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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 29, New Delhi, July 4, 2020

An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations

Saturday 4 July 2020



An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations
Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with.

March 5th 2020

Dear INGOs:

Thank you for taking an interest in our countries. We represent a wide range of national and subnational organisations based in countries – mostly in the global south – where you often work. We have probably even been in meetings together or have been represented in the success stories you give to your supporters.

We appreciate that over the years, many of you have sought to help deliver much-needed services, and have helped to elevate some issues of concern, like debt relief, gender or climate change, to the world stage.

But times are changing. And you have (rightly) been facing a number of critiques in recent years – around your legitimacy, your ‘whiteness’ or the fact that far more aid money ultimately ends up in the pockets of northern organisations’ headquarters than it does in the Global South.

We see that you’re trying to respond to these critiques by ‘localising’, as we’ve been asked to meet with your highly paid consultants on numerous occasions. The strategy is pretty common: usually you start by creating a ‘local organisation’ with a local board. A next step that we’re seeing is that you enter the world of DRM – ‘Domestic Resource Mobilisation’ – to raise money from within our countries. This latter aspect is probably also down to the fact that your traditional incomes from the rich North/West are starting to diminish, so this has the added bonus of replenishing lost incomes.

In theory, this probably sounds great to your northern ears: local middle-income people should indeed ‘own’ their civil society, especially as a response to growing concerns around closing civic space and authoritarian governments. We couldn’t agree with you more on this principle.

But there are things we object to and some suggestions about how you can use your international muscle to help us more effectively than through this misguided localisation agenda.

What happens in practice is that these efforts only serve to reinforce the power dynamic at play, and ultimately to close the space for domestic civil society. This can be illustrated quite simply: a multi-million-dollar INGO, with an entire marketing, communications and fundraising team, whose project budget for this endeavour probably outstrips that of most of our national organisations for a year, then comes into the South to raise money ‘domestically’.

Perhaps the board has set a target of raising 30% of total income directly from the South. That’s not an additional million dollars, that’s a million or more dollars taken away from local civil society. And worse still, most of this money will be siphoned off to pay for their own inner workings, rather than be invested on the ground.

All of this serves to weaken us locally. It keeps us in a master/servant relationship continuously begging for grants from your institutions, while we remain bereft of core funding ourselves. This is not what we need or want.

Instead, here’s how you can be more helpful with your ‘DRM’ investment: if you are serious about ‘shifting power’ then reduce your footprint and brand and use your fundraising machinery to help grassroots organisations create the structures to fundraise for themselves and sustain their work.

We need the infrastructure for people to raise money domestically and from diaspora, not to be competing with big global INGOs. What is ultimately needed is to strengthen and scale up southern civil society, not to be pushed out of our own communities and markets.

Do you need to exist in every country with your brand? No. There are often local organisations, like ourselves, who work effectively on the ground, with better connections to the local community. And many of us also have the skills and capacity to represent our issues on the world stage.

We represent an eclectic mixture of organisations, but we are, increasingly, uniting under the banner or hashtag of #ShiftThePower and its “Manifesto for Change.”
Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with, and certainly not replaced.


A Mile Away (AMA), Zambia
Abibiman Foundation, Ghana
Activate Labs, Mexico/US
ADESO, Kenya
Advocacy Core Team, Zimbabwe
Africa Health and Nutrition, Kenya
African Diaspora Relocation Agency
African Network of Youth Policy Experts, Botswana
African Philanthropy Network
AFroIDEA, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and Nigeria
Agency for Peace and Development, Kenya
Airavati Organisation (Hlaing Tsp), Myanmar
AJSA, India
Albanian Society for All Ages, Albania
Alliance for Holistic and Sustainable Development Communities (AHSDC), India
AMO Programme, Ghana
Approche Participative, Développement et Santé de Proximité (APDSP), Cameroon
Arusha Municipal Community Foundation, Tanzania
ASDA, Chad
Ashake Foundation, Nigeria
Assembly of Social Mobilization, Sri Lanka
Association Cri de Cœur pour l’Equité et le Développement (ACCED), Burkina Faso
Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud AC, Mexico
Bala Vikasa Social Service Society, India
Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum, Bangladesh
Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication, Bangladesh
Burundi Child Rights Coalition, Burundi
Care for Nature Zambia, Zambia
Caring Volunteers Network (CAVNET), Ghana
Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), Philippines
Center for Development Support Initiatives, Nigeria
Center for Economic Development – Cameroon
Centre for Peace and Democracy (CPD), Somalia
Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC), Democratic Republic of the Congo
Child Care Center, India
Children and Youth Development Society, India
Civil Society Empowerment Network, Afghanistan
COAST, Bangladesh
Comite Regional de Solidarite des Femmes pour la Paix en Casamance, Senegal
Community Care for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation, Myanmar
Community Foundation for the Western Region of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Community Self Reliance Centre, Nepal
Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE) , Uganda
Community World Service Asia, Pakistan
CORAFID Centre for Innovation and Research, Nigeria
Councillors for Development & Trainings, Pakistan
Coxs Bazaar CSO/NGO Forum, Bangladesh
Dalia Association, Palestine
Dalit Community Foundation, India
Dalit Women Fight, India
Development and Justice Initiative, India
Development Expertise Center, Ethiopia
Development Research and Advocacy, Ghana
Dr Meheret Ayenew, Research Fellow FSS and Adjunct Faculty, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
East Africa Philanthropy Network
Ecumenical Commission for Human Development, Pakistan
Emma Crewe, SOAS University of London, UK
Equality for Growth, Tanzania
Family for Every Child
FemPlatz, Serbia
Firelight Foundation
Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania, Tanzania
Foundation for Social Transformation, India
Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myanmar
Friends, Bangladesh
Fundaçâo Micaia, Mozambique
Fund for Congolese Women, Democratic Republic of Congo
Gargaar Relief and Development Organisation, Somalia
Ghana Philanthropy Forum, Ghana
Global Fund for Community Foundations, South Africa
Global Information and Social Resource Foundation – GISRF
Global Peace Association, Ghana
Golden Red Foundation, India
Gramin Evam Nagar Vikas Parishad (GENVP), India
Greenline Africa, Zimbabwe
Greenfield Africa Foundation, Ghana
Green String Network, Kenya
HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, India
Hard Rock Self-Sufficiency Foundation, Nigeria
HEAPIDER-Concern, Inc., Liberia
Help Foundation for Victims of Insurgency in Nigeria, Nigeria
Helpers Social Development Foundation, Nigeria
Hope for Young Girls and Boys, Zambia
Hope Village Society, Egypt
Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOCO), Somaliland and Ethiopia
House of Consciousness (HoC), Zambia
Inclusive Climate Change Adaptation for a Sustainable Africa
Indonesia for Humanity (Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan / IKA), Indonesia
Initiative Pananetugri pour le Bien-etre de la Femme, Burkina Faso
Instituto de Comunicación y Desarrollo (ICD), Uruguay
International Foundation for Students and Youth Development (IFSYD), Ghana
Jijenge Youth Organization, Kenya
Joint – Liga de ONGs em Mocambique, Mozambique
Kaalo, Somalia
Keepers Zambia Foundation, Zambia
Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya
Kenya Pastoralist Journalist Alliance Trust, Kenya
K & R Welfare and Placement Services, Papua New Guinea
Lasphumakhona Community Development Projects (LCDP), South Africa
L’Association CEDRE 17 pour Un Développement Inclusif et Durable (AC17), Morocco
Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs de l’Environnement pour le Développement durable, Guinea
Let Them Help Themselves (LTHT), Uganda
LetsStopAIDS, Canada
LifeLine ONG, Benin
LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam
Majal, Bahrain
Makutano ya Wajasiriamali (MAWA), Tanzania
Mars Football Foundation, India
Masila Ghana Foundation, Ghana
Maurisante, Mauritius
Mauritius Council for Social Services, Mauritius
Mbao Ngula, Zambia
Migrant Support Network, Guyana
MILAP, Nepal
Mizu Eco-Care, Zambia
Mona Younis, Human Rights Advocate
Multikids Africa, Ghana
Nabadion Youth Alliance Southwest State, Somalia
Ngetha Media Association for Peace (NMAP), Uganda
Nigerian Women Agro Allied Farmers Association, Nigeria
NZP+ Mufumbwe, Zambia
Olive Luena Education Trust, Tanzania
Orbeliani, Georgia
PACT Foundation, Romania
Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition, Zimbabwe
Participatory Action for Community Empowerment Foundation (PEACE), Zambia
People’s Action Forum (PAF), Zambia
Personal Initiative for Positive Empowerment (PIPE), Kenya
Positive-Generation, Cameroon
Professor Emma Crewe, Director, on behalf of Global Research Network on Parliaments and People, UK
Rawa Creative Palestinian Communities Fund, Palestine
Reaching the Unreached Tanzania (RUT), Tanzania
Reality of Aid Africa Network, Kenya
Reformed Open Community Schools, Zambia
Reproductive Health and Rights Advocacy Initiative (REHEaRD), Nigeria
Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour le Développement (RESOCIDE), Burkina Faso
Resilliance, Morocco
Rita Thapa, Founder of Tewa – the Nepal Women’s Fund and Nagarik Aawaz, Nepal
Romanian Foundation for Children, Community and Family (FRCCF), Romania
Ruth Foundation, Zambia
Sahakarmi Samaj, Nepal
Sahara Advocates for Change, Ghana
Salamander Trust, UK
Sangama, India
Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), Somalia
SEED Malaysia, Malaysia
Selma Foundation, Ghana
Sense, India
Sera Thabiti, Kenya
Social Life and Agricultural Development Foundation, Somalia
Solidarité Féminine pour la Paix et le Developpement Integral “SOFEPADI”, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Solidarity Foundation, India
Somalia Humanity Support, Somalia
Somalia Women and Youth Empowerment Initiative, Somalia
STAR Ghana Foundation, Ghana
Success Capital Organisation, Botswana
Sustainability Leadership Kosova, Kosovo
Sustainable Impact for Development in Africa (SIDAF), Cameroon
Taakulo Somali Community, Somalia and Ethiopia
Tanzania Community Foundation Network, Tanzania
Thubutu Africa Initiatives, Tanzania
Twerwaneho Listeners’ Club, Uganda
Uganda National NGO Forum, Uganda
United Social Welfare Society, Pakistan
Usikimye, Kenya
Vision Changers Kenya, Kenya
Watershed Organisation Trust, India
WASDA, Kenya
Wajir South Development Association, Kenya and Somalia
West Africa Civil Society Institute, Ghana
Whole Planet Initiative, Nigeria
Women Aspire Network, Ghana
Women for India Foundation, India
XOESE – Le Fond pour les Femmes Francophones, Togo
Yayasan Usaha Mulia (Foundation for Noble Work), Indonesia
You-Nik Children’s Initiative, Zambia
Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Mongu, Zambia
Youth Development and Voice Initiative (YOVI), Ghana
Youth Harvest Foundation, Ghana
YouthNet Nagaland, India
Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB), Zambia
Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD), Zambia
Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC), Zambia
Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society (ZGF), Zambia
Zamzam Foundation, Somalia


This letter, which originally appeared on Open Democracy and has since also been translated into French, Portuguese and Spanish, is the product of a protracted, heated, angry and passionate discussion that took place on the #ShiftThePower WhatsApp group in early March. Several people on the group had been approached separately by International NGOs who wanted to learn about their experiences in local fundraising and building community philanthropy, but in ways that all felt were ‘extractive.’ These interactions point to the growing trend for INGOs to look further afield for resources to fill the funding gap that many are experiencing.

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