So much, it seems to me, of the potential for disagreement, conflict and confusion in partnerships relates to funding. Local partners that have been independently established and created by an individual and group of people will naturally usually some idea or plan about what they were established to do. Perhaps an organisation was envisioned by someone with a clear idea of a situation or policy which they wanted to change? Perhaps it was created to meet a need felt by a group, individual or community?
Enter an international NGO which wants to support the partner. Because International NGOs have their own visions, missions, goals and criteria the development of a partnership is always a negotiation. Too often, in my experience, that negotiation starts with an explanation of the strategies and approaches of the international NGO. When a conversation starts in this way local NGOs necesserily ‘adapt’ their plans to ‘meet the needs of the INGO’. Those needs might be working in a specific way or with a specific issue. They often mean adapting the original priorities of the local NGO.
Sometimes this can feel to the INGO like a ‘win’. Sometimes this does mean that a local NGO is working on an important issue they wouldn’t have tackled or in a way that they wouldn’t have thought of. This may reap benefits. However it may also mean that the local NGO faces some difficult choices. Does it divert all it’s energies to doing what the INGO wants? Or should it continue to do what it originally planned for and seek to manage the expectations of the INGO? Often it may try to do both. And feel exhausted trying.
What we all want, INGOs and local NGOs alike, is sufficient resources to implement our vision. We want to give our ideas a try. We want to see what works and improve our effectiveness. Usually it is a struggle to convince ‘donors’ that what we really need is a free reign so that we can figure out what really works. Worse still many institutional donors have a policy of match funding. Here we must not only invent a project that fits their criteria and policies but we must also convince someone else to give us the remainder of the money to do exactly what the first funder wanted us to do. More often than not significant resources must be invested in seeking such ‘match funding’. Often organisations who have some unrestricted money find it easier to do the so called ‘matching’ from their own precious funds.
Behind the concept of match funding is the assumption that our work will be better if we are great persuaders able to convince a range of people to support the same thing. In fact to be successful at this ‘game’ of course we must make ourselves in to great ‘adapters’. We must fit our work in to the frameworks favoured by funders at any given point in time. Local NGOs face the same problems. Resources are avalible to those able to be great adapters. Yet if my vision is strong and clear and I am committed to my purpose I may not be willing to adapt.
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