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Movement versus organization / Creation and development of a Flemish development-NGO: Oxfam Wereldwinkels*, 1971-2000

Jan VAN DE POEL student laureate

°1983 Belgium
Licentiate in Modern History, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, 2005

Beweging versus organisatie/Ontstaan en ontwikkeling van een Vlaamse ontwikkelings-NGO: Oxfam-Wereldwinkels, 1971-2000

In the 1960s an increasing awareness of and indignation about distorted North-South relationships led to the creation of many Belgian NGOs. Their presence generated a solidarity with the South and through the years also influenced increasingly prosperous populations and their policy makers. Nowadays, working out development programmes without the involvement of the mid-ground of civil society would be unthinkable. In Flanders support for development cooperation has also greatly increased in the last ten years. There is a trend towards an increasing communalization of actions connected with poverty reduction, fair trade, social economy, etc. Many individuals, companies, trade unions, farmers’ organizations, sports clubs and so on have their own project, own model and own action with vulnerable groups in the South and/or North. As regards development cooperation they are often called the fourth pillar of development cooperation. This increase of actors and types of action raises many questions, not a few of them organizational.
By means of a historical and sociological analysis of the organization of the biggest Flemish development NGO – Oxfam Wereldwinkels – the author exposes pitfalls that NGOs and other actors may encounter in their development work.
The historical approach, grafted onto the more current sociological approaches of social organizations, allows the work to reach new insights. The author shows that an organizational form is never accidental and is always a result of choices from both the past and present. Volunteers are the driving forces, the ‘resources’ behind the social organizations that are the supports for the social movements. The involvement of volunteers and the organizing of these ‘resources’ into a workable organization, without losing the individual character of the movement, are of capital importance. This work also negates the suggestion that NGOs invariably deteriorate into money machines concerned principally with their own continued existence. It shows that an organized movement has the keys to its organizational development in its own hands. From this specific study of Oxfam Wereldwinkels lessons can be drawn for other NGOs and for the recently created new development actors.

*Wereldwinkels: Dutch denomination of the Fairtrade shops

Report: Dr J. Stessens, Higher Institute of Labour Studies, Sector Sustainable Development, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium