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The Effectiveness-Lab

The future of the INGO – a comparative analysis

There is a lot of writing about the future of the INGO. An INGO leader myself, I understand well how even the best visionary in the industry can quickly get mired in the oversupply of ‘opinion’ and the dithering that accompanies defining a future role for the INGO. Orthodox strategic management practice no longer guarantees answers regarding the future of the INGO. The aid industry ‘market’, influenced and driven by powerful sector interests and not the actual needs of the ‘poor’, complicates the forecasting of demand and supply. In the private sector, strategy-analysts will do the number crunching to identify future market scenarios, moreover with a firm belief in the results of the forecasting. Private sector forecasting mostly addresses the true needs of the market as opposed to the aid industry where ‘market’ is a relative phenomenon. The truth is that as long as the INGO continues to depend for its working capital, on the deep pockets of the rich Northern government aid agencies, it shall continue to find it hard to define and sustain a future role.

It is my assumption that because the INGO knows its ‘revenue’-vulnerability extremely well, it tends to adopt win-win situations, even with those that it should disagree with outright. To use the analogy of a fisherman and their net, conducting trade in a fish-depleted lake: the INGO is forced to cast the fishing-net so wide in order to catch fish, however little. The immediate implication of the latter is that the range of fish caught is so varied to know which fish can address the ‘nutrition’ needs of the market. Fishing in this lake/’market’ is at times a game of survival, making it hard for the INGO to perform accurate forecasting. What is correct and required by the market, won’t necessarily earn the INGO revenue.

With the net cast so wide by the INGO, defining a likely future role and configuration for itself becomes an elaborate game of: right but ‘non-viable’ assumptions on social – economic – political situations, guesstimates, wishes, and many more. The good news is that Institutions including INGO’s, individuals like myself, governments and their aid agencies have done a superb job of forecasting the role and configuration of a future INGO. In turn, INGO’s and other international civil society agencies are busy crafting new strategies that will ensure they remain relevant in the Sustainable Development (SD) goals era.

Do you see light?
Do you see light?

So, do you know what your INGO will look like in 2025?

Ever fascinated by ‘effective organization eco-systems’, I have spent time thinking and writing about the future role and configuration of the INGO. Fortunately, for those that want to cherry pick from a menu of options, there is so much out there especially on the ‘future INGO role’, that you will not be disappointed.

Below are three schools of thought on the future role of the INGO by the Guardian, UK BOND, and myself a blogger on ‘the effectiveness of organizations and people’. What this particular blog does is to look for common themes on the future role of the INGO, across the three schools of thought. The assumption is that what is common across the three schools of thought, is a safe bet to take, on the future role of the INGO.

• Be open to new ideas
Phase out expat aid worker (iii)
• Dis-aggregate and diversify sector
Support weak Civil Society groups (iv)
• Know who you are
Export Knowledge (ii)
• Don’t try to be an expert on everything
• Encourage activism at any age
• Fundraise for ‘in-country’ partners
• Beef-up checks & balances
• Don’t just work with the usual suspects
• Be an agency for change
• Offer a fairer deal to local staff
Acknowledge the humanitarian sector (i) is not the norm


Addressing humanitarian crises wherever they arise (i)
• Peace building and work in fragile states where local Civil Society is compromised
Working in the UK on issues of international solidarity (iii)
• Advocate and champion for the socially excluded
Providing ‘on-demand’ technical advise & capacity building (ii)
Transnational advocates towards UK decision-makers (iv)

The 4th-sector entity:
• No longer called an INGO – comfortable with small, nimble, & effective
Redefined entity occupying new and higher ground in the industry sector: i.e. turned into grant management agency for donors; McKinsey like consulting firms that provide TA. to governments in policy analysis and design (ii)
• Private companies Ltd. by guarantee with surpluses invested in private equity and other other money making ventures
• Social networking & mobile banking technology in plenty, so, Individual and institutional donors can deal directly with the poor and this 4th-sector entity provides oversight services (a monitoring and evaluation value provider)
Learning from the modern audit firm (with core auditing and consulting arms): have divisions i.e. the Private sector arm to do 4th-sector development & a humanitarian-development arm specifically dealing with emergency response interventions that shall be delivered on a fee basis (i)
• A new approach to people and $ resourcing: less than x20 staff entities that only remain open, if they have a budget big enough to operate (no subsidies!)
• A new type of staff profile/skills that: delivers results, efficacy, and value for money; a staff comfortable with performance related pay and BONUSES
Small entity yet with a global footprint – with development-soldiers working out of their homes and tapping the digital-technology potential the word avails to us all (iii)
A new way to organise globally: current INGO Hqs. turned into technical-hubs with specialised resources that are called upon within a corporate eco-system (iv). Big charity offices and i suspect, fundraising machines, will be a thing of the past
• Less ‘theoretical, complex, and professorial’ content in poverty discourse and more ‘demand-driven + local’ solution

Below are the four areas [derived from purple font & numbered outline above] that the three schools of thought, have significant commonness on:

It is a wise bet to focus on the below four future INGO roles:

  1. The future INGO will continue to engage in preventing and where it happens, mitigating the adverse effects of humanitarian crises. So it is a safe bet to continue investing in humanitarian programming capacities. (legend:i)
  2. The future INGO will be an exporter of Knowledge especially to its Southern Hemisphere peers and governments. (legend:ii)
  3. Despite the obvious and I think positive, shift in aid-industry operations to the South, there will still be a strong bridge between North and South. This will manifest through mutual partnerships between native civil society organizations in the South and their Northern peers. The future INGO will operate from their hubs in the North, as a much smaller entity, facilitating development interventions in the South through its native Southern peer (legend:iii)
  4. Leveraging the strong partnership in three above, the future INGO shall use its positioning in the North, power and mandate, to become a transnational advocate in the global aid industry. The future INGO shall advocate on pro-poor matters, ensuring participation and inclusion of the poor in aid policy discourse wherever it happens. (legend:iv)

Well, it looks like the INGO in 2025 shall be: a fountain of knowledge for its Southern peer; facilitating development work of its Southern peer from afar; linking Southern advocacy causes to the Northern powerhouses; a reliable partner in times of humanitarian crises

Reflecting on the INGO today, what are the implications of the above four trends?

  • The future role/s above for the INGO make much sense given the emerging power of its Southern peer. However, some roles raise new questions, and I assume challenges. For example, knowing how complex humanitarian crises can be, can the future INGO respond to humanitarian crises if it downsizes significantly?
  • Perhaps a possible response to the above ‘humanitarian-scope Vs. INGO-size’ challenge is to think of a new business model. For example 4th-sector thinking; private-business arms of INGO’s delivering humanitarian programming under commercial contract with governments
  • Current INGO entities operating in the South, have got to evolve into something different. They cannot remain INGO’s. The million-dollar question is what the transformation should look like: a native NGO? A small foreign office of a Northern based INGO? Merging of INGO and native civil society organization in the South? Management buy-out by existing staff and start new entities from scratch, INGO death? What I know is that INGO’s can’t keep the status-quo and while many shall survive in some form, others will die
  • The current INGO shall become a global ADVOCACY organization operating in the North and native Southern peers operationalizing the outcomes of the global advocacy work in the South.
  • In the Southern Hemisphere, the majority of local INGO employees, shall be ’swallowed’ by either the Southern NGO eco-system, private sector including social enterprises, western donor offices in the South or government. In effect, the ‘local’ INGO sector will die or become small secretariats like their peers in the North.
  • The above raises immediate questions about the journey the INGO with operations/offices in the South, takes over the next ten years

Years back, the copper mining industry in Africa (Uganda, Zambia, etc.) & coal industry in Europe (UK, etc) were at crossroads and tough choices made about their future. Had I been of age then, I would have declared the two industries ‘Clinically’ dead. Those copper and coal industry players that miraculously survived death, presented themselves in new forms.

The INGO that will survive to 2025 and not be ‘clinically dead’, has to shift current intellectual resources towards determining what ‘effective’ role it shall play in ten years time. Deliberate measures should be taken by the INGO to invest in its future role. I anticipate investment by the INGO in: new skills; robust reflection on future business models; dismantling, albeit gradually, current INGO configuration including covering the legal/brand cost/risk of doing so; keeping current projects running but shifting fast to the new.

Aware of the time it takes to change organizations, INGO’s that survive to 2025 and shall avoid becoming ‘Clinically’ dead, have to start changing now. Surviving current INGO ‘turbulence’ = ‘effectively’ forecasting the future + changing role

Shall the INGO you work for, donate to, relate with survive to 2025?


7 responses to “The future of the INGO – a comparative analysis”

  1. […] process (How) level – ‘how’ INGO’s do their work leaves a lot to be desired. A typical INGO is pretty effective (after all it knows its What and Why) but not efficient. We suspect that the INGO sector ranks high up when it comes to plan re-calibration frequency. The […]


  2. […] Gabazira’s blog – The Effectiveness-lab: The future of the INGO – a comparative analysis […]


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  4. Dambisa Moyo
    You will remember from yesterday, that Bill Gates is not a fan of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo (see below video). Responding to a question about Moyo’s book Dead Aid, which criticizes Western aid interventions in Africa, Gates claimed the book is ‘promoting evil.’

    Well, it turns out that Moyo is not happy with what Gates has to say about her book. Moyo issued a pithy response to what she described as a personal attack by Gates.

    “To say that my book ‘promotes evil’ or to allude to my corrupt value system is both inappropriate and disrespectful,” writes Moyo in a blog post this morning.

    The short blog post makes two points to refute the remarks made by Gates. First, Moyo says that the book serves as a debating point on aid. She says that both she and Gates agree on the goal to improve the livlihoods of Africans in a sustainable way. Her goal was to raise concerns about the limitations of aid.

    The second point made by Moyo addresses Gates’ claim that she does not know much about aid. Moyo is quick to point out her experience in the classroom, a PhD, and out, World Bank Consultant. She concludes that her experience being raised in Zambia provides her with a unique first-hand insight into poverty in Africa and the impacts of aid. It is the very same selling point that Moyo used in promoting her book.

    “To cast aside the arguments I raised in Dead Aid at a time when we have witnessed the transformative economic success of countries like China, Brazil and India, belittles my experiences, and those of hundreds of millions of Africans, and others around the world who suffer the consequences of the aid system every day,” says Moyo.

    Gates is not alone in claiming Moyo’s analysis is seriously flawed.

    Economists have cited problems in the economic conclusions made by Moyo and pointed out that some points lack factual evidence. The proposition to immediately cut aid has huge ramifications if it is considered given the impact it would have on the lives of individual people, argued Owen Barder of the Center for Global Development, in his review of the book. If Moyo is wrong and people follow her advice, the results can be devastating.

    “There is a debate to be had about aid, but Moyo’s book, sadly, does not advance it. Dead Aid is poorly researched, badly argued, mendacious in its use of evidence, and pedestrian in its suggestions for alternatives to aid,” concluded Barder.

    Zambian economist Chola Mukanga came to similar conclusions in her review of the book, also citing a lack of evidence and calling the proposed solutions by the book ineffective.

    “[O]n both theory and practice, Dead Aid falls far short of what is expected of a book advocating such a radical proposal of “turning off the aid tap”. If there’s any consolation in this assessment, it is that Dead Aid will hopefully not find any intellectual traction.”

    Colombia academic and aid superstar Jeff Sachs took umbrage with claims made by Moyo, in a 2009 Huffington Post blog post. He criticized Moyo and other aid critics, including Easterly, for their narrow views on aid and use of government funding for research.

    I begrudge them trying to pull up the ladder for those still left behind. Before peddling their simplistic concoction of free markets and self-help, they and we should think about the realities of life, in which all of us need help at some time or other and in countless ways, and even more importantly we should think about the life-and-death consequences for impoverished people who are denied that help.

    Moyo shot back with her own blog post saying that Sachs played a crucial part in her understanding of aid by serving as one of her professors in Harvard. There, she says, he touted the need for private sector and free market solutions to long term development challenges.

    “Perhaps what I had not gleaned at that time was that Mr. Sachs’ development approach was made for countries such as Russia, Poland and Bolivia, whereas the aid- dependency approach, with no accompanying job creation, was reserved for Africa,” wrote Moyo.

    Sachs and MVP head John McArthur again replied saying that the evidence shows that aid has made lives better. Bednets, for example, have helped reduce malaria cases and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Concerns by Moyo that they nets are not produced in Africa misses the larger point of the health gains from their use and the economic benefits of a healthier population, said Sachs and McArthur.

    Moyo is not offering a reasoned or evidence-based position on aid. Everybody that deals with aid wants to promote financial transparency and market-led growth, not aid dependency…The purpose of aid should indeed be to break the poverty trap through targeted investments in an African Green Revolution; disease control; children’s education; core infrastructure of roads, power, safe drinking water and sanitation, and broadband; and business development, including microfinance and rural diversification among impoverished smallholder farmers.

    Academic Edward Carr found Moyo’s book to be rife with problems and lacking in evidence. “Dead Aid, in the end, is not a contribution to conversations about development for those of us who actually do the work – it is a non-sequitur that does not deserve the attention it has received, or any further attention,” he wrote in reviewing the book.

    ONE supporter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson is yet another opponent to Moyo’s ideas. Like Sachs, Gerson makes the case that aid has done good across a spectrum of health indicators. Ending aid would cause more harm than good, he argues.

    “If Moyo’s point is that some aid can be bad, then it is noncontroversial. If her point is that all aid is bad, then it is absurd. The productive political agenda is to increase the good while decreasing the bad. The productive academic debate is distinguishing between them,” writes Gerson.

    Gates is not the first and certainly will not be the last to tangle with Moyo over her ideas of aid. Who’s next?


    1. I won’t tangle with Moyo – and in the spirit of development and its win-win culture, they all make good points. The challenge is to take the good points out of the bad – thanks for sharing this excellent analysis!


  5. Interesting piece Apollo! No doubt the future of the present INGO is at a crossroads not only due to financial viability but also the operational context in the South. In terms of the context the expat question is on top of the agenda with a significant abundance of local talent that was not readily available a decade ago. However, the operational context in the South also has a significant factor that ought to be explored vis-a-vis the phase out of the expat INGO staff – the accountability mechanisms that exist in most of the developing countries both at state level and within the civil society sector – will this accountability have increased / strengthened enough over the next decade to justify a total phase-out of the expat? As we both know, in the humanitarian and development sector, there is an inherent power imbalance between the agencies (both INGO and Local NGOs) and the people we serve / work with and exporting skills to these agencies and linking them to donor funding without ensuring accountability will be quite unproductive given the rampant lack of accountability (nepotism, financial fraud, selective targeting, etc.). It will be interesting to see how this contextual backdrop bodes for the ‘clinical death’ you predict for the INGO by 2025 and the three factors you have discussed in the article. All inall, I have enjoyed reading the article and it sure has got me thinking!


    1. Aswani – this is very good analysis and insight from you – thanks for reading the blog. You do touch a very poignant subject of accountability and its challenges in the south – I however think that if that wasn’t addressed by us in the south, then development as we know it shall die. The west is so fed up of our corrupt tendencies – like in any industry sector, there will be the ngo’s that will espouse honesty and for sure – they will tap into the donor resource base and other wont – the emerging digital technology will also help mitigate direct ‘thieving’ I.e. Better and 24/7 oversight


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About Me

Apollo B. Gabazira is an Ugandan OD. junkie fascinated by matters that render organisations/individuals effective or not. He blogs on effective leadership and management. He is a devoted green-farmer and breeds the Ayrshire cow at Nakabugu, Luuka district, Uganda. Apollo is quite effective at what he chooses to do.


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