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The Effectiveness-Lab

The phony International development narrative – Series 2 of 2

Upon reading the Effectiveness-lab’s phony development narrative series 1, my development peers hang me out to dry. Some did not take well the attribution of the enduring state of peasantry and poverty in Uganda, to the International NonGovernmental organisation (INGO). The Effectiveness-lab stands by its position i.e. that the INGO in Uganda has failed the poor and has been mostly ineffective in doing its job. We have heard statements from development practitioners like ‘the Uganda government has not done its bit’; even then, we have not seen evidence that exonerates the INGO in Uganda for failing the poor

If there is proof that the results of the recently concluded population census In Uganda are wrong, we may consider shifting our position. We also know that back in their posh Kampala offices – INGO’s shall critically analyse the results of the census, well aware that many will question their efforts of the last fourteen years. Can INGO’s prove that the results of the last Uganda census, specifically ‘economic exclusion’ of the poor are ‘wrong’? If they cannot, INGO’s in Uganda then have a problem to solve – and perhaps one that borders on their credibility!

Is it time for the INGO to consider its exit options + for those of us ever indebted to it, a re-incurnation?
Is it time for the INGO to consider its exit options + for those of us ever indebted to it, a re-incarnation?

INGO’s in Uganda understand very well that debating certain results of the Uganda population census can become a poisoned chalice for them, and we explain why: INGO’s operate in an industry sector that mostly self ‘appoints’ and ‘controls’ the equivalent of ‘external auditors’ for their program work. Wielding such power over their ‘auditors’, INGO ‘end of project evaluations’, paint a rosy picture of the state of poverty. We bet that from the so-called ‘end of project evaluation’ reports, Ugandan INGO’s can show the world evidence that they have changed the fortunes of many Ugandan peasants from absolute poverty to something better; to the Ugandan INGO, many peasants in Uganda are involved in petty trade, contrary to what the population census results report.

Our problem at the Effectiveness-lab is that these so called ‘end of project evaluations’ have a fundamental failing – the INGO program-evaluation industry sub-sector is run by ex INGO seniors, big consulting interests with self-interest in the perpetuity of the INGO industry sector, etc. To a certain extent, it is like the gravy train, and we know how good that leaves many of us that work or have worked in development.

It is true that over time, extremely successful industry sector leaders whether in the for-profit or non-profit sectors, amass so much power and influence over others in the industry sector; such power has been used to control and manipulate industry sector level ‘checks and balances’. Moreover, checks and balances that are meant to ensure that such powerful entities, also remain effective and efficient and continue to serve the interests of the masses. Industry sectors that have controlled and manipulated such ‘checking and balancing’ regimes have gotten into trouble; the global banking sector and how it plunged the world into a near economic catastrophe is a poignant example – the ripple effect of which, we still feel today.

Is the INGO in Uganda and the international development sector heading in the direction of a compromised ‘checks and balances’ regime? Well, we won’t attempt answering this question with a linear Yes/No answer. Instead, we ask the questions below, whose answers should in turn help answer the question about a compromised ‘checks and balance’ regime by the INGO:

  • Are the results of the Uganda population census correct i.e. that 69% of households are engaged in subsistence agriculture and are yet to join the money economy in Uganda and that Only 31% of Ugandans are engaged in any form of income generating activity (stagnant since 2002)?
  • Do you imagine that Uganda’s INGO economic ‘project evaluations’ show the same level of economic exclusion of the poor like the Uganda population census?
  • Are the INGO’s working with the same population that has informed the Uganda population census figures?
  • How can the impact of the INGO work in Uganda, however, minuscule, not change the population census results (bullet one above) in a positive manner?
  • Given the number of INGO’s running pro-poor economic programmes, how could they fail to improve the figures in bullet one above even by a percentage point or less? Is it a botched critical-mass?

Development friends, something is wrong, and we need it fixed in the immediate. I have worked in international development for many years – a key motivation in starting the Effectiveness-Lab blog was to challenge development practitioners mindset about the manner international development is done. Whether on the inside or outside of international development, the Effectiveness-Lab shall continue to challenge the status-quo. It has to be better and SMARTER

In 2015, the Effectiveness-lab run a blog on the need for a fourth-sector in development – the other three sectors being: civil society, government, and the private sector. In the fourth sector, we may get the kind of leader and mindset that will change international development. A leader that will bring a different narrative, and not fear of the unknown. A leader that will undo what is and do it again – what is is done from scratch may stand the test of time; and on a bigger note, what is new, may bring about the death of the INGO


Read more about
The INGO crisis of Identity and how to address it

Gabazira’s blog – The Effectiveness-lab:
The future of the INGO – a comparative analysis

The INGO Crisis of Identity


Having listened to feedback on the phony development narrative Series 1 from very accomplished development friends, it’s about time we looked again at some of the Effectiveness-lab’s blog conclusions on civil society:

This was the conclusion to the blog, The INGO crisis of Identity:

‘It is my conviction that the INGO that will survive to deliver next-generation development should have already started changing elements of its DNA. It is currently mid/late cycle of stage 2 above i.e. the ‘midlife-crisis INGO’. Given the right leadership, an open mind, and the knack to innovate, the latter entity should arrive at stage 3 i.e. ‘4th-sector entity’ five to ten years from now. This 4th-sector entity is: small, nimble, & an effective operator with a new value proposition and re-found brand-strength.

The battle will be won not on size, physical footprint, or country dominance for those countries with a culture of wanting to dominate. Instead, it will be won by people that bring 4th-sector thinking to development discourse and tailor services and products towards real needs of the beneficiary.’

Is the Ugandan INGO ready for this shift?


4 responses to “The phony International development narrative – Series 2 of 2”

  1. According to census results 7 million adult people have never been to school in Uganda.

    Now let us ask ourselves these questions;

    1. How many NGOs (INGOs inclusive) do education programming in Uganda?
    2. Are their models replicable?
    3. Have they been around since the last census?
    4. What is their impact on the education sector?

    I agree INGOs undertake micro interventions, but such would result into macro effects. Education interventions would substantially reduce the 7 million level of illiteracy!

    Hebert, Look at an INGO fighting to reduce the EBOLA scourge, would it be taking a micro or macro intervention? And what would be the result?

    I encourage everyone in the sector to start designing programmes that are replicable and the goal should always be address a macroeconomic/social aspect. Microeconomic/social aspects when summed result into macroeconomic/social aspects.



    1. Thanks Seddu – I have been hang out to dry by development peers like Herbert; I am the first one to admit that as an ingo leader, I know we have done lots of good – but it’s not always in an effective and efficient way – the ‘about the blog’ page of the effectiveness lab talks about the fact that being effective doesn’t = efficiency; in the case of the ingo, the opposite is also true – ingo’s can be efficient but not effective

      Because ingo’s mean well – and they work really hard to address enduring poverty – they are very sensitive to any criticism – I suppose that is only human

      The truth is – we need a new kind of leader for the ingo; the 4th sector type of leader

      Herbert, pls come along to the bandwagon that will change ingo leadership and ultimately, ensure its survival!


  2. Herbert Mugumya Avatar
    Herbert Mugumya

    Apollo, thank you so much for yet another effective lab post. Nonetheless, for the 1st time in your series of this blog, I want to disagree with your today’s post. Apllo, to conclude that INGOs have not done enough to impact on census poverty indicator is unfair. 1st, what is your denominator of any of the socio-economic indicators of poverty, and what is INGO failure rate towards this indicator?

    By design, INGOs do no impact on macro economic indicators directly out of their development work. Instead, INGOs focus their work on micro economic interventions like household income at community level in a given prescribed sample in few districts. At best, what INGOs do is to attribute their successes on poverty by contributing to government efforts not at national but on local level. INGOs do not possess significant resources to do what you expect them to do. If your analysis was targeting for example, World Bank funding in Uganda, I would agree. But analysing work of CARE, WVI or Africare towards national poverty indicator is to say the least…..expecting toouch!.

    As you know, I have managed several projects funded by foreign donors mainly the USG but in each of these projects, the work of the INGO is focused on few districts, selected sub countries and sampled households. The impact of such efforts however successful they nay look at final evaluation cannot represent national picture. Many of these pilot and 1st time projects are not even replicated or taken to scale despite their micro success stories.

    Therefore, the problem is not the INGO. The problem is the donor government and host government in determining what would be the impact of external support through INGOs. Any of these INGOs are “implementing partners” not “donors”! We need to focus analysis of this post on limits and delimits of INGO efforts and their expected deliverables. We need to look at each indicator denominator and determine success rate. We can do better by avoiding several assumptions implied in the post. The census indicator isn’t measure of INGO success or failure. Rather, if you wanted, we can assess impact INGO interventions in relation to their limits and contributions to national poverty indicators. Right now, I need to see points of convergence to effectively assess poverty outcomes as impacted by national programs propagated by government efforts and but less on INGO efforts.

    I beg to move…..Apollo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kairu – excellent analysis thanks! Certainly, I can’t exonerate the GoU on its obligation to ensure stable macro economic fundamentals

      However, the blog is very clear on what it’s blaming ingo’s for: the very micro economic focus you talk about in your comment – and how they have failed to influence the macro economic fundamentals of uganda. Surely, you are not saying that what ingo’s do, should not contribute to high level macro economic metrics – if it should, then ingo’s are accountable for it, as much as the GoU

      Kairu – let us put this in perspective; even though ingo work is done at a village level, and as you say, the very poorest villages of uganda – over 14 years of work, how can ingo’s fail, even if it’s by 1%, to change the number of Ugandans involved in Income generating activities? I have to question what ingo’s do – including those I have led myself – and I have always said so! I know of financial inclusion and income generating projects that have covered almost 30% of districts in uganda – what has been their contribution?

      In my opinion – the ingo needs to change its narrative and tangibly contribute to changing the fortunes of our people – as a sector, we are too defensive and pass the blame a lot – let us do it or get out!


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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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