even when ngo’s work, they don’t

April 21, 2010 § 2 Comments

ok. im a great lover of satire.  and hand relief international is the best i have read about what is so so so wrong with human rights/aid work.

i have worked for so many aid agencies, ngo’s, volunteer programs, accompaniment programs, community organizations, etc etc.  and almost none of what i did any good.  this is not because i was not ‘good’ at my job.  far from it, in just about every org. i worked in, i climbed up the success ladder quickly and viewed others’ resistance to me as an opportunity.  frankly, i was a superstar. or at least one-in-training.

it has been a hard transition out of that work.  whether i was working for community org’s or international ngo’s, i could see quickly what needed to get done to make the system worker better, look better, and i was willing to do it.  pulling an all-nighter?  no problem.  working 16 hour days?  done.  crisis management?  staying centered in the midst of it, and looking bad-ass at the same time.

its funny because i have been told i am bitter, angry, negative, etc etc when i come down on hard on human rights work.  but no one who is a veteran in the work has ever characterized me that way (unless i was critiquing their pet organizations…ahem…).  they know.  i know. we know. how much harm we do.  if anything, they are surprised that i am as young as i am and have figured out the game so quickly.  they are surprised that i am not still in my idealist/ gee, i mean we are doing some good/its better than nothing/every body benefits/support trickles down/work within the system–phase of hr work.

ive even moved through my: disillusionment/nothing i do matters/everything i do is harmful/i am just a problem/traumatized leading the traumatized/i dont want to be tainted by the moral impurity of the work–phase of hr work.

and now im in the: abusive systems must be stopped by any means necessary and possible. and in order for us to survive, flourishing self-determined diversity is key.  so cultural diversity, different ways, tactics, spiritualities, languages, peoples, lands, visions, relationships must be supported.

hegemony destroys life.

which brings me back to hand relief international.  a lovely satire blog, on all that is so wrong/right, in human rights work.  colonization in action.  hegemonic practices replacing traditional diversity.  the stultifying of innovative on the ground work to bureacratic channels and donors egos.

Spare a thought for those who bet on the fallacy that a proposal will succeed or fail based on the soundness of the activities proposed, for their survival in the cutthroat realm of reality will be short and sweet and their minor careers devoid of much satisfaction.

For those who know better here is some useful advice from HRIs vast experience:

First you need some local partners. You will find some good advice in HRIs guide to successful partnerships, and in a nutshell, the secret is to ensure that all local organizations that do something useful and have visible results are committed to exclusive collaboration with HRI. Donors like to be seen as funding local networks – “ownership” and “sustainability” are the appropriate wank-words here, and we all have to adapt to a world increasingly inclined to ridicule the more obvious clichés of the beltway bandit. You want them in your “partnership” also that you can report their results as your own during the next “reporting season”.

You don’t need to worry, the donor will never fund such local organizations directly as there is general agreement that they “lack capacity to absorb funds” – HRI will gladly do that for them.

Then, you need a slick team of lobbyist types in the capital of the donor who can reliably sleaze their way into the process walking that thin line between “seeking further guidelines” and “compromising procurement process”. Do not underestimate the relevance of this phase.

It helps a lot if, in country (“the field”), you have at least one or two staff who succeed in to combining a solid professional relationship based on respect with the “head of mission” – having children in the same school helps here as does frequenting the same cocktail circles. These situations provide useful opportunities for shared smugness about the lifesaving work we are doing together as well as bonding conversations about the heat, the craving for superior coffee and baby spinach salads and the unreliability of the local staff.

If in your country there is a local organization lead by someone with a dramatic story – an ex sex worker say, a former refugee or an HIV+ person – you are in luck. Throwing in a “bio” of this person in the proposal, written in a way that HRI does not necessarily deny any contribution to their “finding the way” will hit some important spots with the bureaucrats processing your application. Besides, after the award has been granted, you can burn significant amounts of money on having this person attend international meetings where they can “tell their story” in front of note-taking voyeurs before returning to the front of the room where they are expected to remain silent but smiling with dignity while HRI experts talk about her past suffering and what that means to her.

You will have to acknowledge that there are other organizations out there with whom HRI & affiliates compete for this funding. “Competition” is not a very popular word in our circles so the trick is to find a way to “partner” with them that keeps everyone happy. The best way to do that is to have a “coordination” meeting where, in front of a map, all the head of these organizations would decide who works where, dividing so to say spheres of influence. A good sign is when some participants will attend by phone and you know the meeting is productive if you hear phrases like “these are my MARPS (acronym for “most at risk population”)” or “so and so province is ours”. Expect a bit of horsetrading here, covered in the fair sounding argument of “avoiding double counting” and do become suspicious if many local organizations are invited to attend this particular coordination meeting (one or two are ok though, to cover “ownership“, as long as they dont talk too much).


and please, please dont go off thinking that im saying you are a lesser person cause you work in an npo, ngo, ingo etc.  i dont hate the playa, i hate the game, sun.

game recognize game.

and you lookin kinda familiar.


§ 2 Responses to even when ngo’s work, they don’t

  • Paco says:

    I don’t know, sometimes the playa is a douchebag, too.

    • mama says:

      oh dude…sometimes the playa is a douchebag…but the douchebag is ALWAYS a douchebag. ok. cal and i have decided that us and you guys need to figure out a continenet that we can all hang out together…srsly…we just need to find the right ngo/bingo to fund it…can you say strategic planning retreat?

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