What to do with INGOs?

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Are INGOs so bad for the country? Aren’t they contributing to national development? The opinions here might differ here but I believe that a healthy debate should be started on the role of INGOs in Nepal.

If the feelings of the nation towards international charities and not for profit organizations working in the country are changing, fair enough, let’s prepare an exit plan  for the local organizations greatly depending on them, both financially and technically.

But before doing that, I guess we need to be honest with ourselves and not simply bashing INGOs for all the malpractices in the traditional development sector. This isn’t fair.

I read last week the front page article from the The Himalayan Times that over criticized INGOs for not doing enough in terms of transparency and accountability, especially in terms of monitoring and reporting.

The fact that the Secretary of the Social Welfare Council,(SWC) was reported criticizing INGOs was quite troublesome. I want to believe that he might have strong elements for doing that and if this is the case, then action should be taken against INGOs failing to comply with national regulations, especially the reporting requirements set by SWC.

Does Nepal need INGOs? I do not have a straight forward answer to this; simultaneously yes and no.

On the one hand, INGOs were invited to help the development efforts of the country during its highest time of instability and political and military conflict. Did they do a good job? Reading the nation’s feelings, it seems that ordinary citizenry or at least most of newspapers columnists are quite unsatisfied with their performances but at the same time I feel like INGOs have been trying their best to bring development to the country

There are of course a great number of failures but also plenty of successes, one concerns the investment done by INGOs towards building the capacities of local partners. If now there are a good number of local not for profits with a certain level of skills and know how it is because of INGOs and the money put in by bilateral and multilateral donors and ordinary citizens in the donor countries.

On other hand, the country, sooner or later, needs to get rid of aid dependency and for this to happen practical, achievable targets must be set in order to create viable exit plans, not only for INGOs but also for all external development partners. After all, there are already plans to graduate Nepal from a least developed country to a developing country within a reasonable time frame.

The real problem is not the INGOs. The problem is the system: dysfunctional and far from being effective. Donor countries have plenty of money to pump into the country and they will continue to do so until Nepal garners enough political will to say “enough”.

Fortunately there are some good signs: more and more INGOs are aligned with the on line data platform of the ministry of finance and donors are shifting the focus of their aid from  mere assistance towards ‘investments” in wealth creation, with a far greater emphasis on income and employment generation.

The following are some ideas for the next 10 years of development assistance:


-Overhaul the SWC

The SWC must be turned into a totally independent watchdog, a sort of empowered charity commission able to stand on its own without the usual squabbling with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The monitoring of INGOs and NGOs should be totally put on line and aligned with the current efforts of the Ministry of Finance

-Increase the investment threshold for INGOs

Currently $100,000 USD allows an INGO to set up operations in the country. For me this does not make any more sense, it should be gradually increased. Within two years, the minimum amount could be $200,000 USD, within three years, it could go up to $250,000 USD and within five years, it should be brought to at least $500,000 USD. Ideally the country should have only international organizations worth at least$ 1 million USD. I know there are plenty of small INGOs doing a terrific job at the local level and they should be recognized for this. An incentive system should be set up for the smaller INGOs to be able to continue to work with local partners or to facilitate the creation of consortiums.

-Set a time line for nationalizing INGOs or let them go

There are a good number of INGOs which are exploring options to become national, meaning that they want to register themselves as national organizations. This option is greatly opposed by local and national NGOs. I believe that there are ways to reconcile different positions if for example a nationalized INGO is allowed to work exclusively as a grant making foundation only: no more co-implementation, no more huge staff supporting local organizations in the pursuit of local development.

I believe in win win situations where everybody can gain something. Local and national NGOs, the success story of international development in the country, can strike a deal with donors and INGOs.

If less but “richer” INGOs are allowed to continue to work in the country, if some smaller INGOs do hand over their entire work to local counterparts within a reasonable and viable timeframe (it cannot happen overnight), if some INGOs decides to turn into community foundations run exclusively by national professionals, a genuine not for profit sector can thrive in the country. One requisite is needed: a strong compliance system under the Government’ purview that will able to coordinate, monitor and ultimately fund local not for profit organizations.

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

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