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The NGO Ultimatum

Acclaimed Activist Launches New Book on ‘NGOization’ at Concordia’s Co-op Bookstore

Activists and politicians alike have fiercely debated how to properly define and classify non-governmental organizations ever since the United Nations became the first organization coined as an NGO in 1945.

The bigger question is whether NGOs have achieved what they’ve intended—everything from providing humanitarian aid to advocating for human rights.

A new book, NGOization: Complicity, Contradictions and Prospects, is trying its hand at both.

The book explores the different roles, forms and political, economic, social and cultural impacts of NGOs, and will be launched on Oct. 9 at the Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore. The launch is part of the not-for-profit bookstore’s 11th anniversary.

Aziz Choudry, co-editor of the book, will be discussing the impact non-governmental organizations have on struggles for social and environmental justice at the book’s launch alongside Tamara Vukov, one of the book’s contributors.

“There are many kinds of NGOs out there,” says Choudry, an assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Integrated Studies in Education. “The book is about pulling together a bunch of critical perspectives on NGOs from a number of different countries.”

Vukov, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the Université de Montréal, has been engaged in social justice activism and alternative media for more than 15 years, and is one of the 11 contributors who helped write the book.

The other 10, including Choudry, are a mix of professors, researchers, activists and authors as well as NGO workers from all over the world including Canada, the Philippines, India and South Africa—each providing diverse perspectives and critical analyses on the issues surrounding non-governmental organizations.

Choudry himself has more than 25 years of experience as a political, social and environmental activist.

“While some chapters do discuss examples of particular NGOs in particular contexts, the book is framed more broadly, focusing on the processes of ‘NGOization,’” said Choudry.

“We argue that NGOs—and the systems of governance on which they rely, and in turn, which they foster—have frequently undermined local and international movements for social change and environmental justice, often in complicity with state and private sector interests.

“So while acknowledging the variety in NGO forms and contexts, this book argues that in order to effectively work for social justice, we must learn from grounded critical analyses of NGOization,” Choudry added.

Choudry co-edited the book alongside Dip Kapoor, a professor of international education in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta.

The pair also co-edited another book in 2010 called Learning from the Ground Up: Global Perspectives on Social Movements and Knowledge Production which, like NGOization, covered themes of social activism and power structures around the world. The Concordia co-op bookstore held a launch for that book as well last April.

A Measure of Pros and Cons

Choudry says one of the big messages of the book is that “we can’t think about non-governmental organizations as being somehow separate from the state, the market and the society.”

“They are not just sort of things that kind of float around doing good—all organizations and all action is inherently [in some] sort of political process,” Choudry said.

But that’s not all the book is about. Choudry suggests NGOization to readers who are interested in development studies, sociology, education and social movements.

He also suggests it to “people who are interested in particular dynamics of regions,” as NGOs’ effects often ripple through communities and on larger scales.

“I think that the book itself, being written by a wide range of contributors, could appeal to a broad spectrum of interests,” says Larissa Dutil, the co-op bookstore’s programming and outreach coordinator.

“As NGOs serve a plethora of special interests within social justice struggles, the discussion that will follow the initial presentation is sure to be enriched by a varied attendance and input from attendees.”

The book launch will feature a Q&A led by Choudry and Vukov, a part of the event Dutil is particularly looking forward to.

“This is often when those presenting get more spirited and their obvious passion for the work they’re doing shines bright,” she said.

“Whether you come to the event with questions at the ready, or if you’d like more elaboration on an issue raised, this is an excellent opportunity to meet and discuss with individuals that are very active—for decades, in Aziz’s case—within social justice struggles and have a lot to say, as well as critique,” Dutil continued.

But as Dutil says, the discussion isn’t one meant to last only as long as the book launch.

“You can walk into this expecting to walk out with a bit more insight, and having had your interest piqued in such a way that discussion continues afterwards,” she says.

The book launch starts at 7 p.m. and the book will be available for purchase throughout the evening. Members of Concordia’s co-op bookstore get a discount on their purchase.

NGOization: Complicity, Contradictions, and Prospects // Oct. 9 // Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore (2150 Bishop St.) // 7 p.m. // Free admission