When I was the Executive Director of AbleChildAfrica I often used to feel frustrated at the difficulties I faced in articualating our relationship with the partner organisations with whom we worked. Almost all the donor we applied to for funds required genuine and effective relationships with overseas partner organisations who implemented projects but few, if any, seemed to have a means of monitoring the quality and effectiveness of these relationships. Indeed many monitored them simply on the answer to a question in their application form which went something like, ‘Please tell us about your overseas partners, how you will work with them and what value you add?’ Time and again our applications for funds were rejected on the grounds that, being a small UK team we ‘did not have the capacity’ to monitor a proposed programme of work.
I knew full well, from my experiences talking to our partners, that more staff in an International NGO (INGO) did not necesserily equate to more effective support and relationships with partners. I knew too that we had solid and effective working relationships but I found that, in the face of donor requirements and systems, had no means to put this across. Perhaps even more surprisingly donors seemed to rely exclusively on how INGOs described their relationships with partners. This meant that they appeared to be judging these critical relationships on the opinion of one side of a partnership, a side which was necessarily biased since it relied upon describing something positively in order to obtain funds. There is clearly no benefit in an INGO being honest about difficulties in a partnership when applying for funding if everything they say is taken at face value by the donor concerned.
In what other industry, I started to ask myself, would the ‘customers opinion’ – in this case the views of partner organisations whom many INGOs support, not be considered by the ‘investor’ – in this case donor agencies who fund INGOs. Imagine a shareholder who invested in a company without finding out whether any customer was satisfied with the service the business provided or even wanted to receive it? Development seemed to me to be in a pickle about whose views and opinions mattered.
I couldn’t help feeling a little better when an independent survey by Keystone Accountability carried out last year proved that AbleChildAfrica’s partners valued and appreciated out support. It was notable too that the organisations scoring highly in the survey, which asked partners about what they thought about the international NGOs they were working with, were also those who did not have DFID support.
The major finding of the report, which for the first time asked representatives of 2000 international NGOs what they really wanted from development partners was that local organisations were not interested in being seen and treated as sub-contractors relying on the whims of INGOs and donors about whom and what to support, instead, that wanted help to ‘become independent and influential organisations in their own right‘.
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