While I speak often on the need for international NGO’s to stop eroding local capacity, I don’t speak enough about the organizations that do make a concerted effort to do just that, only to realize we (Africans) are easily corruptible self-serving people when given too much power and autonomy. Over the past several months I’ve been approached by organizations working in Uganda who are looking for reputable Ugandans on the ground that could run their organizations. A lot of the emails read like this one I just received, below:

I’m wondering if you have any persons you can recommend to oversee a small-scale agriculture project with [ organization Redacted ]?

Our current program director is not doing so well. He’s a very nice man with what appears to be good intentions but some things are way off. The whole thing is a hot mess and his actions/decision-making are so all over the place we’re losing funding opportunities because of it which at the end of the day, negatively affects the women we’re trying to work with. We want to hire someone local and make it a local self-run initiative that we can step away from.

The sad thing is our main guy is a local and is a bit on the self-serving side (as in making budget demands that don’t make sense for the women or project but just so happen to make sense for his personal gain.)  It’s a long story, but the short of it is we I’ve trusted this person for years and I’m only now seeing that he’s been quietly draining the org for a while.

I don’t want to damage his reputation because it’s a touchy situation but the reality is I need someone and fast. I’m totally unfamiliar with fees and such for Uganda to hire someone in this regard but am googling as we speak.

Any persons, information, advice you can offer would be tremendously appreciated.

In situations like these, I can’t help but place the blame both on the organization and on the self-serving local capacity. In part, I have to blame the organization for hiring local capacity without a track record of managing an organization with international implications. But then again, this is almost unavoidable and a self-created situation for small iNGOs. If you are going to start a non-profit to address a particular hole in development and  can’t dedicate nearly 100% of your effort and time to running it, these problems are going to happen. Identifying and training local capacity capable enough to do the job is not something you can do on your 2-week, once a year holiday trip. You either get lucky with a good candidate through connections or you spend years building relationships you can rely on.

For local capacity, behavior like this is the equivalent of shooting ourselves in the foot. Uganda, as I am sure is true in other countries, is rife with individuals running “briefcase NGO’s” – organizations that exist only paperwork in someone’s briefcase. Their singular purpose is to attract an unsuspecting foreigner to help them with their cause. The foreigner falls for it, and proceeds to raise funds or donate or dedicates themselves do doing good. Nothing wrong with wanting to do good. From a human perspective, it is almost an instinctual response to try and right a social injustice.

We, as local capacity are beginning to take advantage of this relationship and game it to our (personal) advantage. The problem is, in doing so, we are throwing away an excellent opportunity to be agents of our own change. Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures in order to survive. However, selfish activities like the example above cut short any chance of us truly solving the many social ills in our communities and legitimizes the need for NGOs to continually exist. See, they can’t do it themselves. So we have to be here to do this. Further more, it entrenches the very environment we are trying to escape by acting selfishly.

I suppose it is too much to expect local capacity to NOT take advantage of an arrangement that is too easy to manipulate. But I also suppose it is too much to expect anyone wanting to do good, to be able to think about this potential pitfall in their business plans and think twice before starting an NGO. I don’t have an answer, but in writing this (and as hard as it sounds to those that have reached out to me), I realize both are to blame.

So the grand question remains, how can we partner better? Better yet, which organizations out there have figured out the perfect balance?