Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Developing Identities: The Relational Identities of New Zealand NGOs

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posted on 2021-11-12, 15:49 authored by Johnston, Andrew

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are significant institutions within development. Ideally, they represent the voice and aspirations of grassroots communities and they are born of a movement of local communities in the North and South. NGOs, however, are experiencing a crisis of identity. Changing geopolitical paradigms, increasingly critical analysis from the development academy and, in New Zealand especially, significant changes in the funding environment have caused substantial challenges to NGO identity, purpose and legitimacy. This research qualitatively assesses the identity of Northern NGOs (NNGOs) in New Zealand. It explores the elusive identity of these organisations through the focal point of their partnerships. Using narrative analysis in semi-structured interviews with development practitioners from varied organisations, this thesis elucidates the challenges and aspirations of NNGO identity. This thesis analyses these identities through three themes: in the manner in which they communicate their identity to their partners and supporters; in their understanding and enactment of the inherent power imbalances of the North-South dichotomy; and in the forming of relationships in the South that inform their primary functional identity. In response to the changing environment within which they work, NNGO identities are increasingly fragmented, their roles as fundraisers, programme workers and advocates for justice often conflict and inform an identity that is multiple, fluid and complex. Contemporary NNGOs must find legitimacy in their connection to the grassroots in the North and the South, in advocacy, in programming, in fundraising and in fulfilling their in role of translators and mediators of development. The changes to the New Zealand government‘s support of NNGOs have brought a significant challenge to these roles, and the NNGO response to these challenges will be definitive in the years to come. Most importantly, NNGOs are reclaiming their role as the representatives of a transnational movement of people working together to bring equity and justice, and to facilitate development that local communities can understand and control.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Development Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Development Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences


McGregor, Andrew