Toward A Sound Non-Governmental Practice of the Civil Society in Jordan

Many Non-Profit civil action entities in Jordan are endorsed by official institutions –mostly governmental and Royal offices as well as agencies on behalf of foreign funds and committees, and are funded by them. Independent organisations on the other hand remain ineffective, and are scarcely funded. And as voices rise against corruption, the operational and societal role of those organisations officially funded and their integrity publicly being questioned by the people, the true potential of local and autonomous NGOs remains codified and extremely limited to their insufficient funding, on the probable expense of image and professional integrity.

In this discourse, the principal avenues by which governments can influence the operational environment for NGOs are[1]:

  1. Nature and quality of governance (pluralism, accountability, etc.).
  2. The legal framework (registration, reporting requirements, etc.).
  3. Taxation policies (on imported goods, local philanthropy, etc.).
  4. Collaboration with NGOs (when? sector? nature of partnership?).
  5. Public consultation and information (policy impact of NGOs).
  6. Coordination (role for governments in coordinating NGO activities).
  7. Official support (government funding, official contracts).

However, Civil Sector of the Non-Profit is not merely the voluntary sector; by far. According to the UK Civil Society Almanac, activities and organisations that inhabit the space between the state, businesses and individuals –Few if any, are sometimes referred to as the third sector, or the voluntary and community sector, or the NGO sector, or the nonprofit sector. [2]

And like all organisations, non-profit organisations vary much in terms of mission, size, mode of operation and impact, particularly in a cross-national sense. Some are closer to the model of a government agency; others may indeed resemble the business firm; and yet others may be little more than an informal network. These variations notwithstanding, however, there is an emerging consensus among researchers in the field that non-profit organisations have the following core characteristics (Salamon and Anheier, 1997): [3]

  • Organised, i.e. possessing some institutional reality, which separates the organisation from informal entities such as families, gatherings or movements;
  • Private, i.e., institutionally separate from government, which sets the entity apart from the public sector;
  • Non-profit-distributing, i.e., not returning any profits generated to owners or equivalents, which distinguishes non-profits from businesses;
  • Self-governing, i.e., equipped to control their own activities which identifies those that are de jure units of other organisations;
  • Voluntary, i.e., being non-compulsory in nature and with some degree of voluntary input in either the agency’s activities or management.

Those are the main characteristics of the civil sector. Why this particular sector is important is a different story.

According to the global NGOs Associated With The United Nations Forum, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organised on a local, national or international level. Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organised around specific issues, such as human rights, environment or health. They provide analysis and expertise, and serve as early warning mechanisms and help monitor and implement international agreements. They are in this regard perhaps some of the most vital components of any society.

Consequently, NGO types can be understood by their orientations or societal role as well as their level of operation. In this discourse, the’re classified according to their orientation (societal role) as:[4]

  • Charitable (Orientation) often involves a top-down paternalistic effort with little participation by the “beneficiaries”. It includes NGOs with activities directed toward meeting the needs of the poor.
  • Service (Orientation) includes NGOs with activities such as the provision of health, family planning or education services in which the programme is designed by the NGO and people are expected to participate in its implementation and in receiving the service.
  • Participatory (Orientation) is characterized by self-help projects where local people are involved particularly in the implementation of a project by contributing cash, tools, land, materials, labour etc. In the classical community development project, participation begins with the need definition and continues into the planning and implementation stages.
  • Empowering (Orientation) aims to help poor people develop a clearer understanding of the social, political and economic factors affecting their lives, and to strengthen their awareness of their own potential power to control their lives. There is maximum involvement of the beneficiaries with NGOs acting as facilitators.

Today, Not-For-Profit and NGO Foundations face a variety of challenges ranging from lack of funding to political interference, especially those that engage in Empowering the public. That being perhaps one of the most important roles any societal organisation or sector takes on; effective action is becoming more and more bound to donation and grants, as more and more restrains are placed and enforced unto the non-profit. Especially the type engaged in empowering. Which calls upon organisations to self-sustain.

To pull through however, In a competitive business environment, with shrinking support from both government contracts and private donors, and with society’s increasing need for its services, the non-profit must embrace the best practices of the commercial, for-profit world in order to survive[5]. But can it?

In Jordan –particularly, and the Arab East as well as in other places around the world, many plausible civil society initiatives have either failed or lost their “soul”. In many instances the integrity of NGO’s and other non-profits have been repeatedly compromised and exploited. Some were pressured by local authorities, others by foreign ones, and many were bought off. In fact, many have been found suspiciously funded.

In 2006, the Ministry of Social development dissolved the Board of Directors of the Islamic Centre Association, as a number of them were faced by corruption charges in order of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit. Some say this move was made in an attempt to liquidate the Centre for political reasons[6]. This particular Islamic centre remains one of the Country’s largest charity and non-profit bodies, despite of their ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Moreover, in 2014, another domestic NGO in the field of scientific culture and educational research was denied funding for unclear reasons. Along the same year, another political culture society was also denied funding for the launch of their semi-monthly magazine print; they now operate a ‘webzine’ under the name The reasons speculated as to why they were not given the fund to launch their print-press vary. The most prominent thought though is due to the Society’s “lefty” position in the domestic political spectrum.

If the allegations charged to the Islamic Centre’s Board members are valid, it would then be safe to say that “business practices the nonprofit embraces to assure its survival threaten to undermine its culture, mission, and public image; in an effort to save its bottom line, the modern nonprofit risks losing its soul”[7].

In a socio-political atmosphere like that of Jordan and various places elsewhere, how can NGOs —particularly domestic ones, attain their goals whilst maintaining their integrity and autonomy from state direction as well as the private sector without funding? Can there be devised an organisational utility that would allow Non-Profit Organisations to remain afloat and successfully fund their operations through small-business portfolio investments?

Can the Non-Profit then adopt or adapt certain business practices to maximise their attainment of goals within their scarce and limited capacities? Can their processes and structures be optimised for best possible practices?

On another note: How can the Civil or Third Sector break free from the ties, interventions, influences, and restrains of the state and the private sector, In order to attain their social goals successfully and maintain their integrity?


References and Sources:

[1] The State and the Voluntary Sector. Clark, John. (1993).

[2] See: The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society. Edwards (2011),

[3] Managing non-profit organisations: Towards a new approach. Anheier. (2000).

[4] Lawry (2009), Guide to Nongovernmental Organizations for the Military. pp. 29–30.

[5] The Nonprofit Paradox: For-Profit Business Models in the Third Sector, Landsberg Bill E. (2004).

[6] [Article]: …Islamic Centre. <Addustoor Newspaper>, Hilmi Al-Asmar (Jan.5, 2012).

[7] Landsberd,The Nonprofit Paradox, (2004).

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