Our world has changed significantly since I started at MEDA in 2018. As we wrestle with the unprecedented implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the movements for racial justice in the US and around the world, the effects on us individually and collectively have been significant.
The development sector is going through a renewed wave of societal changes — shifts in geopolitical power distribution, a surge in nationalism, lessening trust in institutions, and increased demands to prove results — and we need to adapt.
MEDA is redesigning our programs to adapt to the ongoing challenges of working in a fractured, inequitable world. We are reflecting on how to be part of the decolonizing of international development, working in partnership and shifting power from the global north to the global south (e.g. designing projects beginning with those whom we seek to serve). Positive global change will be achieved through listening, partnership and collaboration.
At MEDA, we are optimistic and ready to leverage the opportunity to multiply our impact. We remain committed to keep MEDA supporters informed of these conversations, so together as partners, we can all be part of this UN decade of action (2020 – 2030).
As we seek opportunities to thrive and navigate these changes together, I invited four of my peers to reflect on the changing role of the iNGO (International Non-Governmental Organization). I asked: What new norms do iNGOs need to embrace in the next 5-10 years if they want to stay relevant and legitimate?
Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President & CEO Women’s World Banking
We are amid a profound and global struggle between forces that represent a broadening towards international alignment and cooperation, and those that represent a narrowing towards national self-interest. We are seeing eddying currents around social and racial justice, immigration, and the economy. Plus, the global pandemic has had profound implications for everyone on the planet.
COVID-19 has exposed many of society’s underlying inequalities.
It’s even more important for us to double our efforts, encouraging collaboration, and keeping the issue high on the public agenda against many competing, incredibly worthy issues, such as racial equality and climate change.
How do we respond? The first and most powerful tool at our disposal is ourselves — our people and our work. The quality of the work we do, the positive change it has on women’s lives, and the communication back to constituents highlighting that change is critical.
The second tool is to perform to the highest and most transparent ethical standards. We must operate with the greatest integrity.
Third, we must be local. The only way we will make sustainable change is to be on the ground, working with local partners and institutions on their terms and in their way. Philanthropic colonialism does not work. We all need to take time to pause, educate ourselves, ask hard questions, and accept the ways in which we need to change. It is critical for iNGOs to keep focused on our core mission and purpose.
Barbara Grantham, President & CEO CARE Canada
iNGO’s must go through a period of profound change and transformation if they want to remain relevant, continue to have impact and realize their mission.
This year’s disruptions have highlighted the deep, enduring inequalities in our world — locally, nationally, and globally. These are not problems ‘over there’. They are here, in our very midst. The emergence of the global south, the increasing understanding of embedded racism and systemic discrimination, the enduring power of white privilege, the profoundly inequitable policies of funders, and the practices of well-meaning but not-always-helpful iNGO’s — all of these movements, trends and ‘winds of change’ are coalescing.
While there has been profound sadness, there is also profound opportunity in front of us for meaningful and REAL change.
But it does mean change — change that is disruptive, substantial and will make many of us uncomfortable. That change means giving up power — economic power, power based on the privilege that comes with race, formal education, gender.
It means we will have to do ‘our work’ differently. Our organizations will be smaller, for resources are not needed here in the global north. They are needed — and have FAR greater impact — in the south.
We will need to measure ‘success’ differently — not by the size of our budgets or how much money we raise. Success will come from defining new metrics, based on principles of true equality, genuine empowerment, and meaningful change. We seek relevance and impact. That means thinking about and doing our work differently.
William Warshauer of TechnoServe
The legitimacy of iNGOs is bein g called into question from multiple angles, including cases such as the WE Charity s candal and those who advance an agenda of nativism/nationalism. Poverty alleviationis too important to be funded based on feelings or beliefs. We need much better data on impact and on the durability of that impact, to drive investment decisions for development. We need better industry standard metrics so iNGOs can use common methodologies and report comparable impact figures. We need donors to help drive that and to push farther on pay for performance.
At their best, iNGOs can bring a powerful mix of international best practices, innovation and investment and deep knowledge of the local context to help provide effective programs. No model is perfect. The role of the iNGOneeds to evolve. We need to do less and less direct implementation and more and more brokering, crowding in, and facilitating the growing number of strong local implementers and service providers.
We are working more with market systems facilitation approaches and doing less direct implementation than ever before — a healthy trend. However, even in a post-COVID world, we will remain connected across borders. We need to be open to collaboration among governments, local and international businesses, and the social sector.
Jacqueline Novogratz, President & CEO Acumen
More than ever, our world needs individuals with moral imagination and a will to face the beautiful struggle of creating a more inclusive, just, and sustainable world. There is no single sector that can claim responsibility, either for the problems we face, or the solutions we need. All must recognize that this is a time to work differently, to upend traditional structures so that we can listen to voices that have been marginalized and challenge the status quo.
This will mean using capital in new ways to create value for all stakeholders, not just shareholders, and empowering leaders that demonstrate moral imagination, rather than traditional markers of power and influence. It is an exciting time for iNGOs, many of whom have built deep ties to local communities and entrepreneurs that will be so important in building a more inclusive and sustainable future.