|NGO Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice (Commonwealth Foundation)|
|Part I: NGOs: what they are and what they do|
|6. The governance and operation of NGOs|
NGO work is much more difficult and demanding than many realise, as managers and staff moving from the private sector and public sector to work in them have found. NGOs often undertake projects of a very demanding scale and complexity with limited resources. Yet the myth that NGO work is undemanding lives on.
More and more, NGO management training is regarded as a distinctive task. In a number of countries, agencies have been established to provide it, and such agencies are often constituted as NGOs themselves. The distinctive HRD and training needs of Boards, members, volunteers and programme beneficiaries are also being increasingly identified and responded to. This is based on the recognition that it is as important to have a well trained and effective Board, for example, as it is to have qualified and competent staff, properly trained volunteers and aware, able beneficiaries. Well trained and informed Boards are less dependent on staff and more able to ensure that they are properly accountable.
Some of these new NGO HRD/training initiatives have an international orientation. Others offer research and consultancy services to NGOs as well as training programmes. At the same time more and more NGOs are recognising the need to allow time and resources for training, both in-house and outside.
Funders are doing the same: indeed some training initiatives have been set up at their instigation or with their active support and involvement. All that said, there is an oft-repeated view that too little investment is still being made by NGOs and their funders in this aspect of their work.
In NGOs, as in other sectors, HRD begins with being able to attract and retain staff of the right calibre. In part this means being able to offer salaries and conditions of service that are as adequate and secure as possible. Many people involved in NGOs agree that the insecurity of work in them is a major problem. Job insecurity in the NGO sector affects both men and women but not always in the same ways. Labour force studies in many countries show that women tend to be concentrated in the low-waged service sector, which includes many NGOs. This may be one of the factors explaining the large number of women employed in NGOs which have generally emerged from the welfare sector.
Even where NGOs are contracted to deliver public services, as they increasingly are, this is not bringing an end to job insecurity in NGOs. This is because the trend towards contracting out such services is often being accompanied by trends towards applying market place economics to the delivery of public programmes.
This means NGOs compete with each other and even with private providers to secure contracts. Trends in this direction are well-advanced in a number of countries. They are stimulating a great deal of debate, not just about security. Many NGOs question whether human needs, issues and problems should be seen as "markets" within which competition takes place.
Funders and contracting agencies have key roles to play in this aspect of HRD in NGOs.
From the subject of adequately remunerating NGO staff there has grown another debate, one that is about the general "professionalism" of NGOs and their staff. One view holds that NGO staff should be paid comparable rates with staff in other sectors, based on a recognition of the demanding nature of their work and to ensure the respect of their peers in other sectors.
Another view sees NGO staff as people who should be selfless, poorly-paid workers and dedicated amateurs rather than slick professionals. There are undoubtedly NGOs which have gone to extremes here:
"(NGOs are) now an industry in which lots of money can be made. The director of (national NGO A) gets US$75,000 (per year). The salary of (national NGO B) is kept in line with top (government officials). (This) welfare elite (has developed) while (such) leaders are publicly condemning poverty..."
The debate is complex. Other issues come into it, including those of control, accountability and representation discussed earlier:
"Many voluntary agencies have become generally centralised in power. Their directors have turned autocratic, and are not guided by any democratic process...There is very little identity with the people with whom they work... the very antithesis of that prevailing in genuine people's organisations... To the people (NGOs) are become middlemen... they are the new thekedars, replacing landlords and moneylenders... often seen by people as exploiters and carpetbaggers..."
NGOs therefore walk a thin line between being on the one hand professional, and achieving it by paying adequate salaries and investing in staff development, and on the other hand, retaining their traditional values and ability to be effective and efficient. It is not an easy line to walk. The NGO sector is inevitably affected by trends in other sectors in society, by labour market forces, and by prevailing social attitudes which increasingly lean towards individualism. To an extent, NGOs have to live with these trends and are inevitably affected by them. NGOs, however, have to keep in mind the values and non-self-serving aims which drive them, and express them in all aspects of their work. These values are a needed counter-force, especially in societies where self-serving individualism becomes extreme. NGOs are recognising this.