When I first worked in development for LCI in the 1990s much of my administrator role involved faxing important documents to 5 training and development offices around the world. Communication was often slow and difficult. It sometimes took me hours to send a fax. There is no doubt that in those days communication hampered attempts to involve people ‘on the ground’ in decisions affecting their lives.
We forget sometimes how much had changed. It has changed beyond belief. Now, if I choose to be connected, I get daily real time updates from people all over the world via email, web alerts and social media. Though sometimes we may feel swamped by all this communication, there is no doubt that now, we can communicate in ways that change our ‘business’ entirely.
At the same time, recent research by Huyse (2011) with 11 Belgian INGOs shows that though they most ‘appreciated the usefulness’ of learning, reflection, feedback and visits they planned more ‘future investment’ in technology; intranets, extranets and virtual platforms, than in the learning they valued.
I wonder why? They thought reflection was more useful but nevertheless they planned to invest in technology. Is it easier to raise funds to invest in technology? Is there something useful about looking and feeling ‘up-to-date’? Why don’t we invest more in reflection? I wonder in fact whether we fear reflection because it might mean we have to question our own worth. We might have to ask ourselves why, in an ‘age’ of rapid and regular communication, do INGOs need to exist at all?
It seems to me that its increasingly feasible for donors to ‘cut out’ INGOs and communicate directly with local NGOs working in the countries and on the issues which they want to support. So what are INGOs for? I think we need to reflect more honestly are the value that we might be able to add. Are we really able to build more equitable approaches to partnership for example? Can we develop ways in which to do that? Can we advocate for and with local NGOs on the issues that matter to them?
As far as I’m concerned making our Partnerships Matter should be a key part of the value we add. Our Partnerships could and should be a living demonstration of how to build fairer connections in an ever more connected but still desperately unfair world. But to make them that we must be willing to reflect more honestly and to face the places where we our relationships aren’t working well. And we need to make Partnerships that work more effectively a key criteria when measuring the effectiveness of our work.
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