Thursday, August 13, 2020

Bridging NGOs

Over this summer (2020) I've been working on my Capstone Project to complete a Master of Arts in Management through Avila University. Since my concentration is in project management, what this entailed for me was identifying a project and working with a client to complete it. Along the way I was to document everything that happened, and also perform a literature review. It has been an amazing experience, and the most tangible result has been the formation of Uberlandia Development Initiatives (UDI), which I have already discussed elsewhere. The intangible but valuable aspect was all I learned about both NGOs and what project management looks like in that environment. Today I'll focus on one small part of what I gathered, which was the role both of intermediary support NGOs like UDI as well as that of the 'boundary spanners' within the organizations.

First, there's the question of why some local NGOs (LNGOs) are more prone to ally with international NGOs (INGOs). This is explored in 'Local organizational determinants of local-international NGO collaboration,' by Long Tran and Khaldoun AbouAssi. Although there are risks to such partnerships, such as bypassing local authorities, damaging local NGO ecosystems, and causing mission drift, there are numerous potential benefits to both LNGOs and INGOs. INGOs tend to be older than LNGOs, with more modern practices and stronger financial and human resources. Obviously, this will not be the case with UDI. LNGOs are usually far more 'in the weeds' regarding local conditions such as civil activities and marginalized interests. Partnerships between the two can result in the INGO being able to leverage the LNGO’s understanding of and relationship with the local community. Additionally, such partnerships provide the symbolic power of global solidarity, and also help to safeguard local ownership and ultimately sustainability. INGOs can offer LNGOs technical and managerial expertise, assistance with implementation of projects, and also serve as bridging organizations to tie them into international networks.On this last point, aside from the potential for material benefit, access to such networks can help the LNGO bring its concerns onto the global agenda.

Second, let's talk about support organizations. These are organizations that provide services and resources to NGOs in order to assist them in accomplishing their missions. A paper by L. David Brown and Archana Kalegaonkar, entitled 'Support Organizations and the Evolution of the NGO Sector,' lists five areas in which such organizations tend to assist most: strengthening human and organization capacities, mobilizing material resources, providing information and intellectual resources, building alliances for mutual support, and bridging to other sectors.  The portion that seems most relevant to my project was 'mobilizing material resources, as that will be the purpose of Uberlândia Development Initiatives in relation to Projetos Sociais Estação Vida. Financial resource organizations seek to address issues of material scarcity through seeking public and private funds for the NGOs that they assist. They also seek to raise the profile of the NGO(s) in order to draw said support, through networking, advertising, and other means. The form a bridge between sectors, connecting state and market institutions with the nonprofit sector. 

With regard to bridging, the authors note that bridging organizations 'can be crucial to effective action on complex problems, and civil society organizations may be well placed to catalyze interorganizational initiatives.' This could also be a role played by UDI as time progresses. Bridging as described here seems similar in ways to 'boundary spanning' in another paper which I will discuss shortly.

Third, the topic of support organizations is elaborated on in a paper entitled 'Capacity Building Through Partnership: Intermediary Nongovernmental Organizations as Local and Global Actors' by Paromita Sanyal. The author discusses capacity building through 'intermediary organizations.' A good description is provided of how an organization called PRIA managed research, networking, and training under different models, in partnership with local NGOs. A point that I found important for this project is that of how linkages with international organizations allow the intermediary organization to develop its own programs and ‘shop around’ for donors, rather than constructing plans around donor-driven initiatives. In the case of UDI and Estação Vida, the two could plan initiatives together, and then have UDI do the legwork for international support. 

Fourth and finally, in 'The Social Processes of Interorganizational Collaboration and Conflict in Nonprofit Organizations,' Peter Tsasis reviews the processes that underpin collaboration between NGOs, rather than the outcomes of collaboration. Specifically, he analyzed responses from 44 representatives from a number of NGOs working in the area of HIV/AIDS, and what he found was that for these collaborations to work effectively, there must be good relationships based on trust between 'boundary spanners.' People in this role tend to be managers or directors of NGOs who form relationships with their counterparts at other NGOs. Per this research, what motivates the formation of these relationships and the resulting collaboration is mutual interest. Respondents noted that had there not been a common interest, they would not have invested the time in the relationships. For these collaborations to be successful, a shared vision vision of how they will work together was also essential, and a lack of shared vision can lead to competition between one or more of the participant NGOs. Interpersonal trust is necessary between boundary spanners, and if this trust is violated, it can set back the collaboration as a whole.

The information above is summarized, and the details in the papers were somewhat fascinating to me as they fit well with what those of us who have formed UDI are hoping to do. In this case, UDI is the support organization, and I would be the boundary spanner. The person in this role at the community center in Uberlândia is the finance manager, as he speaks fluent English and had the bandwidth to take this on. He is also on the board of UDI now, as it is our policy to have one representative from the NGO as a voting member. This is a partnership that I hope will bring about some lasting good in the lives of the children that the community center reaches through its programs.