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The Effectiveness-Lab

The INGO modus-operandi: hyper supermarket, Department store, or Boutique? – Part 3

Friends, here comes the third and final blog in the series. Together, we have traversed INGO configurations over the last three weeks from the INGO being a hyper supermarket, departmental store and finally boutique.

How far do you see?
How far can we see?

We have also oriented this blog series to the philosophy that: It is no longer about ‘does it work for the INGO?’ but ‘what can work even better for the INGO?  The latter statement brings to the table a new subject for discussion, and one the last two blogs did not touch directly. The dreaded exit by the INGO from its operations in the South. In the trajectory of the INGO as a hyper supermarket, department store or boutique, lies the assumption that the INGO shall continue to deliver development programming using orthodox approaches. For example running offices in the South, whether hyper supermarket or boutique like and increasingly, working with and through native peers (partners).

I am not sure that the INGO attests effectiveness under the retailer-mandate above. Yes, retailing can work for the INGO, but at the same time, me and you know that the INGO can do better on new ground. The rise of the native civil society organisation and its new role as heir apparent to the INGO raises a number of dilemma’s for the INGO retailer-mandate:

  • Is it ‘right’ for the INGO to compete for the same work with its native peer?
  • Is the INGO showing inability to deal with its midlife-crisis? i.e. firmly choose which ground to occupy and tool itself for that
  • Is it viable for the INGO to act as a mere conduit of $ between the traditional donors and the native civil society organisation?
  • If the above were true, why doesn’t the INGO simply turn into a contract management agency for donors?

So what is the next ‘correct’ thing for the INGO to do? My answer, BOLD CHOICE. The latter reminds me of the Conservative Party in the UK, its choice of AUSTERITY, the pain it has endured together with the UK people, and the reward the party got at the UK general election yesterday morning.

Clearly, the INGO retailer configuration raises more questions than answers, especially in the context of a maturing native civil society organisation. It even gets more complicated when, for an INGO to be considered SMART, it has to work with native civil society organisations. It is politically correct to work with native civil society organisations, and INGO’s get rewarded for doing so. I am not saying that INGO’s should not work with their native peers, but that it should not be because,  it is politically correct.

It is my view that the INGO needs to occupy new and higher ground. In shifting ground and making those BOLD CHOICES, the INGO should choose what makes it a more effective and relevant entity, in an increasingly complex poverty management arena

The INGO as a wholesaler:

Perhaps I should start by mentioning that wholesaling is the ’sale of goods to anyone other than a standard consumer’. For the INGO to wholesale, it should sell poverty eradication models to a third-party retailer, that will in turn deliver directly to the poor people. From where I stand, this retailer is mainly the native civil society organisation.

While many INGO’s have abandoned ‘retailing’, I also cannot call them qualified ‘wholesalers’. There is an emerging hybrid role between the retailer and wholesaler, partly encouraged by the donors, that the INGO is embracing. INGO’s have, sadly, become conduits for channelling funds from the donor to the native civil society organisation. This hybrid role, lucrative in itself, has prevented the INGO from fully embracing what I consider the next correct ground i.e. ‘wholesale’.

What we instead see is a hodgepodge of INGO configurations. An INGO can present as a boutique, conduit-of-donor-funds, and wholesaler, moreover all the same time. You can imagine the challenge of ensuring that the right strategy, structure and systems are in place to serve the needs of this multi-configured entity. You and me know what is sacrificed first, impact-on-poverty.

Going back to the theme of BOLD CHOICE, the INGO needs to take the plunge, make the bold choice and avoid going back where it has been before. I think the time is right for the INGO to go wholesale, and I explain why, next.

Why should the INGO configure itself as a wholesaler?

  • The INGO currently embodies multiple configurations i.e. retail, wholesale, and the in-between of being a donor-conduit-of-funds to native civil society organisations. This is costing the INGO strategic as well as brand clarity, plus effectiveness.
  • Wholesaling = selling finished poverty eradication models to the development industry. I know this raises questions of viability for the INGO, but the INGO should be bold enough to take them head-on. The INGO first needs to accept that it has to change its configuration plus way it does business.  Squeezed out of  ‘retail’, INGO’s can’t remain on the road home forever – they have to make it home + define a new role
  • A new mandate for the expat worker is likely to emerge out of this, moreover, with genuine value-addition as development wholesale gurus
  • A bold way to address the INGO exit worries in the South. The INGO will not die after-all
  • Opportunity to reduce INGO overhead and size of operations in the South. That is what strategic clarity brings
  • Challenges the donors to make that long overdue choice – i.e. if donors want the capacity of native civil society entities developed, they should invest in configurations that can deliver that for them.
  • Allow the native civil society organisation to swim at the deep end – we need to create space for the strong native entities to blossom and the weak to do something else or die. I think that the industry needs only a few effective native civil society organisations and not the myriad that we currently witness. INGO’s may unintentionally sustain native civil society entities that cannot deliver effective value to the industry and need to be let go of.

How does this get done in reality?

The opportunities to wholesale are abundant for the INGO. Just like in any other industry, there are different entry points for the INGO into this wholesale sector.  I envisage three core opportunities for the INGO to provide wholesaling products and services:

  • Offer for sale poverty eradication solutions (models) to the myriad of native civil society entities working in the South.
  • Offer for sale capacity building models and can I say, that are different from the business as usual, one-off workshop type that we have come to know
  • Offer for sale research and analysis services for both donors and governments

Doing any of the above three wholesaling options needs a very different type of INGO organisation. Change has to start with INGO people, strategy, structure, but even more important donors and government poverty eradication models. Because the INGO is not self-financing and depends a lot on donor funding, there are limits to what it can do to change itself. However, the latter is no reason for the INGO not taking the plunge.  After-all, the INGO has to be a very different entity ten years from now, and whoever goes early shall see light then

Views and opinions will always be provided, and one hopes there is enough of a deve-preneur mindset to change this at times slumbering industry

Has the blog-series provided a win-win exit strategy for the INGO in the South?


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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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