In a nutshell: NGO

NGO stands for ‘non-governmental organisation’.

It is a not for profit organisation, typically addressing a social or political issue. Some operate across borders e.g. Oxfam International.

Some are local and registered within the country in which they operate.

Importantly, their independence of any government enables them to freely challenge government policies for the ‘good of the people’. 

However, NGOs can receive income in a variety of ways and, for some, this includes government funding.

Some would say that this calls the neutrality of such NGOs into question but they retain their non-governmental status by prohibiting government representatives from membership.

Governments will not always look on NGOs favourably despite the good work they do. They can be seen as undermining the authorities. Some of WDR’s partner are indigenous NGOs.

In a nutshell: EMPOWERMENT

What does it mean to be empowered? In our latest ‘In a nutshell’, we look at this term and why we need to be careful about how we use it.

‘Empowerment’ is arguably one of the most overused words in development.

Some charities say that they “empower local people”. We need to be careful with how we use this word. If we have ‘power over’ other people, it exploits and oppresses but if we have ‘power with’ others, it can lead to actions that liberate.

If I say that I empower someone, it actually suggests that I have the ability to change their lives and they don’t. In other words, the power lies with me. This is not true empowerment.

Yes, we can offer the tools, skills or knowledge to help people empower themselves but we cannot truly empower them. This may seem like semantics but WDR only works with partners who facilitate local people empowering themselves, gaining control over their own destinies and not being reliant upon outsiders.

Click here to learn more about our partners.

Unexpected Bonuses in Bolivia

If I give money to an organisation, I may simply be expecting the thing they said would happen, to happen. If that was the case, I’d probably be happy enough. However, often when good development activities are carried out, there can be positive ramifications beyond what was expected.

If I may use the example of Irish Methodist funded work in Bolivia. The basic idea was to provide solar ovens (10% of cost was paid for by recipient) for domestic use. The results:

1. As intended, time has been freed up for women to explore other productive activities or even recreational pursuits. As one women has said, “I think I love my oven more than my husband!”

The forests, previously used as the source of firewood, are being conserved. All this was hoped for before things started.

However, there have been other consequences:

2. The involvement of the Methodist Church in Ireland has led to new Bolivian Methodist communities joining the scheme.

3. Because of the ‘extra’ time now available to women, community discussions have been initiated and training delivered around gender roles within the community.

The solar ovens have become less about economics and the environment and more about women’s empowerment.

4. The ‘ovens project’ is happening where a proposed hydroelectric dam may be built. It is risky to do leadership training in such an area as the powerful and wealthy do not wish to be challenged.

However, the ‘ovens project’ provides a cover under which such training can happen less obviously so that local people can understand the issues and mobilise themselves to lobby for their rights.

5. The ovens and their success has been seen by other local NGOs and this has led to an increase in demand. A deal is now being brokered with local commercial enterprises to produce the oven parts locally and the increased demand will mean a reduction in cost.

Also, importantly, it is expected to lead to 800 new jobs.

As was told to me by Emma Donlan, Christian Aid Country Manager for Bolivia, “The Methodist Church in Ireland has been the springboard”. It is great when development throws up unexpected bonuses and very significant bonuses at that.

NB Irish Methodist World Development & Relief co-funds some work with Christian Aid Ireland. In the above case the ‘shared’ partner is the Bolivian NGO, Soluciones Practicas.