Toward Authentic Partnership: How North-South NGO Partnerships Contribute to Development

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Below is a summary of an in depth research paper written by Roland Hoksbergen (November 2002). Please contact World Renew for the full version if interested.

Authentic partnership is characterized by “mutually enabling, inter-dependent interaction with shared intentions,” which implies, “inter alia, a joint commitment to long-term interaction, shared responsibility for achievement, reciprocal obligation, equality, mutuality and balance of power.”

Partnerships are “dynamic relationships where particular roles and responsibilities (in terms of activities and resource allocations) are decided upon collectively and delegated to each member of the partnership, with the recognition that each is dependent on and accountable to the other members.

Partnership is “a working relationship that is characterized by a shared sense of purpose, mutual respect and the willingness to negotiate.”

Characteristics of successful partnerships:

  1. mutual trust
  2. complementary strengths
  3. reciprocal accountability
  4. joint decision-making
  5. a two-way exchange of information
  6. clearly articulated goals
  7. equitable distribution of costs and benefits
  8. performance indicators and mechanisms to measure and monitor performance
  9. clear delineation of responsibilities and a process for adjudicating disputes
  10. shared perceptions
  11. a notion of mutuality with give-and-take
  12. mutual support and constructive advocacy
  13. transparency with regard to financial matters
  14. long-term commitment to working together
  15. recognition of other partnerships

Among the most sensitive of all issues is that of funding, with some observers believing that partnership is impossible when one organization funds the other. No matter how good the personal relationship between the Northern NGO and the Southern NGO, the latter must accept the humiliation of being the receiver of charity. Perforce, there is a relationship of unequals. And inequality never built capacity: it nurtures dependence; it establishes the material basis for dancing to the tune of the donor.

In addition to speaking about global community, it should be pointed out that people in the North also have some things to learn about their own human development from people in the South. Yet when NNGOs talk about partnership and mutual exchange and common mission, they are almost always focused on what is happening in the South. What results is the curious situation that people in both South and North believe they can make important contributions to the well-being of people in other societies, but only Northerners can act on their understanding of mission because they are so much richer in money terms. An authentic partnership, however, will serve to link people so that all participants are sharing with each other and learning from each other. Just as in the South, people in the North also need ownership of and participation in their own development, and they need to be playing roles in civil society. In the process of interacting with people from the South, they can learn more about their own development.

Partners feel a greater sense of equality …

  1. The less direct funding there is from World Renew
  2. The less dependency there is on World Renew funding
  3. The more donors the partner has
  4. The more funds the partner raises by itself from local sources
  5. The more sensitively World Renew manages the funding relationship
  6. The more partner voices are listened to and heard
  7. The more partners are truly involved in decision-making
  8. The more World Renew manifestly values their contributions
  9. The more trust and mutual respect has grown
  10. The more frequent and transparent is the communication
  11. The less favoritism World Renew seems to show toward other partners
  12. The higher is the education level, competency and self-confidence of the partners
  13. The more partners lead training sessions for other partners

Among the findings in the World Renew study is how difficult it is for SNGOs to develop a membership base once the SNGO has been sustained with outside funding. When asked why this strategy has proven so difficult, partners respond as follows:

  1. SNGOs are so programmed to look outside their local networks for funding that they have not built either the culture or the institutions of charitable giving in their local contexts.
  2. The general population in the South, especially those in evangelical churches, has not really caught the vision for holistic ministry and are not inclined to support development ministries.
  3. Even if they had the vision, they are too poor to contribute much, and
  4. Local organizations funded by outsiders tend to pay their staff at higher rates than local norms require, or than most community members receive, so locals simply do not feel a strong sense of obligation to foot the bill.

There is a long-standing assumption in development work that the development worker is there “to work herself out of a job.” There followed a process of indigenization, which for some meant that their offices throughout the world were increasingly staffed with people from the South, and which for others meant that they would partner with national SNGOs that were springing up throughout the Third World. For those working through SNGOs, the assumption was that the SNGO would now perform the work in communities, while the NNGO would work to build the capacity of its partner SNGO, to the point that the SNGO would one day become self-sustaining. The goal of withdrawal, or phase out, is rarely questioned in the development community. So much is phase out a part of the development mindset that discussions about phase out typically revolve around how to plan for it, not around whether it is a good idea.

And yet within World Renew the idea of phasing out of its work with partners is falling into disfavor, for two main reasons. One is a simple consideration of effectiveness. The question is posed by various World Renew staff as follows: “Why should we withdraw from our work with partners that are extremely effective at a community level, to work instead with fledgling organizations whose effectiveness is low, and whose organizational progress is not assured?” A second reason has much to do with the fact that through the appreciative inquiry process World Renew heard from partners that they value the partnership for reasons beyond mere program effectiveness. To once again quote Andrew Gwairangmin of CRUDAN in Nigeria, “If you’re in partnership with another organization, then you don’t just quit. African culture values friendship, like a brother. You never stop being a brother. Phase out is a project-oriented idea.”

In recent years World Renew staff have wondered why they should quit working with effective partners, they have listened to the calls of their partners to continue working together, and they have increasingly come to understand the kingdom value of partnership. As a result, World Renew has decided to phase out the idea of phase out. The concept of self-reliance is not attractive. When initially formulated as a development goal, self-reliance was sold as a contrast to debilitating and dehumanizing dependency. But self-reliance as an ideal is neither practical nor desirable. Economists know, for example, that the most self-reliant people are also the poorest, because they cannot specialize and gain from the specialization of others. Christians know that people were made by God to live in community with each other. We need each other, and we need to serve each other. That is how we are made. Self-reliant people are both materially and spiritually poor.

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