A global dilemma for NGOs

NGOs around the world are asking the same question: how can we survive without international donor funding? Ashoka, an NGO that promotes the profession of social entrepreneurship, sought to provide some answers to this tough question by placing the problem of NGO financial sustainability under the spotlight at the recent international Mobiliza conference in Brazil with contributions from diversely different countries.

The objective of the conference was to promote sustainable models of local resource mobilisation in an effort to mainstream social causes by encouraging NGOs to innovatively garner support from local allies, such as the media, private companies, private individuals and the public in general.

This was motivated by the need to steer Southern NGOs away from a detrimental dependence on international donors that are driven by Northern agendas. The Mobiliza conference, which attracted 470 Brazilian civil society delegates, was hosted under the auspices of Ashoka’s “Citizen Base Initiative”, a programme that promotes local resource mobilisation.

A key theme that set the tone for discussions at the conference was the issue of ethics in resource mobilisation.
Sergio Haddad, president of the Brazilian Association of NGOs, argued that NGOs have lost their critical edge in the pursuit of limited international donor funding.

He says Northern support for Southern development problems has limitations in that it is largely focused at the humanitarian level. This, he argued, prohibited engaging with issues of poverty and under-development at a fundamental level. The problem, according to Haddad, “is that Northern partners view Southern social problems as charity issues”.

Haddad, who called on the NGO sector to generate principles to influence public policy, criticised national governments in the developing world for demonstrating poor form by engaging in “clientilistic” relationships with local NGOs.

Building on this key theme, several countries provided a synopsis of their own socio-economic and NGO funding environment and presented best practices in local resource mobilisation.

Paula Cardenau of Ashoka Argentina reported that 42% of the country’s total population of 35-million people live below the poverty line. Moreover, the average annual income of Argentina is rapidly eroding in the current economic recession that started in 1998. In 1997 the average annual income per person was $8950 and today it stands at a mere $2493. One outcome of the deepening economic and political crisis is the closure of many local firms and industries spurring unemployment to a rate of 23% adding to the number of people joining the ranks of the poor.

In this context, Argentina’s 80 000 NGOs need to manage growing social problems while coping with a suspension of state financing that has been re-allocated to two emergency streams: subsidies for household heads and “alimentary help” through which the state is distributing food in day care centres.

Only a small portion of Argentinean NGOs manage to secure international donor funds. “The key challenge facing NGOs is how to build sustainable partnerships with the corporate sector as they represent one of the few remaining sources of local funding,” Cardenau says.

The Argentinean NGO sector boasts a million volunteers. As a result, they survive mainly due to local resource mobilisation strategies. For example, Ashoka rewarded the NinquihuÃ

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