The term ‘capacity-building’ has become popular in development circles, particularly in the context of partnering with southern NGOs to improve knowledge and ownership of development initiatives. However, concrete efforts to allow southern NGOs a greater voice have been relatively weak.
Partnerships between northern and southern NGOs are often rare and short-term, focusing mostly on disasters and one-off interventions. Southern NGOs are generally contracted out as implementers, meaning that they miss out on financing for overhead costs and the opportunity to make key decisions.
In April 2015, an African NGO called African Development Solutions (Adeso) released a report outlining the growing frustration among southern NGOs, who have an important role to play but still have very little control over the development process. The report highlighted that local actors feel there is a need to create a global network of southern NGOs. On the heels of the report, Adeso has announced their aim to do just that.
Degan Ali, Adeso’s Executive Director, believes that a global southern NGO network is an idea that is long overdue. The proposed network would offer sustainable development resources for its members and would provide an opportunity for south-to-south exchange of experiences and learning. Ali says that the network will provide four key services to its members.
First, it will become a representative in global humanitarian debates, similar to northern networks and UN agencies. Second, it will offer strategic resources in financial management, logistical systems, and human resources, instead of just sector-specific technical resources. Third, the network will commission research and provide evidence of the work being carried out by southern NGOs in emergencies, ensuring that their achievements are just as visible as the work of international NGOs. Lastly, the network will develop a funding mechanism to help its members establish a performance record in grant management and implementation. The aim of the fund is to give members access to financial resources to slowly build experience managing funds and projects.
Adeso has big goals in its sights, but they are laying the groundwork to ensure that those goals are within reach. Their April 2015 report provided a study of the feasibility and scope of a global network of southern NGOs. One of the biggest challenges for the proposed network will be to secure sustainable funding. Funding will come from member fees, but the network will also learn from the experience of other networks in developing strong relationships with a varied pool of donors.
With increasing focus paid to resilience and local ownership, southern NGOs are gaining greater attention from the global community. The number of humanitarian disasters is also on the rise and there is a greater reliance on local NGOs to mount an appropriate response. For these reasons, respondents in the report agreed on the need for a network of southern NGOs to complement existing northern networks. Above all, Adeso hopes that the network will explore new ways in which genuine, equal partnerships can advance humanitarian aid.
Adeso envisions the network as a recognized key player, where its members are essential to a humanitarian system that adapts to local context and needs. In a sense, the network will seek to help southern NGOs become insiders instead of outsiders, and have adequate, equal representation in global decision-making forums. There is a growing recognition of the importance that local NGOs play in helping to implement responsive, sustainable development programs. These organizations will only grow with continued investment and formal representation to support their expertise and make their voices heard.
Adeso knows that there will need to be a concerted effort and committed members to help make the network a reality, but the result will be a system where southern NGOs can make decisions on their own terms.