Global Policy Forum

Do Donors and NGOs


NGOs Take The Floor

Lesotho Council of NGOs
April-June 2005

At LCN everyday we see small hard working NGOs struggling financially for survival. For the past twenty years Lesotho civil society organizations have been the ones campaigning hardest for increased democracy in Lesotho and now it is here we are still pushing hard from all angles to ensure the citizens of Lesotho benefit from the relatively new found democracy and improve social and economic empowerment for all. However the new 'Commission for Africa' appears not to have recognized the importance of NGOs in the democratization of Africa, in their recommendation to donors not to undermine African governments through their funded programmes and to take care to follow government policies, implying funding should be streamed through governments.

As the NGO society of Lesotho we support many of the government's policies and indeed were integral in the formation of the Lesotho Governments, Vision 2020, Poverty Reduction Strategy and Lesotho Food Security Policy. As NGOs we often go further than the government to push for just laws to protect the citizens of Lesotho and lobby for change of unfair laws, such as the rights of women to own property, rights for disabled people and also for ratification by government of laws such as the Environment Act and many more. Should NGOs be concerned by this lack of recognition in the 'Commission for Africa'? Within our community there are grave concerns as to whether the Lesotho government has the capacity, accountability and indeed the will to ensure that funding is streamed downwards to NGOs. We only have to look at the many difficulties of the NGO sector in receiving Global Fund & Global Environment Fund monies to illustrate how problematic this can be. So how serious is the NGO funding crisis in Lesotho and why?

Financial Status Past & Present

We interviewed three small NGOs based in three work areas; Agriculture & Environment, Disability Rights and Community Empowerment to tell us about their financial situation and experience with donors. Out of the three organizations, two organizations are currently receiving no funding and one has a small grant. Boseele, an organization working in Agriculture and Environment with a cluster of villages in the Buthe Buthe area, is currently receiving a small grant from USC Canada. The grant is for tools and seeds and implementation of a small tree-growing project. This is their only source of funding at present. The grant has no staff overhead costs or accommodation costs within it. Ntate Maqutu from Boseele said 'Why is it that donors do not want to fund staff? In advanced countries it is easy to get volunteers because people have livelihoods, here in Lesotho people need jobs because they are unemployed and have no other means of livelihood'.

I met five staff members at Boseele's base in Mate, in Northern Lesotho, none of who are receiving a salary but who are continuing to fight for their organisation's survival. In the past they received funding and a Development Worker through MS, the Danish funding mechanism. Ntate Maqutu said ' When MS left the country they took with them our development worker, transport and funding and we were left bankrupt'. Boseele fear the closure of other donor and embassy offices saying 'NGOs will collapse and fall when these organizations leave. It is becoming more and more difficult to speak to donors, especially if they move to Pretoria or out of Lesotho. NGOs will find it difficult to speak for themselves. It will be down to organizations like LCN to speak for all of us'. Ntate Seabata Lengosane from the Centre for Empowerment and Social Analysis who work on human rights with people with disabilities said on the same subject ' Organisations will collapse, it because of them that our visions will not be reached'.

Ntate Soforea Shale, Programmes Co-ordinator for Development for Peace Education, an NGO that works in community organization and empowerment, policy & poverty dialogue and good governance believes that closure of embassies and donor organizations has a deeper meaning; ' We should not be deceived when an embassy closes that it is a measure taken to save on resources and fund through donors, this will not work! It is a programme statement but short on facts. Closures mean disaster for Lesotho. International organizations and embassies put their money where their interests lie, there is no mistaking that.'

Undoubtedly, many Lesotho NGOs fear the closure of embassies and donors, not just for their funding, but also for their strategic positioning. With the Danish Embassy closed, British Embassy closure imminent and rumours of Irish Embassy closures, many Lesotho NGOs believe at the very least this is due to a lack of confidence in the potential for Lesotho to develop and for strategic positioning in the more lucrative markets in South Africa.

Funding through government

The 'Commission for Africa' commitment to support African governments has to be commended. However in all democratic societies across the world, NGOs and the civil society play an equally important role as government watchdogs, protectors of communities, environment and minority group interests and lobbyists and advocates of a wide variety of issues that would not be politically within the interest of governments to raise. This should not be forgotten. There are many dangers of streaming all funds through government, not least battling with archaic structures and red tape, 'jobs for life' stagnated staff and the huge administration costs of government, and not the least, problems with accountability.

Equally, as organizations such as GTZ are advocating funding to be brought down through the 'infant' local government systems, rather than through well-established umbrella NGO organizations, almost appears foolish. This is not to say that NGOs are not willing to support local government, they have been fighting for the formation of these structures for years, but they are 'new' and untamed and there is a huge funding gap until these bodies have built enough capacity to effectively plan, strategize and implement. Indeed many NGOs could play a key role in helping local government build capacity.

Soforea Shale, Programmes Co-ordinator for Development for Peace Education said 'It is reactionary to take funding from NGOs and redirect them through government. It is not that there are no funds or commitments it is about the way they want to administer the funding. It is naive to redirect the funding through government to the detriment of NGOs because the government is not the only arbiter of society; it is shared with civil society organizations. This may paralyse the development process.'

Problems with Donors

The three NGOs we interviewed are small and underdeveloped NGOs, who are desperate to build their own capacity and understand the complexities of 'funding speak'. We asked them what problems they had experienced with potential donor organizations. Soforea Shale from DPE said ' First and foremost, the donors who we think we can work with because of the nature of our work are looking up to government and as a result, they are not ready to listen to the programmes we are developing, often because of the nature of bilateral agreements, all resources must be channeled through government. Assistance is limited to small grants. To me a good strategy, that will help address needs of donors is to continue to support the Government of Lesotho, but fund NGO programmes, especially where they are aimed at monitoring and advocating government policy. The government cannot do it alone, neither can the NGOs'.

He asked 'Can donors use their power, influence and resources to build capacity in NGOs. Can they help us transfer the skewed partnership between the South and the North, for example development workers come from the North, how many development workers go from the South to the North? I have never left Lesotho. Lesotho people need to be exposed to other ways of working, this will help people build capacity'. Ntate Maqutu, from Boseele said "We have tried to apply for funds from donors. We applied for a vehicle from the Irish Embassy, because the nature of our work we need to transfer seedlings from one place to another and public transport does not reach us. We were told it was too risky because of theft and it being misused. There is a culture between donors not to trust NGOs'.

Ntate Lengosane from CESA said ' I would like to ask donors how do we get access to funds and can they tell me their criteria. We have put in applications and have heard nothing. We would like donors not just to say no to our applications, but tell us why. How can we improve our organization if we do not know what is wrong? We do not have an office so communication is difficult. People with disabilities have often not been to school, so we need help from donors to help us understand the funding processes'.

This lack of trust from donors is quite a fundamental problem in the NGO sector. LCN itself is constantly criticised, without any evidence, of not representing their members, not having enough capacity and many other damning statements. However there remains a huge gap between donors and NGOs as to what we expect from each other. Perhaps I would suggest 'just sit down and talk'. As an EU citizen I find it quite dismaying the constant paternalistic nature of donor organizations. There is a need for far greater and deeper partnerships between NGOs and donors to truly effect economic empowerment and social change. Soforea Shale from DPE points out; 'Donors will often not fund our programmes, but when our organizations fall, the very same staff are utilized by donors and international NGOs. International NGOs come and attract funding from all over the world and bully Lesotho NGOs into areas they work.'

Perhaps one solution could be to create a similar model to the South African, National Development Agency. This partnership between donors and NGOs is successfully assisting NGOs and donors in the eradication of poverty by focusing on predetermined areas of work and assessing needs geographically. They have set up a clear annual funding cycle and procedures that balances the expectations of donors and NGOs. However one thing for sure is donors and NGOs will need to negotiate a more trusting relationship to effectively work towards the eradication of poverty, discrimination and environmental degradation in Lesotho.

More Information on NGOs
More Information on Funding for NGOs
More Information on NGOs and States
More Information on the Credibility and Legitimacy of NGOs


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