Local NGOs in developing countries face numerous threats, from government crackdowns to dwindling aid budgets. How are they responding? In a recent paper for VOLUNTAS: the International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations (Open Access – yay!), Albert A. Arhin, Emmanuel Kumi and Oxfam’s Mohammed-Anwar Sadat Adam interviewed 65 people in Ghanaian NGOs, who face less overt repression than in many countries, but falling aid budgets as Ghana graduates out of Low Income status (a tipping point for a lot of aid flows). The paper identified that NGOs are pursuing six main strategies:
- Eggs-in-Multiple-Baskets: diversifying their donors to reduce vulnerability to a sudden end to aid flows, but also trying to tap directly into public giving (both local and international), and setting up social enterprises and subsidiary firms like consultancies to try and cross subsidise their activities.
- Cost-Cutting: cutting back both staff and areas of operation
- Strength in Numbers: making more use of networks and coalitions both to work together in areas such as advocacy, but also to collectively seek funds from the big donors
- Form long term partnerships, eg with Memoranda of Understanding, to try and reduce the volatility of funding, eg deepening relationships with particular international NGOs
- Credibility-Building Strategy: ‘organisations paying serious attention to systems and practices that make them credible, trustworthy and believable to donors, private firms, government agencies and even individuals across the country who might, through such credibility, support their work.’ That can mean greater transparency, better management systems and investing more in building relationships with donors.
- Visibility-Enhancing Strategy: ‘activities that make them visible (regarding what they do) and easily recognised by actors such as donors, private firms and governments.’ And ‘seeking to create a good public image about themselves and to assert their expertise and authority in particular sector of fields of knowledge.’
The paper concludes that ‘NGOs are not passive victims of the changing aid landscape’, which is good to hear, though hardly surprising (did anyone think they would be ‘passive victims’?).
But what’s weird is that there is almost no discussion of potential trade-offs and downsides in these survival strategies. Some of them (eg diversifying funding, shifting from aid to domestic sources of funding, transparency, reducing waste) seem like just good practice, but several others could lead to things like self-censorship to stay ‘credible’ with potential funders, even when those funders are also targets for influencing, or mimicking northern donors’ fondness for ‘badging’ their activities with yet more aid billboards going up around the developing world. – i.e. conflicts of interest abound.
Maybe that’s for the follow up research?