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INGOs must prioritise local community initiatives

British people are among the most generous people in the world when it comes to the number of adults who have helped a stranger (51%), given to charity (71%) and volunteered time and services (29%). Globally we are ranked at number 17 out of 142 countries, joint with Ireland and only behind Denmark (#13) in Europe (CAF World Giving Index 2023).

In the UK Giving Report, it is recorded that the British public donated £13.9 billion to charity in 2023, up £1.2 billion from 2022 despite financial pressures on households. The increase is a result of people giving larger donations, rather than more people giving to charity. Of the total amount given to charity, £931 million (7%) went to overseas aid and disaster relief, down by £800 million (14%) from 2022. The sharp increase in 2022 can be attributed to giving towards Ukraine war appeals – 40% of Britons gave to Ukraine. Even smaller charities like All We Can raised record levels of funds of nearly £1million for Ukraine. Before Ukraine, and throughout the pandemic, the British public demonstrated concern for their global neighbours, people outside their borders impacted by poverty, disasters and injustice, while nursing their own pain. Even with this, we can do more.

To attain impactful and sustainable development results, as good stewards where funding is uncertain, charities must adopt an approach that puts people and the communities they serve at the helm of their work. International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGO) in particular must have a fundamental understanding that poverty does not equate sub-humanity or a lack of desire for self-determination. Even those who face barriers to education, possess wisdom and knowledge that, with external support can enable people to identify lasting solutions that work in their local contexts ultimately leading to sustainable and positive transformation of their communities. Development initiatives work best when they are designed, owned, and driven by those with lived experience.

There is a consensus across the INGO sector that the aid system is broken and needs to change urgently if greater impact is to be achieved. The BOND report ‘Catalysing locally-led development in the UK Aid system’ captures an initiative which aims to deconstruct and reconstruct the aid system. This action among UK INGOs aims to shift power and resources to communities in the countries where development happens. It recognises that INGOs have known for decades that there is a better way but have been stuck in a system that forces them to prioritise accountability to institutional donors, who have development agendas wrapped in their political and ideological persuasions, rather than the people in need of support.

There is a consensus across the INGO sector that the aid system is broken and needs to change urgently if greater impact is to be achieved. Quote

Funding from these sources can become a strait jacket and does not lend itself to responding closely to the priorities of local communities. Aid comes pre-packaged based on what donor’s think is best, relegating communities to spectators and passive recipients, rather than active players and drivers in their quest for a better future. This explains why initiatives die, once the four by fours leave as projects come to an end.

Support from the public provides a lifeline for the INGO sector because it comes with very few strings attached, apart from the yearning to meet people at their very points of need. It allows organisations to provide flexible funding, which is responsive, allowing them to pivot when contexts change. It empowers local people to take charge, and therefore sustain their programmes even after the external actors have packed up and left their communities. Public funding is a gamechanger and can allow more INGOs to turn their backs on limiting funding rooted in our colonial history, in favour of a reimagined sector, doing development differently with proven, sustainable results. It also enables INGOs to work more interdependently with their counterparts, local NGOs who have the skills and expertise to facilitate and enable change on the ground. These organisations have mostly been hidden actors in the aid system. Strong local NGO partnerships are what yield results, and unrestricted funding is what enables INGOs to invest in the health and resilience of these carriers and shapers of development. They are the ones that remain when international programmes shut down, run out of money, or run after the next thing on the foreign policy agenda.

Local people and local organisations, implementing local solutions, with locally-led international partnerships fuelled by people in high income countries concerned with their global neighbours, is what will achieve lasting development global goals.

Angela Zamaere Smith Headshot

Angela Zamaere Smith is the interim CEO of international development and emergency relief organisation, All We Can, and an expert in international development.

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