As someone who is trying to co-found a NGO, I often ask myself (more like twice a day), "Does this community really need this NGO? Does this country need more foreign financial assistance?" A mainstream Nepali news source, My Republica, just released that there are now 50,000 NGOs seeking affiliation with the Social Welfare Council.
"That means, 180 NGOs in a week and 720 in a month go for affiliation! Interestingly, almost all of them are new NGOs, according to officials at the council. The registration process takes two to three days and the NGOs get their certificates."
At first when I read this article, I was incredibly alarmed at the number, but at the end of the article, I realized that this is a relatively small number in comparison to India and Pakistan which are surrounding countries. Granted Nepal is a smaller country with less global influence. However, India has around 3.3 million (as of 2009) NGOs thus this means there is one NGO for every 400 people. This is not that common. India has the most NGOs in the world. This is not to say that more is beneficial for the nation and its problems. India is an emerging superpower with a literacy rate of 63% and contains some of the largest slums in the world.
Does increasing the amount of NGOs really aid the country's social welfare or should NGOs simply improve the NGOs already created to have more of an impact? In my experience in Uganda, I noticed a factor about NGOs that I had never noticed before: NGO competition. In Jinja, Uganda, there was a NGO for what felt like every block of the city. Jinja is located at the source of the Nile, thus there are many tourists that travel through the area. Many of them come back to the area to start a NGO. Many of them are some of the most fascinating people I have ever met, however, like the global capitalists Westerners are, the NGOs that are created are highly competitive with each other. Each NGO is truly created like a small business. They go through the same financial processes, website creation, fundraising methods, building a network locally and abroad. Often neighbor NGOs in a small community have the same goals. Why not create a partnership of NGOs? Dr. Netra Timsina recommends just this and suggests that instead of wasting start-up money for one organization, people should coordinate with other organizations, especially local, in order to make a socially responsible difference that builds an infrastructure from within.
This brings me to another factor about NGOs: NGO/Government coordination. In my experience, NGOs and government organizations work against each other. NGOs pick up where the government left off. This is not uncommon in America either. However, there is an extreme lack of communication between NGOs and the government. Timsina argues that the government tries to "control" or limit NGOs rather than coordinate with them. NGOs are necessary according to Timsina to get assistance to minority groups and extremely rural, disconnected areas but I would argue less NGOs would be needed if the government and NGOs could coordinate with each other.
Ultimately, I may sound like a hypocrite for wanting to start a NGO as I state 'less is more.' This is a serious ethical dilemma of mine. As part of my research and since the organization began, we have been working along with Room to Read and are continuous searching for organizations to coordinate with. It is always a continuous learning process of what is "right" and what will be the most "sustainable" decision, hence the focus of my blog.
Food for thought: Have you experienced NGO competition? Do you think 'less is more'?
In my next blog, I will attack how the mass amounts of NGOs affect the local government's ability to distribute public goods like education and health care. This is a problem that affects East Africa especially.