Many graduates are familiar with the dreadful experience of failing to find a job immediately after graduation.
With the high levels of academic inflation and unemployment, joining an NGO, or starting one seems a default option for many.
Similarly, I interned with some, worked for some, unsuccessfully started one and in later years, I participated in doing impact assessments for some internationally recognized not-for-profit NGOs.
Note that there are a few NGOs that have genuine objectives and missions to which they try to live. What I share here are the organizing practices of tokenism, decoration and manipulation by NGOs whose major purpose is to make money.
First, one must be conversant with the dominant ideology regarding the Global North - Global South relations. A snap course on that ideology can be accessed by reading the essay by the late Binyavanga Wainaina on “How to write about Africa”.
The ideology projects Africa as a continent with mostly diseased, ignorant and extremely poor people whose governments are too inefficient to take care of them. The kind of ideology which is aimed at arousing misplaced pity from Western Europeans and North Americans.
The NGO and its ostensible beneficiaries must mirror that ideology in order to enhance funding chances.
Secondly, the location of the NGO must be in some of the most rural areas which have had less contamination by the maladies of Western models of development. One must not waste money on setting up a physical office in the specific village.
All one needs is a local contact person who can be contacted to mobilize the purported beneficiaries in case other partner organizations or funders want to visit the NGO.
Setting up the NGO in the remotest villages not only fits perfectly the dominant ideology about Africa but also shields the NGO’s proprietor from the unnecessary and frequent visits by the nosy NGO partners and other stakeholders such as funders whose curiosity might unmask the scam.
After setting up the NGO in the rural area, the proprietor must return to Kampala and comb around the city in search for other reputable NGOs that have managed to acquire local and international amounts of funds that they need other upcoming NGOs which are closer to the “grassroots” so that they can form a consortium. Through a consortium, one’s fake NGO benefits by riding on the wings of those already established NGOs.
Similarly, the proprietor must regularly visit prominent hotels around Kampala, Wakiso and Entebbe in search for ongoing NGO-related conferences.
If it weren’t for NGOs conferences, some major hotels would either close or reduce their usually inflated prices and make their accommodation more affordable.
There are usually several conferences going on at most hotels and most of them usually don’t require an invitation. I have personally attended a stakeholders’ conference that failed to attract enough numbers and resorted to inviting hotel staffs and anyone loitering around the hotel to pose for a group photo as a way of inflating the numbers of members present.
For those NGOs that are operating in a consortium and benefiting from multinational donor agencies, there is hardly any real will, interest and resources to supervise them closely and as well coerce them to provide accountability for the funds received.
Therefore, no NGO proprietor must be afraid of disqualification from the next cycle of funding, a result of failing to account for the funds previously received.
At the end of the funding cycle, the funding agencies from mainly Western Europe or USA also need to justify the continuity of the financial scam to the actual funders (mostly gullible ordinary citizens and established philanthropists).
They will, therefore, find some random young men and women (usually fresh graduates in their early twenties) who are seeking for a “voluntourism” opportunity to come and conduct the impact assessments.
The completely inept impact assessors will then turn up with a template containing boxes that must be ticked and pre-determined themes for the achievements.
As a way of legitimizing the impact assessment of the scam, a reputable local university or a renowned local professor will be paid to do the fieldwork while the incompetent “voluntourists” are busy doing African safaris, binge drinking and buying cheap sex.
Eventually, the competent research agency completes the impact assessment whose results must be shared during another ridiculously expensive scammers’…sorry, I meant to say NGOs proprietors’ meeting.
During that meeting, the competent researchers “disappoint” the stakeholders by explaining a balanced view of the findings to an audience which is only willing to listen to the success stories.
Never mind the fact that researchers are eventually told to keep their rigorous report to themselves but instead append their signature and stamp to another report fabricated by the funders. The researchers then realize that they were used but at least with a more decent pay in such a short period than their regular jobs will ever afford to pay them.
If anybody manages to profit from an NGO as a result of reading this piece, my mobile money number is active.
The writer is a social critic and a social worker in Alberta-Canada.