How can NGOs meet the challenges of ethical spending?

From local procurement to voluntourism, humanitarian spending can be an ethical minefield. How can agencies do their best?

By Huw Nesbitt

The Guardian

Worldwide humanitarian aid contributions in 2013 were at their highest level for five years, putting the sector’s aims and practices under the spotlight.

According to analysts Global Humanitarian Assistance, donations from government and private bodies totalled $22bn (about £13bn) – up nearly a third on the previous year.

With such large amounts of money involved, there is obviously a pressure for humanitarian and development NGOs to show transparency and accountability in their aid flows. This means demonstrating value for money in their procurement policies and, ideally, strengthening the communities involved.

“Any attempt to procure goods and services locally promotes self-reliance,” says Jason Baldaro, global procurement and facilities manager at Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO). “Even if the goods are unavailable, it can highlight an opportunity and challenge local businesses. It could be argued that this is one of many tools in developing an economy – basic supply and demand,” he adds.

However, sourcing from local providers is not without its challenges. As Clea Kahn and Elena Lucchi from the Médecins Sans Frontières operational centre in Amsterdam have argued in Humanitarian Exchange Magazine, local procurement can risk neutrality, especially in conflict zones where opposing sides control vital goods and services.

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