In light of new dynamics and questions regarding their relevance as well as issues of accountability, players in the civil society say that it is time that Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) rethought their funding models as a way of reducing donor dependency.
Some say that over reliance on foreign funding has compromised the legitimacy of these organizations that claim to work in the interest of the marginalized.
A public dialogue organized by Chapter Four Uganda on Wednesday brought together various activists in the civil society space in Uganda to deliberate on new resilient models of civic organization.
Majority of the participants admitted that not for profit organizations are indeed at crossroads and require a shift in their mode of operation.
Kenyan activist and Associate Director at Society for International Development, Irungu Houghton who gave a keynote presentation, said funding flows for the NGOs are drying up and conditionalities getting more complex particularly for governance and accountability work.
He asked NGOs to focus more on building resilient mechanisms of generating revenue.
“We have to start building assets around our organizations which have the capacity to generate revenue based on assets. Interventions that are a match for economies that are evolving in our different contexts. We are missing huge opportunities if we dong know how to manipulate resources to use it for social justice,” Irungu said.
He cited an example of Carnegie Foundation which has funded thousands of NGOs in Africa but in its 30 year work review discovered that none of these organizations had innovated mechanisms to become self-sustaining.
Irungu said that disruptive activism has the capacity to create change if these organizations are willing to transform from the one-off interventions to creating locally rooted structures that can foster systemic change.
Dr. Moses Khisa, a political commentator apportioned criticism on organizations which he said have not done a fair job on proper management of the funds they draw from donors.
“There has been a lot of talk for example on the fuel guzzlers that you people drive yet you supposedly serve in the interest of the underprivileged. It is a contradiction,” Dr. Khisa said.
He further pondered; “How can you have a lot of resources going towards consumption by those running organizations and not serving the bigger public cause for which those resources are secured in the first place?”
Other participants hinted on the overly domination of specific individuals, NGOs and donors in the civic space which has stifled smaller rural organizations from accessing grant opportunities.
The Country Director of Konrad Adaenuer Stiftung in Uganda, Mathia Kamp who represented the donor community said: “We are trying to manouver in working with local civil society as partners but we are finding it extremely difficult to avoid working with these very mafia like NGO structures.”
“The environment is full of extremely dominant players both donors and Ugandan civil society. This week, Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) announced grants but I know these big organizations in Kampala are already making calls to some of our district to partner with them just to get a grassroot perspective,” Kamp added.
But as much as it is inevitable for these organizations to source for alternative funding, it is important that they are cognizant of contextual differences since avenues that work for advanced economies like Kenya may not be viable for Uganda.