Community Collaborations

Generally, working with a local community involves not just working with the community “in general,” but also collaborations between environmental NGOs and specific groups within the communities where they worked. We asked interviewees whether their NGO worked with any specific nongovernmental groups in the communities where they operated.4 Almost all (92 percent) said that they did. There was no noteworthy difference between Type I and II organizations in this regard. We then asked the interviewees who had said their NGO did work with community groups to identify up to three types of groups with which they most often worked.

Almost half (48 percent) of the interviewees said that their NGO had worked with various types of occupational groups. Farmers, fishermen, and beekeeper associations were, by far, the most often mentioned, but there were also references to harvesters of medicinal plants, hunters, artisans and artists, workers who extracted sand from rivers, and market traders. Most of these contacts centered on projects to promote more environmentally sound farming and fishing practices or to provide employment alternatives to environmentally destructive forest exploitation or use of nature reserves. Forty-eight percent of respondents also reported contacts with women’s groups and associations. Most of these involved cultivating support or conducting environmental education, but there were also a few mentions of working with women’s occupational associations. Over a quarter (27 percent) said they had worked with youth or children’s groups, usually in environmental education, and almost a quarter (24 percent) with village development associations, which are groups of residents or former residents set up to improve the well-being of villages by sponsoring various projects. Twenty-one percent reported working with chiefs and another 6 percent with traditional councils, probably in the hope of gaining legitimation or support. Eighteen percent had worked with various kinds of “common initiative groups,” a legal term for informally organized groups that work on various community projects but do not have full legal status as NGOs. Small numbers of NGOs—less than 10 percent in each case—had also cooperated with schools or universities, churches and church groups, tribal groups or associations, community forest associations or committees, senior citizens groups, and local groups created by the NGO specifically to work with them or involve local residents.

In view of the scant resources available to many of the environmental NGOs, a key question is whether their partner groups in the community are able and willing to provide them with significant support, so we asked our interviewees whether their NGOs received any assistance from their community partners. Seventy-two percent responded that they did. Type II organizations were only very slightly less likely to have received assistance. They might be presumed to be more in need of assistance from community partners; however, they may be less able to acquire the prestige and influence necessary to successfully solicit help.

We followed up by asking the NGOs that reported that they did get some assistance what kind of help they received. The results show that the assistance received, while no doubt often beneficial, was generally of a rather limited nature. Assistance that the partner organizations in the community could supply without significant monetary costs to themselves was the most commonly mentioned, including volunteer labor (mentioned by 61 percent), food or lodging (39 percent), and work space (4 percent). In many cases, this pattern no doubt reflects the limited resources of the community partners, but it may also reflect unwillingness to invest financial resources in the work of the environmental NGOs. In line with the results in chapter 7, only 17 percent of the NGOs reported receiving donations or fees for services from their partner organizations in the community, and only 9 percent mentioned getting materials for their projects.

We next asked about the quality of the environmental NGOs’ relationships with their community partner groups. Although these groups supplied them with only fairly limited help, the NGOs’ relationships with them appear to be generally satisfactory.5 Less than half (41 percent) of the respondents said that they had experienced conflicts with any of their partner organizations. The relatively small number of problems cited mirrored those mentioned in the responses regarding general problems in relationships with communities (see above). The most commonly mentioned, by far, was conflicts with occupational associations or businesses that saw the NGO’s projects or initiatives as threatening their livelihoods. Several interviewees also mentioned problems with becoming involved in internal conflicts of the partner groups or conflicts among partner groups that were competing for help or resources provided by the NGO. Two interviewees also reported suspicion of the environmental NGO’s motives, fees, or requirements.

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