Has the NGO model for international aid and development failed?

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on failed development models in Africa, then you would know that my immediate and emphatic response to that question is: YES. (Note that there are definitely some exceptions depending on the exact nature of the NGO, but in general I have major issues with donor-funded and thus donor-driven projects and organizations.)

But recently, a friend of mine confronted me on this answer. He spent two years working with the Clinton Foundation in the Dominican Republic, and we share many opinions on aid and development work. Yet he asked me to take another look at that question, but from a different perspective.

My perspective is that the majority of NGOs in Africa are doing more harm than good by being donor-dependent and by giving things away for free. I could go on for quite a while on this issue, but that’s not the point of this post.

The point is that there is another perspective. The NGOs’ perspective. I forgot about this.

What if the NGOs’ primary goal is to create jobs (mostly for ex-pats)? And to allow development workers to feel good about themselves by giving back to the global community? And to provide ex-pats with a comfortable lifestyle outside of their home countries? And to create a dependency on aid so that their organization’s necessity and sustainability is assured? Because in that case, the NGO model hasn’t failed at all. Rather it’s quite successful.

But I guess it all depends on whose perspective we take.

(Photo: one of my favorite works of art by my favorite artist, taken from here)

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