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Athabasca University

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Foundations, and Associations

Colonial print culture is marked by the participation of a host of organizations: large and small, domestic and international. Whether a given organization served as a driver, an enabler, or a sponsor of print culture depended on the state of print culture development in a particular colony, the state of colonial governance, the colonial era, perceived needs, and so on. The UN used the Charter of Human Rights to apply direct pressure on metropolitan nations to decolonize; mass literacy was seen as central to the success of this program. With the establishment of UNESCO, the UN could both enable the print culture work of other sponsors, and serve as a sponsor in its own right.

Private foundations were noticeably active in the twentieth century, especially in areas where governmental support was weak or ineffective. Such sponsorship was highly selective, project driven and often concerned with start-up funding. Sponsorship activities might focus on the establishment of institutions and programs such as libraries and scholarships; on research, consulting or advocacy. Cadbury Foundation’s funding of cultural centres in Kenya, the Nuffield Foundation’s support of the Borneo Literature Bureau, and the Carnegie Free Libraries come to mind. Some private foundations  continued their sponsorship work past the colonial era. The Phelps Stokes Fund, for example, has been active in Liberia for a century.

Non-governmental organizations also focussed on specific projects, but were more likely to contribute to maintenance over time. Such organizations sponsored writers’ workshops, book donation projects, and library programs for decades, with increasing frequency after the second World War. Worldwide organizations such as the Commonwealth of Learning, the World Council of Churches, and UNESCO have been especially active in this regard. Regional agencies like the Asia-Pacific Foundation and the South Pacific Commission were equally involved in providing consulting services for book development; establishing libraries and archives; and periodicals and publishing venues.

Voluntary associations organized by colonial peoples are the most pervasive private sponsor in this category, dating mostly from the end of the eighteenth century. Writers clubs and unions, cultural centres, institutes, and literary societies aimed at furthering intellectual development could be found throughout the colonial world. Organized by the literate elite, such organizations could present a non-threatening exterior to authorities, while actually harbouring activities dedicated to liberation from colonial control.

The practices of foundations, organizations, and associations in fulfilling the role of print culture sponsor might include the following:

  • fostering communities of writers and readers through such means as shared goals and practices;
  • connecting these communities to others via formal and informal networks;
  • funding research and exchanges;
  • establishing infrastructure and programs for sustaining colonial print culture;
  • assisting in the transfer of the values and skills of print culture through adult education;
  • providing a relatively safe venue for the expression of colonial discontent;
  • advocating for the illiterate, the poor, and the disenfranchised.

Likely the most publicly prominent NGO to affect the development of print culture in Papua New Guinea has been the United Nations, through its original pressure after World War II on the colonial administration to improve the educational system and to decolonize. Other significant external sponsors have been the Christian Literature Fund of the World Council of Churches, which funded the Creative Training Centre, among other initiatives; and the South Pacific Commission, which was active in establishing the Literature Bureau. Within Papua New Guinea, Ondobondo Club was an important factor in reviving print culture in the 1980s.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services