Toward Authentic Partnership: How North-South NGO Partnerships Contribute to Development
July 16, 2010
Updated December 19, 2017
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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:
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 …
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:
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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