Where are NGOs headed?

One of the key strengths of NGOs is that they have, historically, offered a mid-point between Government and the private sector. In theory, they offer a pathway to ‘development’ which places a heavy and appropriate emphasis on issues such as community engagement, partnership building, transparency and accountability. If this is true, why have some recent commentators reflected on what seems to be a growing lack of trust between ‘the public’ (especially in high income settings) and NGOs themselves? Where does this come from? I have always suspected that one source comes from what is often seen as the NGO value-added – the way in which they are driven by Vision and Mission. From my own experience, NGOs of all descriptions tend to (every five years) undertake a calendar driven and largely useless ‘strategic review’ which spends several days reaffirming their Vision and Mission statements, at the end of which appears ‘the strategy’. This tends to be a relative waste of time as for most agencies, Vision and Mission are not really up for real debate. Instead, NGOs might be better engaged with the approach of strategy experts such as Richard Rumelt who appeals for ‘strategy’ to be based on a response to very specifically identified problems, challenges and/or opportunities which are identified in 'scientific' and rigorous ways which would challenge the relatively superficial analysis (often second-hand and out of date) of many NGOs. Watch this space for more about strategy in the coming weeks.