Edwin Kiama

Social Entrepreneur, Social Media Activist on Governance, Equity, Twenty Thirty Ventures Ltd.

This conversation is closed.

NGO and Civil Society Organisations Funding for Africa - Could visionary innovators be funded directly?

Billions of dollars have been spent to try and alleviate poverty in Africa over the last 40 years yet Africans are more destitute than ever. The various sources of funding for programmes and projects in Africa have strict criteria for identifying recipients including brilliant concept papers yet this money has made little impact on the target communities. The only people who have benefited are the local and international staff of the organisations.

How can we get the people and foundations who contribute funds to these organisations re-evaluating and refocussing their contributions to actually make a real difference to the lives of millions of Africans as the case should be? How do we help connect out of the box African visionaries to the funding organisations sidestepping the NGOs and CSOs that always act as middlemen stifling brilliant solutions to the challenges Africans face every day?

Closing Statement from Edwin Kiama


  • Nov 18 2011: Edwin, this is the most critical question in development. The answer is actually straightforward, but achieving it is not. If this is to ever work, we don't so much need 'visionary' individuals as we need the shared vision that comes from real community ownership. Successful corporations know the only way to sustainably become more effective is to effectively engage the people who need to become more effective in the process of becoming more effective. It is sad, but this most fundamental understanding of how human culture development works is rarely applied in African development! National governments make the same mistake as international governments and NGOs. They estimate and/or analyse needs, decide which part to address, and how. Then they try to ensure their resources are applied properly with top-down controls. Of course some local people always say yes, because (as you say) it means employment (and often other resources) for a while.

    An exhaustive World Bank study (below) has shown this clearly. It looked at how much difference “community-based” and “community-driven” content made to project success, and concluded it helped a bit, but was not statistically significant. However, it primarily tested the contribution of its own piecemeal efforts to foster community ownership within the scope of 1-2 year projects. Reviews at the end did note that the projects which happened to fit into a defined need of a pre-existing, community-owned, change management process were way more successful! Yet no one thought broadly enough to the next step to say: “so what can we do to first foster those local ownership processes?” Alas, although it was identified as a key to success, it didn't fit the World Bank model of 1–2 year projects, so it has largely been ignored.

    (World Bank OED 2005 The Effectiveness of World Bank Support for Community –Based and –Driven Development ISBN-13: 978-0-8213-6390-4 http://go.worldbank.org/1MVW0A9XC0)

    (end of part 1 – to be continued ...)
  • Nov 18 2011: (… continued from part 1) Part 2:

    Scale is important, too, for closing the gap between community ownership and resources coming from outside. Interventions leading to significant sustainable gains need a critical mass and certain critical elements. Community ownership isn't hard at the village level, but we need something much broader, to connect effectively to national government and international donors. We have been working with local leaders and civil society in a (seven district) region of Uganda to build this capacity and demonstrate how well this can work. We just concluded the fifth leadership retreat on how to move forward on the right things together, and how to create the “right” way to do them.

    This 'Leader's Forum' has strong local and national support, and includes elected, administrative, religious and tribal leaders. It has been strengthened by a recommended regional strategy developed by three “practitioner” (government, local NGO, international donor) “open mind” retreats, and lots of work in between. It is further strengthened by local research into what really works by a university-based 'think tank' we created after the third retreat.

    We are starting slowly with the implementation, as (sadly, but obviously) most of the skills for effective staffing, management and direction of 'best practice' change initiatives are unknown locally. These involve phase-by-phase adaptive planning and leadership approvals and need to include all critical resources needed for post-initiative sustainability from the beginning. They have to steer clear of the intellectual and monetary corruption that the dishonesty of the existing model has fostered, by enabling honest responsibility and accountability at all levels. Of course, they look nothing like the log-frame, calendar-driven, artificial result-measured development “projects” we have been conditioned to use over many years which, as you say, only benefit those whom they employ.
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    Oct 24 2011: Adequate preparation will determine positive success. Each time one fails to plan, he or she plans to fail.Africa as a continent of paradox is simply suffering due to inadequate planning by the actors involve both the international and the locals
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      Oct 24 2011: Thank you Ngie for your sentiments. Any insights on how we can address this?
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    Oct 21 2011: Hi Edwin,
    Being in this field, I find this an interesting question.

    But why do you think there's that much of a difference between a private innovator and an NGO when it comes to attracting funding?

    An NGO that wants to get a project financed, will have to go through a very competitive series of selection rounds. So the funding agencies are screening for the best only; projects with vision, innovation and transformative power. Only a handful get selected (the ratio in the latest projects I won was 98% of applicants gets rejected).

    The same process is true for private investments in private "innovators". If you have a brilliant idea, and you can really demonstrate it's innovative and transformative, you just contact investors, make your pitch, and the money will follow.

    When it comes to beneficiaries and profitability, both types of using other people's cash boil down to the same thing: an NGO only gets its next slice of money if it has used the previous one well and when it has reached stated objectives (e.g. the project has benefited a 1000 people). A private entrepreneur does the same thing, translated into profit.

    I don't see too many differences.

    The main difference between NGOs and private entrepreneurs is that NGOs are not looking for a profit, but instead they want to reach difficult places, populations or problems. Private entrepreneurs don't really have the promotion of the social good as their baseline (even though the results of their actions can be socially interesting). That's why, in order to "develop" a country in a way so that even the poorest benefit, funds prefer to work with non-profits and with civil society.

    But anyhow, there are millions of investors and hundreds of internet platforms where an African innovator can pitch his idea. If the innovation/business plan is any good, I'm sure he will attract investment.
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      Oct 24 2011: Thanks Laurens for the reply!

      I agree with the ideals behind the work NGOs are meant to do and the contrasts with business. Note in my explanation I do mention 'brilliant concept papers'. I however see very little impact where I am, in Kenya. An example is a slum in Nairobi known as Kibera. There are a 10s maybe hundreds of NGOs that have been active in that slum for the last 30 years to try and raise the residents from abject poverty. They are still trying to date, millions of dollars later!