Relationships between NGOs and local communities: Community-driven international cooperation by NGOs in nonmetropolitan areas in Japan

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In recent years, NGOs in Japan have been placing increased emphasis on local communities as well as on their activity fields in foreign countries. Such a movement is called "community-driven international cooperation," and it refers to a local approach to international cooperation, not by the central government or national-level NGOs, but rather by smaller, community-based NGOs, especially in nonmetropolitan areas. Although these movements can be considered to be an important research theme in geography, so far very little research has been conducted on NGOs in Japan. This paper discusses the potential and problems of community-driven international cooperation and attempts to clarify the various roles of local communities in relation to NGOs' activities. The author also explores the possibility of NGO activities in nonmetropolitan areas across Japan. Representatives of 12 NGOs, located in Hiroshima, Okinawa, Tokushima, Ehime, Fukuoka, and Saga Prefectures, were interviewed between July 2003 and November 2005. The findings are outlined below. Community-driven international cooperation by NGOs can be considered as a type of strategic activity within local communities, which crosses political, economic, social, and cultural barriers on a global scale. NGOs utilize unique or universal resources within the local community, not only to obtain funds and supporters, but also to gain local knowledge, skills, and experience that can be applied to international cooperation. To establish trust or networks with the various agents that are required for this process, NGOs work to create links through both intra- and interlocal relationships. Such networks and trust-based relationships can influence the consciousness of local citizens who support NGOs, and these in turn also enable NGOs to continue their activities. In addition, local communities can function as a basis for establishing NGOs' legitimacy, which consists of historical legitimacy and has structural similarities with other situations in the world system and the national urban system. Hiroshima, for example, can be a unique place for peace building NGOs' legitimacy, because this city has the perspective of atomic destruction as well as the reconstruction thereafter. Although the roles of local communities have some negative aspects, for example, conflicts of interest within local communities, it should be pointed out that community-driven international cooperation has many positive features as mentioned above and can also play an important role, especially for NGOs in nonmetropolitan areas of Japan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-69
Number of pages21
JournalGeographical Review of Japan
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007 Feb
Externally publishedYes


  • Community-driven international cooperation
  • Japan
  • Local community
  • NGO
  • Nonmetropolitan areas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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