Local organizations funded by international aid agencies do not want to be treated as subcontractors, carrying out those agencies’ projects and priorities. They want their funders’ help to become independent and influential organizations in their own right, responding flexibly to local people’s needs. This is the clearest conclusion of a report just released by Keystone.
During 2010, Keystone, in association with umbrella bodies Bond, InterAction and NIDOS, brought together 25 international aid agencies based in the UK and US, including Save the Children and Christian Aid, all of whom provide funding or other support to partners based in developing countries. Keystone asked 2,700 of those partners for their opinions about the support received from the international agencies. Questions included: ‘do they provide funds on time?’, ‘how useful is their training?’ and ‘how well do they listen to you?’ Over 1,000 partners replied, and the use of a third party to conduct the inquiry seems to have elicited a good deal of frankness.
The main conclusion will not, perhaps, surprise many. What is more striking is that the aid agencies show signs of taking the findings to heart, with some of the international agencies, including Progressio, AbleChildAfrica and Peace Direct, deciding to publish their confidential reports online.
Another significant thing about the report, claim its authors, is that it shows that feedback can be a reliable way of measuring performance. Benchmarks have been calculated and direct comparisons can be made between aid agencies. A number of the participants agree. Carolyn Hayman, PeaceDirect’s CEO, remarks that ‘the benchmarks provide a whole new level of insight so we can understand exactly how we are performing compared to other NGOs’. Matthew Frost, Tearfund’s CEO, hopes that ‘this approach will gain widespread adoption across the sector as a fresh, robust and insightful approach to learning and accountability’.
Indeed, the report itself calls for a new reporting standard for agencies that fund local partners which would create a new level of transparency and accountability, so funds can be directed towards the best-performing agencies.