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The future of European NGOs

Olivier Consolo, Former director of CONCORD

Olivier Consolo reviews in this article the main challenges that organizations face European development, in a context of constant change.


I recently participated in a meeting in Johannesburg hundreds of NGOs that reflected on our model. There was highlighted that even those institutions "too big to fail" can if not adapt to changes in their environment. A clear example is the experience of Kodak, a leader in its market sector that had not the necessary flexibility and disappeared.

Unfortunately, NGOs we had to wait for the crisis to ask seriously and courageously questions about our identity and our role in the struggle for a better world. This reluctance to question the effectiveness of our working model gives reason to neoliberal theory that only low crises institutions are reformed. Maybe we would gain in credibility and adaptability were constantly questioning ourselves rethinking our role.

¿Identity crisis the crisis model?

But in my opinion, and despite the questioning (very minor), by some European political groups in recent years, the model "ong" is the least crisis is in society: Surveys show that the confidence of the

And beyond the confidence, the level of financial support from the public organizations has not decreased with the crisis. Remains, and has even increased in countries such as Holland. The resilience of our organizations face the crisis has proved to be superior to traditional private actor, especially those looking for large short-term profits.

But even though we remain a relevant actor, not relax: we use this context in times of crisis to reinvent, Without that meaning change everything. This is not change for change, but to validate what works well and courageously accept what needs to change.

In this sense, it is necessary to create a new political narrative. CONCORD has set up a working process for this, for example developing a list of 10 items that should be removed from our discourse because they are counterproductive. Concepts that are often at the basis of our work or in our own names: say "help" rather than co-construct, we separated the world into North and South ...

This transition between the two discourses is a difficult phase because it requires leaving the above, what we know, and we're still not sure what is new.

Does working "here" and "there"?

The Western world is experiencing a change of civilization linked to a change in values, and we are realizing that this model based middle class is not viable for 7 billion people.

Today there is a French or Spanish that explains a Guatemalan how to become middle class, but to jointly build a more spirituality linked to more sustainable model. If the next generation is going to have to live with half of what you have today, we have to start talking seriously about how to prepare this generation to be happy with half. In this regard, the post-2015 agenda involves the burial of cooperation based on development aid, putting issues on the agenda as rights and good living.

In addition, the Commission and the European Parliament have acknowledged for the first time in its communication The roots of democracyThat the issue will have citizens with the power to influence and monitor public policies and the ability to measure the impact of these on their lives. Any NGO that is on this agenda to accompany civic organizations already contributing to that.

Thus profound paradigm shift separating the work in the North and the South is already happening and is being widely discussed. In this framework, organizations can not remain totally unconnected to national realities. Those who were working both domestically and internationally, are well positioned to work in this new model. For the remaining that decision must be a strategic move based on a serious political analysis.

A key niche could be bringing together actors from both sides, who do not have the resources, knowledge or ability to work international partnerships.

Alliances and coalitions: towards a model of shared leadership

Networks and coalitions live within the questioning of our ways of working, today an existential crisis. After 10 years of activity without having reached a common agenda, the World Social Forum may be wondering what the purpose of your work for the next 10.

Specifically, we must address the issue as soon as possible north / south issue of leadership in civil society. Today is a defensive reaction in southern organizations to how we have mastered the processes and international alliances in recent years.

That has to do with power, access to resources, with messages, with dialogue with other stakeholders ... European NGOs have always believed that international coalitions were driving well suited to the needs and interests of our partners. But they have now found the courage to tell us it was not, and also are fully prepared to lift agendas, lead us to us and maybe even help us transform.

So we return to the etymology of the co-operation (we have never co-operated, we have always helped), and tend to more balanced relations with the voices that have contributed to emerge all over the world.

Large platforms are already addressing this conflict, such as Beyond 2015 or the Global Call Against Poverty. Large friction occurred in the latter, to take the lead in the agenda of aid effectiveness and civil society to assume ending Asian organizations, little known but very active.

All this does not change the pattern of our ong, but rethinking how to make alliances and coalitions.

Another debate within the NGO sector, both in Europe and in America, are the relationships with the private sector. This theme also creates tensions and disagreements to be addressed directly.

The ratio of companies with NGOs is just a micro issue within the field of private sector development. Concord promoted long reflection aboutTrying sMake reparation debate partnership strategies of diversification of funds. We believe that there is much confusion between the possibility of really strategize long-term partnership, and the need to entice the private sector because we have a lack of funding. Both issues are legitimate, but they are different issues.

It seems clear that the agenda for change in EU for Spanish cooperation etc. The role of business is crucial. The great challenge is to see, from our point of view, which means that companies and the private sector are already done development actors.


Funding should always contribute to the strategy of the organization, and not the reverse. In this sense, project financing classical been detrimental because has forced some organizations to build their strategies on the priorities of other actorsSometimes contradictory.

Dicho esto, aunque en el contexto español suene extraño, hoy en día las modalidades de financiación para ong se están flexibilizando y diversificando. Eso es el fruto de diez años de trabajo a nivel nacional en muchos países de la Unión Europea y a nivel más general. En 2005, la OCDE cuestionaba la excesiva burocratización y las dificultades de las organizaciones para acceder al sistema de financiación europeo a ONG. La Corte de Auditoría europea confirmó estas dificultades en 2009, y a raíz de ahí empezó una reflexión seria, que se ve reflejada en el nuevo periodo presupuestario europeo multianual, con iniciativas como volver a permitir la contratación directa sin pasar por una convocatoria, o la recuperación de la financiación en cascada.

Moreover, European organizations have handled in a somewhat opportunistic tool consortium, which was originally a European imposition to join organizations from different countries. Now we should consider strategies alliances (thematic or geographic) more durableBecause institutions will identify those organizations that have more capacity in a given country or industry consortia to work long term. The Spanish organizations have demonstrated their ability in this regard, which will be key for midsize organizations in the future.

Another mechanism that is increasingly available in country is funding: most large agencies funds are channeled via their antennae in developing countries.

El futuro de las ONGD europeas - Alianza por la Solidaridad

Today we have to rethink that access to local financing: runs locally, passes through the seat, how to finance that administrative costs and headquarters in Europe ...? This is a central issue, because it can help diversify sources of funding for flagship projects in many organizations.

Moreover, Spain at European level remains a reference for having managed to convince decentralized financing institutions (regional and local governments) to the need for a funding commitment from local budgets of 0.7, based on being a model strategic partners of southern organizations.

This commitment does not exist in any other country, and although this model is in crisis, when you think about diversification of funds, the Spanish example remains a reference in Europe. Consideration should be given to recover or renegotiate that, you can re-emerge as a strategy in the future.

Finally, it is clear that liberal countries such as Belgium and England have yet invented the integrated mechanisms to mobilize campaign funds collectively.

Of course, organizations that make these campaigns are also competing for your brand and image, but once or twice a year come together and create platforms to mobilize funds together. In Belgium is the national coordinator which is mandated to make a week of solidarity annually for this purpose, which after 20 years is an institution: 80% of Flemish families participated in this campaign. The immense financial and reputational capital that is generated is shared between the participating organizations as previously agreed criteria.

Some guidelines for midsize organizations.

The trend in major international NGO is going to change its governance model to more global organizations, where the South has as much or more political weight than the original site.

As for midsize organizations, the current readjustment (not crisis) ngo will not offer a single answer. Each will have to find yours: retrieve the political aspect of his work, being in the mainstream ... each organization must maintain this internal debate and make decisions.

The definition of medium is relative: what medium is considered in Spain, in Portugal may be large. but compared to the huge Anglo-Saxon institutions, we feel that a team of 100 people, we are a medium organization.

Supposedly considered medium organizations have a fairly clear historical identity with their national social political and media arena. Not known outside the borders, but if you have a lot of national implementation. It is therefore necessary meditate well change all that if the domestic industry to become an international brand. In France it has already happened: the major international organizations such as Oxfam and Action Aid to small organizations have sought to turn in its French branch.

That identity should be proud. The question is how to gain in size, influence and international policy and operational intervention.

There midsize organizations should be leading thematic networks of European organizations and countries where we work. These networks, not oriented towards brand building should be flexible enough to allow maintain that national identity. The added value is to keep those networks to service our work, adapt as needed without turning the network into an end in itself.

The diversification of financial support may also be potentially better handled by a medium organization, careful not to lose one's strategic vision.

Finally, we have capacity to tell our social foundations. This requires identifying the different groups that make up the base (who are interested in advocacy, volunteer support, economic participation) and manage more strategically-level communication.

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