Accepted paper:

NGOs in South Asia: surviving in challenging civic spaces


Patrick Kilby (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper will look at the development and current regulatory situation of NGOs in each of the four major countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka), in the context of a closing civic space in the face of hostile governments.

Paper long abstract:

NGOs in South Asia are as diverse as the countries of the region and covers not for profit entities ranging from large educational institutions to small grassroots NGOs. They have in common a community purpose based on values shared by their governing members and supporters, rather than a profit motive, or being a part of government (Lissner 1977; Kilby 2011). I will mainly focus on local NGOs in South Asia, which are values based, and dedicated to the social development of their communities. This still includes a vast spectrum of NGOs ranging from those that are more activist and built around social movements for transformational change across communities; or have a strong religious base for their values, and seek to see these values adopted more broadly. This naturally leads to values conflict, and while NGOs seldom attack each other directly, they often seek support government or other patrons to limit the reach of those NGOs that do not share their values. This paper will focus on local NGOs in the four countries of South Asia: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and the challenges they face from hostile more authoritarian governments, which are increasingly supporting more religious based populist NGOs to support the government agenda of opposition to the liberal and human rights values of secular NGOs. At the same time government is using its regulatory power to limit these secular NGOs. The paper will conclude with some reflections on how NGOs can respond to these pressures.

panel G2
What does changing civic space mean for development?