Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity (Academic Panel)

At a time where globalisation seems to be ‘in reverse’, populist movements worldwide call for ‘own people first’ and international cooperation (and certainly development aid) is under increasing political and budget pressure, there are tens of thousands small scale initiatives set up by ordinary citizens that essentially challenge this move away from a shared responsibility based on the equality of human beings worldwide. These initiatives come under different names (ranging from MONGOs [My Own NGO] to Private Initiatives and from small organisations to micro projects) but in essence refer to philanthropic, private, society-based international solidarity initiatives, charities or foundations formed by citizens who, on their own or together with a small group, voluntarily raise funds and implement or support development interventions in developing countries. Here we refer to this group as Citizen Initiatives for Global Solidarity (CIs).

As agents/development workers, CIs at the same time challenge the idea that citizens are principally important for international cooperation in terms of beneficiaries (citizens as recipients), public support (citizens as supporters), or (financial) support for the work of development agencies (citizens as donors). This panel starts from the idea that the rather passive view of citizens as recipients, supporters and/or donors is old fashioned and insufficiently recognises the important (if not central) role that citizens (can) play in development. Focusing on the global North, many citizens look for more active ways of engagement with development issues. Apart from volunteering abroad, migrants who support people in their home countries and the special place that celebrities play in development, some of them turn this desire for engagements into ‘aid organisations’.
As such, these citizen initiatives are at the same time part of the field of international development cooperation and an important addition to that field. As a part, they distinguish themselves by their voluntary character and small scale (i.e., in budget and number of staff) while, as with all actors, they bring in their own money, an often different vocabulary, and perhaps other approaches and ways of doing development.As addition, they invalidate the old idea that working on development in the South is the prerogative of governments in the North, intergovernmental organisations such as the World Bank and the UN system, and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) such as Oxfam International and World Vision. And they show that the search of new actors – or unusual suspects – cannot stop with adding the BRICS, foundations, migrants, volunteers, and celebrities to the equation. All this begs the question how they relate to other players in this field.
This panel thus calls for papers dealing with the active way in which citizens are involved in the field of development (cooperation) and humanitarian work. While emphasising CIs, the call is open for other manifestations of citizen action in development. Central questions guiding our call are:
1. In what way do these citizen actions differ from other actors in the field of development cooperation?
2. What drives the start of these citizen initiatives and how can their activities be characterised (e.g., size, sectors, countries, etc.)?
3. What is the nature (if any) of the cooperation between the action of citizens and more ‘traditional’ (bilateral, multilateral and civilateral) actors in development cooperation?
4. What is the relationship between citizen initiatives and public support for development cooperation (e.g., are they trusted more than ‘traditional’ actors, what is their support base)?
5. How are these CIs shaping images, communication and representation of development and beneficaries?
6. How do they act as agents of development and how effective are development interventions of these citizen initiatives?



Dr. Lau Schulpen – CIDIN, Radboud University Nijmegen
Dr. Hanne Haaland – Department for Global Development and Planning, University of Agder
Dr. Huib Huyse – HIVA, University Leuven