Cutting-Edge Development Issues for INGOs: Applications of an Asset Accumulation Approach

Caroline Moser, James Pickett, and Pamela Sparr


What analytical frameworks and operational strategies do international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) use to address poverty in developing countries? Which strategies work best? What are the cutting-edge issues on poverty reduction in development practice and thinking? Are INGOs willing to collaborate in new ways to handle their work in a dramatically changed operating environment?

These were among the questions explored by 40 senior staff members from the headquarters, field offices, and partners of 22 U.S. and U.K. INGOs at a workshop in Washington, D.C. May 30–31, 2007. The workshop, “Toward a New Poverty and Development Agenda: Contributions of the INGO Community,” sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Ford Foundation, was organized by Caroline Moser, Senior Fellow in the Brookings Global Economy and Development Program. The event was designed to discuss findings of a research study of the practices of 22 INGOs (box 1) and to examine the usefulness of Moser’s new asset accumulation analytical framework for INGO operating strategies. The workshop was a follow-up to an earlier meeting held at Brookings in 2006 to review and debate the asset accumulation framework and identify its applicability in different development settings (Moser 2006, 2007).

An asset accumulation policy is a new approach to poverty reduction. It focuses directly on creating opportunities for the poor to acquire, keep, and pass on wealth to the next generation. This approach complements other poverty-focused strategies developed over the past decade, particularly sustainable livelihoods and social protection (table 1). Just as poverty reduction strategies are changing, so too is the situation in which INGOs operate. Among the major contextual shifts are the emergence of new donors and funding strategies, a mounting insistence on proof of aid results among donors, an increasingly unpredictable operating environment due to climate change and sociopolitical developments, and a rebalancing of power relations among INGOs in the North and South.

To encourage a wide-ranging dialog about operations in this fluid context, representatives were invited from organizations spanning a broad continuum of INGOs— from relief through development to conservation organizations. The participants came from 13 countries (see appendix). The workshop structure and content took shape during consultations between Pamela Sparr and staff from 21 INGOs. All the INGOs were eager for a chance to get together with colleagues to talk about the complexities of their daily “antipoverty” work, encompassing advocacy and practical implementation. Some of the more innovative ideas explored at the workshop pushed everyone’s thinking about the connections between assets and human rights and the convergence of environmental and development concerns.

This Asset Debate Paper presents highlights from plenary presentations and conversations in small, breakout groups. It is not meant to be a comprehensive review of every issue discussed.

To promote debate, conversation was considered confidential. Therefore, comments and presentations during the event are synthesized without attribution. Quotations are included to illustrate the flavor of the discussion and underscore certain points. In a few instances, acknowledging particular intellectual contributions was considered necessary. Material attributed to specific individuals and institutions was reviewed and approved by them.