Friend or Patron? Social Relations Across the National NGO–Donor Divide in Ghana

Emmanuel Kumi, James Copestake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)


The article examines the institutions governing relations between grant using national NGOs and grant giving international donors in three regions of Ghana (Upper West, Northern and Greater Accra Region). Formal procedural rules and professional norms can be viewed as necessary to minimise opportunities for informal patronage, rent-seeking and corruption made possible by the unequal access to resources. However, semi-structured interviews, life histories and observation highlight the positive role informal networks, connections, personal contacts and friendship play in enhancing collaboration between donors and national NGOs. Friendships originating in kinship and ethnicity, school links and past collaboration offer opportunities for influencing and resource mobilisation, but can also weaken NGO sustainability. Informal contacts and face-to-face interactions also build trust and strengthen lines of accountability, with non-adherence to shared norms resulting in sanctions and reputation loss. These findings affirm the positive role of informal relations, and highlight how they can complement formal rules and professional norms governing NGO–donor relations rather than undermining them. It throws a very different light on the role of informal institutions than that fostered by a discourse of clientelism and provides a more nuanced conceptual foundation for assessing ‘formalisation’ as a normative strategy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343–366
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of Development Research
Issue number1
Early online date5 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2022


  • Donor–NGO relations
  • Formalisation
  • Ghana
  • Informal accountability
  • Informal networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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