EDITORIAL: NGOs must fight back by showing results of work

Lucy Maggs

International NGOs are facing a backlash: the public, governments, and now the sector itself, are questioning how effectively they operate and who they are answerable to. The latest criticisms levelled at aid agencies come from the International Federation of the Red Cross' World Disaster Report.

It concludes that some decisions on allocating aid are influenced by political agendas such as the War on Terror and international aid agencies are failing in their "moral responsibility" to provide humanitarian assistance where it is most needed (See News in focus, p12).

Most criticism of NGOs stems from questioning of the changing nature of their role. Agencies have traditionally been associated with the distribution of aid to developing countries, but more recently they have taken on lead roles in campaigns, addressing the relationships between institutions such as governments, companies and individuals.

Many NGOs have had considerable campaigning success and influence on global policy. The success of their campaigning has given them power, but with this comes a responsibility to demonstrate to supporters, donors and beneficiaries that they are achieving their goals.

Demonstrating achievements has always been a problem for international NGOs - their offices and those benefiting from their work may be scattered in remote corners of the world making collecting feedback difficult.

But problems measuring performance cannot be used as an excuse not to do it, something agencies are beginning to recognise. The danger is that if the sector doesn't continue to improve its accountability, it will have a system of measuring performance inflicted on it. The recently launched NGO Watch web site, which monitors organisations and is run by two think-tanks, one of which has strong links to the Bush administration, demonstrates just how dangerous this could be for the sector.

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