Tuesday, July 31, 2007

NGO... Turn to Business for International Development

"There’s nothing wrong with making a few locals very rich in the process of improving an entire economy.”

Sadly, due to the time that has passed since I heard this statement, I do not remember exactly who had said it… I believe it was Fredrik… but I cannot say for sure. However, it is an interesting statement which combined with Biyeun’s project, InterConnection Uganda, a business run by locals that helps the entire country, has got me thinking.

NGOs tend to depend very strongly on grants and donations which, while easy because the money comes with little strings attached, is dangerous because it tends to make the recipients more careless with how it is spent, the money is dealt with by foreigners rather than locals that know and have a solid binding (can’t think of the right word.. but you get the idea) to the welfare of their country, and it depends on other groups or individuals that can choose to or be forced to terminate their donation/grant at any time. Several branches of APDK, for example, became inactive after their primary donor abruptly stopped contributing due to political matters.

Sibusiso is a ngo that is well on its way to becoming self-sustainable. I had a chance to visit it while in Arusha, Tanzania. It means “blessing” in Swahili, and it teaches mentall disabled children and their families to help themselves. Though started by 2 very rich Europeans and still largely funded by grants, they have cows and other animals which they breed and take care of as a food source and for extra income (2 of the donkeys they have started fighting while we were walking out.. the male was trying to mate but the female had very much lost that lovin feelin). They employ previous patients as gardeners and cooks, and they have a lodge where visitors can stay with proceeds going to fund Sibusiso. However, it is never easy to become entirely self-sustainable… and even this is only becoming more self-sustainable because there is a business involved… so perhaps we should stop focusing so heavily on ngos and start turning our focus to investing in businesses that also work with international development?

InterConnection Uganda, for example, donates a percentage of its profits to education for students in Uganda, and a percentage of the computers it gets to schools all around Uganda. While empowering the workers, providing a cheaper way for people to get a hold of a computer, offering training, and being able to include good software for cheap (Microsoft Windows for about $3 I believe – a discount for developing countries), they are also contributing to the development of the country at large. What a great concept! A potential problem that I can see is corruption among the locals that run the business. It is easy to lose sight of what is happening around you if you get lifted out of it… and it’s often difficult to stay focused on your original goals when your own life becomes more stable.

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