Our Theory of Change

Our Theory of Change

iMPACT direct believes that development cooperation creates more impact by distributing funds more fairly and thus expanding the decision-making table to include locally-led NGOs and the community members they work with.

Our Theory of Change from problem analysis to envisioned impact looks as follows:

Below we elaborate specifically on the Pathway of Change for locally-led NGOs.


We believe that locally-led NGOs and the communities involved have the expertise and knowledge to tackle the social injustices in their local setting. 

However, locally-led NGOs are often excluded from decision-making in the development aid sector. This shows from the fact that they directly receive around 2% of total global aid budget.[i] In the Netherlands, only 1% of Dutch development funding reaches local NGOs directly.[ii] It results in: 

  • Donations that locally-led NGOs receive through northern NGOs are almost always conditional[iii] focusing on the priorities and solutions of northern NGOs.
  • And when small and medium-sized local NGOs decide to start fundraising with grants on their conditions, they will find out that they are usually excluded from existing grant opportunities, without a northern partner or reference.[iv]

In addition, locally-led organisations have little space to build a strong independent organisation. 

  • Firstly, the project funding they receive through northern NGOs is and often doesn’t allow for organisational building costs. 
  • Secondly, with the northern NGOs leading the agenda on how socio-economic change should look like, capacity strengthening of their partner organisations in the global south is mainly focused on meeting the ‘donors’ planning and reporting requirements’ and not on actual organisation strengthening.[v]
  • And finally, globally NGOs face a shrinking civic space – a decrease in fundamental democratic rights – in favour of space taken by governments, multinationals and/or radical movements. The exact appearance differs per country and can be caused by terrorism or tackling it (i.e. counterterrorism), by raising legal and financial barriers, by censorship and spreading fake news, or through bureaucracy and corruption.[vi]

Altogether, it negatively affects effective and cost-effective projects in Africa. And even worse, it impedes a strong local civil society. Yet, a strong civil society is a prerequisite for a solid foundation for socio-economic development and an equal distribution of wealth.

To be able to work towards sustainable and impactful social change, this needs to change.


Professional locally-led NGOs – that are the first to respond, last to leave – are responsible for 70% of all impact in development cooperation.[vii] Imagine how much impact can be made, if locally-led NGOs would receive more than this marginal 2%!

To be able to increase the 2% that locally-led NGOs can decide over, iMPACT direct supports local NGOs to become self-sustaining, by providing a platform that showcases local solutions by local experts, facilitating access to unconditional grants and actual capacity strengthening between experts from around the globe.     

Concretely, iMPACT direct provides locally-led NGOs:

  1. Visibility of locally-led NGOs and the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of their local solutions. We do so by showcasing the work of the NGOs and their stories at our website and in promotions. In this way, we tell the story of local experts and communities that – although underfunded – are having the solutions at hand. And this provides new images of locally-led NGOs that are professional, effective and cost-effective (besides the one-sides stories on Africa that we usually hear in the North). 
  2. Unrestricted grants to locally-led NGOs. We do so by connecting a large group of donors (individuals, organisations and grants) to locally-led NGOs. It bridges a gap, as we see that several donors who do want to support locally-led NGOs directly, but fail to find or to select them. NGOs decide upfront where to fundraise for by explaining their main strategy (local solution), short term outputs (lives improved) and longer-term outcomes (community impact) and target amount needed, including organisational costs. In that way we can combine showcasing concrete information for individual donors, as well as have more room for the NGOs to choose how to spend the donations over the year. Three times a year, or on request, we transfer 95% of all donations to the NGOs. The NGO reports on how they spent the budget.
  3. Capacity strengthening on the NGOs’ terms. We do so by exploring together with the NGOs what are the additional needs – apart from grants and visibility – to become more self-sustaining in a period of three- or six-years’ time. In general, the capacity strengthening programme consists of face-to-face training in Ghana and Kenya, online mentoring and online meetings to share challenges and solutions, using the knowledge within our network of NGOs and experts, and beyond where relevant. 

In this way development cooperation can become more effective, more cost-efficient and more sustainable. In Europe, we haven’t seen organisations alike.[viii]


  • Number of NGOs supported for a period of 3 or 6 years with visibility, unrestricted grants and capacity strengthening activities (i.e. knowledge sharing in our network, training and/or mentoring). 
  • Amount of unrestricted donations made by individuals, organisations and grants.
  • In Ghana, Kenia and the surrounding English-speaking countries. And we do plan to scale to French-speaking countries and other regions in Africa afterwards.

We plan for supporting 65 locally-led NGOs by the end of 2023 with a total income of €1,000,000.


  • After a three or six years’ support of iMPACT direct, the locally-led NGOs are more independent (i.e. their own solutions are central to their approach, not dependent on 1 main funder); and are more sustainable (in terms of financing their projects and organisations and have a stronger organisation in place).
  • More unrestricted funding is available for locally-led NGOs, because of the iMPACT direct approach is scaling, either through 1) more and more grants using our network; or 2) are inspired to replicate our approach. 

There is growing evidence that unrestricted donations to local solutions are more effective, more cost-effective, and more sustainable.[ix] For instance because:

  • The match-funding to the NGOs’ own resources into established community interventions means more impact with less budget.
  • Local NGOs can rapidly respond to changes or new problems that arise. 
  • Local NGOs and communities build a durable relationship, and not just for the funding period. 


Ultimately, we want to contribute the decision-making power of locally-led NGOs on a larger scale and inspire on an actual shift of power within the development sector, and simultaneously contribute to a stronger civil society in the countries we work. That is:

  • A strengthened civil society in Africa, starting with the locally-led African NGOs we support. In the coming years we want to grow our impact in terms of the number of NGOs we support, amount of unconditional grants per NGO and in technical assistance to NGOs. We hope that with that, we support a larger democratic space that people and NGOs benefit from, in the countries we work.
  • A so-called shift of power from Northern iNGOs towards having local experts and communities included in decision-making on an equal basis. We do so by being a living example of how it can be done differently – unconditional donations and thus having local experts in the lead – as well as by sharing our story and stories from our partnering NGOs and the communities they support.

Note: Our Theory of Change is work in progress. From February to June 2022 we work on more scientific and evidence-based proof with students from the Radboud University of Nijmegen that will lead to an improved Theory of Change and insight what assumptions there are left to measure.

In addition, we we also add the pathways for donors and communities soon.

[i] “In 2020, the budget for development cooperation was $156 billion; local NGOs received 2.1% directly” (The New Humanitarian, 2021);  “More than 99% of humanitarian and philanthropic […] to predominately white-led international NGOs. Despite Africa’s growing and dynamic social sector […]’ (Guardian, 2021); 0.4% of total global development funding is going to local NGOs (Disrupt Development, 2020)

[ii] Evelijne Bruning in ViceVersa; Zware kritiek op besteding ontwikkelingsgeld (Trouw, 2016). 

[iii] 21% of all funds are unconditional (of the 2%?) – Center Disaster  … (mentioned in online webinar of Judge Business School on Shift the Power / East African Phlantropy Network)

[iv] The criteria of several smaller northern grants require a reference or partner in Europe, UK or the USA. Or the budgets are simply too small and too much work for bigger grants. Moreover, selection is almost always done through a paperwork selection procedure behind desks. Great local solutions with not so great proposal writers will fail to access these types of applications. (from experience and feedback from partnering NGO COSDEP for instance); ‘Because of their small size […] organisations cannot meet the bureaucratic requirements set by major international funds, donors and financial institutions, or these groups are simply invisible. Moreover, some of them cannot operate openly for security reasons.’ (Both Ends, 2017). 

[v] “Traditional donors (e.g. World Bank, USAID) in Ghana approach capacity strengthening  (CS) as part and parcel of donor compliance activities. With this narrow aim and donor-focused approach, technical assistance in the form of trainings and accompaniment (of local project staff) has been mostly related to ensuring that local NGOs is able to meet donor planning and reporting requirements.” Lori Cajegas in an interview with Ato Kwamina Addo. The interview was a part of a training with INTRAC on Partner Capacity Strengthening 

[vi] CIVICUS and Partos, 2017

[vii] The New Humanitarian, 2021

[viii] One of our supporters mentions that they don’t see similar organisations in the Netherlands.

[ix] Small Grants, Big Impacts, Both Ends, 2017; Global Grant for Community Foundations; and the Bridging the Gap Conference on Localisation, March 2021.

CHANGE the story


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