Set your mind back to 2007. Imagine yourself seated in your office building. Your meeting begins and the department manager starts outlining the sales forecasts for the following fiscal quarter. Suddenly you feel your chair lurch. Initially you think your stomach merely grumbled but then another jolt hits you. You gaze up to notice the office lights swaying and your colleagues all looking just as bewildered. The team realises that the office is experiencing a mild earthquake and everyone files down the stairs and out onto the street below.
Then, throughout that afternoon and evening, many Kenyans flood each other with warnings about future earthquakes scheduled to supposedly hit at midnight. Multiple Nairobi residents, along Mombasa Road in particular, pitch tents and sleep in apartment block parking lots for fear of the supposed scheduled aftershock earthquake and the commensurate feared building damage. But midnight comes and goes and no second quake hits the area.
Several noticeable earthquakes shook East Africa during 2007 with epicentres from the DRC down to Tanzania. As the earthquakes gained some international press attention, several international NGOs sprang into action to raise money for earthquake-hit areas. One particular NGO fundraised hundreds of millions of Kenya Shillings for blankets for affected people whose homes were damaged. However, did blankets also fly off the shelves at then dominant retailer Nakumatt? No. Most of the earthquakes hit during the hottest months of that year thus negating the need for blankets and only very minimal structural damage occurred in some isolated areas so people did not become homeless in need of blankets. Donor funds can distort regular market supply and demand forces whereby the users of funds hold different need intentions than the provider, or source, of funds intends.
As a resident of an area experiencing mild earthquakes, what type of spending would you desire from the donor fundraising? Perhaps window ladders so families can escape from first and second floors if a staircase collapses, maybe a generator and powerful torches in case electricity gets knocked out, and most importantly maybe capacity building for better information sharing by government agencies following natural disasters to mitigate misinformation. Inasmuch, much criticism was levied at the specific NGO for mismatching bottom-up needs from top-down perceptions forced down to beneficiaries.
While giving to charity flourishes as one of the magnificent characteristics of humanity, providing top-down funding for societal misfortunes and injustices creates a power imbalance between provider and recipient. Power disparities result in a mismatch between source perceptions and use intentions in the donor and NGO or Community Service Organisation (CSO) sector.
Qualitative research through the Kenyan-based Advocacy Accelerator examines a particularly challenging area of non-profit work: advocacy. A substantial section of the study sought to uncover the extent that donors, often in the Global North, work with funding recipient organisations, often in the Global South, on equal footing as equivalent partners and whether international organisations work with bottom-up local partners and allow anonymous feedback from partners and recipients.
These fundamental concepts could alter the way donors approach giving and, in particular, advocacy. Some of the study results found that globally-driven rather than African-driven advocacy priorities reduce the potential for local advocacy leadership while sustainability and competition between non-profit organisations conducting advocacy and advocates themselves inhibits collaboration and alignment on bottom-up prioritisation.
Additional research expounds on the donor-recipient dynamic of causes and effects with research aimed at empowering truly African-run, based, and driven advocacy agendas. If your livelihood as an NGO worker or community advocate depends on donor funds, how likely are you to speak truth to your donors? Does top-down rigidity from donors inhibit successful initiatives? Does programmatic African-led autonomy result in innovative solutions to local challenges?
In summary, while charitable giving is good and selfless assistance to others in need is commendable, can there be improvements in the way donors work with communities on equal footing? Read Business Talk in the coming weeks for answers to these and other pertinent donor-advocacy questions in the African context. New cutting-edge research will be shared at the upcoming International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi.
The Business Daily will report on the exciting new frontier-bending studies affecting the NGO and development sector.