18 January 2011

How do Southern NGOs Rate Northern NGOs?

How do the Southern partners of Northern NGOs rate them?

Keystone Accountability have just released a report which attempts to answer this question.

Keystone worked with the following 25 European and US NGOs: CARE UK, CARE USA, Christian Aid, Catholic Relief Services, Concern, Church World Service, Helvetas, International Rescue Committee, International Service, Lutheran World Relief, Minority Rights Group, Mennonite Central Committee, Methodist Relief and Development Fund, Mercy Corps US, Peace Direct, Save the Children US, Practical Action, UMCOR US, Progressio, Save the Children UK, Schorer, Self Help Africa, Skillshare International, Tearfund and Trocaire.
2733 partners were invited to respond and 1067 did, a 39% response rate (an impressive response rate, although I would have liked to have seen more exploration of the impact of this rate, and its distribution, on survey results).
The Southern NGOs said they valued/needed more of the following support:

  • Non-Financial Support: Facilitation in the accessing of other sources of funds
  • Monitoring and Reporting: The need for Northern NGOs to share lessons and experiences with them when working on the same issues
  • Relationships: Develop joint strategies with us

It seems to me that all 3 of these top priorities would help Southern NGOs become true partners, not sub-contractors, to become more independent financially and intellectually and to help co-construct ideas and strategies. It is interesting that under improving relationships it is not things like "take time to listen", "be more respectful" and "be more fair" that the Southern NGOs say they need, but pragmatic things like "develop joint strategies" and "promote our work".

The report does not rank Northern NGOs, but it does allow each NGO to compare its own score (which it receives in a confidential report) with the distribution of scores achieved by the other 24.

For example Progressio have chosen to release their report and it shows they are in the top quartile of NGOs when it comes to Relationships and Capacity Building Support but in the third quartile for Other Non-financial Support.

It seems to me that true leadership is helping to set up systems that may be inconvenient to your own organisation at times, but which help the wider community learn about what is working and the gap between rhetoric and reality.

So I salute the 25 NGOs for undertaking this exercise (and especially Progressio for making theirs public) and congratulate Keystone for having the vision and perseverance to do this work (disclosure: IDS has worked with Keystone on farmer feedback under the ALINe programme).


Jennifer Lentfer said...

Some of the larger international NGOs working out of a rights-based approach have begun to recognise the importance of supporting local organisations and social movements to be sovereign. But despite the speak of “rights” we continue to witness Southern organisations or “partners” being assessed and rebuilt into more professional organisations that lose their character and represent only the interests of the community that align with funding or Northern NGO guidelines.

Yet there are sovereign local organisations and movements on all continents bucking the paradigm of development without sovereignty, many supported by donors willing to offer and build alternatives to “business as usual” in the sector. There are many initiatives, programmes and projects that hold great promise if practitioners in the sector can operationalise a deeper respect for what is local and indigenous, resulting in a subtlety of practice to give thoughtful, wise, and careful support to local organizations where it is needed.

This requires that Northern NGOs pay more attention to the concept of organisation itself and the practice of facilitating the development of authentic and sovereign local organisations and social movements. I believe that it is this "generalist" discipline that needs to be more widely learnt and become more central to the practice of the sector as a whole.

Read more from The Barefoot Guide to working with organizations and social change at: www.barefootguide.org.

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