How the decolonisation of aid and fundraising can help local NGOs grow

As a Ugandan leader of a local NGO, I recognise the need for the decolonisation of aid and fundraising in order to help the growth of locally managed and community-led organisations.

Decolonisation reminds me of the relationship between a mother and a child. In my community, when a child reaches adulthood, they no longer want to sit on their mother’s lap. I would imagine this to be the same in communities around the world. Why do we think that when children reach adulthood they don’t want to sit on their mother’s lap? It is because they want to have control over their bodies andbe independent.

In a similar vein, local NGOs want to have independence and greater ownership to lead projects as a community. But there are factors that prevent us from being able to do this. This, to me, is a way of explaining why decolonisation is so important.

One might wonder how decolonisation can be effective. I would like to share my experience of how this has worked with the grassroots organisations I have served. I work in partnership with a small international organisation, Network for Africa, whose mission is to invest in the growth of local NGOs rather than for their own organisation. They build the capacity of local NGOs in areas such as fundraising, strategy development, financial management, monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) and governance, supporting local NGOs to address most major challenges they are faced with.

Last year my organisation, BasicNeeds UK in Uganda, almost missed the chance to submit a funding application to Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) because the grant application process was very challenging, yet GCC requires that the application must be written and submitted by local NGOs.

We didn’t have the capacity to assign a dedicated team for this, so we decided to consult with our international partner, Network for Africa, and managed to engage them to review our application. We submitted it on time with their support, and we are currently awaiting an outcome.

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Our relationship with Network for Africa shows how the decolonisation of aid and fundraising can be effective and is an example of a partnership that helps to increase efficiency in local NGOs, whilst enabling retention of power over decision making and the raising of funds.

Locally managed NGOs have more effective use of resources, lower admin costs and less bureaucracy in decision making, which often means that they can be more flexible in addressing the needs of the community and, crucially, they can make decisions in consultation with that community.

When we experienced a local Covid-19 outbreak in Agago District, Northern Uganda, our clients could not access health facilities due to fear of contracting the virus. With the support of local authorities, we designed strategies that enabled our clients to access mental health services, and we informed the community about these changes through radio appearances. This meant that we were able to maintain clients on treatment while ensuring their safety from coronavirus.

When projects are managed locally there is greater community ownership. This is largely because local NGOs can include societal structures in the design and implementation of the projects. Being able to jointly identify solutions to local challenges often leads to more active participation from the community in project design, implementation, and monitoring, and arguably a more positive impact.

INGOs need to trust local partners. They need to be adaptable and flexible to the specific needs in each context and with each partner they work with, being clear about which areas the INGO can add value. As for funders, they need to make the application process far simpler and less bureaucratic, with more flexible eligibility criteria.