Why grassroots activists should resist being ‘professionalised’ into an NGO

The Guardian published an article online titled, “Why grassroots activists should resist being ‘professionalised’ into an NGO.” The article reads in part as follows;

“Activists from the global south hear, far too often, from our donors that we should ‘learn how to become professional’ and ‘make NGO management efficient’. Let’s decode what that means.

Professional means ‘a person engaged or qualified in a profession’. Donors would like you to be a ‘professional’ activist and want to see you approaching human rights work as a profession.

Efficient management means ‘performing or functioning in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort’. For conventional NGOs this means achieving targets, writing reports and submitting them on time. To really understand the danger of becoming efficient, compare it with effectiveness. Being effective is about doing the right things, while being efficient is about doing things right, no matter how far you have moved away from human rights ‘activism’ to be part of an efficient management team.

As soon as a well-meaning group of activists start the process of becoming a professional NGO, the problems begin. No matter what is said at the outset about the NGOs being free to act the way they have envisioned, the truth is that NGOs are deeply indebted by donors, and well-funded NGOs are even worse. This is the start of submission to a system that repeatedly disempowers and controls.

Look at the process: once a human rights movement in the global south decides to become a NGO – because that’s the only way donors (especially big multilateral or bilateral ones) will fund you, and provide the most basic financial resources, you have to sign a memorandum of agreement.

The NGO leaders and management team will have to be inducted into the ‘good governance’ model dictated by the donor through a series of training programmes, meetings and workshops. They will have to develop operating procedures, organisational policies and even strategies to match the donor’s expectations. We are expected to be ‘professional’ if we wish to continue to get funding.

Then an NGO has to adopt a human resource policy, finance policy, as well as guidelines on how to use computers/internet and how to engage with the press. The activists, who have no choice but to survive on the small salary that the NGO pays, have to submit to the processes of the organisation.

This will affect everything from when the activist-turned-professional-staff are supposed to arrive or leave, to how they are supposed to conduct themselves at work. And the movement-turned-NGO often has to share its press releases to donors for their endorsement before it can be released.”

Click here to read the article further.

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