The Promise and Peril of Working with Governments: A Global Gather/Chicago Peace Fellows’ Roundtable

Last month, Jamal Alkirnawi and Lo Ivan Castillon led a discussion on March 16 for Global Gather and Chicago Peace Fellows entitled “The Promise and Peril of Working with Governments,” about the challenges and opportunities non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can face when seeking to partner with states, and local officials.

Both members of the inaugural Global Gather cohort from last summer, Jamal Alkirnawi leads New Dawn in the Desert, a Bedouin-Jewish organization in Negev Desert, while Lo Ivan Castillon is based in Cotabato City in the province of Maguindanao in the Philippines. Lo Ivan is a Peace Program Officer in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.

At the outset of the conversation, space was created for attendees from around the world to share updates and personal feelings about the emerging, world-wide COVID-19 pandemic and its impact in their respective communities. Many were still adjusting to government-sanctioned “shelter-in-place” orders and the reality of physically distancing in crowded areas.

Jamal led the conversation with a detailed, highly informed PowerPoint presentation entitled “Head-On with the Governor.” In it, he identified three primary models of NGO engagement with governmental entities: 1) Nonprofits as supplements to government; 2) Nonprofits and government as complements; and, 3) Nonprofits and government as adversaries. While offering concrete, sometimes personal examples of the challenges and downsides of NGO-government relationships, Jamal was careful to highlight the upsides for both sides if certain frameworks principles are adhered. As he noted, NGOs may often be at odds with elected officials and government agencies over resources, influence, strategic approaches to shared challenges, but they don’t have to be. He pointed out what he sees as the “Four C’s” of NGO-Government Relations, including cooperation, complementarity, co-optation, and confrontation, with the first two being the preferred frameworks on which engagement should be built.

As a “Peace Program Officer” in the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Lo Ivan is well equipped to speak from the perspective of governmental agencies’ experience with NGOs. He’s also worked closely with Global Gather Fellow Susana Anyatin on creating access to clean water in the most rural, isolated areas of the Philippines and understand the stresses on community-based efforts.

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