“The governance of international non-governmental organizations: intermediation between developed countries and the developing world” is the chapter that Urs Jäger and Jose Pablo Valverde wrote in the book “Research Handbook on nonprofit governance” published by Edward Elgar Publishing in London and edited and compiled by Gemma Donnelly-Cox, Michael Meyer and Filip Wijkström.
The article, the product of extensive research by VIVA Idea Co-Director Urs Jäger and researcher Jose Pablo Valverde, highlights the current state of research on the governance of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), with a focus on those based in developed countries and implementing programs in the developing world.
The transnational structure of INGOs operating between the developed and developing world implies a unique set of challenges. These organizations require a governance model that can bridge the gap between the formal context in which the INGO’s head office is embedded – typically structured by international standards and laws – and the informal environments of the developing countries in which it implements its programs.
According to the researchers, who have extensive fieldwork experience in Latin America in informal sectors, “bridging the gap between actors in formal and informal settings is almost always complicated. The two parties often lack direct access to each other or, when relationships are possible, they can be characterized by a lack of trust.
This often means that the tools used by international organizations are not the best adapted to the realities in developing countries.
The book, which also has other important chapters on nonprofit governance around the world, provides an opportunity to understand how this topic is evolving. New organizational forms and a new adoption of organizational models alter the organizational context and offer opportunities to “reimagine” nonprofit and nongovernmental sector governance. Profound sectoral changes, such as the commodification of the third sector and the blurring of nonprofit sector boundaries, have had impacts on governance. Organizations have, in part, driven these changes in response to an increasingly dynamic environment that seeks to address the urgency of major global challenges.
Jäger and Valverde’s study shows that “informal environments are characterized by less developed areas where poverty and lack of formal institutions make it difficult for markets, government institutions and non-profit organizations to work under conditions of formal contracts, intellectual property and effective government enforcement and therefore operate through informal institutions”. In this context, formalization must be done in a way that addresses the needs of the actors present.
The article concludes that the issue of governance of international organizations in contexts of informality should be further investigated.
“Although intermediation between internal and external stakeholders of an INGO in informal contexts is an essential governance challenge for these organizations, academic research has not yet paid sufficient attention to this issue,” explain Jäger and Valverde.
In the recently published article, they speculate that “this is because most of the researchers cited in this article, in fact, face obstacles that parallel those faced by INGO governance. Most publish their results in leading international journals and live and work in developed countries. They are largely socialized in formal settings, which makes it difficult to gain sufficient cultural, geographic and relational knowledge of informal settings in developing countries, as well as economic resources to dive deeply into informal contexts and to be able to reconstruct the worldviews of actors living and working in these settings.”
Jose Pablo Valverde is a PhD candidate at the University of St Gallen and a researcher at VIVA Idea. His research focuses on understanding inter-organizational networks and intermediation dynamics between organizations facing major global challenges. He has been a visiting professor at Earth University, teaching entrepreneurship-related topics and also served as Director of Operations at the Entrepreneurship Center of INCAE Business School.
Urs Jäger is an Associate Professor at INCAE Business School, where he holds the VIVA Idea Schmidheiny Chair of Sustainability. He is also Co-Director of VIVA Idea. He focused his research on social inclusion in formal and informal markets and social entrepreneurship.