"if you don't have a strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy."
– a. toffler
"What can we do today, so that tomorrow we can do what we are unable to do today?"
– Paulo Freire
been thinking recently about how NGOs often don’t work for radical change, even though they have many staff working for them that would agree with radical changes
I think a lot of it comes down to an over-reliance on “SMART goals” – only working towards things that tick the box of Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.
bigger and more complex changes (e.g. increased support for worker self-organisation) are either unmeasurable or too expensive to measure. It means NGOs can win one-off battles, but often lack the strategy to win the war. I’ve seen people self-censor in meetings, pushing less “measurable” ideas aside
what can be done? I think it has to come back to grassroots movements. if you’re not reliant on specific achievements for funding, then you don’t need to restrict yourself only to measurable goals. you can frame the debate, and set the vision, by the goals you choose. sometimes it may be strategic to have a SMART goal, sometimes not! right-wing groups often use a mix of goals really well, but the eco-system on the left is a bit lacking I think
I realise this is a half-baked opinion in a place where other people have probably written tomes, but any other thoughts? charity folk/people that avoid charities especially?
Shit yeah. NGOs bleating about racism whilst having thoroughly racist outlooks is a ridiculous situation.
The quote is from the article African aid: no more ‘pity shit’ (why Western ‘caring’ for Africans is just as objectifying as old-fashioned racism) by Magatte Wade (born in Senegal, educated in France, and is now based in New York).
people in the Global South don’t need an “apolitical” (i.e. conservative in the true sense of maintaining the status quo) aid agenda. they need systemic change, and Andrew Mitchell’s never gave it to them. as this article points out, neither would a Labour government.
fuck them all!
John Hilary’s (from War on Want) take on NGO’s approaches to development, in Is the faultline among NGOs over the future of development deepening?
the article is about the debate generated from a recent paper summarising the academic literature on the role of NGOs in development and poverty reduction. has anyone read the paper, care to give any feedback?
I went to a really interesting talk at my work a few days ago about humanitarian organisations working in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Any NGO working after the quake will say land is a major issue - basically, working out who owns what, and finding land and space for people that need it. Given the legal situation (it’s a mess) NGOs saw land issues in Haiti as a “time-consuming void of complexity”. For more on Haiti’s ongoing issues with shelter, see this badass comic Tents Beyond Tents by Haitian writer Pharés Jerome and comic artist Chevelin Pierre.
It really brought home to me the structural limits of international NGOs. A few noteworthy issues:
The speaker’s analysis was that “the real difficulties for emergency agencies are les the particular tenure arrangements in any society, and more a difficulty in accepting risk”. My conclusion’s different.
The core problem is that the system NGO workers move in has been created by people with skewed worldviews, shaped by compartmentalised technical specialities and formal university training.
The humanitarian aid system is not built to be adaptable or centred around the needs of those receiving the aid. It’s the age-old critique, that stems from the paternalistic attitude of “me knowledgable, you vulnerable” that leads to “I have agency and you don’t”.
There were a few solutions bandied about too (more cash for work, reforming clustering, more local experts) but the crux is the whole system needs an overhaul.
Radical work needs to be done by many non-radical institutionalised people. I don’t have much hope…