way to many demands to demonstrate results. Despite the significant investments in monitoring and evaluation, technical difficulties hamper convincing responses.
The accountability challenge. Legitimacy is also challenged by issues of inadequate accountability to the complex mix of stakeholders involved in who NGOs are and what they do for who. Participation principles notwithstanding, feedback mechanisms from intended beneficiaries on the relevance and quality of NGO work remained overshadowed by accountability to those providing resources. The Accountability Commitments set up by leading international NGOs with its twelve commitments shows the range of demands to be met and promises to be kept. The seriousness of accountability for reputation and negative consequences when perceptions of inadequacy arise should not be underestimated.
Political suspicion. A further source of erosion for NGO legitimacy is coming from many governments, particularly those whose own legitimacy is open to question. The ‘shrinking of civic space’ – that is the freedom for citizen action – is tracked by the Civicus Monitor project. Far more countries limit such freedoms than enable them, while the list and range of restrictive repertoires is growing. One government strategy delegitimizing NGOs is to declare them as being unelected as well as acting as ‘foreign agents’, beholden to external funders. Another is to call into question NGO credibility to represent the interest, if not the voice, of those in whose name they operate. Countering these politically inspired messages to shape public opinion is made difficult by the fact that NGOs are often ‘disassociated’ from the population at large. In other words, there is often a lack of a strong bonding with the people from which legitimizing support and action should come.
A vulnerable moral high ground. A fourth force working against NGO legitimacy is associated with organisational morality. For the past decade or more, a zeitgeist has taken hold that the private sector and market principles may be a better solution to poverty reduction. The moral underpinnings of the logic of non-profit organisations working for the public good rather than private gain bring an uneven vulnerability to charges of immoral behaviour than is the case when, for example, corporate corruption is exposed. This might also hold true for #metoo within NGOs. Their reputations can suffer more from a bad press because business behaviour is not strongly associated with an ethic of fairness or justice.
The knock on effects of reputational set-backs for the NGO community as a whole should not be underestimated, nor should the degree of collective solidarity be over-estimated. It seems that many NGOs choose for an individual solution to a problem that can better be viewed as collectively shared.
The roundtable will take place Wednesday 11th July, 09:00 – 10:30 in Room 12A 33 and will feature an interactive discussion with Prof. Thea Hilhorst, of ISS, Dr. Irene Guijt of Oxfam UK, Anabel Cruz of Civicus (Uruguay) and Dr. Patricia Mendoça from the Universidade de São Paulo (Brazil). Kees Biekart of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) will facilitate. Clickhere to see the full ISTR Conference Schedule.
Natalie Fenton and Shih-Jung Hsu are ISTR’s keynote speakers for the closing session of the conference on Friday July 13, 2018, entitled Transforming Democratic Contexts: Challenges for the Third Sector.
This session will focus on how civil society responds to disruptions to democracy and climate change.
Natalie Fenton is Professor of Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London where she is the co-director of Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and the Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. She is also the research lead for Civil Society Futures (CSF) – an independent inquiry into civil society in England in partnership with Forum for the Future, CitizensUK and openDemocracy. Natalie’s own research addresses issues relating to civil society, voluntary sector, political resistance, democracy and the media. She is active in civil society herself as Chair of the Media Reform Coalition and (until recently) as Vice-chair of the Board of Directors for the campaign group Hacked Off – both of which campaign for a free, plural and accountable media. Her latest book is Digital, Political, Radical (Polity 2016).
At the conference, Dr. Fenton will discuss the interim findings from Civil Society Futures: An Inquiry into Civil Society in England – an effort to consider how civil society can best prepare for the futures that may lie ahead. She will discuss emergent social, political and economic strategies developed from new ways of thinking about how economic and social lives connect through attempts to put more power in the hands of more people.
Shih-Jung Hsu is currently Professor of the Department of Land Economics at the National Chengchi University (NCCU), Taiwan, and is the Director of the Center for the Third Sector. Dr. Hsu’s research concentrates on local environmental movements, urban and rural planning, land use policy, and sustainable development in Taiwan. He was former president of the Taiwan Association of Third Sector Research (TATSR). He is also a leading activist in Taiwan, and he has established one important NGO — the Taiwan Rural Front (TRF) to help farmers and local residents against land grabbing and forced eviction from the state, and he served as founding president of the TRF. His recent book, Land Justice, has received the National Tripod Award 2017 from the Chinese Ministry of Culture.
Dr. Hsu received his Ph.D. degree from the College of Urban Affairs and Public Policy, University of Delaware, USA (1995). He also possesses two Masters degrees, one in Political Science from the University of Delaware (1990); the other one in Land Economics from the NCCU (1986).
At the conference, Dr. Hsu will discuss his current research efforts: (1) Land governance and Taiwan’s sustainable development, (2) land use policy and its historical context, (3) environmental and human right NGOs in Taiwan.