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    SWOT Analysis: NGOs as Partners


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 2/2006

    Trade Forum analyses the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of non-governmental organizations as trade development partners.

    NGOs come in many shapes and sizes. Some governments and international agencies are asking: how can their work complement our own?


    • Grass-roots (local) NGOs. They have a long-term presence on the ground and enjoy trust. They have local cultural and political knowledge and awareness of local economic conditions. With fewer operating costs, they can be innovative and flexible. They are committed to poor and marginalized groups.
    • International NGOs can boast a global reputation, are good at networking and can mobilize resources and issue expertise. Their research and advocacy for issues have few political constraints. They are expert at influencing public opinion and policy-makers. They usually have a paid core staff.
    • Business-interest NGOs, whether local or global, possess specialized knowledge about trade issues, markets and contacts in their field.


    • Grass-roots NGOs may have limited issue expertise and resources. They can miss the big picture on some subjects and may not fully understand market forces, making it harder to link with business or government partners. They may not be financially sustainable.
    • International NGOs. Some advocacy NGOs have limited implementation capacity. They may find it hard to see past special interests. They suffer from inconsistent revenue flows from donations. They may appear to have a government/corporate "phobia" and can be accused of "selling out" when they work with these bodies.
    • Business-interest NGOs may have limited experience with poor communities. Some do not reflect the needs of small firms. They may not be sustainable on membership fees alone. They can be single-issue organizations.



    • Grass-roots NGOs can make good partners in export development programmes to bring in local communities, implement some training and encourage participatory development. They can help shift the export focus away from commodities even at the small-producer level. They can contribute their experience in integrating health and education initiatives in development programmes.
    • International NGOs can partner with agencies and governments to mobilize public opinion on trade issues where they have common interests. Their voice and mandate often bring a social dimension that complements the business and data analysis and trade expertise. This can make them effective partners for trade programmes that address broader issues such as the environment, women, technology and others.
    • Business-interest NGOs can contribute sector-specific expertise to help producers add value, improve quality and find new export markets. They can act as clearing-houses for trade information.


     Isolated efforts may have the wrong focus  or a weak impact. Trade development authorities not working in partnership with NGOs could mean:

    • Grass-roots NGOs may set up unsustainable initiatives without linking to wider trade development solutions. There are fewer chances to connect poor people with export opportunities.
    • International NGOs can define the dialogue and public understanding of trade issues without the voice and experience of trade agencies. They may miss promising prospects for trade development because of their focus on the marginalized. They may, for example, focus on micro-producers, overlooking small and medium-sized enterprises.
    • Business-interest NGOs may lobby against one another with policy-makers, unless there are opportunities for dialogue, leading to common positions on major trade challenges.

    Contributors: Brian Towe, Peter Hulm.