The well-organised good Samaritan


Doing good: The Australian NGO community
By Laurie Zivetz and others
Allen and Unwin, 1991. 288 pp. $24.95 (pb)
Reviewed by Indigo Williams

The Third World needs our assistance. We in Australia are able to contribute through government and non-government aid. But in this day and age, even the good Samaritan would have trouble "doing good". At present, he would have to organise administration, raise funding and then justify his cause.

Fighting poverty, human abuse and Third World complications is no proverbial walk in the park. But whether the motive be university student angst, middle class guilt, solidarity or general concern, Australians want to offer aid. And according to Doing Good they want to assist in a big way. Australian non-government organisations send approximately $90 million in aid annually.

NGOs claim to be the alternative and more effective way to channel support overseas. This is because they can work with regions where, for political reasons, the government may choose not to directly assist. The main areas NGOs concentrate on are the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Central America.

Along with the increase in NGO growth and activities, come myths and scepticism — not surprising considering the financial pull some NGOs have. On the other hand, some are very much in need of funding, and all NGOs set out to give badly needed aid.

To begin with, the book explains the significance of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA). ACFOA is referred to as the "new era" for NGO work. Set up in 1965, it now has approximately 35 full members and 53 associate member organisations.

Doing Good then looks at poverty. It offers such views as that "poverty is caused (or at least made worse) by the exploitation of developing country workers by rapacious transnational corporations". "The control of trade by developed countries" is mentioned as a major contributor to Third World poverty.

The book then discusses how developing countries should be assisted, examining questions such as the appropriateness of the technology we are offering and how much aid should be directed to refugee welfare, health and education, and disaster relief.

Fundraising in a crucial part of NGO effectiveness. Doing Good comments on the internal friction within the NGO community. The cooperation versus competition issue will be interesting to those who cannot decide who to support. The book highlights how the "competition amongst ideas must ... be fought out in the market for donor dollars".

Why do Australians want to assist Third World countries. Good will? It is certainly part of it. But other more pragmatic reasons are also looked into. For example, are we trying to build up trading partners? Or perhaps political allies? If so, is there too much preference in aid to certain regions?

The book then profiles well-known NGOs. It offers a detailed look into their philosophies, histories, staff structures and projects.

Doing Good is a helpful source of information for those readers who wish to have more knowledge than the standard-issue brochures NGOs make available. It covers questions on how effective NGOs are and the appropriate means of aid. It is also a good guide for potential or current donors or volunteers to make their own decisions on how and to what they wish to contribute.