The situation of aid-dependent NGOs in Namibia today looks a lot like the situation of endangered species.
While endangered species are at risk of becoming extinct because they are threatened by changing environmental or predation parameters, aid-dependent NGOs in Namibia are at risk of extinction because of the changing aid landscape.
Currently, nearly all the NGOs in Namibia whose survival entirely depends on resources from funding agencies face difficult times to find new sources of funding.
In particular, the new aid delivery approaches by donors have brought serious implications on NGOs.
On the one hand, donors now advocate increased use of budgetary support and other programme-based approaches, which aim to strengthen government machinery; rather than the use of project support modalities, which NGOs have all along, depended on, for their sustenance.
On the other hand, because nearly all of today’s development initiatives are increasingly becoming state-centric, as donors have lately focused on reinforcing the responsibility of central government (in the planning and implementation of sector policies and programmes), NGOs are worried about their role, which they think will now be marginalized.
Many governments view NGOs, particulary those with a political bent, with suspicion and hence they will have very little room in the state-focused approach.
It is thus becoming a trend for NGOs, especially the more ambitious ones, to forge collaborative partnerships with other sectors of the economy to stay afloat.
Others are looking to Namibia’s national NGO body, NANGOF Trust, to save them from failing.
These mainly include community-based organizations that are not only too small to raise capital in public markets, but also cannot afford to borrow from financial institutions.
NANGOF Trust is spearheading the establishment of the Civil Society Foundation of Namibia (CSFN), which will raise, manage and distribute funds, with particular focus on support for community development.
NANGOF Trust executive director Ivin Lombardt recently told The Southern Times that the CSFN will be one of the largest support mechanisms for civil society in Namibia.
“Donors are slowly disappearing from the scene in Namibia.
“This is an issue of great concern to NANGOF Trust particularly as many of the current funding arrangements are coming to a close in 2013 for many NGOs.”
Limited donor funding also affects the government.
Many governments rely on NGOs to cover intervention gaps in HIV and AIDS programmes, education and rural development among other areas of mutual concern.
Lombardt says, “Our thinking as a group should therefore shift to ‘what mechanisms we can now put in place to make sure that the reduced donor support does not impact too heavily on our efforts to develop Namibia and achieve VISION 2030’.”
The NANGOF boss adds that NGOs cannot continue relying solely on external donor support.
“We must bring in other measures that will ensure our own sustainability as well as bring in the Namibian government as a clear contributor to the sustainability of NGOs in Namibia.”
Lombardt suggests that perceptions of Namibia as a growing economy could be contributing to donors no longer prioritizing the country.
“The biggest reason for donor exodus from Namibia is that we have been classified an upper-middle income country.
“In the eyes of many donors, this means that Namibia, as a country, should be able to take care of its problems.
“Donors are moving to more needy countries. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that many donor countries are themselves faced by serious financial shortcomings since the 2008 global financial crash,” he notes.
Problems With Aid Today
Many of the problems with aid today lie within aid itself.
By its very nature, aid is something essentially temporary and conditional, and therefore undependable.
Aid has tended to provide a temporary solution to a crisis.
The focus, therefore, should be on weaning countries off aid.
Aid is no longer considered a long-term solution to the problem of poverty.
And rich nations are accused of perpetuating poverty through fatuous aid instead of ending it.
As it were, donor governments have tended to use aid to destabilize the economies of developing countries, so that they perpetually hold out their begging bowls to them.
Developing countries increasingly look at aid baits as attempts to undermine the national sovereignty of recipient countries.
While aid is useful in humanitarian crises and emergencies, there is no consensus that “development aid” leads to any lasting development as it results in dependency syndrome.
The general consensus at the moment among developing countries is that aid should only be made available as a temporary measure to provide countries in need with a way out of an immediate crisis.
The Conditionality of Aid
Aid has always been subject to certain set conditions upon which its extension depends.
Each time aid is given, make no mistake, there are expectations on the part of the donor.
It’s like “to whom much is given, much is expected”.
And all too often, these expectations are more to do with the interests of the one doing the giving than the one who is receiving – and these two may not tally.
Historically, the countries receiving aid have been agreeing to certain conditions set by the donor governments, which they would promise to carry out the moment they receive the money.
In the run up to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005 and the Accra Agenda for Action in 2008, governments, donors and non-state actors alike were all convinced it was high time they did some major maintenance checks on all existing aid modalities.
In a way, some donors are beginning to indicate a willingness to show some regard for the needs of recipient countries.
This was a long overdue change in approach.
What donors have actually done lately is to agree on one basic principle that “aid by itself does not foster growth or reduce poverty, given that, the success of any development assistance programme depends, to a large extent, on the aid recipient country’s own policies and priorities”.
Aid seems to be heading in the right direction seeing that it now allows recipient countries to have some say in its ultimate form and goals, to the extent that, recipient countries are increasingly becoming a major determinant factor and reference points.
The way in which aid was formerly provided by donors was either through financing of specific projects (project aid), which often involved direct donor participation in their design and implementation; or through providing support to the recipient government’s budget (conditional budget support) while imposing conditionalities on how to allocate the available resources.
It is important to notice that in the recent shift of the mechanisms that channel aid, the significant changes have only sought to highlight the improvement of aid conditionalities.
This is because the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action did not specifically advocate the sole use of new aid modalities, as both traditional and emerging categories still present legitimate options in different circumstances.
What they did advocate, however, was the increased use of those funding instruments that can deliver on the new-found principles of aid effectiveness, namely general budget support (GBS), and Sector Wide Approaches (SWAPs).
The current modalities still range from projects through sector approaches and GBS, to balance of payments support encompassing a variety of arrangements for conditionality, earmarking and accountability.
Back to NGOs’ funding sustainability today, Clemmence Chiduwa, the executive director of the Institute for Capacity Development in Namibia, says: “With the biting financial crises in the eurozone and the US, the funding of NGOs is no more a priority.
“NGOs that will continue to receive funding are those that protect or further the national and foreign policy interests of the source countries.”
Chiduwa adds that there will still be tendencies to come up with strict conditionalities for recipients.
“What should be noted is some NGOs are complementing government efforts in improving the livelihoods of our people.
“These NGOs should look at ways to be sustainable beyond donor funding.”
Advising on how NGOs can cope with the changed situation, Chiduwa says there is need for them to make their practical relevance felt by stakeholders, especially the government, targeted beneficiaries and the business community. “Beyond donor funding, sustainability can be achieved through tripartite alliances between government, business and the NGOs.
“NGOs themselves should devise funding mechanisms and income generating projects.
“They should lobby the government for them to be considered for funding under social grants.
“There is also need for a practical relationship with local businesses that are willing to fund them under their community social responsibility programmes.
“The thrust of equity and economic empowerment should also compel corporates to do more on CSR and this entails funding NGOs that are making a difference in people lives in line with government objectives.”