Global Policy Forum

Do We Need a New Qualification for NGO Managers?




By Stephen Morrison

April 27, 2010

A new qualification for project managers working in the development sector was launched last week, offering a low-cost, web-based exam for global development workers. The team behind it claim that if the new certification leads to a 1% improvement in efficiency, that would result in collective savings to international NGOs of $47m.

The PMD Pro (project management in development for professionals) qualification was developed by Lingos (Learning for International NGOs - a consortium of 45 global agencies that share learning resources and technology), specifically for those working in charities, humanitarian agencies and not-for-profit agencies; while the exam itself is being offered by APMG-International.

The launch made it clear that accessibility and affordability were key factors in the development of the certificate, with the cost of the level 1 entry exam priced at $20 for those working in developing countries, at $50 for those from a developed country working in a developing country and at $120 for people from, and working in, a developed country.

John Cropper, a global project coordinator at Oxfam, who helped develop the new qualification, said that initial meetings in 2007 concluded that many projects suffered from overspending, underspending and a lot of ineffectiveness. "We saw this not as a negative, but as an opportunity to offer something that will ultimately result in extra funds for NGOs," he said. "Everything the NGO sector does is a project - that's how important this is. It's the most exciting thing I have seen in the sector since I began working in development in 1992."

Initial scepticism at the launch centred around what makes the PMD Pro different from existing project management qualifications. Cropper explained that the newcomer is aligned with well-known project management certificates (such as Prince2), offering components that are specific to the development sector alongside the existing qualifications. The contextualised knowledge is where the innovation lies.

"It's by the sector, for the sector, so it will work for small, local and regional NGOs as well as the big agencies," Cropper said. He added that there was already interest in it from USAid and the UK Department for International Development.

Training for the exam can be done either by downloading the free PMD Pro guide or taking part in e-learning courses, sharing in online communities and other web-based functionality. There are grand plans for a network of face-to-face workshops, but these will be limited until more teachers can be rolled-out globally.

The exam itself consists of 75 questions to be answered in an hour - though if English is not the candidate's first language, they can ask for an extra 30 minutes. There will be three levels of exam, with level 1 available to take now and the more difficult levels 2 and 3 to follow soon.

The developers claim that the certificate will enable workers within and across organisations to speak the same language, as well as providing project management tools proven in the business world - all of which will help keep projects on track and delivered to time and within budget.

The response in the room to this qualification was broadly positive. Representatives from aid agency Plan International enthused over the way it integrates development knowledge with existing globally recognised project manager qualifications.

But some mentioned the hidden costs involved with distance learning (such as printing off online materials, taking time off work to study) and the impracticality of field workers always being able to access the internet to read training manuals, attend online seminars ("webinars") or take part in online discussion groups.

Others were mildly concerned at the level of take-up and how easy it might be to pass. After all, if everyone who takes the exam is successful, the exam itself will be devalued.

Of the 30 people who took the exam during a pilot scheme carried out in South Africa, only two failed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the anecdotal response from those who took part in the trial was positive. Chikondi Phiri, operations director at World Vision Zambia, said: "As a result of this course... I realised there was a huge gap in our implementation plans. [Our] budget estimates were not accurate as they were either overblown or even underestimated. There are a number of things I am going to do differently."

It remains to be seen how popular the new exam will be and exactly how much money will be saved as a result. Richard Pharros, of APMG International, reiterated that a 10% improvement in efficiency would result in around $500m worth of cost-savings in the NGO sector - very welcome in today's financial climate. But how exactly would that be measured?

With a favourable response from Oxfam, Plan International and others, as well as interest from large, well-known aid agencies (Mercy Corps, Save the Children and Cafod attended the launch), this qualification could be something the sector has been crying out for. Or it could be seen as a waste of time and money. What do you think? If you work for an NGO, do you think the PMD Pro qualification will help your organisation, and will you consider taking it yourself?


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