Wanted: New ways to communicate about global poverty

Take a moment and think about how you most often hear development work portrayed in the public discourse? Two divergent narratives come to my mind.

First, international aid is unashamedly tied to foreign policy objectives, money is wasted, and day-to-day aid work is challenging, if not futile. The narrative goes something like this: So-and-so country is poor or vulnerable. Rich countries try to help them. So-and-so is still poor and vulnerable.

On the other hand, according to many NGOs and international agencies, our day-to-day work in the development sector is instantly transformative, not to mention selfless. The narrative goes something like this: So-and-so person is poor or vulnerable. We [the organization] helps so-and-so. So-and-so is not poor anymore.

That’s a pretty polarizing view of anti-poverty and development work – all good or all bad. People working on the ground know that neither is an accurate picture of reality. And this reality is harder and harder for communications staff and the media to ignore.

Illustration from "The Barefoot Guide To Working With Organisations And Social Change" www.barefootguide.org
Illustration from "The Barefoot Guide To Working With Organisations And Social Change" www.barefootguide.org

40 ways to help your organization survive tough financial times

By Isaac Roy Kyeyune, Director at FIND Partners International in Kampala. (This originally appeared as a guest post on how-matters.org.)

The year 2013 saw trends that are changing resource politics for civil society. These are a wakeup call to not only strengthen, but diversity your organization’s fundraising, as well as develop your structures, systems, and skills in resource mobilization:

Critical funding trends in 2013

  1. The global credit crunch;
  2. The temporally shut down of the US government;
  3. The potential rise of China and its partners as interested donors;
  4. The continued development of EU as a funding bloc;
  5. The increasing interest by donors in consortia rather than isolated projects;
  6. The change from sustainability to integration and holistic approach;
  7. The new era of implementation research as opposed to mere project interventions; and
  8. The emergency of modern technology and social networks on the funding scene.

We have declared 2014 a year for institutional resource independence at FIND Partners!

So we share below 40 PRACTICAL TIPS on how you can steer your organization through resource-constrained times. Though we hope these tips won’t be necessary, roll up your sleeves now for a prosperous and more resourceful 2014!

Donor Cultivation

(1)  Increase all resource mobilization activities to generate more funds. Tap into the local resources.

(2)  Ask Board members to contribute or increase their existing contributions, and bring in additional individual donors to the organization.

(3)  Ask your donors if it is possible to make more financial commitments (although this can be difficult for institutional donors).

(4)  Cultivate relationships with a couple of donors that you can approach if “rescue funds” are needed.

Cost Savings

(5)  Re-bargain contracts and consultancies. Negotiate services for lower costs such as fuel, bank charges, and exchange rates.

(6)  Centralize secretarial services like photocopying and printing to avoid wastage and misuse.

(7)  Limit field activities that may not necessarily affect the project outputs – such as supervisions.

(8)  Officially ground some vehicles to avoid movement for non-essential journeys.

(9)  Limit less critical services; intercom, newspapers, or reduce security guards.

(10)  Switch off unnecessary power lights and gadgets mostly at night. Ask someone to oversee this daily.

Alternative Sources of Funding

(11)  Increase membership dues or costs. Always explain this to members.

(12)  Explore non-typical sources of funding, e.g. renting some space, consultancies, sale of old equipment.

(13)  Have your agency provide consultancy services to other agencies or organizations. Many Directors are slow on this. While it can take away from your organizations’ activities in the short-term, it can provide quick funding for your agency.

Strengthen Existing Systems

(14)  Strengthen your financial, accountability and personnel monitoring systems. Staff are more likely to stretch these during tight financial times.

(15)  If the staffs have a savings scheme, ensure it’s managed well especially during this period.

(16)  Pay salaries on time, as always as you can. If this becomes not possible, always explain this to staff.

The Hard Choices

(17)  Eliminate job-related redundancies in your organization. Sometimes, you can merge duties of a resigning staff to current staff rather than refilling a position.

(18)  Revise staff contracts to short term and/or cut salaries or limit/suspend benefits payments like compensations or leave pays. While painful, this is always better than having your agency burst.

(19)  Limit staff medical insurance to only health-threatening conditions.

(20)  Hire out some services such as security guards, cleaning, auditing, etc. if it is cheaper than employing staff.

(21)  Cut staff allowances, trips, and parties. Always explain this to staff.

(22)  Suspend uncritical insurance policies.

(23)  Keep your lawyers well updated in case any issues arise with staff or suppliers.

(24)  Beef up security around your organization. Thefts tend to rise during uncertain periods.

Engage Staff

(25)  Ask respective units to devise means of cutting costs, e.g. the IT staff to ration internet surfing and downloads.

(26)  Ask top management to take some pay cuts or reduce time efforts.

(27)  Inform and train your staff on effective resource use. Draft policies and guidelines on who, when, and how to manage critical assets such as cars or photocopy.

(28)  Ask staff to double their efforts. This increases chances to get more funding.

(29)  Suspend staff appraisals. They often generate unnecessary tension and contract negotiations.

(30)  If Project activities are lighter, encourage staffs to go for leave. This softens demand to the general facilities, infrastructure, and services like food, internet, and transport.

(31)  Train, support and mentor your staff away from costly personal ventures outside of work (e.g. alcohol consumption, smoking, gambling/borrowing, over-dating, clubbing, etc) as these may threaten their personal financial security.

(32)  Create a buffer of volunteers and interns as you are likely to have many staff either resign, ask for leaves, or fall sick more regularly due to stress.

Strengthen External Relationships

(33)  Share resources with partners doing similar work. For example, use same car for field visits.

(34)  Engage government. Many of them (especially through the President’s Office in Uganda) are allowed to offer discretionally funding to key community activities that are struggling.

(35)  Ask for advice from other peer organizations and partners on how they are coping.

(36)  Manage external relations well and avoid negative publicity. Caution staff on both internal and external information sharing as it can worsen your creditability with the community and donors.

Stay Connected

(37)  Talk to each of your staff personally to explain the situation but also show that you still value them.

(38)  Ask supervisors to be highly involved (without necessarily micro managing) and more available. In such times, interpersonal conflicts/ problems tend to rise hence need to be urgently addressed. Ask supervisors to show extra care to staff in order to avoid more stress.

(39)  Encourage social activities among staff. You can reserve a Friday evening for social activities like road workouts, internal competitions and dances, or prayer. This keeps staff together in hard times.

(40)  Create hope. Be seen by your staff to be doing your best.

***

 

Isaac Roy Kyeyune’s career spans a period of over seven years working in Uganda and across eastern Africa in the areas of: identifying funding opportunities; developing fundable concepts, proposals, and grant applications; building capacity of staff and stakeholders in resource mobilization and grant writing; setting up grants/resource mobilization offices/teams; building capacity in key institutional development issues such as strategic planning, management tools and structures, and mentorship, among others; and conference management and reporting.

Kyeyune has worked with Makerere University, Ndejje University, Uganda Cancer Institute, International Health Sciences University, many research Institutions, and over 100 non-governmental organizations, community-based organisations, and civil society networks.

Kyeyune hold a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Adult and Community Education, and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts degree in Community Development and NGO Management.

How are international aid projects like U.S. presidential elections?

Yes We Can: The campaign/proposal writing

You have to get lots of people involved. In fact, the more people who share your vision, the better. You tell the voters/donors what they want to hear. Persuasion and hyperbole can be more important than substance. The popular vote/buy-in of the people served may be irrelevant in the end. You’re happy (though thoroughly exhausted) when the campaign is over/proposal is submitted, but the hard work is yet to come.

Yes We Are: Governing/project implementation

What you face now is inevitably more complicated than what you portrayed in the campaign/proposal. With everyone wanting something from you, there are many competing priorities and it’s not always clear which is the best decision. Are there ever enough resources? Despite the election promises/logframe, the arcane and dysfunctional aspects of the system(s) in which we operate often get in our way.

Yes We Did: Seeking reelection/report writing

Despite what you did or did not accomplish, ultimately people’s perceptions will determine if you are considered successful or not. You highlight what you accomplished and ensure there’s a good explanation for what you didn’t. After four years, you may have a better idea of what you’re doing, but a rapidly changing reality means no election/project can ever be the same.

Most importantly, if you don’t inspire people to believe that a brighter future is possible for everyone, you might as well go home.

Forward!

***

This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/11/08/aid-projects-like-presidential-elections/

***

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Games in International Development: Fad or Innovation?

People have been playing more games these days in Washington D.C. And I don’t mean the strategies of the Obama and Romney spin teams.

Two recent events suggest games’ growing popularity in D.C. aid circles: this one I attended at the World Wildlife Fund earlier this month and this Tuesday’s upcoming event hosted by the Society for International Development.

Community Resilience: An Untapped Resource for Sustainable Development?

A guest post on how-matters.org by, Clement N. Dlamini, Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Development Management based in Matsapha, Swaziland

Communities have inherent in their systems, means of survival and a tenacity that has seen them through very difficult times. There is heart in communities that keeps pumping and keeping people alive even in the midst of poverty and adversity.

Am I saying communities don’t need development interventions? Not at all, but the issue at hand is how development workers can harness these “in-built” community strengths. How can community resilience lead to sustainable development?

“With the available resources we had…”

Understanding the organizational dynamics of local, indigenous, community-based groups directly serving vulnerable families is vastly different from the project-based, accountability-by-paper world of the aid industry. While those in the aid system may acknowledge local groups’ resourcefulness in mobilizing local resources, their language and cultural competencies, and responsiveness to communities’ needs, there are challenges in working with local groups that many organizations are not up to. James Oonyu, the Founder and National Director of Liregu Christian Grace Ministries, a faith-based community development organization based in Lira, Uganda, shares the capacity challenges his organization faces. He also describes the very real challenges he comes up against in working with donors.

The question remains—how can we begin to tackle these challenges on both sides?

***

The way the donor system works right now doesn’t favor a majority of community-based organizations (CBOs). I think there is need to rethink their approach, which works so perfectly with well-established organizations. The bigger organizations that are well supported by the donors are so wasteful with high administrative costs and a focus on matters of policy. CBOs accomplish their objectives because they understand the community so well, because that is where they are based.

James Oonyu, Founder and Director of Liregu Christian Grace Ministries, leads a community meeting in northern Uganda.

This is where I began from when creating the organization I work with today (www.liregu.org). With very little education and after struggling to find what to do, I decided to initiate a community-based organization in 2002. With my natural talent of community mobilization and a little knowledge gathered on the Internet on formation and management of CBOs, I went back to this slum where I partly grew up and put up a community leadership structure and set up specific objectives we needed to achieve to support our community.

Our drive was to begin the CBO with the available resources we had; we had local people, time and our ideas of local activities we could engage to address our community’s most pressing needs. Among the greatest challenges our community faced was a high rate of HIV/AIDS, environmental health and the orphan crisis. We focused a lot in raising HIV awareness and home support of orphaned children using our own local resources. We formed music, dance and drama clubs and put up wonderful community HIV/AIDS awareness shows. We also fundraised within the community to support education of orphaned children and vigorously mobilized the community to keep our slum clean to prevent diseases.

As much as we did this, we were so concerned about our growth and sustainability. We had trust, a committed leadership structure (though many were semi-literate), a bank account, and involved local communities in all our program activities. We were also gender sensitive. It was mostly women who formed part of our leadership and despite our Christian evangelical background, we worked with everyone without discrimination. We did this to position our CBO to compete for donor support. However, each time we submitted proposals to donors, we were turned down for lack of technical ability to manage their funds.

James Oonyu shares a moment with community members of Liregu Christian Grace Ministries.

We had no resources to hire technical staff to write “professional” proposals or to pay for an expensive annual audit, which are core requirements from donors. Some of the managers of well-established organizations did reach out to us to help us grow, but they also put across very tough conditions--they asked for bribes! Once one of these representatives drove 350km just to come to share with us how he could approve our proposal if we agreed to hand over a quarter of the funds we asked for to him once funding was approved. He was so disappointed when we refused that he promised to “kill” our CBO. However, his plan failed!

The biggest practical challenge most CBOs face is lack of technical capacity. Many of them are initiated by local communities without relevant skills. However, they so well understand needs and culture of their community and they even know right approaches to address their pressing problems. However, many CBOs lack understanding of how to design achievable projects, fundraising, and financial management. To me, the relationship between CBOs and the donor community must begin from building their capacity first before funding is provided. If not, they will inadvertently “steal” from the project funding they are given to build their capacity and meet their administrative costs.

These are just some of the many challenges sincere CBOs on the ground face, which frustrates the process of building strong relationships with donors and other larger organizations.

***

James Oonyu is a development practitioner with eleven years of experience working to empower local communities in Uganda. He is a Founder and National Director of Liregu Christian Grace Ministries, a faith-based community development organization based in Lira, Uganda. He has also worked as a project administrator at Adam Smith International, an international advisory firm working throughout the world to help reform and improve economies and institutions. He holds a merit postgraduate certificate in research methods of Centre for Basic Research in Uganda and a 1st Class Honors degree in development studies from Ndejje University.

***

This post originally appeared at: 

http://www.how-matters.org/2012/04/08/with-the-available-resources-we-had/

***

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Would YOU fund this organization?

How to Work in Someone Else’s Country (A Book Review)

Do you have an expat colleague that just won’t shut up about the fight he’s having with his sibling over their family's vacation home while you're struggling to get by? Or an expat intern who dressed way too provocatively when you were on that field visit last week? What about the international colleague who constantly blames everything that doesn’t go their way on incapacity or corruption?

We have all worked with these people. People don't know any better…until they do.

Can this book help make aid more effective?

Ruth Stark writes a book to help make the learning process a bit easier. How to Work in Someone Else’s Country is a quick, engaging read. Whether a person is about to embark on their first volunteer stint abroad (see Chapters 4 and 5 on packing and travel tips or Chapter 8 on making them glad you’re there), or are a seasoned aid worker with a couple of decades in the field (see or Chapter 13 on working with governments, Chapter 14 on visiting “the field”, or Chapter 18 or briefings), it's worth reading for all international aid workers. I’m telling you after buying it myself—there’s advice in it you probably need to hear.

In all of the ongoing discussions of aid effectiveness, this has always been the most glaring absence—the conduct of aid workers. While Stark does little to explore or explain the roots of the aid system and the inequities at its core, she does aptly describe the situations that they produce, and what she has personally found as the best ways to navigate them. To fumble is an inevitable part of working cross-culturally. To be humble is not, thus the need for a book such as this.

While the journal entries can at times seem contrived and the advice can be consultant centric, the genuineness of Stark’s advice shines through. Stark, an international health expert, writes for her daughter, also now an aid professional. She writes to articulate the values she wants her child and all aid workers and international do-gooders to embody. How you behave, how you treat people—it matters.

We spend so much time on the hard skills, making sure everyone has the right technical knowledge and training. The so-called “soft skills”—relationship building, emotional intelligence, listening, facilitation, leadership, etc.—are assumed to already be in place. It’s a fatal mistake that we in the aid industry continue to make. I don’t presume to know the solution. What I do know is that bad behavior can be a much more serious impediment to progress than lack of a functional logframe.

Stark described the book as one she had been “threatening to write for 20 years.” I, for one, am glad she did it. It may even make a great “gift” for that colleague with some learning to do.

***

This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/03/04/how-to-work-in-someone-elses-country/

***

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