Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A BOND APPROACH: Putting Beneficiaries First

British Overseas NGOs for Development (BOND) is an organization founded in June 1993, on the initiative of 61 NGOs to improve the UK's contribution to international development by promoting the exchange of experience, ideas and information amongst its member organizations and other NGOs in the UK and internationally that have an interest in international development.

Today, BOND has over 300 members and is officially recognized by the UK Government's Department for International Development (DFID). It is also the United Kingdom's broadest network of NGOs working in international development.

In furtherance of its work, BOND manages training, advocacy and information services for NGOs. One specific accomplishment of BOND is the production of a report in September of 2006 entitled: "A BOND Approach to Quality in Non-Governmental Organisations: Putting Beneficiaries First"

Because of the growing debate about quality systems and standards needed to enhance the performance of NGOs, BOND commissioned Keystone and AccountAbility to research this issue in order for BOND to help better understand the direction and approach that can be taken to further support its members.

The Report is quite lengthy but very interesting. I believe it will be an extremely helpful document for NGOs in evaluating their own operations. And because BOND is looking for feedback on its report, I strongly recommend it as important reading for individuals seriously involved in international NGO work.

I have excerpted portions of the Executive Summary of the Report to give the reader an idea about what is discussed.

"The quality of an NGO's work is primarily determined by the quality of its relationships with its intended beneficiaries.

"If an NGO maintains a respectful dialogue with its intended beneficiaries, recognising their priorities from their points of view, and beneficiaries shape operational decisions, then this creates a framework within which an NGO's analysis, response and evaluation are likely to be high quality.

"These relationships may be mediated by specific individuals who represent beneficiary groups to NGO staff. They will also be influenced by many other stakeholders, including government, donors, and political interests. It depends on an NGO's ability to adapt its work flexibly to changing local conditions and priorities. Members were explicit in arguing that, for NGOs, quality depends on the relationships with beneficiaries taking priority over the achievement of pre-determined project goals and other 'professional' management practices. They also noted that it takes priority over quality assurance mechanisms for specific activities, such as (for instance) the build quality of new classrooms; the primary risk being that an NGO's activities, no matter how well implemented, do not respond to beneficiaries' realities and priorities."

The Report further states:

"Crucially, NGOs will need to make sure that they have the right people in place to develop relationships on the ground, with appropriate values and skills, committed to learning and staying in the same place for a reasonable length of time. BOND members drew a distinction between investments made in hard skills, such as accounting, and the soft skills of listening, responsiveness and interpersonal accountability that are ultimately more determinative of quality."

Some of the problems encountered while trying to carry out this function is also discussed:

"A number of members pointed to the tension between balancing organisational interests and beneficiaries' interests. They commented that staff need flexibility and autonomy to nurture local relationships with beneficiaries and local implementing partners. When organisations' systems are unduly corporately bureaucratic or internally focused, they limit flexibility on the ground, and can constrain relationships between NGO staff and beneficiaries, as well as diverting staff's energy to focus inside the organisation."

Finally, BOND states:

"Recognising the diversity and independence of NGOs and their donors, we offer this exploration as a challenge to everyone working in our sector. We hope that this report provides an initial step in crystallising a common view of quality that may become the basis for common action to strengthen our performance and do more to help poor, vulnerable and marginalised people around the world to improve their own lives."

Links to the Executive Summary of the Report, the full Report and Individual Chapters (in both PDF and ".doc" format can be found at the following site:


The Home Site for British Overseas NGOs for Development can be found at BOND

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