The AIN Should Take the Offensive against Bashing

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On Monday 28th of April, the daily Republica published on the front page an article “Only 14 out 173 INGOs report to govt”. The following day the same newspaper was hosting an editorial highly critical of INGOs.You should not be surprised. It seems that the latest trend in the national media is to attack and criticize the work carried out by INGOs. Expats working for them are also having a tough time especially in subjects related to visa permits.

What’s wrong with INGOs? Is it time to introspect?

First of all let’s clarify a couple of things. The accusations made in the article are quite ridiculous. You might have a few issues to complain about INGOs but it is just sheer defamation claiming that only a few INGOs are reporting to the government. By the way what do we mean by reporting to the government? Isn’t the Social Welfare Council, SWC, the apex body overseeing national and international NGOs alike part of the Government? Because it is really impossible to prove that only 14 INGOs are reporting to the Council.

The truth is quite different. The vast majority of INGOs might not instead report to the Ministry of Finance therefore the accusation that Rs 44.45b spent by INGOs in the country remains unaccounted for.

Why don’t we have an information sharing system between the SWC and the Ministry of Finance where all reports presented by INGOs to the SWC are automatically transferred to the Aid Management Platform run by the Ministry of Finance?

Was it a coincidence that exactly the same day before the article in Republica, the Chair of AIN had given an interview to The Himalayan Times counterattacking the recent criticisms mounted against INGOs?

Fairness for fairness, I believe it is also high time for INGOs to take a more proactive strategy in dealing with criticisms rather than always being on the defensive.The AIN can have a real role in this effort.

Here is some food for thought:

INGOs should engage with the mass media in a more proactive way and they should see communication not only as a visibility or fund raising tool but as a genuine way to initiate a conversation with the nation and the general public. Criticism can be seen an opportunity to better explain what INGOs are doing and can be seen as an opportunity for improvement. The problem here is that development systems, the way grants are given does not exactly allow a culture of reflection, introspection and improvement. There is no space for “learning by doing”, failure is not admitted. After all results and outputs are stoned in sacred walls called logical frameworks; try to convince a donor that an indicator was mistakenly calculated.

A new way of communication should also embrace the way INGOs relate and work withbeneficiaries that should be better empowered to critically assess and review the work done by INGOs and their local counterparts. Allowing beneficiaries or members of local communities to adopt a Right to Information Approach to monitor and evaluate the work done by INGOs could be a great step forward. The AIN should persuade all members to assign one person within their staff as an RTI Focal Point with the main duty to proactively find new ways to inform and update beneficiaries about the work done. INGOs could start with a noticeboard outside their office disclosing some relevant information about their work. Their local offices should adopt the same level of disclosure. Any queriesshould be welcome as a positive way to give locals a real platform to speak up.

Real engagement at the grassroots level can also mean disclosing “inconvenient truths” including the salaries of the staff. Local people should not be taken for granted. Better to tell them the truth rather than allowing them to live with recriminations and suspicion. -Update the Partnership Guidelines and turn these into a compliance system with a voluntary peer reporting system strongly encouraged by the AIN Secretariat. Forget losing time with donors, also parties to the Guidelines.They will never agree. They are stronger than INGOs and Government officials will think twice before criticizing them.

-Encourage all members to report to the AIN Secretariat on their compliance commitments with different government offices. This is a way to start vetting AIN members.

-Turn the Capacity Building Working Group into an Accountability and Good Governance Task Force that works as an in-house watchdog

-Push for all members to share information with Aid Management Platform

I doubt there is the will to equip and strengthen the AIN in dealing with the daunting issues going after its members. Some AIN Members might be not happy with the above proposals but it is better to have a thinner membership than becoming irrelevant and despised. For sure one thing is clear: the time of complacency for AIN is over.



Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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