Effective philanthropy: why you cannot go it alone!


Francois Carbonez


If there is one lesson I have learned during my eight years working in development, it’s this: you cannot go it alone! For an NGO to make a real difference in people’s lives, it has to work with and through the right partners.

At Light for the World, we know that we need partners to do our work and to achieve a difference at a systemic level. It’s well and good to help individuals with disabilities in developing countries, making sure they are heard, supported and seen, but furthermore we want to achieve the right setting within government and on a regional level for an inclusive society where no one is left behind.

If a philanthropist wants an NGO to achieve true impact with their donation, they need to support not only that NGO, but also its endeavour. This does not always make things easy for NGOs in their communications.

For example, it would make things very simple and straight forward if we were to claim results through a narrative that went along the lines of: ‘We alone have supported this young child with a disability. We were on the ground to diagnose his condition. We sent our doctors to help his physical rehabilitation and then shipped our best teachers to educate the child. And finally we offered him an employment opportunity to work with us at Light for the World.’

In this way, we would claim hundred percent of the impact. We would not mention any other organisations in our communications and our theory of change would be glaringly obvious: Light for the World single-handedly enables an inclusive society for all.

But this narrative would not be truthful!

In reality – like most effective NGOs – we create change through local people, organisations and structures because we want our impact to be sustainable. We work with partners because we know we can’t do it on our own and that they do it best!

Take for example the Young Africa project in Mozambique: Young Africa offers technical and vocational education and training for both self-employment and employment. To address the problem of severe unemployment among youth with disabilities in Mozambique, Light for the World, with funding from the EU and the Austrian Development Agency, partners with Young Africa and their local employees – who have deep relationships within the community and strong credentials for helping unemployed youth access the job market.

Through this collaboration, we have supported Young Africa in making their existing training facilities and courses accessible. More than 160 young people with disabilities have now been trained by Young Africa Mozambique, and local businesses are beginning to open up their recruitment processes in response.

On the international advocacy level too, little can be achieved working alone.

International development means international cooperation. We have to work on an equal footing and truly as partners to achieve true systemic change.

Now that we have stepped into the era of the Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030, we work with a framework which acknowledges sustainable development can only be achieved if truly no one is left behind.

We believe that ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ This is why, last year we launched our Call to Action to make education a priority for children with disabilities where 110 NGOs joined. This initiative is another brilliant example of how strong partnerships have the potential of genuinely changing the lives of an estimated 32 million children with disabilities who are denied to attend school.

The challenge of ending exclusion is multi-faceted in so many ways and on so many levels that the only way is to work and act together.

In essence, I’d like to thank all those great philanthropists and supporters who also recognise that partnerships are crucial to end exclusion. By doing so, they really are creating maximum impact and empowering the right people until we can finally say: Exclusion is just a bad memory.

Francois Carbonez is Policy Officer at Light for the World.

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