NGO “Partnerships” – Some Thoughts from Kenya
As the national umbrella of Development NGOs, Dóchas aims to improve Ireland’s development cooperation programme, both that of the Government and that of the NGOs. We do this by setting high standards of practice for NGOs, and by influencing the Government and EU. But first and foremost, we provide a forum where Irish NGOs can meet and challenge each other, and learn from each other.
Last year, we chose to add some further spice to that mix, and ask others what they think of the work of Irish NGOs. We commissioned a research team from Kenya – the country where the greatest number of our members are working – to ask Kenyan NGOs and CBOs what they thought of our members’ work.
Read the full report here.
The idea of the survey was to ask our members’ Kenyan counterparts – as a proxy for Southern counterparts generally – to contribute to the debate within Dóchas about the role of Irish NGOs, their accountability and effectiveness. In particular, we asked Kenyan NGOs what they thought of their “partnership” with Irish NGOs.
We knew full well that there were limits to this approach, and that this could at best be a summary appraisal of Irish NGOs’ partnership practice. At the same time, we felt that such a stock-take, with Southern partners giving a collective and constructive critique of their partnerships with Dóchas members, could encourage Dóchas members to reflect on the quality of their “partnerships”, and perhaps take measures to reassess, consolidate or improve them.
As such, the survey was our contribution to the global CSO effectiveness debate.
What we found:
- Kenyan NGOs only had limited – sometimes very limited – knowledge of the Irish NGOs with which they have links: too often, they could not name their “partner’s” core mission, priorities, funding sources and budget matters.
- There were some question marks about the quality of partner selection: Kenyan NGOs and CSOs encouraged Irish and other partner NGOs to be rigorous in the selection, scrutiny and maintenance of partnerships, on the basis of clear policies, criteria and guidelines.
- Kenyan NGOs asked for support with regard to enhancing mechanisms for self-regulation, codes of good practice and other local standard-setting in the Kenyan CSO sector.
- While Irish NGOs were broadly characterised as flexible, collaborative and knowledgeable development partners, survey respondents considered that other (non-Irish) partner NGOs from developed countries sometimes brought better language skills and cultural awareness, and were better at innovation and learning, mentoring and coaching, and local knowledge.
Most interestingly, perhaps, many of the Kenyan NGOs found that the “donor” Irish NGO’s values, objectives or priorities predominated, and they often were overly focused on funding-related aspects of the relationship, or on programme delivery, rather than capacity building and organisational development.
The survey suggests that, although there is some shared thinking as to what an ‘ideal partnership’ might look like, there seems to be something of a gap between how Irish NGOs and Kenyan partners think of partnership: By and large, Kenyan NGOs considered that Irish NGOs tended to view partnership as a modality for programme delivery while they preferred to think of partnership as the purpose of their work: a longer-term collaboration for sustained change.
We are currently finalising the report on the survey, and it is clear that we will need to discuss the findings further. But it seems that it would be useful to assist Irish NGOs in their efforts at improving their “partnerships”, for instance by producing guidelines on NGO Partnering. Such guidelines could include the importance of being clear about the objectives of a partnership; abandoning management structures that focus overly on funding; establishing procedures for mutual assessment of a partnership and creating formal structures for dialogue on matters affecting the relationship.
(Since writing the blog, the report has been finalised, and is available here: http://www.dochas.ie/Shared/Files/4/Partnership_in_Practice_Dochas_Kenya_research_report.pdf )