Environmental NGO Goals

The study of organizational goals is laden with theoretical and empirical complexities. The formal goals an organization lists in its publications—or cites in interview responses—are doubtless often realistic depictions of the objectives toward which the organization is directing its efforts. Not infrequently, however, these “official” goals diverge from those actually pursued. In these instances, the formally stated goals may be primarily efforts to build legitimacy, prestige, and support from key constituencies, persuade potential suppliers of key resources to make them available, or divert the attention of powerful groups that might oppose the goals the organization is actually pursuing (Perrow, 1961; Scott and Davis, 2007). Like other organizations, environmental NGOs frequently find themselves caught between numerous constituencies and have to carefully manage what they say about goals in an effort to please everyone (Edwards and Hulme, 1995).

This is not the end of the difficulties. Even where there is no conscious effort to mislead or obscure, various subleaders, departments, or staff within an organization may have different understandings of and preferences for goals. Where such differences of opinion prevail, actors may direct their efforts in divergent directions, or even work at cross-purposes. Moreover, opinions about the organization’s goals—unless people merely parrot official goals—may differ according to the informant one consults (Hall, 2002; Scott and Davis, 2007).

These theoretical and empirical complexities are daunting, but they do not render the study of NGO goals pointless. They call, instead, for caution in interpreting what NGO informants have to say about goals and supplementing the investigation of stated goals with a careful look at the activities the NGO is actually pursuing.

Previous research in Cameroon indicates that environmental NGOs pursue a wide variety of goals. These include urban waste pickup and recycling (Parrot, Sotamenou, and Dia, 2009), replacing water-hungry eucalyptus trees with less ecologically damaging trees and crops (Ndambi and Ndzerem, 2006), ecotourism (Fonjong, 2007a), hydropower development (Binyuy, 2006), establishing and protecting forest reserves (BirdLife International 2008a, 2008b), wetlands protection (Cameroon Wetlands Forum, 2007), providing potable water (Van der Waarde and Ischer, 2007), protecting great apes from poaching (Last Great Ape Organization, 2012), promoting community forests (Malleson, 1999, 2001), encouraging sustainable rural economies (Fonjong, 2001, 2007a), and environmental education (Fonjong, 2007b). All of these goals are also pursued by environmental NGOs elsewhere in Africa; however, with the exception of Dierig’s (1999) study of a small sample of urban environmental NGOs in Addis Ababa and Beer’s (2012) much more comprehensive Kenyan study, we encountered no research in which a sample of NGOs was categorized according to their objectives. The Kenyan study, which asked about issues addressed rather than goals pursued, found that climate change and forest issues—the focus, respectively, of about three-quarters and two-thirds of the NGOs studied—were the most commonly addressed issues. Approximately a fifth of the NGOs focused on watershed or wetlands protection, waste management or recycling, and environmental education. Only one in ten said that they worked on sustainability issues and less than 5 percent on wildlife protection, biodiversity, or industrial pollution. The lack of emphasis on wildlife and biodiversity is surprising in view of the large number of African NGOs that pursue these goals (Brockington and Scholfield, 2010b), but the neglect of pollution and urban environmental problems other than waste disposal is consistent with Dierig’s findings. About half of the Kenyan NGOs addressed only a single issue; none addressed more than three.

We began each interview with a question about the NGO’s major goals and followed up by asking whether it had other significant goals.5 The interviewees identified between one and six environmental goals, with a mean of 2.4. We selected our NGOs because the environment was their primary concern, but some did pursue other goals. Eleven of the 52 interviewees mentioned one non-environmental goal, and one mentioned two. We list these at the bottom of Table 6.5.

The NGOs reported a wide range of goals, but there were several clear clusters, the most prominent of which centered on natural resource management and nature protection. In some cases, the goals reported

Table 6.5 NGO goals by NGO type

Goal

All

NGOs

International

NGOs

Type I NGOs

Type II NGOs

Forest protection

38%

60%

47%

24%

Biodiversity/wildlife protection

31%

60%

37%

29%

Environmental protection, sustainability or sustainable development—general

31%

20%

32%

24%

Environmental education—except youth or children

31%

20%

37%

38%

Natural resources management—except forests and water

21%

40%

26%

5%

Environmentally friendly/sustainable agriculture

17%

0%

16%

29%

Influencing government policy

13%

60%

16%

5%

Climate change

13%

20%

0%

19%

Solid waste disposal/ recycling

13%

0%

0%

29%

Youth work—including environmental education

10%

0%

0%

24%

Fighting pollution—including air, water, and general

10%

0%

5%

19%

Protecting rights of community/groups to natural resource use

8%

0%

21%

0%

Creation and support of nature protection areas

6%

40%

0%

0%

Water management—except reducing water pollution

6%

20%

5%

0%

Fighting desertification

6%

0%

5%

10%

Promoting or conducting ecotourism

6%

0%

5%

10%

Other environmental goals

29%

60%

10%

38%

Fighting poverty

8%

0%

10%

10%

Other non-environmental goals

17%

40%

16%

14%

N = 52.

were obviously related to the geographic area where the NGO was operating. For example, NGOs in the Far-North Region were more likely to be concerned with desertification, while those on the coastal plain were more concerned with mangroves; however, most of the goals mentioned could be pursued in almost any region.

The most frequently mentioned goal of all was forest protection, listed by 38 percent of the interviewees. The majority of these responses cited sustainable forestry as their goal, but others worked to promote the establishment of community forests (see chapter 5), fight deforestation, or encourage reforestation. Preserving biodiversity, which tied for second place, was mentioned by almost a third of the interviewees. This included general mentions of biodiversity and wildlife protection, as well as mentions of protecting specific ecosystems, such as mangrove swamps or the Mount Cameroon ecosystem, or protection of specific species, most often the great apes. About a fifth of the interviewees mentioned natural resources management (excluding forest and water management). This goal was sometimes described as resource conservation, but some interviewees also mentioned conservation of specific resources, such as fisheries or soils. Finally, 6 percent each listed water management, combatting desertification, and creating and preserving nature protection areas to protect whole ecosystems or specific species.

A second goal cluster involved environmental education. Environmental education of adults, mentioned by 31 percent of interviewees, was tied for second rank in the list of goals. Some of these responses simply listed environmental education as a goal, but others identified their goal as education about specific environmental problems, such as climate change, desertification, destructive resource exploitation, unsightly or unsanitary trash disposal, or threats to wildlife. There were also a few mentions of education to empower people or strengthen environmentalism at the grassroots or village level and of teaching specific skills, such as environmentally friendly agriculture. In addition, almost all of those who listed youth work were involved in environmental education, as were most of those who mentioned climate change.

A third cluster of goals was tightly linked to specific activities. Most of these responses (13 percent) came from NGOs that focused on efforts to solve specific environmental problems by promoting and operating projects such as city cleanup efforts, waste disposal and recycling centers, and urban composting programs themselves. One NGO, for example, had set up a private system of fee for service waste collection as an alternative to a deficient local government system, and another was recycling plastic bags by weaving them into useful and ornamental items. Two NGOs operated ecotourism programs. Owing to limited funds, most of these projects are small scale and unlikely to have more than a small impact on the problems they address; Vivian’s more limited (1994) study of rural development NGOs in Zimbabwe reached a similar conclusion.

Despite Cameroon’s significant pollution problems (see chapter 4) , only 10 percent of the NGOs listed fighting pollution as a goal, and most of them framed the task in quite a general way. The probable reasons for this are not difficult to discern. The international NGOs were mainly focused on nature protection objectives grounded in their international work and the expectations of their constituencies, while most of the Cameroonian organizations lack the test equipment to monitor pollution. In addition, realistic pollution control requires government action, and the NGOs face many obstacles to influencing government (see chapters 5 and 8). Indeed, only 13 percent of the interviewees said that influencing government policy regarding the environment was one of their goals, and none of these mentioned fighting pollution. Instead they listed objectives such as strengthening and better enforcing laws against illegal logging, mining, and poaching. In addition, 8 percent of NGOs mentioned the very specific political objective of protecting the rights of indigenous groups, such as Baku tribes in the rain forest, to use natural resources. We discuss the role of the NGOs in politics in more detail in chapter 8.

Thirty-one percent of the interviewees said that their NGO worked for the broad goals of environmental protection, sustainability, or sustainable development, and 29 percent mentioned other goals. The most prominent of the other goals—none mentioned by more than two NGOs—were protecting ecosystems other than forests, protecting fisheries, encouraging networking of environmental NGOs, and promoting alternatives to ecologically destructive natural resource use.

African NGOs often combine environmental and other objectives, especially development (see chapter 3), but this pattern is evidently not pronounced in Cameroon. About a fourth of the NGOs also mentioned non-environmental goals, but only fighting poverty was listed by more than two. The others covered a wide range, including community development, women’s issues, combatting HIV/AIDS, and political empowerment and strengthening civil society. The fact that only one NGO mentioned the last illustrates again the relatively apolitical stance adopted by most of the NGOs.

There are clear differences between the goals of the international, Type I Cameroonian, and Type II Cameroonian NGOs. The clearest pattern involves the natural resources management and nature protection goal cluster. With the exception of fighting desertification, international NGOs were most likely, and Type II NGOs least likely, to mention each of these goals, with Type I NGOs occupying the intermediate position.

The differences between the percentages of international and Type II organizations listing these five goals ranged from 20 to 40 percent, with all but one over 30 percent. The emphasis on nature and forest protection is typical of international NGOs (van Koppen and Markham, 2007; Markham, 2011). No international NGOs that emphasize fighting pollution are active in Cameroon,6 a pattern also seen elsewhere in Africa (e.g., Carr, 2001; Gezon, 2006; Rutagarama and Martin, 2006; Brockington and Scholfield, 2010a; but see Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer, 2010, 2013).

The reverse pattern obtained for goals related to environmental education, which were most frequently mentioned by Type II NGOs. The probable explanation for this pattern is that environmental education, at least on the local level, does not require very much money, which makes it appealing to these underresourced organizations. Type II NGOs were also most likely, and international NGOs least likely, to have goals that were an outgrowth of their operating specific projects to improve local environments, such as ecotourism, waste disposal and recycling, sustainable agriculture, and fighting desertification. The reasons for this pattern are unclear; however, the reason may be that it is possible to operate such projects on a rather limited budget and without extensive technical expertise. This pattern is in line with preferences of underfunded NGOs elsewhere in Africa (Michael, 2004; Tukahirwa, Mol, and Oosteveer, 2010).

Rather surprisingly, Type II organizations were also most likely to list fighting pollution as a goal. Two of the five organizations that gave this response were engaged in providing potable water, one was operating a waste disposal and recycling project, and another emphasized environmental education. None of these NGOs also mentioned influencing government policy, which was most likely to be listed by international NGOs and least likely to be mentioned by Type II organizations. Differences in the amount of financial resources available, scale of operations, and susceptibility to pressures or threats from government may account for this difference. Interestingly, however, only Type I organizations stated that they worked to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to use natural resources.

 
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