Imposition vs. Partnership: How to Do Harm in Project Cooperation


Walid Salem – TRANSCEND Media Service

If you are a donor, you decide the guidelines and the priorities of support unilaterally, and impose them on the donated. This is a neo-colonial way of controlling and dominating, practiced in opposition to the different international documents about the efficiency of funding, parity in decision making in the projects, and its meeting with peoples’ needs and priorities. These documents include for instance  “Rome High Level Forum Resolutions” of 2002, Paris ones in 2005, Accra Plan of 2008, and Buzan Declaration of 2011( See details in: Hadeel  Reziq- Al Qazzaz, 2016, pp.32-37).

If you are a big Development, or Peace organization, you do the same regarding the guidelines and the priorities. You prepare contracts texts ( and proposals texts) unilaterally without consultation with the potential partners,  impose them on them as donated, then they have to sign them  in good faith, and to accept to comply and to be followed strictly and closely by you as you will play the role of preventing any deviation by the donated from the contract text. The result will be: Self Appointment for Control, control and control! This is not more than another aspect of neo-colonialism with a lot of harm included accordingly.

I published three articles on these issues last October- November 2017 here , but discovered later that as much as you present critical ideas, as much as the donors and the big Western NGO’s become more stubborn, and resistant. Presenting independent and critical ideas will not be accepted, and repeatedly attempts will be made to bring you back to compliance and order.

The question that I kept asking myself about this is: Why? And how this phenomenon of control can be explicated?

Without repeating the analysis presented in my previous three articles, here are some further thoughts on the question above developed lately.

The Grants include two parties: The donor and the donated. The Grantee and the recipient. Then there is the complexity that the recipients are not all the same, but there is a hierarchy among them. The latter play a role of making the stronger organizations on the recipients hierarchy like the agents for observing and controlling the compliance of the weaker and lower ones to the donors guidelines and regulations.  The result is a big rift within the so called international civil society, between those who are operating in the center and those who operates in the periphery of our world.

The question is why the NGO’s of the Center accept such a role/s of control and bringing others to compliance.

There is here what I call as” The net of the neo-colonial control”, with the distribution of tasks between the donors and the big NGO’s of the Center. It should be noticed here that the definitions of neo-colonialism tend to concentrate on the economic aspects of the relationship between the states in the Center, and the others that are in the semi-periphery or the periphery according to the trilateral division of the world by Wallerstein. This focus ignores the other methods of imposing neo-colonialism through the preservation of the control of the NGO’s in the Center over those that are in the periphery.

The NGO’s in the Center “volunteers” to impose the donors’ agenda for different interests. The highest  among these that is relevant here is what Habermas called as the technical interest, interpreted in part as financial, on the basis of the believe that the only way to keep the organization operating is by keeping writing proposals, then abiding with the donors agenda and imposing it with the “partners” worldwide. What follows according to this technical approach is a depoliticized, ahistorical, and so called” Non-partisan” approaches,  that are disconnected from the world reality, but ( and this is what makes it more complicated) seeking at the same time to make  social engineering according to pre-prepared set of concepts  that are constructed  without any consultation about their relevance with the partners. If one will come to discuss and question these pre- designed concepts, the response will be that the technocrats of the Center will feel first uncomfortable, and then they will act to “teach” the person who is discussing in order to bring him/her back to the compliance with the prevailing jargon.

What yet, add other complexity to this picture are other sets of procedures used, one of these is the so called “partnership” presented as a camouflage due to the fact that at the end everybody has to abide with the donors regulations. Further than that partnership is presented as a “partnership in a project” that ends with the end of the project, without any strategic long term relation. In such model of partnership one has not to ask for the presence of some ethics and values as part of the partnership such as commitment, volunteerism, sympathy empathy and solidarity. No place for such concepts in a micro- partial technically driven projects run according to guidelines without any passion that aims to develop the human togetherness. Further than that these kinds of partnerships stops with the end of the agreed upon project without a continuation or long term relations. All that despite the Golden advice made by the Conflict transformation experts that any project to give results will need at least 15 years to do so as Paul Ledarech suggested.

Other procedure is what I call “The technical approach to do no harm”. In the essence of that approach as developed by Mary Anderson it will partly require (partnership wise) developing the themes( that meets the real life needs)  together, and have a real participatory process, combined with agreed upon ethics and values, and a process of reciprocal financial and activities reporting, solidarity, and putting oneself in the “ shoe of the other”. It will also require changes according to what is taking place in the ground, and a democratic process of management were the leading organization will be subject to periodical change  according to elections by the partners. This to be as opposite to the traditional prevailing method of having the organization that got the funds as the leader of the project.

A third component that adds to the complexity is that the Center NGO’s are diverse. While there are a majority among them who volunteers to follow the donor agencies policies and guidelines, there are others who present themselves at different levels of independence, due to ideological or operational considerations. Yet many of those who are independent might not be really so, mainly if they start to be nested within the bigger framework of the donor-recipient structure. This point is important due to its influence on the NGO’s in the periphery. The lesson learned here is that the organizations in the periphery should be able to be selective in regard to the organizations that they cooperate with in the Center.  This means that ethics and values should be the leading concepts with those organizations that are in the Center regardless of the financial loss that might happen when one rejects to cooperate with organizations that do not meet with one’s ethics and values.

The other part of the answer of the question of why the Center organizations behave in that way, is related to the fact that the needy organizations in the periphery finds themselves due to their needs nested in “ partnership” that requires compliance. What follows is that they comply in order to keep the funding going on in one hand, and to insure that the project will be renewed with them if it will get a further funding from the donors.

This behavior of the donated helps in the creation of a non- democratic structure of compliance, controller- controlled, technically run projects, were also the center NGO’s will compete with the periphery ones on the funding that originally allocated for the latter, and this to be followed by all the control procedures that we know, combined by the language of “ capacity building” by the Center NGO’s to the periphery ones upon the assumption that they there always needs our assistance to build their capacity. A Euro- Centric, neo-colonial approach.

This structure with the dynamics included is thus deeply seated. A way out for breaking this cycle begins only by that the NGO’s of the periphery understands the abovementioned restrictions imposed on them by this nest of relations, and then to break and revolt against many of the dominating NGO’s in the Center. When joining projects with other organizations in the center, the periphery organizations will be also in a need for creating mechanisms of continuous struggle for self protection, and for continuous change of the balance of power towards more parity.

A wide process of dialogue in the periphery will be required in order to move in this emancipatory direction in the path for liberation.


Dr. Walid Salem is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment. He was born in East Jerusalem in 1957 and teaches democracy and human rights at AlQuds University. He is a writer of thirty books and training manuals, and tens of research papers on Democracy, civil society, citizenship, refugees, and Jerusalem. He is also a consultant, evaluator, and trainer for several public and private bodies. Salem trained more than thirty thousand Palestinians on these issues since 1990, and, since 1993, he is the Director of The Centre for Democracy and Community Development, East Jerusalem. He is the Coordinator of Middle East Citizen Assembly as regional network of experts and activists on citizenship issues that include participants from 19 countries from the region since 2004. He has lectured at several international conferences and seminars about democracy, Jerusalem, refugees, and development in Palestine.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 9 Jul 2018.

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