Changing the Game: Shifting the power from the Global North to the South
During the third week of the Change the Game debate Vice Versa examines the role of western NGOs in the process of local fundraising and claim-making. Who takes the lead in the collaboration and how does this affect the competition between them? Are organizations willing to transfer the power from the North to the South? Do they really want to change the game? Vice Versa asked this question to three Dutch development organizations: Woord en Daad, Save the Children and the private initiative Knowledge for Children.
‘Dutch NGOs have noticed a change in their role in international development in recent years,’ says Rina Molenaar, manager of communications and funds of Woord en Daad. ‘Our contribution revolves less around money and focuses more on knowledge and networks. We always try to look at how partner organizations can continue on their own.’ In the area of fundraising, the organization is consciously strengthening local capacity. ‘Everything that people are able to do themselves, we should let them do. Our role as partners is to coach them.’
Woord en Daad promotes local fundraising among its partners and part of their approach is to slowly decrease funds. ‘We do provide funds, but in the letter to our partners we inform them that part of the funds of a program must be raised by themselves. We look at each country and program and customize our support to their needs.’
For many partner organizations this new approach is quit a shock. ‘These organizations will initially go through a difficult period. They feel that they are being punished by Woord en Daad because they will receive less funding. We do notice that a slow change in mindset is occurring among our partners. They understand that we believe they are doing a good job, but that they do have to do it themselves, even if it is initially painful for them. The partners do receive guidance from Woord en Daad. They provide workshops and training on this topic and share expertise on how they can start with this new approach. That other organizations choose a different approach than Woord en Daad is an asset according to the organization; ‘If an organization wants to handle things differently than us, they will start looking for other sponsors. I think its wonderful, because it reflects a lot of independence,’ says Molenaar.
Another important advantage of local fundraising, according to Molenaar, is the strengthening of supporters of Dutch organizations. ‘It is stimulating for volunteers here to see that people there are working with their own funds.’
Rolf Schipper, director of the private initiative Knowledge for Children in Cameroon, sees the strengthening of local capacity as a necessary development for the survival of the organization. ‘When we founded Knowledge for Children both the funds and the employees were Dutch. However, our aim is to have an organization that will be fully controlled by Cameroonians themselves. To achieve this we have trained and involved local staff in the project more and more.’ Ultimately Schipper wants the entire organization to be in local hands. ‘We have decided that the next Director should be from Cameroon,’ says Schipper.
Holke Wierema, president of Save the Children, acknowledges that local fundraising is an important part of creating sustainability in international development. Save the Children operates from a federation of independent member organizations that, over the years, also expanded to include members in the South. An increasing number independent member organization are replacing the regional field offices of the organization. Although these members in the South receive funds from the North, they are also starting to focus on local fundraising. ‘At the moment we are still in a transitional phase,’ says Wierema. ‘But it would be great if we eventually become completely obsolete. This will create more space for independence to take shape. It also creates a sense of responsibility and more dedication.’
In the opening article of the Change the Game debate Jenny Hodgson, executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations, warns that when large international organizations with their regional offices also enter the local fund-raising market, they might compete with local NGOs. This reinforces the unfair power relations. How do these organizations experience this? Molenaar recognizes the danger, but because Woord en Daad does not raise funds themselves, they manage to avoid this danger. ‘Raising our funds locally by ourselves does not fit into our vision of partnership. We want to be an added value to our partners and do not want to perform any tasks that they can pick up themselves.’
The Southern member organizations of Save the Children receive financial support from the West and at the same time raise local funds. Does this lead to unfair competition in the fundraising market with smaller, local NGOs? Wierema does not see it this way. ‘There is always competition when there are several organizations from which donors can choose. At the same time, in countries where local fundraising is still small, there is still much to achieve. I believe that competition in the West is much stronger. We already have a processed market and yet there is much to be explored. By raising local funds you break open this market. You prove that it is possible. When a number of NGOs start raising funds, a number of operators or businesses who can be of assistance start to arise around these NGOs. In turn, they offer their services to other organizations. That is how such a process starts to develop.’
Schipper also does not feel that there is unfair competition. ‘In Cameroon there are smaller initiatives, but they do not raise their funds locally yet. We do see an increasing number of these initiatives that want to learn from us. This is something positive for both sides; these organizations have contacts which we can also use.’
Earlier in this debate, we have seen the positive impact of local fundraising on claim-making. Woord en Daad is actively engaged in advocacy and influencing, both in the North and the South. In the South, this is all done by their partners. ‘Initially partners did not come up with ideas because they were not experienced with this way of thinking. At one point we gave funds to partners that were specifically intended for lobbying. If the money was not used for this purpose, then we did not pay any of the promised funds. Now you see that this approach is being applied more and more among our partners.’
Wierema also underlines the importance of lobbying. ‘In order to make development more sustainable we have to change the whole structure of countries. It would be wise if there is a tax relieve for generating local funds among the people in the country who earn enough money. This allows for a social system to develop. Private organizations can be the ones that catalyze these processes.’
Woord en Daad made a conscious decision in the South to play a role on the background, both in fundraising and in advocacy and influencing. Molenaar: ‘We intend to let out partner organizations be recognized and not to make a name for our own club.’
Member organizations of Save the Children raise funds and lobby explicitly under this name, as a visible part of this federation. On campaign and promotional materials such as posters, flyers and balloons the red logo of the organization is visible. According to Wierema this has many advantages. ‘All these member organizations share a common history and mission: we stand up for children’s rights. At local level member organizations know exactly what issues are at play, what their background is, and what politician is sensitive to a specific issue. The advantage of Save the Children as a global federation is that we can exert influence at international level on multilateral organizations like the UN and the World Bank. The most important thing is that you work from your own qualities and strengthen each other where possible.’