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We múst do Trust-Based Partnerships

“How can you be sure that when you sent unrestricted grants to southern-based NGOs, that money will not be misused?” It is the most frequently asked question we receive.

I tried all sorts of factual answers, like “Our colleagues in the country will visit the NGOs when selecting our partners, so that we can really see what is happening on the ground. It is one of our best assets that we not only rely on paperwork in our selection.”

And: “From the pictures, videos and reports shared, we can see the many activities done, and the impact made with relatively low budgets.”

And even sometimes desperately repeating the very negative argument made by a philanthropist during a debate on Shift the Power: “When donating through northern NGOs, you’re sure you’ll miss out at least 30% of the budget; when donating directly to southern-based NGOs and money is misused, it will never be that much.”

Our main insights

And so I was hoping to find that ultimate answer in our research, that will convince everyone, that yes, it’s a good idea to do unconditional grants. And I think we found it, but not in the direction where we had expected it.

We deep-dived into trust-based relations; the desk research and the interviews, to learn more on what we can do to build and maintain Trust-Based Partnerships. My assumption was that relations based on trust could be a means to reduce the likelihood that money will be misused.

But we learned that we must do Trust-Based Partnerships, because it will facilitate southern-based NGOs to perform at their best. 

In comparison, what we see in traditional aid, is that if an NGO does not achieve, it often means the end of a partnership, or problems are solved at northern offices, which creates a lack of space to be open, to learn and grow. 

Whereas, Trust-Based Partnerships provides the space to discuss openly on the best way to go, to listen to why adaptions were made, and how we can support best. And Trust-Based Partnerships allows for failing, solving and trying again, which is a prerequisite for learning and innovation. Ultimately, it will result in increased impact.

What did we learn from it?

We do not use trust-based relations as a means for unconditional grants anymore. It became a goal in itself. And we have tried to make it as practical as we could for our internal organisation, and in our partnership discussion and agreement (see textbox). In the meantime, we will keep on learning in practice and adapting our working plans to it.

Now you may still think this is nothing special. Or you may assume that this is widespread practice in the aid sector. Well, it isn’t. 

Working on a joint proposal for a pilot with one of our partnering southern-based NGOs, on scaling their expertise to more organisations in their region, I asked the team what is actually new to them in this pilot, as it all seemed so familiar to them. One lady responded:

“What is new to us is that this is our first partnership in which we were involved in developing the proposal.”

To date they have been seen as implementers of someone else’s plans only. Although being a highly expert organisation, achieving great impact on low costs on food security, climate and decreasing poverty.

So, if you would ask me again today: “How can you be sure that when you sent unrestricted grants to southern-based NGOs, that money will not be misused?” Let me then ask you: “Would you misuse money when it is meant for a plan that you really believe in and you worked on so hard and passionately? 

Because that is what I see in the NGOs we partner with: These are highly passionate experts, who have started with hardly anything but a great idea to solve socio-economic problems. We go together for years, learning, sharing and improving together. And celebrating the results of it together.

To be continued

Inemarie Dekker, Chair & coordinator iMPACT direct

This is blog 2 out of 3 – sharing our research results.

See our entire renewed Theory of Change herehttps://impactdirect.eu/toc/


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