« Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and lenders; and to abstract oneself from this fundamental division, and from the antagonism between poor and rich means abstracting oneself from fundamental facts », this quote from Joseph Staline shows that there has always been disparities in the societies in the history of mankind.
These disparities led to develop charity between rich and poor. This “help” from rich to poor when taken to an international scale, concerns the assistance given by rich countries to poor ones. The concept of development aid goes back to the colonial era at the turn of the twentieth century, in particular to the British policy of colonial development that emerged during that period. The beginning of modern development aid is rooted in the context of Post-World War II and the Cold War.
Ironically, the first countries that were targeted were European ones that were devastated after World War 2. It was first said by President of the United States Harry Truman’s 20 january 1949 State of the Union Address « We must embark on a build new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas. More than half the people of the world are living in conditions approaching misery. Their food is inadequate. They are victims of disease. Their economic life is primitive and stagnant. Their poverty is a handicap and a threat both to them and to more prosperous areas. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and the skill to relieve the suffering of these people. ». There, he shows the moral obligation of rich countries to help poor ones.
From this day, there have been numerous development aid programs. With the institution of the league of nation in 1920, later replaced by the United Nations in 1945, we see the rise of new actors in the international stage. In fact, apart from assistance between countries, several actions are taken from these new participants of international relations. They are known as International Organizations (IO) and non-governmental organisations (NGO), the latter, even though having a history dating back to at least the late eighteenth century, was only given Legal Personality in 1986 by the Council of Europe, which sets a common legal basis for the existence and work of NGOs in Europe.
Globalization during the 20th century gave rise to the importance of NGOs. Many problems could not be solved within a nation. International treaties and international organizations such as the World Trade Organization were centred mainly on the interests of capitalist enterprises. In an attempt to counterbalance this trend, NGOs have developed to emphasize humanitarian issues, developmental aid and sustainable development. Another issue which has brought NGOs to develop further is the inefficiency of some top-heavy, global structures. For instance, in 1994, it has been shown that when the United Nations tried to provide humanitarian assistance in Somalia, they were totally outperformed by NGOs, whose competence and dedication sharply contrasted with the United Nations’ excessive caution and bureaucratic inefficiencies, their main Somalia envoys operating from the safety of their desks in Nairobi.
Unfortunately, nowadays, the legitimacy and effectiveness of NGOs is being questioned due to their ever-growing number and their effect on developing countries. Therefor we have to ask if the actions of NGOs are really effective? With their growing number, it is becoming harder and harder for them to obtain funding resulting in a competition between them. Furthermore, NGOs tend to focus solely on their self-interests: they often suffer from tunnel vision, judging every public act by how it affects their particular interest.
The war on getting funds
- A number that keeps on growing
“They are everywhere!!” this was the response of an anonymous lady when asked about her thoughts about NGOs. In fact, nowadays the number of NGOs keeps on growing and it is estimated to be around 10 million organizations worldwide. One third of these NGOs are located in India with 3.3 million of them being in the territory, it has approximately 1 NGO for every 400 people. Despite the fact that if NGOs were a country, they would have the 5th largest economy in the world, there is a big gap in the sharing of fundings.
In fact, according to the study made by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, 20% of the NGOs concentrate 80 to 90% of all the resources available for NGOs. This leads to a furious competition between them to get through donators.
For example, for now more than 10 years NGOs have used the street fundraising technique. Initiated by Greenpeace in the early 90s, it became a phenomenon in France starting 1998. Seeing its effectiveness, many NGOs did the same and it resulted in a saturation of the streets. It was only when they were about to reach a point of mutual loss that France Générosité, the French syndicate was designated to establish a planning of street distribution and calendar. NGOs are conquering donors like companies are conquering clients; NGOs and associations share one market. Therefor we can consider the donation market as a competitive one which is in opposition of the humanitarian mindset of NGOs.
The question of the autonomy of NGOs
There is also the fact that many donors have policies that dictate the circumstances under which procurement can take place. For example, four years after the Haiti earthquake, a substantial proportion of US development funding in the country still goes via American, rather than Haiti-owned companies.
Rose Longhurst, funding policy adviser at NGO development membership agency Bond, acknowledges that this can be an issue. She says that “Sometimes donors have specific procurement stipulations, saying that you may have to source certain goods or services from certain areas or organisations,”. That raise the question of the autonomy and the ethical aspect of NGOs.
Clearly, there is a need for NGOs to balance ethical intervention with consistent funding. People tend to think that the relationship between donors and NGOs creates a self-regulating mechanism against bad practice. An NGO’s spending is accountable to its donors through audits, which are presumed to be a sufficient safeguard against misspending and corruption.
But in reality, it is more complex since the donor’s audits are based on their personal interests which are not necessarily the same as the interests of the NGO. NGOs find accessing donors as challenging as dealing with their funding conditions. They perceive that certain cartels of individuals and NGOs control access to donor funds. They have limited resource mobilization skills and are often not looking for funds that are available locally, preferring to wait for international donors to approach them. There is a high dependency for donors and a tendency to shift interventions to match donor priorities. There is a lack of financial, project and organizational sustainability.
Donor funding has an even stronger influence in the international scale. In fact, study of 61 large international NGOs in 13 donor countries found that it is neither poverty nor poor governance that influences NGOs’ choice of location. Instead, aid becomes tightly clustered in countries where donors are located, resulting in and reinforcing the divide between the countries chosen by donors and the one forgotten.
Their limitations in designing and following community-driven and participatory development strategies and interventions mean that their interventions tend to align with the social, political and economic agendas of donors, rather than those of local communities and the poor whom they are meant to represent. The increasingly professionalised and depoliticised nature of NGOs marked by this departure from the core objectives leads to many undesirable consequences, including reduced cultural sensitivity, weakened ties with the local level, and a dilution of the NGO’s core values.
Let’s not draw the picture too black because there are at least many public funds that are available for NGOs with minimum conditions and grants them funds to run their projects, those funds help greatly small NGOs to fulfil their mission and make a positive impact on their environment.
Lack of communication and networking
Poor Networking was identified as a major challenge. It is the cause of duplication of efforts and conflicting strategies at community level, a lack of learning from experience and an inability of NGOs to address local structural causes of poverty, deprivation and under-development. Negative competition for resources also undermines the reputation of the sector and the effectiveness of NGO activities at community level.
As a result there is a great deal of suspicion, secrecy and lack of transparency among NGOs..Many NGOs, large and small, intervene at community level without any community mapping and implement projects without due regard to ongoing community initiatives. It was the case in Mozambique with the health care system. In fact, James Pfeiffer, in his case study of NGO involvement in Mozambique, speaks of the negative effects that NGO’s have had on areas of health within the country. He argues that over the last decade, NGO’s in Mozambique have “fragmented the local health system, undermined local control of health programs, and contributed to growing local social inequality”. He notes that NGO’s can be uncoordinated, creating parallel projects among different organizations, that pull health service workers away from their routine duties in order to serve the interests of the NGO’s. This ultimately undermines local primary health care efforts, and takes away the governments’ ability to maintain agency over their own health sector. This leads us to the other aspect that is the competition between NGOs politics.
NGOs fighting one another
NGO politics: one fighting another, one with resources but no community presence, another with community presence but no resources. Poor communications: NGOs also recognize that there is very poor communication within the sector. The majority of NGOs have little or no access to reliable email and internet connections, they receive almost no literature on development issues and are generally out of touch with issues of global, regional and national importance. Their lack of understanding of the difference between the Board and Council is just one example of the knowledge gaps that exist.
Relationships with INGOs: There is considerable concern among local NGOs that the giants INGOs occupy so much space that it will bevery difficult to find room for themselves. INGOs often intervene without any concern for the building of sustainable local chief officers. They pay government and community members to participate in their projects while local NGOs have no facility for doing so.
INGOs are also perceived to be driven by short-term project approaches that are not locally sustainable. They pay high salaries and attract local NGO staff. They are also responsible for creating the high cost image that undermines the credibility of the sector. It is difficult and inappropriate for local NGOs to compete with the international and national giants. Many external organizations are not working with locals, they simply provide unfair competition and hold back the development of the humanitarian sector and cost-effective development interventions.
For example, in Haiti, NGOs came by number after the earthquake and at some point, the dominance of international NGOs has created a parallel state more powerful than the government itself. NGOs in Haiti have built an alternative infrastructure for the provision of social services, creating little incentive for the government to build its capacity to deliver services. A “brain drain” from the public sector to the private, non-profit sector is also observable, pulling talent away from government offices and resulting in the Haitian concept of the “klas ONG” (NGO class). Even quantifying the number of NGOs operating in Haiti is a hurdle: the number is estimated to be anywhere from 343 to 20,000. The Humanitarian system isn’t losing its heart because the intentions and the efforts are still present but it is losing its head.
Stepping up to do development differently
NGOs are starting to realise the flaws of their system. Therefore, several researches and think tanks have been elaborated. World Vision, a leading NGO in the world, pulled together in 2017 some of international NGOs who are already working on and circulating draft papers about Doing Development Differently to discuss and set up a network. From there some recommendations were made. Those concerned mostly the funding and overall managing in NGOs.
For example, if donors are reluctant, inviting them to on-site visits and learning events can familiarise them with programmes, build trust-based relationships, and improve chances for flexible funding arrangements. Though donors are interested in adaptive arrangements, they may lack the capacity or knowledge to create them. Negotiating broad-but-defined indicators and incorporating room for adjustments can help build this capacity and prevent lock-in amid changing circumstances. If donors resist adaptive frameworks, it may help to communicate how building-in flexibility during planning can offset the transaction costs of adjusting during implementation. Furthermore, selecting partners that are aligned in mandates and resources can help compensate for resource shortages; encourage sensitivity to context; strategically broaden an organisation’s field networks; and align incentives for sustained engagement and communication. It can also create an “institutional legacy” of a programme that enables its long-term resilience.
Using data collection tools and communication can help get feedback and delegate decisions to local staff and communities. Not only does this reduce transaction costs of top-down management, but it also promotes locally-responsive solutions.
They should also create an environment for learning. In fact, investment in training should be made. Being adaptive is intimidating. Investing in coaching and mentoring, and prioritising learning and reflection among younger staff, helps overcome mental barriers in adopting adaptive approaches. Despite high up-front costs, such strategies build organisational culture and resilience for adaptive management.
These are solution that might adjust some of the issues of the NGOs. Seeing the power, weight and importance of the NGOs in the international and the humanitarian role that they have, it is important that they find a way to be more effective.
By Abdoul Ba, 2017-2018 year group of M2 IESCI at the University of Angers