Current procedures and policies dominating aid: building strong relationships and enabling NGOs meet their stated aims?

Current procedures and policies dominating aid: building strong relationships and enabling NGOs meet their stated aims?

The relationship between donors and NGOs in Uganda

Based on a 4 years of field research in Uganda, this report evaluates the relationship between NGOs and donor agencies. The study illustrates the complexity of the relationships between donors and recipients, and how far these shape behaviour and outcomes.

Main findings of the study include:

  • there are tensions inherent in many grants and contracts between meeting set targets and the focus on impact while working to develop local organisations and processes are widely evident
  • the policies, tools and procedures of aid management have an in-built bias towards tools and ways of thinking imported into Uganda from the donor countries
  • donor agencies are in the driving seat most of the time - imposing donor or managerial ways of thinking and defining issues that may not be shared – or even understood- by local organisations or communities
  • the tools and approaches also tend to simplify the complexity of doing development work with poor people in Africa: issues of inequality and poverty are over simplified, and more challenging issues such as ethnicity, the legacy of colonialism, the cultural norms around issues of age and gender are often overlooked altogether
  • in realty development is much more ‘messy’ than in practice
  • tensions exist where two or more very different organisational cultures work together, creating a lack of understanding, listening, and often suspicion at different levels
  • there are, however, a few exceptions: a few NGOs work to a different paradigm, in spite of the difficulties in getting funding from the dominant donors in Uganda.

The paper points out, however, that there is also the potential of working differently within the current aid system. To realise this potential there needs to be a change in attitude:

  • donor agencies need to be willing to listen and need to invest time for discussions and face to face meetings
  • donors and local NGOs need to work together on shared and negotiated planning, thereby developing mutual trust and confidence with regards to the implementation of the project
  • advice and support should be given in an overall context of support rather than control
  • more joint evaluations should be established allowing for learning, flexibility and openness
  • while most development actors subscribe to the principles and values of participation in theory, the need to be properly implemented in practice.
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