Radio — The perils of NGOization for Canadian social movements


On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, organizer and author Dru Oja Jay talks about how the pressures to address important issues via funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be a barrier to the kinds of organizing and collective empowerment that will be necessary to truly address those issues.

Over the last few decades, NGOs have come to hold a pretty central place in many of our efforts to respond to important social issues. From international issues to the environment, from poverty to violence against women, a huge proportion of the work that attempts to respond to these massive problems comes from NGOs. Some meet needs directly. Some do research and public education and advocacy and policy development. Some do a mix of all of these things. Sounds good, right?

Today’s guest argues that maybe that isn’t such a good thing. Jay recently published a piece (building on his many years of organizing as well as past writing) arguing that for all of the good work that people in NGOs do, the predominance of NGOs in how we respond to these incredibly crucial issues has ended up depoliticizing a significant proportion of activism that happens in Canada, and drastically limiting our ability to build, or even to imagine, the kinds of movements and organizations that might actually be able to get at the roots of these problems. For all of the breadth of their activities and diversity of their organizational cultures, Jay points out that what NGOs have in common is that they depend on the government or on foundations for funding, and that severely limits the kinds of questions they can raise and the kinds of actions they can take, and exerts profound pressures against building efforts for change that are democratic, participatory, and focused on mobilizing ordinary people. Jay talks about his own experiences as an organizer as well as research he has done as a writer, about the ways in which NGOs (for all of the good work that happens in some) limit and co-opt our attempts to create social change, and about how we can start addressing that crucial barrier to creating the movements that we and the planet so urgently need.

To read the article that inspired this conversation, go here.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show in general, visit the recently revamped website here. You can learn about suggesting topics for future shows here.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Sudbury, Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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