Why NGOs in Africa need serious reforms

Bitange Ndemo

A group of local and regional NGO’s led by the Kenya Association of Fundraising Professionals (KAFP) invited me to give a talk at their annual meeting in Mombasa.

They wanted me to speak about the future and how they can position themselves for the world that is yet to come.

Not being a futurist expert, I considered declining the invitation. Deep down my heart, I believe that NGOs in Africa need serious reforms, despite the fact that several NGOs are doing exemplary work.

There is need for example, to separate family run NGOs that seek for funds to dig a bore hole from those that fight for human rights in Africa.

I also tend to lean towards the Afro-centric perspective that Africa’s revival into a more dignified continent depend on her ability to find solutions to her problems.


This is what can bring our pride into the global stage. After a few phone calls with the organizers, I eventually accepted to go speak. I persuaded myself not to be critical of the current donor dependence but to focus on what Africa should be in the future.

I also wanted to impress upon the audience that it is time we developed local charities as a strategy to lessen dependence on foreign donor funding which tend to reflect a master servant relationship.

I argued that there was need for obtaining a broad view of emerging trends and new technologies as they relate to our future environment and help our organizations anticipate and prepare for the future.

Knowledge, for example, that grasps the importance of emerging predictive models of big data will protect organizations against uncertainties that often lead to sudden deaths of organisations.

Big data has helped in predicting such complex things like weather. It can be used to predict many more other things if we understood its application.

Already donors themselves are talking of donor fatigue, a euphemism for their dissatisfaction that they are not achieving their intended objectives, and a statement on the dwindling ability to give.

Therefore, donor recipients should innovate new ways of sustaining themselves in their respective intervention areas.

In recent years, new sustainability models such as social entrepreneurship have emerged to augment other donor funds and slowly wean recipients from dependence.

But more importantly, we need to deal with our own inadequacies of dealing with donor money. We need more discipline and values-based moral probity.

India for example has exceedingly succeeded in the utilization of donor funds through creation of sustainability models.

For example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation investment in India’s Pharmaceutical companies facilitated pharmaceutical R&D strategies tailored to the realities of the developing world.

India has managed to build a formidable pharmaceutical industry that is fast to market and in the process changed the lives of millions of people who could not afford medication otherwise.

They had a stark choice – just like we do: To depend on donors to provide care or adopt a sustainability model that slowly weaned them out of dependence and brought honour to their country.

Like the Asian Tigers, India is looking forward to play a major role in developing economies, which explains their mounting of the recently concluded Indo Africa summit.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that my message resonated well with most participants. Some even proposed that African governments should start to provide incentives to encourage growth of local philanthropy.

Indeed, Africa has an age-long culture of giving. The only exception is that the giving is not structured. This is largely because we give without considering if the outcome enhances the sustainability of human kind.

If many of the rich Africans begin to think about sustainability of their legacies, they would donate more to projects that would sustain not just their names but also the legacies that they want to leave behind.

It would be gratifying if the future has less of funding from global Foundations and more of African Foundations. There are far too many opportunities for local philanthropy to take advantage of and ingrain their names eternally.

For this to happen, resource mobilization strategies have to change and focus on creating an enabling environment that encourages local donations for local solutions.

Some NGOs are doing a great job in Africa but much needs to be done to remove the bad apples. There is need to leverage on new technologies as well as encourage local participation as a strategy to enhance Africa’s image in the global stage.

Francis of Assisi said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” We must start to give in order to receive.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.