How The NGO Landscape Is Changing & Evolving
In today’s globalized world, it would seem impossible to think that developing countries and cities in places like Africa and Latin America would be immune to economic development.
Sure, these cities have certainly had their fair share of struggles economically, socially, politically, and even geographically. However, new employment solutions have begun to spring up in places like Africa and Latin America that have greatly contributed to economic development within these regions. Normally, this would be a major positive – and of course, it is certainly positive. But for the thousands of NGOs that have based their mission around assisting the governments, businesses, and communities of these regions, new challenges have arisen that have rendered some of what these NGOs do irrelevant in modern times.
This isn’t to say that NGOs will simply fade out, or that some will die off – it’s merely to say that as with any other industry, market, or business model, NGOs will soon face a number of disruptive challenges in Africa and Latin America; these challenges might not be tremendous game changers, but they’re enough to force NGOs to pivot, to adapt, and to adjust their models to ensure that they can continue to make an impact wherever and whenever possible.
Africa and Latin America alike are growing, changing, and evolving. In fact, in April of 2020, a Zimbabwean business man was named to Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 list. Paul Makaya, founder and CFO of Bergast House, has recently taken the digital world by storm with his company’s ability to offer flexible and scalable digital design and eMarketing services to businesses throughout the country.
At just 27-years old, Makaya’s company is making waves, which he claims to be “part of the African revolution, an economic revolution.” With this massive economic boom spreading all throughout the continent, the world is standing still, waiting to see just how far Africa can climb into the global marketplace.
On the other hand, Latin America is going through something different. In Latin America, there is a massive informal economy, one led by workers who work what would be considered “off the books” jobs in places like bodegas, street cart vendors, markets, and more. These workers are unprotected by federal laws and regulations, and many of them do not have any type of benefits. And thanks to the recent spread of COVID-19 around the world, nations are closing off their borders, forcing migrants to return back to their home countries. Now, what does this mean for employment in Latin America? It means that millions of migrants will soon return back home, where they will seek employment.
With two very different situations, NGOs will certainly have their work cut out for them, as they strive to meet the demands of these changing regions. In Africa, things seem to be on the upswing, but in Latin America, the same cannot be said. In the next several years, NGOs are sure to face at least five potential challenges when it comes to employment solutions in these two regions. Let’s begin to introduce these challenges and break them down.
A Changing Financial Landscape
If we look at Africa specifically, NGOs have focused much of their efforts around the lack of infrastructure that many countries in Africa struggle with. This could include everything from healthcare infrastructure, to transportation infrastructure. In addition, NGOs have dived deeply into other areas like education, telecommunications, and more. With that said, Africa is changing, evolving, and developing quite rapidly in relation to its history.
For example, countries throughout Africa are placing a strong emphasis on the continent’s service sector. This means that countries are relying on finance, tourism, hospitality, transportation and logistics, and even insurance to help grow their markets and expand their economies. BBC reports that around 1/3rd of all of Africa’s jobs are within the service sector, so if countries plan to expand this sector, what is the role of NGOs?
If countries in Africa can begin to maintain their own financial infrastructure, if they can begin to manage their own transportation and logistics industry, and if they can even dip into the global tourism and hospitality market, what is left for NGOs? As the African economy continues to grow, there may be less of a need for NGOs to assist in some of those more critical areas. So, where exactly do they turn? In addition to this question, how exactly do they deal with a lack of funding? Let’s address this next.
What Happens When Donors Move On?
All NGOs and non-profits depend on the capital received from their donors. Most of the time, these donors are wealthy philanthropists who are looking to contribute in whatever way possible, especially in places like Africa and Latin America. Given the situation described in the first challenge, what happens when donors begin to move on from an NGO that they’ve long supported?
It’s no secret that NGOs already struggle to acquire the funding that they need to support their work. And no matter how important their work might be, finding adequate funding to set up extensive organizations and mobilizations halfway around the world is always going to be a tremendous challenge. But if the work that these NGOs perform on a daily basis becomes irrelevant as countries throughout Africa and Latin America begin to develop their own sustainable economic models, markets, and industries, how likely is it that their dependable donors remain dependable? As innovative employment solutions across Africa and throughout Latin America begin to take hold, NGOs will certainly face a tough choice. They can either adapt to these new models and bring in new innovative strategies that allow them to continue to play a role in the world, or they can simply fissile out as these countries take on a whole new look.
Is Overgrowth A Bad Thing?
BBC says that “Africa’s working age population is estimated to grow by as much as 450 million by 2035.” While this might seem like a good thing – especially considering the fact that countries throughout Africa are striving to build up their industries, what are the possibilities that this growth simply becomes too much for this emerging economy to manage?
While growth is rarely considered a negative or a detriment, it can certainly pose a challenge to NGOs when they’re unprepared for this. With a growth in population, there is always a growth in unemployment. Now, how exactly will NGOs work around this issue? We spoke earlier about the possibility that within some countries, the work that some NGOs do might become irrelevant. In others, however, their work might become even more important, especially if there simply aren’t enough jobs to go around. While dealing with a potential increase in poverty might require NGOs to conjure up more funding, to expand their operations, to organize more volunteers, and to establish new footholds throughout these countries, there might be an opportunity for them to become more relevant than ever before.
This is an interesting development that is beginning to take place in Latin America as well. We mentioned earlier that swaths of migrants are returning back to their homes due to current immigration restrictions and border closures in countries all around the world; when they return home, where will they work? Will there be a massive population boom that results in a tremendous increase in unemployment? In addition, how pressing will the related health issues become? These are questions that today’s NGOs are certainly asking themselves, and as always, they’ll be expected to come up with some sort of solution to ensure that they can continue to make an impact, one community at a time.
There Is An Air of Social Change These Days
When it comes down to it, NGOs have a tremendous amount of money. In fact, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Civil Society Studies concluded that NGOs would have the 5th largest economy in the world, if they were considered a country. Is this problematic? Not when one considers the fact that these organizations require the funds that they have to perform their work throughout the world, which is surely a massive undertaking.
However, there are some important questions to ask when looking at this fact more critically. First of all, how can one accurately measure the effects of NGOs around the world and then compare it to the amount of capital that they hold? In other words, how can you gauge whether or not these NGOs are utilizing the funds properly, if you can justify this amount of money, and if there are ways in which the money can be better spent?
It’s no secret that societies from all around the world are beginning to become more vocal about their futures. They’re holding their governments accountable and protesting, workers are speaking out and staking a claim over their rights not only as workers, but as human beings, and the ongoing debate around universal healthcare continues to make waves even in developed countries like the US. There is an air of social change these days, and NGOs need to be aware of that.
It wouldn’t seem unreasonable for people to begin to not only question the impact of NGOs, but their legitimacy, especially in the face of corporate scrutiny. This article published by The Guardian in 2016 begins to ask these questions – and now, four years later, the world is at a standstill thanks to the recent development of COVID-19. For a moment, NGOs may have an opportunity to reinvent themselves, which is what the article suggests might be necessary. The air of social change is still very much alive, and in fact, it might even begin to grow once we begin to get a grip on the outbreak. So, where exactly does this leave NGOs? We’ll have to see.
What About Climate Change?
With COVID-19 becoming the more pressing issue, it seems as though climate change has fallen by the wayside in recent weeks. However, there’s no denying that the world is facing a tremendous climate crisis, one in which no business, no industry, and certainly no NGO is immune to. When it comes to Africa and Latin America, these regions are certainly some of the most hard hit regions, simply due to their lack of infrastructure and their economic standing within the larger global marketplace.
This could present an interesting opportunity for NGOs to shift away from their traditional modes of service and instead, adopt a more client-centric approach to lending a hand. For instance, NGOs could position themselves as climate-focused organizations in which they support local communities with expanding their ability to practice sustainability. They could work hand in hand with local governments to improve access to clean water, or they can even imbed themselves in agricultural communities to help ensure that local food chains become more efficient. NGOs are uniquely positioned to tackle the issue of climate change head-on, but only if they’re willing to adapt.
Moving forward, it seems that NGOs have their work cut out for them. Although some of these challenges might not necessarily be new, they are – at the very least – becoming much more pressing. However, solving problems is something that is typically expected of NGOs. It’s safe to say that the world certainly hasn’t give up on NGOs, and in fact, they’ll be leaned on even more in the coming years to help solve some of these major challenges. NGOs certainly aren’t disappearing; they’ll still pursue their missions, albeit from a different pathway.
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