Building Better NGOs

I share my vision of distributed impact at scale with quite a few fellow NGO types and usually I get this funny, defensive vibe.

Most of us in the impact space are in this for all the right reasons. We are committed to social impact and we dedicated our lives to deliver impact sometimes at significant personal cost.

What is this talk of distributed impact then? Of disintermediation in the impact delivery space. Am I implying that all these people, all this positive energy is not needed? That somehow in the future there won’t be any NGOs?

To the contrary.

In the future NGOs will be more important than they are today. More relevant. They will get to be more focused on impact and less hamstrung by donor-driven politics and bureaucracy.

One of the most prevalent sources of frustration in the impact space is the inherent conflict between donors and implementers. Jaded, cynical NGO old-timers venting about unreasonable donors are as common an occurrence as are donor representatives venting about poor nonprofit reports or performance.

Comic taken from The Guardian, who have a panel of “development agony aunts” that tackle questions like: How can I avoid becoming cynical about aid work

As the main source of funding, (traditional/ institutional) donors see themselves as calling the shots in their relationship with implementers. Meanwhile nonprofits try to focus on the ”beneficiaries”/ impact. Counter-intuitively, the donors’ agenda and the beneficiary’s interest are not always aligned. Institutional donors are political creatures and this politics filters down to implementers, sometimes to the point where it consumes program design/ implementation.

Keeping donors happy/ keeping funds flowing becomes the objective, which messes with what people get to do as part of implementation and, often, turns idealists into cynics very fast.

Essentially, impact implementers are forced to be donor-facing, rather than beneficiary-facing.

With decentralized impact, there is an unprecedented opportunity for nonprofits to go back to our roots and be truly beneficiary/ community focused.

Here is how:

Distributed impact means that resources (i.e. donor funding) will flow directly into the communities where impact happens — and, critically — is verified. These resources will only flow if impact is verified. Also, impact is the only string attached to these resources. Money from a multi-billion institutional donor is no different than money from an individual 25$ donation. It’s all impact money seeking impact on an open market.

At the community level, there will be powerful incentives for people to increase the impact that happens in their communities. Also, there will be sufficient resources available to them to maximize impact.

This is where NGOs (and development experts) come in. They get engaged by the communities. They get to work closely with these communities to maximize/ optimize impact, design new programs and support with implementation. They get to support the building of systems/ capacity that will increase the positive impact in that community.

They get community focus without donor B.S. I’d work like that, wouldn’t you?

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