Our goal in the NGO sector is to ‘help people help themselves’, supporting their own efforts to improve their lives. As such, we can say that NGOs provide ‘development assistance’ not development.
NGOs are most effective when they contribute to people’s own efforts to improve their lives, organisations or societies – instead of taking a lead in trying to solve other people’s problems. We need to participate in their lives; not expect them to participate in our projects.
This is important for both short term and long term reasons, including:
- NGOs are only one factor in people’s efforts and we often do not understand local situations and priorities very well. Local situations are complicated and change unpredictably. They always involve local politics: when one social group benefits, another may lose out. People’s priorities are also complicated and change.
- Our work should respect people’s right to make their own decisions about their own lives. We can’t tell people what to think or do. We can help them build up their confidence and abilities, to tackle their own priorities.
- Our work is only sustainable if it is based on local people’s priorities. It is very unlikely that we can truly ‘persuade’ people to feel a sense of ownership over ‘our’ priorities.
- Funds are given to help beneficiaries, not NGOs – it is not ‘our’ money. We have a responsibility to make sure that it is as useful to beneficiaries as possible.
'The international humanitarian community needs a fundamental re-orientation from supplying aid, to supporting and facilitating communities’ own relief and recovery priorities.'
Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, Recommendation #1