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.
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:
- 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)
- The future INGO will be an exporter of Knowledge especially to its Southern Hemisphere peers and governments. (legend:ii)
- 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)
- 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?