Democratic Functioning in NGOs

Despite the current problems, the democratic functioning in NGOs is much better compared to previous periods. It is stated that the acceleration of recovery has increased with the effect of new generations, especially with the Generation Z.

This analysis, which was prepared within the scope of the Future of Civil Society project, was carried out in order to reveal the democratic functioning level of CSOs, their approaches and solution proposals on this issue. According to the data obtained from the interviews in the qualitative part of the Civil Society Needs and Motivation Research, although the democratic functioning in civil society is relatively better than other fields, civil society actors underline the need for more effective mechanisms in this regard.

The problem of democratic consciousness and functioning in society, politics and the state in Turkey is also reflected in non-governmental organizations and actors. Despite the current problems, the democratic functioning in NGOs is much better today than before, and the acceleration of recovery has increased with the influence of new generations, especially with the Generation Z.

In interviews with civil society actors, complaints about the restriction of freedom of thought and expression in institutions, the vertical hierarchy, the lack of consultation mechanism, the lack of open dialogue channels, the policy and decisions taken by the executive committees, the lack of circulation in managerial positions, and patronage relations come into prominence. It is stated that both among NGOs and in NGOs themselves, there is a serious tendency to protect their own space individually and institutionally, and this situation causes large NGOs to become dominant and superior by preventing the development of small organizations.

The following are the determinations, demands and suggestions regarding the main problem areas that came to the fore in the interviews with civil society actors:

  • Democracy in civil society, although not sufficient, is more advanced than the general population.
  • The closer an NGO gets to the state, the more undemocratic it becomes.
  • There is no circulation and rotation in the governing bodies of NGOs that have great opportunities, great political relations and control large funding sources and budgets. This is seen as an obstacle to democratization, institutionalization, and transparency. In order to overcome this handicap, it is recommended to set some quotas in the selection of the governing bodies and to set a time limit for the managers.
  • The work is not result-oriented, but activity-oriented. Produced projects can turn from a ‘tool’ into a ‘purpose’. This can cause the real purpose to be missed. Realizing a project and doing that activity can lead to the misconception that the problem has been solved.
  • For the horizontal hierarchy in NGOs, the circle model is suggested, in which it is not clear who is ahead.
  • Rather than NGOs having an opinion, it is important that they can discuss ideas without turning them into violence and exclusion.
  • It is argued that NGOs should invite and listen to people who do not think like them, try to understand and be open to learning from them.
  • Although the decision mechanisms in some NGOs are open to polyphony and multiculturalism, it is determined that the mentality is far from democracy. It is stated that what is expected from a democratic structure is not to tolerate differences, but to try to understand them, to be open to transformation through that difference, to be able to go beyond its own agenda.
  • There are problems in issues such as open communication, transparency, accountability, access to all data. In organizations using EU funds, these problems seem to be minimized thanks to strict control.
  • It is recommended to establish a governance mechanism, develop policy documents, be read and understood these policy documents by the members and volunteers of the non-governmental organization.
  • It is argued that with the inclusion of the Generation Z in the processes, in-house democracy will develop because this generation does not like the hierarchical structure. Generation Z is a generation that sees the problem but wants to be a part of the solution and has a mentality that wants to see itself in the decision-making mechanism rather than following the instructions.
  • Compared to other organizations, the opinion that feminist organizations open more space for each other, share their knowledge and experiences, and therefore have a higher democratic consciousness comes to the fore.

As a result, the following points come into prominence:

  • Non-governmental individuals and organizations that claim to defend rights, build a democratic society, and owe their existence to democratic values need to internalize these values more.
  • The weakness of institutionalization in NGOs brings the lack of democracy.
  • Concepts such as teamwork, decision making, transparency and accountability need to be internalized, NGOs need to be trained on these issues and set rules for self-management.
  • Transforming consensus-based horizontal decision-making processes into a culture will encourage the participation of especially young people in civil society activities. It will increase efficiency in the decision-making, execution, and supervision stages of organizations.

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