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Moving to the Global South: an Analysis of the Relocation of International Ngo Secretariats

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This paper analyses the relocation of international NGOs' secretariats from the Global North to the Global South as part of a wider movement of reform in the sector, a phenomenon that has hitherto been largely ignored in the academic literature. I conduct an exploratory comparative case study of ActionAid's 2003 process of relocating its international secretariat from London to Johannesburg and Oxfam International's 2014 decision to move its headquarters from Oxford to Nairobi. For this purpose, I assess the drivers, facilitating factors, implementation, achievements, and challenges of these relocations and identify important lessons for organisations contemplating similar measures. I approach the subject from an organisational studies perspective to shed light on the understudied link between strategy, organisational architecture, and the changing environment of international NGOs. The findings suggest relocations are part of a late organisational adaptation to the transformational changes undertaken by international NGOs in the 1990s when they increasingly turned towards advocacy and campaigning work. Moreover, I find that ActionAid's seminal move was primarily driven by principled considerations, whereas Oxfam's more recent decision to relocate has a more instrumental dimension that reflects changes in the global fundraising and political environment since the 2000s. While the relocations send a strong political message with potentially positive spin-offs, they have a limited scope and impact, carry considerable opportunity costs and risks, and need to be seen in the broader context of organisational adaptation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2018

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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