Many a time Non Governmental organizations talk about mandates. They claim to have a mandate to do what they do. Granted that they are registered with the relevant ministry and also go in line with the statutory provisions of the Local Government Act and other development policies, but the key question is who gives NGOs the mandate to do what they do?
Some organizations like the Sierra Leone Red Cross exist by an Act of Parliament. Many others actually give themselves their own mandate.
When an organization is being established there are normally three key issues it considers. These are the Vision, Mission and Core values. These really provide the sign posts to guide the organization as it moves along towards its goal. It is so interesting that development work is like a football team and match. The irony is that football and war share similar diction, terminologies and jargons. Take words like target, goal, shoot, attack and defend. War and football use all these terms. Well development also borrows some of them like strategy, target and goal.
What is this thing called goal in development? Goal can be usually described as a statement of the impact on lives of the beneficiary group – a project is ultimately contributing to. The goal will be achieved through the actions of several actors. A single organization will only make a contribution towards achieving that goal. This is where the issues of collaboration, synergetic cooperation, coalition building and networking become necessary. The drive to make the required impact makes it mandatory for organizations to galvanize their resources in order to address various sectoral goals. For example when Christian Extension services assists School girls with fees and other school materials through the Ambassador girl’s Scholarship scheme, CAUSE Canada’s solar lights to libraries and study rooms complement each other perfectly. You can pay school fees and provide materials but if there is no chance for the child to study then it is wasted money. On the other hand if you provide lights and the child’s school fees is not paid then no learning will take place and therefore the solar lights will not serve its intended purpose. You see no man is an island.
Life is really interesting. Formally our military had a height limitation … very short men were not recruited, but with the rebel war which was unconventional, the use of tiny little guys became obvious in traversing the thick jungle which the rebels so loved to fight in. That was the period when child recruitment was popularized by both rebel and regular fighting forces or warring factions.
There is great disparity between the modus operandi of Non- governmental organizations and the Civil Service. It is the differences that make the former more attractive and successful. While the Civil Service is highly political and there is so much stress on status and hierarchy, in the NGO there is more open communication, achievement is recognized and not status. In the Civil Service people tend to adopt modes of behavior that are self-protective rather than open and collaborative. I am not saying however that some NGOs do not exhibit behavior akin to the Civil Service … these are of course not true NGOs. Conversely of late many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have tried to inject some NGO blood into their systems especially and donor monies have certain conditionalities. Some have succeeded to a limited level while others have failed woefully since old dogs can hardly learn new tricks.
Given the situation where two brothers on leaving college decide that one goes into the Civil Service and the other into the NGO, what really makes the difference? Point number one the pay packet for the NGO worker is almost always better while the other brother in the Civil Service is a pittance. Why is this so? The NGO is performance and result oriented while the other side is not. Even with the best of MDAs there are still so much gap in the areas of performance and commitment.
When the two brothers come home in the evenings, the NGO one will listen to news, glance through the previous day’s work and probably make some check list on the next day showing some direction. On the other hand you will find the Civil Service Brother possibly playing draughts, or dosing off early. Wait a minute mind you I am dealing here with the typical. There are always deviations from the mean. Otherwise those of us born of short parents might not have children taller.
Of course if this were not so, short families will end up being dwarfs or pigmies. Nature is fair … isn’t it. Sometimes I wonder if with all the energy that animals in the jungle have if they one day decide to take over our towns what we could do in an emergency!
There are still a lot of people who think NGO workers do very little work and have a jolly good time. Well I advise them to form even a small Community Based Organization (CBO), get funding from a big Organization to implement. They will know how slavish this whole NGO thing becomes. The NGO work is now-adays not really based on how many workshops or activities you do, but how these activities impact the lives of the poor and vulnerable people. It also involves changing mind sets, attitudes … it is about transformation. You have to take an inner look at yourself and identify the attributes that will bring about change in the communities you work with. This will only happen when you are yourself a transformed person ready to give up so much for the team spirit to grow.
In this Twenty-first century we hear about power sharing all over the place. Power is not something easy to leave. That is why people call these power sharing governments as marriages of convenience which can be broken no sooner one partner has the slightest excuse.
There is this realm of society that positions itself as a kind of bridge between government and the rest of the people. They call it Civil Society. I don’t know what they have in common with the Civil Service but what I know is that while most Civil Society Organizations are NGOs, not all NGOs can be called Civil Society.
May be one thing the NGOs can have in common with Civil Society could be certain operational styles. Some NGOs are rather too top heavy and bureaucratic, they stress more on processes and systems rather than people and results. Here bureaucracy severely impedes communication. Although there is a need for some amount of bureaucracy, it is important that you push the power of decision-making downwards. By this way pressure is reduced on senior management. It motivates people on the lower levels because it gives them a vote of confidence. Also, because the decision is taken nearer to the point of action, it is more likely to be correct. I must say that the Civil Service style is more autocratic … I’m sure you remember the much overused word insubordination. This used to be a serious crime in the civil service … not obeying the directives of your so called superior. I must say still some conservative Organizations use the term in their query letters. People have even lost their jobs for that threatening word.
Now let us look at motivation in these two outfits. Motivation number one in the NGO is that the smallest pay is still better than in the Civil Service. However what needs to be taken cognizance of is the actual man hours put in by these two sets of workers. While in the NGO the last atom of energy is sapped out dry. In the Civil Service things move at a rather snail pace … they think that since government work will never end, you don’t need to rush to do it … delay is their greatest stock in trade. If as a new staff you attempt to move far ahead, you will be dragged back and even hated, undermined and frustrated by others. This is not an issue of whether you are efficient and effective, it is a question of one man deviating from the norm and playing the holier than The Pope game. I can remember in the 80s how student files at the Ministry of Education used to get lost, but when palms are greased, the files will surface like flies. There has been some changes though, especially with donor funded projects. What is very remarkable is that the MDAs and the NGOs now speak the same language. Vocabularies like engage, proactive, sustainability, participation, corporate responsibility, duty bearers and rights holders, ownership, etcetera, etcetera, have deeply entered the jargon basket of both outfits … this I think is welcome development. What remains to be seen is the two exhibiting the same level of transparency and accountability and general commitment, drive and effectiveness.
After all whether you are Civil service, Civil society, state actor or the so called foot citizen, what we all strive to do or pretend to do is improving the livelihood of people. Anything short of this might not go under the brand of development by any standard … think hard on this? Indeed the essence of a thing is that thing without which it ceases to be what it is. Even when the chimp and the monkey may claim lineage, at the end of the day the monkey remains a monkey and the chimp, a chimp.
By S. Beny SAM