NGOs and Beneficiaries: what’s in my account?!

So how about those NGOs?

On the supply side, our main focus is on building the skills of our producers and this is done as our commercial relationship with them develops. Our work in this area is pragmatic, focused, and results oriented.

And this is where the NGO support comes in

The suppliers often need the support that development projects provide, and we try to get as much of it for them as we can.

What are your main concerns when approaching the NGO?

We have come across a number of challenges but the main concern that I’d like to cover in this post is that of accountability.

Can you elaborate?

In a venture, the parties involved usually hold each other accountable on the basis of certain mutual obligations, the achievement of specific objectives, and the overall experience and results. Unfortunately, we have found that in many cases this accountability is not apparent in the NGO-beneficiary relationship, and this can have a negative impact on our own business if we are not careful.

How so?

Introducing a producer into an environment where the outcome of the support is not clear, and the party delivering the service cannot be held to account, carries all sorts of risks for us.

But donors usually do look for positive outcomes don’t they?

Sure, and putting the donor’s overall agenda to one side, the project will have a number of deliverables that are designed to have a positive impact on the beneficiary/community.

In our view however, if the activities that are directly relevant to the beneficiaries’ businesses are not tied to specific financial objectives and a bottom line, the financial outcomes of the social investment become fluid, and this positive impact becomes dubious.

Other than making it difficult to judge and monitor the sustainability of a particular business, this fluidity implies two things :

. Measuring if, and to what extent the producer has benefited from the activity becomes difficult.
. Measuring the beneficiary’s personal development over the course of the project becomes impossible.

Now this might be fine in some cases, but not when we are trying to help communities generate incomes and jobs, or we are helping small businesses become sustainable and successful.

So because the donor does not expect the NGO or the beneficiary to delivery any financial results through their investment, the levels of accountability drop?

Yes, and despite the fact that a project document is technically good, it is incomplete in a sense because on the one hand there are few or no requirements and design elements that pressure the NGO to work around concrete financial results, and on the other, there is little said about the beneficiary’s role and obligations in helping to achieve these results.

And how does that effect your beneficiaries?

This varies of course. The point is that the initiative ends up being mostly a unilateral affair where the beneficiary can become a happy recipient of aid rather than an effective partner in achieving outcomes. They might have gained some assets, but their future prospects aren’t necessarily any better. They haven’t learned much!

Quite a challenge!

Look, on both sides of the equation people quickly get a sense of this game and become dependent on it as they would a subsidy.

Our own producers are commercial partners and we have an obligation to guide them so that they can get the support they need while staying focused on the business at hand. In a sense we have to empower them so that they as ‘clients’ can set the agenda. How well the NGO responds to this is a measure of their responsiveness to the actual needs of their beneficiary.

Have you found NGOs receptive to your model and your approach?

We’ve had some positive experiences and are working on collaborating on more projects in the near future. As far as the relevance of our model to the sector, we can perhaps look at this in a later post.

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