At an International Women’s Day Conference last month, African Initiatives hosted a series of workshops and discussion groups. One of the questions that continually came up was the role of partnerships in the work African Initiatives does. So we’re going to address this and answer the questions.
The role of the western charity in the global south is rightly scrutinized. Sadly there are many charities who do more harm than good – think water pumps broken due to lack of maintenance and commitment, flip-flops broken as benefactors didn’t understand the terrain. However, when introducing African Initiatives to friends, family and members of the public, the first things I mention are the partnerships and the involvement with knowledgeable grassroots organisations in Ghana and Tanzania, because this is one of its most defining and progressive factors.
How the Partnership Works
It is not that unusual for NGOs to have local partners, however it is dependent on the sector and vision of the charity. Post conflict or health charities operational within a country tend not to have partners, whereas African Initiatives’ aims for long term cultural change within a community require such partnerships. Our partner organisations are run by local staff and are already an established part of the community. These cultural changes work with the understanding of cultural relativism but more importantly on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which both Tanzania and Ghana have signed, as African Initiatives is rights-based at inception. These rights include the right to education, exemption from cruelty and free marriage.
African Initiatives relies on partners to provide evidence of need for the communities it works with. Monitoring and Evaluation is increasingly important in the world of International Development and African Initiatives, in addition to funding, works with its partners to develop professional skills in this area.
The Future of the Partnerships
I spoke to David, our Programmes Director who lived in Tanzania last year on the future of partnerships. He admitted that NGOs should be tirelessly working themselves out of a job and pressed the importance of working with local partners in order to achieve long-term cultural change. For example, when working with Maasai communities, we work hand in hand with people like the Ujaama Community Resource Team – one of the first tribal-led NGOs in Tanzania. The solutions are all there, in the grassroots communities – its just support and finances that are needed. As Edward Loure said when he accepted the Goldman Environmental prize,
“I call on donors to support organisations working on the ground… we have the knowledge, the passion, the drive and the skills”
The premise of working with partners is for them to become independent, but the reality of the sustainability of these local organisations is different. A limited capacity to run programmes and retention of staff is a problem due to lack of government funding for the third sector in Tanzania and Ghana. Even in areas where local government policies are changing to benefit citizens, there are still issues that INGOs have to adapt to. For example, the Tanzanian government announced as part of their election campaign that school fees would be scrapped for secondary school, meaning that both primary and secondary education would be free! However, tuition fees constitute such a minor economic barrier compared to the uniforms, books, food, travel, accommodation and exam fees that students are still made to pay that the role of NGOs remains vital.
Partners working with African Initiatives are already established professional organisations with similar visions and values. African Initiatives can enable the transfer of professional skills from one NGO to another and our partners can then in turn mentor smaller NGOs that should in time lead to a sustainable third sector across the Global South.
Go check out our partners and the work we’ve accomplished!