The influx of $7.5 billion in development aid to Pakistan over the next five years has raised a critical and contentious question: how can local NGOs be best engaged?
“Dangerous Correlations” and “Harnessing Local Capacity” suggest that the best NGOs in Pakistan are locally-initiated and locally-funded. However, USAID is not structured to work with these organizations because aid amounts are too large, reporting requirements too burdensome, and projects are too heavily USAID- rather than locally-defined. To work with Pakistan’s most effective local actors, U.S. assistance must be “non-distortionary,” meaning that funding amounts and processes should not distort NGO budgets and structures. U.S. assistance should also be “demand-driven,” meaning more support for existing and locally-defined work. In sum, USAID will need smaller, more flexible grants to support the existing or self-defined work of reputable local actors.
Surprisingly, neither USAID nor Pakistan’s top-performing NGOs seem inclined to work with each other. USAID prefers to work through the Government of Pakistan to achieve national scale impact, while the best NGOs are flush with millions of dollars in local donations and find that USAID is not worth the trouble. However, USAID needs local NGOs to achieve maximum effectiveness, and should pursue innovative public-private partnerships with the government to achieve scale of impact.
More importantly, reputable, local NGOs can lend credibility and visibility to U.S. efforts. This is badly needed given the controversy surrounding current and past U.S. assistance, high mistrust of the government, and the saturation of NGOs in urban areas where public opinion is formed.
“Harnessing Local Capacity” summarizes what is known about the composition and funding of Pakistan’s NGO sector, describes specific potential local partners, and provides illustrative anecdotes from Pakistani NGO and civil society leaders. It also describes the experience of The Citizens Foundation, likely Pakistan’s largest schools-building NGO, when it tried to apply for U.S. assistance.
There is one critical piece missing from this research: how can projects and organizations that depend on aid perform better? “Dangerous Correlations” demonstrates that foreign-funded NGOs are weaker organizationally than locally-funded ones, but does not compare their project performance. “Harnessing Local Capacity” also suggests that USAID can reliably channel a small portion of the $7.5 billion aid package to locally-funded NGOs, with relatively high impact, but does not resolve how USAID can fully define and fund work locally. If USAID wants to channel large amounts to local organizations to fulfill its priorities, it should learn what distinguishes effective aid-dependent NGOs from ineffective ones and build both local and its own capacity accordingly.
Read the full paper, prepared for USAID's Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs here.
To request a copy of Masooda Bano's "Dangerous Correlations," email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her book.