It has been a long time since I started to work with a lot of NGOs when I started Nakhweh back in 2009, as a supportive platform to serve social institutions and initiatives. One of my main observations during the last few years, is the maldistribution of funds happening in Jordan. I was always trying to understand why a lot of impactful organizations or initiatives, regardless of their size and the people behind them, were failing to secure a very small amount of money to sustain themselves and continue their mission.
NGO funds in Jordan can be categorized under two main pillars; local and international funds. Local funds are mostly from private sector companies, and these come under the umbrella of the misunderstood CSR concept, also a small portion of these funds come from certain individuals.
International funds mostly come from international developmental projects and programs, or embassies of foreign countries, under different names (i.e USAID & JICA), and all they care about is to distribute money right, left and center, to accomplish a certain mission and achieve certain numbers that they have in mind.
If I want to raise the issue of funds maldistribution and inefficiency, a lot of factors should be taken into consideration. Let me start with the misunderstanding of CSR, mainly in Jordan. CSR stands for “Corporate Social Responsibility”, and the actual meaning of this is beyond charity; also it’s totally different than what communication, marketing and PR departments do for a company. CSR means that a company should be socially responsible, and this can’t happen unless it’s part of the community and understands the issues it’s addressing very well. CSR is more of a culture that should exist in every single member of the team; it can’t be a small department which reports back to communication department in a company that receives “sponsorship” proposals to review them and approve the ones that gives the maximum exposure for the “donor”. This mix between the two terms “CSR” and “sponsorship” is a serious problem.
CSR is not necessarily cash contribution to do certain social work; because when we say social, we have to take into consideration the “social” problems we have. Those problems could be internal, before being external or ones in remote areas; they are also very inclusive and fall under different pillars (i.e education, environment, youth, women… etc). Giving a very simple example; you can’t donate to one of the NGOs, which works with youth for the development of their soft skills, while your own employees are facing the same problem. Another example, you can’t donate for an NGO, which is addressing an environmental problem, while your company vehicles are not being used efficiently and contributing to the pollution of air. Most importantly, you can’t donate to an NGO and set predefined goals that are based on numbers not impact, to make sure your money is not going to waste, except for the PR you got out of it. Furthermore, donating money remotely while your company is not getting involved in the problem and the solution, by working closely with the community and be part of it, can never be considered CSR. Our local problems went beyond money, and this donor-recipient relationship is actually creating a bigger problem, which is widening certain gaps that already exist or creating new ones, rather than bridging them. Let alone the fact that companies target big organizations that are mostly related to big names, have huge exposure, or gives a photo opportunity; this definitely minimizes the options for smaller ones, which could be more impactful.
When it comes to international funds; I have a very personal issue, taking into consideration that misleading and unreal slogan of the USAID, “From the American People”, I always say that this slogan is missing its other half and should be “From the American People to the American People”.
International funds don’t only come with certain agendas, they also come with certain models that apply to the countries they came from, and these models also come with people from the same country to manage the process of applying them in a totally irrelevant environment. Probably those models proved themselves at the countries they came from originally, regardless of what proving themselves means, as success is always relative.
Funds that come from abroad, to address trendy issues, automatically go to well-known organizations that are addressing these issues. The donor in this case comes with a criteria, and I remember that a friend told me once: “some international organizations comes with a certain procurement criteria that’s beneficial for the original country where the fund came from, whether it’s happening directly or indirectly”. The criteria also includes numbers of beneficiaries, not taking into consideration the real impact. The NGO benefiting from the fund will become a successful partner if it meets the numbers, and this automatically gives it more chances to get the same fund again and again.
I’ve said this before in my previous Arabic post about youth issues in the Arab countries, and saying it now again here in English; development goes beyond numbers, it’s impact, and it should also be empowerment oriented and not charity. Numbers are useless if impact doesn’t exist.
Hopefully we will reach a point where the whole funding dilemma will take a proper direction with the existence of social media, where transparency is not an option any more, and that makes it easier for people to question the impact of everyone working in development. I also hope that CSR will be well-understood one day, by being replaced with sustainable development approaches that reflect what CSR should really be.