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The Importance of Small CSOs

Small social-profit and voluntary organisations -- which we refer to here as Civil Society Organisations or CSOs -- are being increasingly ignored by government agencies and squeezed by the big development organisations.

Does this matter? We think it does, because small CSOs bring variety and diversity to public life and help make the world a richer, fairer, safer and more compassionate place to live.

CSOs are important guardians of social values and humanitarian principles.

The photo to the right is of the chairman of the local beekeepers association in Kukes, Albania proudly showing off his honeycomb at a Farmers' Market. The event was organised by a small NGO, the Rural Associations Support Programme (RASP) in Tirana as part of a major mountain area development project managed by one of our UK partners, the Transrural Trust in Whitney.

Vital Role

Small CSOs play a vital role in society by informing and empowering local people and helping build local capacity (social capital):

  • they encourage wider participation in community activity and local decision-making;
  • they champion causes and voice local concerns; and in the process
  • they help raise awareness of contemporary social and environmental issues.
  • Their members are usually personally involved with local communities and understand their problems, and they are known to and respected by them.
  • But small CSOs face major challenges that too often divert and consume their efforts and severely limit their potential to bring about social change. Groups live with insecurity because they lack financial reserves and core funding, and the competition for grants is getting ever more intense*. The principal -- often the only -- source of funds is foreign governments, private trusts and large international CSOs**.
  • Groups struggle to maintain their offices and build their teams, with key staff often poached by larger organisations. They have to deal with ignorance from officials, mindless bureaucracy and petty corruption, sometimes combined with physical insecurity and even political intimidation. Many civil servants and politicians see CSOs as undemocratic, unprofessional and interfering (regrettably, some are); and the broader public does not understand what CSOs do and all too often questions their motives. (When you struggle to survive there is no time to volunteer for good causes.)

A Different Approach

The approach adopted by small groups is very different from that of large CSOs which are more like big business. They have well-equipped offices in the capital cities and big towns and a relatively secure source of income. However large CSOs often lack local knowledge, and their approach can appear cold and bureaucratic, even mercenary. They live in a different world from those they seek to help. We donít apply this epithet to all groups by any means, but there is something about having relatively well-paid executives, secure jobs, tiers of management, a stable financial base, and all too often cosy arrangements with major donors, that can make large organisations inefficient, clumsy and inflexible, and slow to respond to grassroots concerns. A significant compensating factor is that large organisations are more stable and they have the resources to work in a more strategic way.

Powerful Information has from the start championed the small CSO. We understand their problems from personal experience. If we lose small CSOs, society as a whole will be all the poorer. This is why we will continue to fight for them and do what we can to support their vital work in the community.

If you would like to support our work, please press here for more information.


* Arguably, a little insecurity is a good thing: it makes groups lean and hungry. But too much is debilitating.

** There is no tradition of the public giving to good causes in most low income countries.