NGOs Closing or Downsizing for Lack of Funds

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Many Namibian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are experiencing tough times after their donors cut down on the amount of funding they used to give some years back. Unlike the days when the NGOs received substantial amounts of funding and multiplied in numbers a few years ago, some NGOs have closed down while others have downsized their operations due to lack of funds. Except in the field of HIV/AIDS which, by virtue of being the fashionable theme in international aid, receives more money, the government has also become the preferred receptionist of donor funds. An Institute for Public Policy Research opinion piece authored by Sabine HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶hn, a PhD student at the Centre for African Studies, University of Edinburgh, doing field research in Namibia says: “The Namibia State has thus become a powerful competitor to NGOs for available funds.” The paper entitled: “NGOs in Namibia – Continuing Crisis or New Beginning?” cites large funding projects such as the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA), which channel their money through state agencies. Namibia became eligible for MCC funding in November 2005 as one of the lower-to-middle-income countries after scoring above median on certain indicators such as ruling justly, investing in people, and promoting economic freedom. The aid practice of international organizations has been that of preferring state agencies in Africa, with state institutions being the main recipients of massive support of donor money. It says that donors discovered NGOs as an alternative target of aid money around 1990 when some states became unstable and others declined or failed. The paper says the “recent development where NGOs are receiving less money, not only indicates a shift back to the state but also to a new preference for states that are internationally seen as stable and perceived to have great potential for lasting democratic structures.” While this is the case, HÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¶hn says international aid also follows certain trends by spending more on particular topics than others. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is generally seen as “this fashionable topic of the moment, just like gender was a few years back,” she added. Although the NGO sector ranges from faith-based organizations to those promoting small and medium enterprises, communities in nature conservation or providing HIV counselling and research advocacy, the funds still coming into the country are mostly seen to be spent on HIV/AIDS, thus leaving less money for traditional topics such as human rights, democracy promotion and gender equality. Many NGOs feel that the decrease in aid money is due to donors withdrawing funding from Namibia, as they perceive the country to be politically stable and to have mastered the political transition. Last year, the NGO umbrella organization, NANGOF, said severe lack of resources to fund civil society organizations in Namibia might hinder effective service delivery to the people, especially those in marginalized communities. According to its chairperson, Norman Tjombe, all these non-governmental institutions work in various areas and are involved in different activities throughout the country but although they have made a difference in their areas of operation, one of the biggest constraints that calls for urgent intervention is the lack of funding from local sources. “As things stand, most of these organizations are funded by external sources, which is a non-sustainable way of operating as these funding institutions may cease or divert their focus to other areas at any time,” he said. But, at the same time, donors indicated that they spent the same amount of money and that they had not changed their partners, and also that they do not support the government more than before. However, the author of the piece says the interviews she had indicated that funds are cut or withdrawn because of pressure on donor agencies to account for their spending and also lack of communication between donors and their recipients. These relate to how NGOs should work and account for the money they receive, lack of knowledge of the agendas of – and constraints faced by – some NGOs and lack of fund-raising project management and accounting skills. As a result of these, project proposals vary in terms of quality and content; feedback on completed work is unprofessional and incomplete. “There seems to be no coordinated effort to raise the level of management and project-planning skills on a broader scale and in a sustainable way,” the opinion piece adds. Apart from NGOs looking for alternative donors that were willing to work with the organizations on old terms, the paper, just like NANGOF, suggests new sources of funding which could include local sponsors, such as the private sector and the government. Apart from this, the paper says the decline in NGO funding could be a call for changes in the way NGOs in the country are organized and work by, among others, having a strong coordinating and lobbying body. “The obvious organization to do this would be a revitalized and strong administrative NANGOF that would not pursue projects of its own, as many have complained it had done before.”