Diversify or Die? The Response of Ghanaian Non-Governmental Development Organisations (NGDOs) to a Changing Aid Landscape

  • Emmanuel Kumi

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis examines how national non-governmental development organisations (NNGDOs) in Ghana have responded to recent changes and on-going uncertainty in their operating environment, particularly the effects of shifting donor funding priorities, the country’s graduation to lower-middle-income status and a subsequent decline in availability of external funding. It is based primarily on data about NNGDOs operating in the health, education and agriculture sub-sectors in the Northern, Upper West and Greater Accra Regions of the country. While academic research on changing aid landscapes has grown significantly in recent years, there is a gap in knowledge concerning how NNGDOs in countries that have recently graduated into lower-middle-income status respond to their changing environment to ensure their sustainability. This study addresses this gap. It addresses two central research questions, one empirical and the second theoretical. First, what different ideas and strategies have NNGDOs in Ghana developed in response to the changing opportunities and constraints arising from their uncertain external environment? Second, to what extent do resource dependency theory, neo-institutional theory and Oliver’s typology of strategic responses explain NNGDOs’ dependency in Ghana? The thesis is informed by a critical realist ontology, and employs a mixed methods sequential explanatory research design. This involved a preliminary qualitative phase (including ten in-depth interviews), followed by collection and analysis of quantitative data and a further qualitative phase. The quantitative phase drew on survey questionnaires administered to fifty-nine NNGDOs. Thirty-two NNGDOs were then included in follow-up qualitative interviews. In total seventy-two in-depth interviews were conducted with NNGDO leaders, donor representatives and government officials.To assess NNGDO responses, the research draws on and critically assesses resource dependency theory, neo-institutional theory and Oliver’s typology of strategic responses, and derives from them an integrated framework for explaining strategic organisational responses to a changing operating environment. Using this framework, it identifies eight main strategies and nineteen tactics employed by NNGDOs to secure their short-term survival and long-term sustainability. These strategies are: i) Resource diversification; ii) Networking and partnerships; iii) Cost recovery; iv) Branding and visibility; v) Conformance to institutional pressures; vi) Strategic planning; vii) Avoidance; and viii) Influence. This analysis highlights how NNGDOs play an active role in responding to their changing operating environment. Their response is also influenced by the emerging discourse of sustainability. But although donors were at the forefront of the sustainability discourse, their actions did little to enable NNGDOs to reduce their dependency on them. The study further demonstrates that organisational responses are not only shaped by resource and environmental factors, but also organisational characteristics including leadership. The changing operating environment encouraged ingenuity among NNGDOs to be creative and active participants of their environment through initiatives aimed at ensuring their sustainability. The thesis shows that NNGDOs’ dependency does not preclude agency given that their leaders make strategic choices in their operating environment. This study therefore questions and challenges a tendency for the NGDO literature to downplay their agency and room for manoeuvre in a resource-dependent environment.
Date of Award7 Dec 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJames Copestake (Supervisor) & Roy Maconachie (Supervisor)

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