Skip to Main Content
Maxwell School
Maxwell / Moynihan

TNGO Updates

Recent happenings from the TNGO Initiative

“Sexy Local NGOs” - Humorous perspective on how Northern NGOs pursue Southern NGOs

 Permanent link


In this tongue-in-cheek account, Shotgun Shack, the author of this Staff Expat Aid Workers blog, presents a 'courtship' tale of how Northern NGOs would sometimes go after certain Southern NGOs that they perceive to be very attractive.  


#37 Sexy Local NGOs (SLoNGOs)

March 23, 2011


by Shotgun Shack


Expat Aid Workers love building capacity, and where better to up your own field cred and edginess than building capacity with a sexy local NGO (SLoNGO)?


You know the NGOs I’m talking about. They have the smart, sassy English-speaking director (with the hot European husband embedded in the senior echelons of “The UN”) who spent a few years abroad in Spain or France, hangs out at all the expat parties and has set up a local think tank on accountability and transparency. Or they’re run by a hip local musician-slash-artist with a stylin’ afro and a few tattoos who rocks a funky hat and a bohemian style scarf and whose organization’s got a super cool name and 70s style logo and trains youth to rap about HIV prevention.


Or maybe the country has just come out of a civil war and there’s an ex-commandante with Marxist leanings who used to be clandestine and is now legit — he smokes and wears combat boots and a scruffy beard and a beret; he’s doing a civic education and leadership training project for former child soldiers and war orphans. Or it might be an organization of sex workers, headed by a former brothel owner who is a lesbian that was beaten by the police and then organized women to speak out for their rights to earn a living doing sex work….


Of course the real reason that you want to fund these SLoNGOs is their big impact on the beneficiary population. Well, and it doesn’t hurt that donors and the home office love them too – there’s no better way to keep the funds flowing than to take some directors or donors from back home on a field visit with a charismatic leader to interact with “dangerous” and “edgy” topics and populations, and go for drinks together in a “local-ish” bar afterwards. Or to submit a “sexy” grant that includes a partnership with one of these hot SLoNGOs.


And the benefits go beyond just work. By hooking up with a desirable SLoNGO, you become edgy and cool… by association. You’ll get invited to all the best glocal (global-local) parties, upping field credibility as well as being offered all kinds of opportunities to go native. It’s like getting a totally free second-hand pot-smoke buzz at a Jimmy Buffet concert.


A word of caution about SLoNGOs, however. They totally know they’re hot and that every other INGO wants them too…. They lead you on and you find yourself adjusting your capacity building indicators in order to keep them happy. They show up late to meetings. They turn in reports way after the due date and only after continual requests. They demand high salaries for themselves and their staff. They come out poorly on audits. And the minute you try to make them follow your rules, they start looking elsewhere, as if to say “I can get any INGO or UN donor I want.”


You find yourself arguing with your finance department because they are insisting your SLoNGO adhere to general accounting principles. I mean, give these poor SLoNGOs a break. Some of them only started up 6 months ago, and don’t have legal status; certainly you can bend the rules a bit in order to fund them! Because if you don’t get busy and tap that, someone else will and then they’ll get the privilege of being the founding donor! Who cares if the SLoNGO has no experience managing money and no legal structure, we can make this work, you insist. They need our help! And if a year later, they haven’t turned in a single financial report, it’s because your organization has failed to build their capacity. Keep increasing their funding before they look somewhere else and you lose them!


And when you see the EAW from that other big INGO cozying up to (i.e. getting drinks for) your favorite SLoNGO at the glocal party, it’s time to be assertive. Take control. Join the conversation to make your relationship clear. Make inside jokes. Drop the news that you’re snagging them an invite to a meeting abroad in Sweden or Holland or something so that they don’t go making any deals with anyone else. It’s important to be the only one in the eyes of the SLoNGO for at least the first 3 years of their existence.


After that, game over. By then you and your donors are getting bored, you’re tired of being a sugar momma (or daddy) and your organization is starting to ask the hard questions. You realize that the SLoNGO is becoming dependent on you and the relationship has become a bit twisted. What, these SLoNGOs think you are going to be funding them forever? They’re out of their minds. They really need to come up with a sustainability plan because, obviously, your INGO is trying to put itself out of business by ending poverty in the next few years.


Your SLoNGO is becoming a drag and you need to extricate yourself from the relationship. So you highly recommend them to the INGOs that you were shielding them from earlier to see if you can pass them off — kind of like hooking your best friend up with your ex.

Once they have a few other donors funding them and their funding base is “diversified” and more “sustainable,” suggest a “coordination body” of all the donors to sit and compare notes and jointly manage the SLoNGO relationship. Once that’s set up, drop out of the funding as soon as you can (but remain the chair of the “coordination body”). If you can’t get the coordination body going, another option is after a few years of steadily increasing funds and insisting on exponential growth and ‘scaling up before their time,’ throw an audit and some serious conditions in there and see if your SLoNGO can handle it. If they can’t, well there you go – you’ve found yourself a legit reason to stop funding them.


And good riddance, anyway. After 3 years, that SLoNGO isn’t really so interesting anymore. Your INGO has changed its strategy, and now you’re flirting with that hot feminist filmmaker that trains street children to take videos of their realities with mobile phones to then project on a giant screen in the slums. Or maybe you’re thinking about how you can hook up with that dangerously sexy former gang member who’s training youth in juvenile detention centers to do graffiti arts and refurbish old cars for re-sale as a revolving fund for tattoo removal….


Disconnect between NGOs and less-structured civic agency. A Hauser Center blogpost.

 Permanent link


Elisa Peter is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Mid-Career Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. She formerly served as Acting Director of the NGO Liaison Office at the U. In this article she addresses the issue of the current status of NGOs as actors in view of the CIVICUS’s latest report.  



Posted: 07 Oct 2011 01:39 PM PDT 
By Elisa Peter 
International NGOs are the verge of facing irrelevance, if not extinction. This is one of the main messages of CIVICUS’ latest report, which warns that many well-established non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have become disconnected from people’s aspirations and concerns.  
The report argues that citizens are increasingly coming together in new and informal forms of association to affect social change in their communities, often disregarding traditional NGOs. Ingrid Srinath, the Secretary General of CIVICUS, notes that “civil society organizations must embrace people’s movements to connect better with the public and renew themselves in order to survive”. 
The genesis of the Arab Spring seems to provide a case in point: individuals using social media to connect with one another led to the fall of authoritarian regimes, while established organizations watched from the sidelines. 
The report starts by reviewing the state of the world’s civil society, building on the work done by CIVICUS in the past four years to track the political, institutional, social and cultural constraints faced by civil society in various countries. The erosion of the political space for civil society is a reality in many parts of the world. Restrictive legal environments, intimidation, criminalization and other repressive measures are silencing NGOs.  To make matters worse, many NGOs are still recovering from the financial impact of the global economic crisis on their organizations. This affects the capacity of NGOs to outreach, mobilize, engage/disengage and advocate effectively. 
The CIVICUS report brings up a number of important questions, which ought to be taken seriously not only by NGOs but by anyone trying to affect social change. In essence, it looks at the nature of civic activism and mobilization, and asks what types of social structures are most adequate to deliver the change that people aspire to today. 
The following elements, which are missing from the report, also ought to be taken into consideration when discussing the dynamics of change and democratization: 
§ The report is surprisingly silent about the gender dimension of social change.  The cover of the report shows a large group of visibly angry men in a mass demonstration (on the streets of Cairo?) and one wonders what kind of change will take place when half of the population is nowhere to be seen on the streets. The discussion over form (NGOs versus decentralized citizens movements) should not preclude a discussion over purpose. NGOs as well as grassroots movements have both historically failed to include women in their top decision-making processes worldwide (with a few exceptions). Women need to be included in any type of formal or informal activism if change is to lead to stable and representative societies based on the rule of law and the respect of women’s and men’s universal human rights. 
§ The report argues that many NGOs are perceived as urban and elitist organizations, but is silent about the capture and instrumentalization of grassroots independent movements by vested interests. I would argue that decentralized movements are as, if not more, vulnerable to internal power struggles and external cooptation than established NGOs. Unfortunately, the indigenous peoples movement is a sad example of this worldwide. 
§ The report focuses only on countries and movements in the global south. I would argue that many of the issues faced by southern NGOs and movements are also increasingly relevant to northern NGOs and movements. Lack of funding, the rise of conservative governments in Europe, the concerted battle on terrorism, high unemployment rates, etc. are all redefining the social contract between citizens, their elected representatives and the role of member-based organizations. The recent social uprisings in Greece and Spain were not led by traditional organizations (trade unions, NGOs) but by an active citizenry expressing its discontent with the lack of regard for their everyday concerns, rights and aspirations. 
The report concludes by urging organized and less formal civil society to come together as each has distinctive and complementary capabilities as drivers of social change. Will CIVICUS’s next report provide actionable recommendations as to how to (re)build these connections in support of participatory and progressive change? 


Former CEO of Action Aid comments on Southern NGOs' perspective on partnership with Northern NGOs

 Permanent link

Ramesh Singh is a Visiting Fellow at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University and a former CEO of Action Aid. In this blog on humanitarian and development NGOs (posted on 27 January 2011), he comments on the “customer satisfaction” of the Southern NGOs in regard to their partnership with their Northern counterparts.   


Living Unhappily Ever After: Southern NGOs and Northern NGOs 


Keystonehas just published NGO Partner Survey 2010 , a report about the relationship between northern NGOs from high income countries and southern NGOs from mid and low income countries. The report is a presentation of response and ratings of more than 1000 southern NGOs about their bilateral relationships (partnerships) with 25 NGOs from Europe (16) and USA (9) who cooperated with Keystone in this survey. The list of 25 northern NGOs notably does not include some of the bigger, more visible or vociferous advocacy NGOs.

The 80-page public report that does not give out much about the 1000+ southern NGOs in terms of whether they are organizations or movements of poor and excluded people or intermediary NGOs, or whether they are bigger or smaller NGOs and whether they are from countries where civil society space and sectors are well developed or not (and such factors would affect the nature and the quality of relationships).

The report recommends that "every year (northern) NGOs publish systematic feedback from their southern partners that is independently collected on an anonymous basis and is structured and presented in comparison to similar feedback received by other (northern) NGOs."

All in all, Keystone should be congratulated for the survey and the report, and for bringing up the relationship between southern NGOs and northern NGOs for discussion. However, my hope is that this sparks a conversation and debate about the relationship broadly between northern NGOs and southern NGOs (beyond the money mediated so called bilateral "partnership" between northern NGOs and southern NGOs). Not all relationships are partnerships and northern NGOs relate to the southern NGOs in a variety of relationships from sub-contractor to grantee to partner.

If we were to do a similar sectoral survey about southern NGOs' view about northern NGOs, I suspect the report card would look even worse with gory details of unfair competition for contracts, stealing staff by paying big salaries, double standards, media-hogging and hiding at the time of political pressure, etc.

In many of the contexts I know, northern NGOs and southern NGOs as two sectors have a relationship of constant tension (if not conflict). Yet, southern NGOs continue to shop around and take whatever they get from one or other northern NGOs - and live with the rest. Similarly, northern NGOs work with the southern NGOs that they like - and ignore the rest. Then they both live unhappily ever after!

Why is that southern NGOs, even in their better organized form as national federations or associations, live with so much unhappiness about northern NGOs without getting the situation resolved? Why is that northern NGOs get away with so much and do nothing to reconcile, change and co-exist positively? Will this become more complex or come to a head when so many northern NGOs are now also trying to be southern NGOs (albeit international) in many countries? Who can further research, facilitate and mediate a more constructive relationship between northern and southern NGOs? I am searching for diverse perspectives on this issue!

Why practitioners need to be incentivized to learn from existing knowledge: Thoughts from a well-known World Bank economist(2)

 Permanent link

Development impact calls for knowledgeable development practitioners 

In this blog post by Martin Ravallion, well-known economist at the World Bank, he argues that the use of existing knowledge – including knowledge produced by academia – by development practitioners depends on supply but also on demand factors. What incentives need to be in place for development practitioners, including development NGO staff, to use existing knowledge before they design new programs? Please clickhere for Ravallion’s blog post. 
Also note the worthwhile link within the comments section by one of the commentators: 


Why practitioners need to be incentivized to learn from existing knowledge: Thoughts from a well-known World Bank economist

 Permanent link

Development impact calls for knowledgeable development practitioners

In this blog post by Martin Ravallion, well-known economist at the World Bank, he argues that the use of existing knowledge – including knowledge produced by academia – by development practitioners depends on supply but also on demand factors. What incentives need to be in place for development practitioners, including development NGO staff, to use existing knowledge before they design new programs?

Please click here for Ravallion’s blog post.


Also, please note the worthwhile link within the comments section by one of the commentators:  


RSS Feed
<< October 2011 >>
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          




Recent Posts