To be or not to be a campaigning organisation: the case of ActionAid International
Paper short abstract:
Can a service-delivery and sponsorship-born NGO become a campaigning organisation? The short answer is 'yes, but…'. The international NGO ActionAid has made bold steps towards gaining a campaigning voice but it does so on a tightrope between what the NGO seeks to be and what it still is.
Paper long abstract:
Can a service-delivery and sponsorship-born NGO become a campaigning organisation? Born in 1972, the international NGO ActionAid not only introduced policy and advocacy in the nineties like other NGO peers, but it also made bold steps towards gaining a campaigning voice in the past decade. However, findings point to a 'yes, but…' answer. An NGO like ActionAid can make steps towards becoming a campaigning organisation but it does so on a tightrope between opportunities and contradictions, between what the NGO seeks to be and what it still is. Drawing on concepts from social movement theory such as repertoires and mobilising structures, I explore the changes that the NGO made to become a campaigning organisation - from a radical shift towards campaigning in its global strategy, to developing an international network of 'Activistas', to creating militant slogans and actions, and increasing campaigning resources and staff posts. Shifts that were made in a context of campaigning restrictions in the charity sector and an organigram that is still predominantly programmes-oriented. A tense opportunity observed was the different campaigning paths that the NGO could offer to its supporters - those who seldom campaigned accessed campaigns gradually through traditional structures of sponsorship and service-delivery programmes while more politically tuned supporters did so through direct campaign recruitment. While non-campaign elements such as sponsorship and service-delivery programmes sometimes restricted campaigning, these also served as unconventional ways to mobilise unusual activists. Overall, social movement theory proves to be a useful vocabulary to study NGO political progression.
Unravelling, unfolding and unsettling NGOs' work, role and methodologies