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An open letter to International NGOs who are looking to ‘localise’ their operations

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Originally published by Open Democracy. National and local organisations ask INGOs to support them, not compete with them.

This letter is the product of a protracted, heated, angry and passionate discussion that took place on the #ShiftThePower WhatsApp group last week. Several people on the group had been approached separately by International NGOs who wanted to learn about their experiences in local fundraising and building community philanthropy, but in ways that all felt were ‘extractive.’ These interactions point to the growing trend for INGOs to look further afield for resources to fill the funding gap that many are experiencing.

March 5th 2020

Dear INGOs:

Thank you for taking an interest in our countries. We represent a wide range of national and subnational organisations based in countries – mostly in the global south - where you often work. We have probably even been in meetings together or have been represented in the success stories you give to your supporters.

We appreciate that over the years, many of you have sought to help deliver much-needed services, and have helped to elevate some issues of concern, like debt relief, gender or climate change, to the world stage.

But times are changing. And you have (rightly) been facing a number of critiques in recent years – around your legitimacy, your ‘whiteness’ or the fact that far more aid money ultimately ends up in the pockets of northern organisations’ headquarters than it does in the Global South.

We see that you’re trying to respond to these critiques by ‘localising’, as we’ve been asked to meet with your highly paid consultants on numerous occasions. The strategy is pretty common: usually you start by creating a ‘local organisation’ with a local board. A next step that we’re seeing is that you enter the world of DRM - ‘Domestic Resource Mobilisation’ - to raise money from within our countries. This latter aspect is probably also down to the fact that your traditional incomes from the rich North/West are starting to diminish, so this has the added bonus of replenishing lost incomes.

In theory, this probably sounds great to your northern ears: local middle-income people should indeed ‘own’ their civil society, especially as a response to growing concerns around closing civic space and authoritarian governments. We couldn’t agree with you more on this principle.

But there are things we object to and some suggestions about how you can use your international muscle to help us more effectively than through this misguided localisation agenda.

What happens in practice is that these efforts only serve to reinforce the power dynamic at play, and ultimately to close the space for domestic civil society. This can be illustrated quite simply: a multi-million-dollar INGO, with an entire marketing, communications and fundraising team, whose project budget for this endeavour probably outstrips that of most of our national organisations for a year, then comes into the South to raise money ‘domestically’.

Perhaps the board has set a target of raising 30% of total income directly from the South. That’s not an additional million dollars, that’s a million or more dollars taken away from local civil society. And worse still, most of this money will be siphoned off to pay for their own inner workings, rather than be invested on the ground.

All of this serves to weaken us locally. It keeps us in a master/servant relationship continuously begging for grants from your institutions, while we remain bereft of core funding ourselves. This is not what we need or want.

Instead, here’s how you can be more helpful with your ‘DRM’ investment: if you are serious about ‘shifting power’ then reduce your footprint and brand and use your fundraising machinery to help grassroots organisations create the structures to fundraise for themselves and sustain their work.

We need the infrastructure for people to raise money domestically and from diaspora, not to be competing with big global INGOs. What is ultimately needed is to strengthen and scale up southern civil society, not to be pushed out of our own communities and markets.

Do you need to exist in every country with your brand? No. There are often local organisations, like ourselves, who work effectively on the ground, with better connections to the local community. And many of us also have the skills and capacity to represent our issues on the world stage.

We represent an eclectic mixture of organisations, but we are, increasingly, uniting under the banner or hashtag of #ShiftThePower and its “Manifesto for Change".

Our plea is that you work with us, not against us. We need to be supported, not competed with, and certainly not replaced.


  • African Philanthropy Network
  • Arusha Municipal Community Foundation, Tanzania
  • Caring Volunteers Network (CAVNET), Ghana
  • Community Self Reliance Centre, Nepal
  • Dalit Community Foundation, India
  • Development Expertise Center, Ethiopia
  • Development Research and Advocacy, Ghana
  • Emma Crewe, SOAS University of London, UK
  • Equality for Growth, Tanzania
  • Foundation for Civil Society in Tanzania, Tanzania
  • Foundation for Social Transformation, India
  • Fundaçâo Micaia, Mozambique
  • Ghana Philanthropy Forum, Ghana
  • Global Fund for Community Foundations, South Africa
  • Global Peace Association, Ghana
  • Gramin Evam Nagar Vikas Parishad (GENVP), India
  • Greenfield Africa Foundation, Ghana
  • International Foundation for Students and Youth Development (IFSYD), Ghana
  • Keepers Zambia Foundation, Zambia
  • Le Fond our les Femme Francophone, Togo
  • LIN Center for Community Development, Vietnam
  • Mauritius Council for Social Services, Mauritius
  • Multikids Africa, Ghana
  • NZP+ Mufumbwe, Zambia
  • Olive Luena Education Trust, Tanzania
  • Participatory Action for Community Empowerment Foundation (PEACE), Zambia
  • People’s Action Forum (PAF), Zambia
  • Romanian Foundation for Children, Community and Family (FRCCF), Romania
  • Ruth Foundation, Zambia
  • Sahakarmi Samaj, Nepal
  • Sahara Advocates for Change, Ghana
  • SEED Malaysia, Malaysia
  • Selma Foundation, Ghana
  • Tanzania Community Foundation Network, Tanzania
  • Thubutu Africa Initiatives, Uganda
  • West Africa Civil Society Institute, Ghana
  • Young Women Christian Association (YWCA) Mongu, Zambia
  • Zambia Alliance for Agroecology and Biodiversity (ZAAB), Zambia
  • Zambia Council for Social Development, Zambia (ZCSD)
  • Zambia National Education Coalition (ZANEC), Zambia
  • Zambian Governance Foundation for Civil Society (ZGF), Zambia
  • Kenya Community Development Foundation, Kenya
  • Greenline Africa, Zimbabwe
  • Masila Ghana Foundation, Ghana
  • ADESO, Kenya
  • Hard Rock Self-Sufficiency Foundation, Nigeria
  • COAST, Bangladesh
  • Green String Network, Kenya
  • Coxs Bazaar CSO/NGO Forum, Bangladesh
  • Vision Changers Kenya
  • Help Foundation for Victims of Insurgency in Nigeria
  • Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication
  • Social Life and Agricultural Development Foundation, Somalia
  • East Africa Philanthropy Network
  • Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana
  • Women Aspire Network Ghana
  • Solidarity Foundation, India
  • Yayasan Usaha Mulia (Foundation for Noble Work), Indonesia
  • Assembly of Social Mobilization, Sri Lanka
  • Indonesia for Humanity (Indonesia untuk Kemanusiaan / IKa), Indonesia
  • Professor Emma Crewe, Director, on behalf of Global Research Network on Parliaments and People, UK
  • Dr Meheret Ayenew, Research Fellow FSS and Adjunct Faculty, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia
  • Wajir South Development Association, Kenya and Somalia
  • Centre for Peace and Democracy (CPD), Somalia
  • Let Them Help Themselves (LTHT)
  • Reproductive Health and Rights Advocacy Initiative (REHEaRD), Nigeria
  • ASDA, Chad
  • Firelight
  • Sense, India
  • Zamzam foundation, Somalia
  • Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum
  • Women for India Foundation
  • Agency for Peace Initiatives and Inclusive Development-APID, Kenya
  • YouthNet Nagaland, India
  • Community World Service Asia
  • Development and Justice Initiative, India
  • Usikimye, Kenya
  • AFroIDEA, Kenya, Uganda, Swaziland and Nigeria
  • UDYAMA, India
  • CORAFID Centre for Innovation and Research
  • Jijenge youth organization, kisumu, Kenya
  • GISRF (Global Information and Social Resource Foundation)
  • Friends, Bangladesh
  • Rawa Fund, Palestine
  • Activate Labs, Mexico/US
  • Lasphumakhona Community Development Projects (LCDP) South Africa
  • HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, New Delhi, INDIA
  • Free Expression Myanmar (FEM), Myanmar
  • Partos, Dutch Association of Development Organisations
  • Center for Development Support Initiatives
  • AJSA India
  • Sustainability Leadership Kosova - Kosovo
  • Ngetha Media Association for Peace (NMAP) , Uganda
  • WASDA, Kenya
  • Kaalo, Somalia
  • Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee (HAVOYOCO), Somaliland and Ethiopia
  • Gargaar Relief and Development Organisation, Somalia
  • Taakulo Somali Community, Somalia
  • SSWC (Save Somali Women and Children), Somalia
  • Children and youth Development society India
  • Golden Red Foundation, India
  • Reaching the Unreached Tanzania (RUT), Tanzania
  • African Diaspora Relocation Agency
  • Whole Planet Initiative, Nigeria
  • Personal Initiative for Positive Empowerment (PIPE) Kenya
  • Ashake Foundation,Nigeria
  • Sangama,India
  • LetsStopAIDS, Canada
  • Mars Football Foundation, India
  • Africa Health and Nutrition, Kenya
  • Taakulo Somali Community Somalia/Ethiopia
  • Mona Younis, Human Rights Advocate
  • Child Care Center, Bihar, India
  • Alliance for Holistic and Sustainable Development Communities (AHSDC), India
  • Community Care for Emergency Response and Rehabilitation, Myanmar
  • Fund for Congolese Women, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • STAR Ghana Foundation, Ghana
  • MILAP, Nepal
  • Pan African Positive Women's Coalition, Zimbabwe
  • FemPlatz, Serbia
  • Majal, Bahrain
  • Les Jeunes Ambassadeurs de l'Environnement pour le Développement durable, Guinea
  • Advocacy Core Team, Zimbabwe
  • Dalia Association, Palestine
  • Salamander Trust
  • Community Transformation Foundation Network (COTFONE) , Uganda
  • LifeLine ONG, Benin
  • Youth Development and Voice Initiative (YOVI), Ghana

If you wish to add your name or organisation to this list, please insert the details in the comments section of the original article.

Keep reading:

  • by Helen James