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Home arrow Environment arrow Saving the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness of NGOs in Cameroon
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A Profile of the NGOs

This chapter provides a profile of the NGOs included in the study, including their origins, staffing levels, self-assessed strengths and weaknesses, and goals and activities, as well as their perceptions of their success in reaching their goals and the obstacles to success. The goals, strategies, and activities of Cameroonian environmental NGOs reflect, in part, their efforts to adapt to the social, economic, political, and physical contexts within which they operate (see chapters 4 and 5). But in addition, they are constrained to some extent by their own traditions, institutionalized practices, and sunk costs—that is, by their past investments in equipment, knowledge, and staff skills (see chapter 2). Although these constraints do shape their choices, some latitude remains for innovation and choice, and their choices are not always equally successful.

Environmental NGO Origins

An NGO’s origins can have important implications for its goals, strategies activities, sunk costs, and traditions. Consequently we included interview questions about the date of founding and the characteristics and motivations of the founders.

The limited existing research from sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Brockington and Scholfield, 2010b; Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer, 2014) suggests a surge in environmental NGO foundings in the 1990s coincident with the wave of liberalization that swept the continent then; however, Beer’s (2012) Kenyan study showed the median founding date a decade later, shortly after political liberalization there. We found no comparable information specific to Cameroon.

We asked our interviewees when their NGO was founded, or in the case of the international NGOs, when operations in Cameroon began.1 In view of the history of government attitudes toward NGOs and relevant law (see chapter 5), it is not surprising that none of the environmental NGOs were more than 25 years old, and only 20 percent were founded before 1995. A plurality (41 percent) were founded in the short period between 1995 and 1999, soon after the liberalization of NGO law. A further 39 percent were founded between 2000 and 2009. On average, Type II NGOs had been founded slightly more recently. Both the mean and median year of founding for them was 2000. Type I NGOs averaged being about two years older (mean founding year = 1998; median = 1997); international NGOs were about two years older still (both mean and median founding year = 1995). These differences may indicate that NGOs that do not reach Type I status tend to be shorter lived, which would be consistent with their lack of expertise and funding; however, there is no way to be sure of this without information about the founding dates of NGOs that have disappeared.

The most complete information about the characteristics and motivations of environmental NGO founders comes from Beer’s (2012) study of 70 Kenyan NGOs of various types. Over three-quarters of the foundings there had involved an individual who was still leading the organization. Similar findings appeared in a major study of solid waste collection NGOs in East Africa (Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer, 2013, 2014) and in two older Cameroonian studies (Langley, 1995; Tandon, 1995), neither of which focused exclusively on environmental NGOs. According to the Cameroonian research, the governing boards of NGOs still led by an individual founder often had large representations of the founder’s friends and family or of NGO staff members. The Beer and Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer studies also reported that professional experts played a prominent role in the founding of some environmental NGOs, as did the earlier study by Cherett and his colleagues (1995). Community groups were also prominent among the founders in the latter study. There is also evidence (Haynes, 1999; Roberts, 2000; Thomas, 2001) that international environmental NGOs sometimes contribute to founding environmental NGOs, but Beer’s (2102) study found that this was true in only a fifth of cases, and that there were no instances of an international NGO directly establishing a Kenyan-based NGO. Finally, government leaders were sometimes involved in environmental NGO foundings in Addis Ababa (Dierig, 1999), as were former officials in Kenya (Beer, 2012). Only the Beer study includes systematic information about founder motivations. The overwhelming majority of NGO founders were motivated by seeing needs in their own area, and many linked the need to solve environmental problems with the need for development.

The results from our question about which individuals, groups, or organizations had taken the lead in founding the Cameroonian NGOs

Table 6.1 Individuals, groups, or organizations involved in founding the NGO and their motivations

Founder type

All

NGOs

Type I Type II NGOs NGOs

Mentions key role of one key founder

44%

44%

40%

Mentions a group of work colleagues as founders

40%

33%

45%

Mentions a group of friends as founders

22%

17%

30%

Mentions the role of/help from an international NGO, aid agency, or church

22%

33%

10%

Mentions role of/help from another Cameroonian NGO or NGOs or the NGO as a successor to an older NGO

16%

6%

20%

Mentions former government employees as among the founders Motivations for founding

11%

11%

10%

Mentions founders’ seeing unmet needs as a motivation

18%

22%

15%

Mentions founders’ desire for employment/income

11%

0%

10%

Mentions founders’ dissatisfaction with performance of government or other NGOs in solving environmental problems

7%

17%

0%

N = 45.

appear in Table 6.1. Some interviewees also provided information about founder motivations. Many interviewees identified several different types of persons, groups, or organizations as involved in their founding.2

Paralleling earlier research, individual founders were mentioned by almost half of the interviewees, more frequently than any other type; this is true of both Type I and Type II NGOs. Consistent with Michels’s “iron law” (see chapter 2), the founders frequently remained the leaders of their NGOs today and spoke proudly of their accomplishments. One interviewee, the current president of an urban NGO, for example, observed that, as a resident of the city with much interest in environmental problems and politics, he had seen the need for environmental cleanup and education and took the lead in founding an NGO to address these needs. Another interviewee, the current coordinator of a rural NGO, said that he had taken the lead in organizing the villages in his area into a grassroots organization to promote rural development and environmental protection, which he claimed now encompassed 40 communities and 4,000 supporters.

Groups of present or former coworkers were identified as playing a role in the NGO’s founding by 40 percent of interviewees and groups of friends by 22 percent. Both types of groups were mentioned slightly more often by interviewees from Type II NGOs. One interviewee from an NGO working on forest protection, for example, told us that the NGO was founded by 12 former government employees who thought their advancement chances and opportunities working for government were low. In several cases, groups of university friends had come together after graduation to found an NGO. For example, one group, which focused on encouraging urban gardening, was founded by a group of idealistic college graduates who had been unable to find employment.

The largest difference between the founding of Type I and Type II NGOs, however, was that international organizations of various types were considerably more likely to be involved in the founding of Type I NGOs. This is consistent with Beer’s (2012) Kenyan findings regarding international involvement in founding and NGO capacity. Examples of this pattern in Cameroon include a wildlife rescue NGO that had been set up with the aid of a British charity, an ecotourism NGO that had been established as part of a major effort by German development agencies, and a watershed protection NGO that had been set up with financial and technical assistance from the Netherlands. Having other Cameroonian environmental NGOs involved in their founding, on the other hand, was somewhat more common among Type II NGOs.

Former government employees were mentioned as among the founders by about a tenth of the NGOs. These were sometimes accompanied by comments about the ineffectiveness of government in solving environmental problems; all of these comments came from the better-equipped and staffed Type I NGOs. Interviewees from Type II NGOs, on the other hand, were the only ones to mention the founders’ desire for income and unemployment, though only a few did so. Eighteen percent of interviewees cited the perceptions of unmet needs as a reason for the founding of their NGO.

 
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