International NGOs: Changing Playing Field and a Vision for the Future
By admin April 20, 2016

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Source: FSG Ahead of the Curve Report

Source: FSG Ahead of the Curve Report


International NGOs are increasingly feeling pressure from a changing international system. Recurring economic recessions in the developed countries, the rise of the private sector as a serious development actor, technological revolutions, and a steady build-up of infrastructure in the global south have transformed the structure within which INGOs work. In addition to this, the pack of emerging markets and governments (such as China and India), has resulted in NGOs being hurried by donors to change their business models due to the build-up of local infrastructure and a wave of new actors. However, change does not and should not necessarily mean the irrelevance or ineffectiveness of NGOs: as long as the international system is facing poverty, inequality, and, in general, ‘problems’ and ‘issues’ NGOs have a reason to exist. Nevertheless, change means that the established NGOs should unlearn their old ways of looking at the world, before new generations of NGOs emerge and disrupt the giants.


How is the world changing from its old ways of doing business in the new century? First, many governmental and inter-governmental organizations, as one of the major sources of NGO funding, have been winding down generous financial and humanitarian aids due to shrinking budgets. The value-added of western NGOs are increasingly questioned. Many prefer to work directly with southern CSOs [civil service organizations]. NGOs have been gradually shrinking and re-structuring their organizations to sustain the new structural pressures. Their duty as designers and implementers will be more and more delegated to private actors, market forces, and local organizations.


One natural response to this change is the relocation of offices and infrastructure to the South. Cutting jobs, closing ‘unnecessary’ offices and operations, and merging and centralizing operations are also some other short-term responses to the pressure. But, to address the fundamental and systemic changes, International NGOs need a new vision to replace their ‘design and implement’ model.


With the distribution of knowledge, education and infrastructure to the South, both ‘design’ and ‘implementation’ of goals will be more and more migrating out of the North. Moreover, new models of profitability have opened up new markets and eaten up the NGOs’ tasks. Still, NGOs have an invaluable asset in their hands: they are problem-driven by nature (instead of purely profit-driven models). Some observers have proposed a ‘networked’ model for INGOs, in which NGOs are ‘coordinators’ of projects or plans among multiple stakeholders. These plans or projects have shared added-values for different stakeholders. Stakeholders can be governments, private companies, small or medium enterprises or even business giants, whether local or transnational.


In the networked model, NGOs are depicted as media for knowledge-sharing, networking, and international advocacy. However, NGOs can go beyond being merely a medium for networking. In this vision, NGOs detect problems and issues as they have always done. NGOs are able to conduct more holistic research and knowledge-production before bringing in other private or public actors. Holistic research, in other words, should be done by a more disinterested actor in the future. In the next stage, NGOs can link for-profit local and global actors for solving the issue at hand. Since every project has phases/parts/processes that are too risky for for-profit business models, NGOs are responsible for ‘filling the gaps’ through the funds that they raise. In the end, the combination of all stages and parts of the projects is geared towards solving a ‘problem’ or an ‘issue’ that is deemed too risky for local or transnational business to address alone. NGOs are not doomed to be replaced as long as they remain committed to their nature as problem-driven actors in the international system.


For more information:

Shifting sands: the changing landscape for international NGOs

Ahead of the Curve Insights for the International NGO of the Future

Is there a future for international NGOs in the 21st century?

The Future of Non-Governmental Organisations in the Humanitarian Sector 

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