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Is Aid a Disaster? NGOs Sustainability Dilemma
Is Aid a Disaster? NGOs Sustainability Dilemma

By - Kiraithe Daniel Mutemi

Posted - 29-01-2020

Non-governmental organization (NGO) refers to any organization that operates independently from the government influence and does not work with a profit motive. NGOs have been operating in various countries worldwide since they were officially established under the United Nations’ charter in 1945. Over 10 million NGOs have since been registered and are operating all over the world, especially in developing economies.

NGOs are well known in Africa for offering crucial services to humanity for decades. Their services include the provision of healthcare services, education, fighting poverty, emergency humanitarian responses among other critical services. They also vary in size and scope of operation. But they all have a common feature: Looking for Aid while providing the same to citizens.

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According to Nonprofit Action(2019), the number of people assisting the NGOs through donations stood at 1.4 billion in 2014 worldwide. This number is projected to grow by close to 80 percent to reach 2.5 billion people by 2030. Canada tops the list of the most generous donors to NGOs with an average donation of USD 450 per individual per year. The total donations from this country are approximately USD 11 Billion per annum.

There has been unprecedented growth in the sector considering the number of organizations entering operations and the activities they are involved in. To illustrate, in Kenya, over 100,000 NGOs are operating. They have close to 300,000 employees and volunteers majority who are youth under 25 years. It is, therefore, an important sector worldwide. However, the rapid growth of the sector is worrying owing to the fact that they rely on donations to keep operating. Reports show that the work of the majority of these firms that have been operating for decades has not lead to any significant transformation of the lives of the people. For instance, in 2009, the Wall Street journal made such a claim regarding Aid in Africa.

“The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It’s increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest… Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.”

These sentiments elucidated the existence of manipulation in interests and goals of NGOs by some unseen hand. Who is this so powerful and what is the agenda? Are these the desired outcomes of the NGOs?

Sustainability can be viewed as the ability of the organizations to maintain certain things that ensure their survival in-house. It involves a decisive and deliberate action of keeping the organization running and maintaining its operations for a long time. It is the recipe for independence and autonomous operations devoid of interference from the masters. Considering the NGO context, it means the continuation of its projects without relying on the traditional model of grants and donations. To remain sustainable, the core funding source must be steady and reliable.

The question of sustainability remains unanswered considering the organizations rely heavily on donors to fund their projects. Could there be a hidden agenda in the operations of some NGOs concealed under the funding? Some projects fail to kick off or stall when donors pull out of funding for various reasons. Some of the reasons that make donors pull out of projects could be a conflict of interest or simply inadequate funds.

With this model of donations, critical services can be cut off when they are needed most by vulnerable citizens and donor-funded project beneficiaries. NGOs including those under the biggest organizations like the United Nations survive under similar mercies of donors. For instance, UNICEF’s entire funding budget comes from voluntary contributions. UNICEF national committees approved the creation of local non-governmental organizations that are independent and formed from 38 industrialized countries which contributes one-third of the budget. Contributions come from corporations, individual donors and civil society organizations across the globe. The other two-thirds of the funding comes from government contributions. These sources of funds are not sustainable since the contributors can fail to contribute or simply opt not to donate. The donors might need certain conditions to be met so that they release funds. Governments and corporations who are the financiers can, therefore, have an influence on institutions that are expected to operate independently.

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Way forward
Sustainability can be achieved if a long-term plan is drawn to allow the improvement of organizational structures and processes without legal enforcement. This approach can assist in preparing these organizations for the absence of donor funding while still delivering a positive impact to the target beneficiaries.

The management should device creative ways of ensuring there exist a sustainability plan to make it all-inclusive and successful. The plan should financial sustainability, programs sustainability, and organizational sustainability. To understand the impact of the projects run by these firms, we cannot help but figure out who the donors are and what are their goals. We need to ponder whether indeed ‘Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster’.

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