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Whats so great about ‘local’ NGOs? Well maybe not so much.

September 1, 2009

As anybody who has been to pretty much any African country knows (my entirely non-scientific poll suggests this includes about 0.35% of international journalists who refer to ‘Africa’ as a continent) you ain’t nobody till you got yourself an NGO (or at least you’ve probably got a sexier set of wheels if you do).  This is not to say that many or most of them are not doing amazing things, but lets be honest, the proliferation of the ubiquitous ‘local’ NGO could be said to attest as much to the entrepreneurial spirit as the presence of deep social need. 

Aid agencies certainly love them, but are they better than trying to actually stengthen the states capacity to deliver funds? (clue: no).  As a recent paper studying Uganda claims

…the evidence suggests that grants from external donors do not encourage a local charitable sector. Many local NGOs seem to be created simply to obtain grant funding.

This interpretation is reinforced by the numerous Ugandan NGOs that have a shadowy existence when they do not receive an external grant. For instance, of the roughly 1,700 NGOs registered in Kampala at the time of the survey, only a quarter could be located. Grants do not appear to go to NGOs that would raise funds on their own; instead, they go to a few well-educated, well-connected organizations and individuals skilled at writing grant applications.

Observing that grant recipients do not raise local resources does not imply that they deliver services poorly. But it calls into question the assumption that underlies the switch away from government services: if local NGOs are not driven by an altruistic motive, why should they be expected to behave in a less opportunistic manner than civil servants? There may be other reasons why donors prefer private service delivery, such as better control, faster response to emergencies, or the promotion of a specific message or agenda.


H/t to Chris Blattman for the link.

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