November 28, 2012

Africa Day 17 November

Is direct funding of African NGOs a good idea? Is the Dutch aid system ready for this change or is there a conflict of between Dutch NGOs interest and African interests?

These and other questions were raised on 17th November on SPARK-sponsored Africa Day in a debate on direct funding of African NGOs.

With 1500 visitors, more than 100 speakers, 150 volunteers and 75 participating organizations, Africa Day is the biggest event on Africa in the Netherlands and international cooperation. This edition as well was a comprehensive, politically relevant day which also offered a variety of fun, cultural events. SPARK was one of the big supporters and well represented with a new stand and enthusiastic staff.

SPARK director Mr. Yannick du Pont, together with Ms. Krystle Smith business policy analyst of the Liberia Better Business Forumand Mr. Désiré Nshimirimana from the Soft Center Burundi entered into a debate on direct funding of African NGOs.

Yannick believes it is important to fund partners directly, and to open up funding opportunities to all organizations because it transforms the donor-recipient relation into a more equal, real partnership. SPARK Amsterdam would have to be equally accountable to the local partner as the other way around. According to Krystle however local NGOs lack solid skills in financial management, governance, and advocacy. “Regardless of our ideals we need to be realistic: development aid has to have an impact. And I believe that right now we reach a higher level of impact than we would with direct funding because the NGOs are just not ready”. “But when is any organization ready?” Yannick aptly replied. “SPARK was messed up in the beginning too, corruption, stolen money we’ve had it all. But we were given the chance by the Dutch ministry and now we have grown up to be a professional organization. We were given the chance to try and fail and local partners should be given the same chance”

A change like this would be quite revolutionary in the Dutch development aid sector not in the least because it would put the jobs of many Dutch trained development aid workers at risk. Moreover, admitting to failure is not well received by the Dutch media and the public at large. Yannick: “This is a secondary discussion. Development aid is about how do we create added value for countries we work in? There shouldn’t be a job for us if we don’t have something to add. This is a systematic failure of the Dutch system. We need a new structure and we need to make ourselves redundant.”
The issues under discussion are all very recent and it is yet to be seen how Dutch development aid will evolve. Who knows, in a couple of years I might write you an update from “Holland Day” in Africa.