I am constantly debating the following question: Which type of organization can best affect change in the field of development and appropriate technology?

To help answer this, I am varying the types of organizations with which I am working. In Ethiopia, I volunteered with a large, international non-governmental organization (NGO), while I am working with a collection of community-based organizations (CBOs) here in Kenya. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

NGOs have a larger network and more resources. They often have better access to funding. However, most of their funding comes from outside donors, and thus they must tailor their projects to the donors’ interests and not necessarily to what is actually needed. They can develop prototypes, but ensuring their project is sustainable can be a challenge.

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CBOs, on the other hand, are often struggling not to drown. They have little or no money, and varying membership dedication. They are composed of people who are often busy with other things, but when you gather these people together they will often know more about the needs on the ground than all the people in NGOs combined. These are the people that want and need to affect real change, and can ensure that it lasts.

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So which approach is best? Work with the large NGOs, possibly get something accomplished, but maybe it’s not what is really needed and maybe it’s hard to make it accepted by the local people and really become sustainable. Or… work with the CBOs, see all the problems clearly, understand the real needs, have direct access to the communities you want to impact, but struggle to get anything tangible done about it because you lack resources and funding.

I am still weighing the pros and cons of both.