Isn’t it unfair that poor nations, poor organizations and poor people should be asked to contribute more to their own development? Isn’t the developed world shirking its responsibilities by promoting such activity? These were some of the reactions when the Resource Alliance first began to talk about disseminating its expertise in fundraising and resource mobilization throughout the developing world 10-15 years ago. Now the agenda has moved on. As John Batten outlined in his opening address to the recent Resource Alliance international conference in Agra, it is now widely agreed that having a strong local resource base will increase the independence of action of Southern civil society organizations (CSOs) and enable them to pursue their own locally based agendas. As one speaker put it, ‘Local resource mobilization is the right thing to do irrespective of trends in foreign funding.’ (This is not to say that development aid should cease: as many speakers emphasized, redistribution of wealth remains historically right.) It is also generally agreed that if CSOs are to be successful in mobilizing local resources, considerable ‘re-engineering’ of civil society will be needed in many countries: CSOs need to demonstrate their impact on poverty and social injustice, to develop local accountability and local governance – in other words, communicate to the public what they do and how they do it. A matter for civil society as a whole
Both Rajesh Tandon (PRIA, India) and Elkanah Odembo (Ufadhili, Kenya) made the point that this is not just a matter for individual CSOs. Tandon called for CSOs to build a local and national identity for civil society as a whole. At present traditional associations often feel alienated from development NGOs (‘development types like us’). The language of development – expressions like ‘results-based approaches’, ‘strategic direction’ and ‘best practices’ – is partly to blame for this. Finding the common ground, common values, will be the only way to create common identities. If we can do this, other sections of society may also find values in common with ours and in turn reach out towards civil society. Odembo likewise stressed that it is not enough for individual NGOs to improve their image and communicate better. The sector as a whole needs to demonstrate and communicate its value to society, the role it can play in national development. National standards of excellence for the NGO sector are needed, with better quality of leadership and staff. He too stressed the need for clear values: ‘The sector is no longer value driven.’ Varying public perceptions of NGOs
Public perceptions of NGOs/CSOs was a recurring theme throughout the conference. Two Indian speakers referred to the Bombay Times’ daily ‘Charity Exposé’ column. Pushpa Sundar (Sampradaan – Indian Centre for Philanthropy) made the point that such perceptions are not fixed and are different for different sectors of society. Early NGOs – simple, austere organizations with unpaid volunteers only – had had a much better public image than modern professional NGOs. As the sector grew, the reporting of abuses grew. Rural NGOs generally have a better image than urban NGOs. They are often the only form of help available to rural people, they are physically closer to the people they work with, staff are seen as having given up opportunities to work for the poor. Only 21 per cent of money contributed by individuals in urban areas goes to development NGOs. Companies favour service-providing NGOs and those providing disaster relief, while religious organizations mostly have very negative views of NGOs. Government has increased its funding of NGOs but remains concerned about their credibility and interested in the idea of validation (see opposite). According to Odembo, rural NGOs are more appreciated than others in Kenya too. Challenges for the future
While the Resource Alliance local resource mobilization conferences have certainly...