Balancing local cultural values and donor expectations in institutional practice : A case study of the NGO Light House as an agent of HIV/AIDS prevention in Bangladesh
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This study explores how a local NGO in Bogra, Bangladesh is balancing influences of surrounding, local cultural values and external donor assistance in its HIV/AIDS prevention practice. Having stayed in the country for some time earlier, I returned for my field work in the autumn of 2008. The NGO’s name under study is Light House. Informing my theoretical perspective is the work of A. Giddens, focusing on the tension between tradition and modernity. P. Berger and T. Luckmann’s theory of the social construction of reality has been relevant to understand the way knowledge is established in the interplay between individual and community, presenting a model of interpretation of the Light House reality as continuously constructed between influences from local cultural values and donor expectations. In particular, a discussion of discourses of gender, sexuality and disease, linking it to HIV/AIDS, was vital to capture Light House’s universe of meaning. My methodological approach has been utilizing a combination of ethnographic principles and a case study design, being cautious to reflect on the possible misconstructions following the differences between my own culture of origin and the culture under study. Light House is situated within the local community. This enables the NGO to specify HIV/AIDS preventive actions which both adjusts to and opposes to local cultural values, and it informs Light House to know obstacles from possibilities in its daily strategies. Local cultural values may direct the attention in certain directions and also limit the possibilities of action. Light House receives their funding from external donors. Donors decide what to do and partly how to do it. Donors instruct the NGO of who is regarded as target groups, and influence by emphasizing espoused values in tune with values of the human rights. The donors also exert influence by exercising rather firm control through daily phone calls and frequent requests for management reports, revealing values-in-use which differ from their espoused values. As a conclusion, the two-fold donor influence of human rights- guided espoused values portraying an orientation towards the individual and ‘equality’ on the one hand, and the values-in-use of ‘charity’ and control on the other, dominated Light House to a degree that reduced space for local initiative, long term planning, and locally derived strategies.