One area of importance related to defining the parameters or criteria of membership is whether the coordination body will be a mix of local/national NGOs, just national NGOs (NNGO), or just international NGOs. (N.B.: this report refers primarily to INGOs and NNGOs; local NGOs are included in the term NNGOs, although it is acknowledged that their experiences may vary).
Benefits to NNGO/INGO Coordination
The benefits to coordination mentioned in a previous section also resonate here. However, there are additional benefits of coordination between local, national, and international NGOs. These include:
Mutual capacity-building and awareness-raising ;
Shared insight into working with or access to key stakeholders such as donors, government, the private sector and the various players in the international inter-agency humanitarian coordination architecture. NNGOs and INGOs may have different relationships with these various stakeholders that could be beneficial to the wider NGO community.
An opportunity for trust building, networking, and community-building between operational agencies with similar mind-sets, which have immediate benefits for emergency response, as well as recovery and development. Ideally, this trust and the relationships will be in place before a crisis, but often, partnerships have to be forged in the midst of crisis;
Through engagement, NNGOs and INGOs can debate, agree on, and practice common humanitarian principles, improving the accountability of the overall humanitarian response; and
Through shared mechanisms for information exchange, coordination, liaison, and representation, local organisations (and smaller NGOs) can maximise their limited human and financial resources, especially when they cannot participate in other coordination structures.
A selection of the above were cited by NGO coordination bodies in Currion, P. & Hedlund K. (2011) Strength in Numbers: A Review of NGO Coordination in the Field, Lessons Learned, ICVA.
Specific benefits to INGOs for collaborating with NNGOs, along with greater benefits to the overall response are:
Local NGOs were there before the disaster and during the first days of the disaster, and will be there after the disaster, with clear implications for emergency preparedness and response; and
Local NGOs have insights, information, knowledge, and know-how that are likely to contribute to a more appropriate, efficient, and effective emergency response. They can often offer insight into working with the context, especially for newly arriving INGOs.
Challenges to INGO/NNGO Coordination
There may also be sound reasons for limiting membership of NGO coordination bodies or to have separate coordination mechanisms. Not all local or national NGOs will want to formally coordinate or collaborate with international NGOs in a humanitarian response for a variety of reasons. They may:
Feel the INGOs are not independent from their home governments (e.g., the INGO is seen as connected to its government’s policies);
Feel that INGOs come with hidden agendas;
Find INGOs to be disrespectful of local customs and culture, or have a very different political perspectives;
See INGOs as ignorant or too temporary;
Feel that they cannot openly and freely discuss issues of specific concern to NNGOs;
Perceive, or know, that open collaboration with INGOs puts them at increased risk in their communities; and
Feel that there are few common interests and agendas.
INGOs may experience some of the same reservations above and have concerns about:
Discussions regarding the operation of an international organisation in a country , e.g., registration, visas, work permits, hiring of staff, salary levels, security;
LNGOs not being independent of the government of the country ; and
Collaborating and sharing information with groups who are not impartial or independent in the crisis or context.
Additional issues make formal joint collaboration increasingly challenging in some contexts:
Language: One of the biggest challenges to overcome is language barrier. English is the most common language of coordination - sometimes French or Spanish. However, the dominant use of these languages can prohibit broad participation. It is a consistent complaint that English remains by far the language of humanitarianism, and most key documents are not even translated into French, Spanish or Arabic.
The large number of NGOs in many contexts, especially larger emergency responses. Formal collaboration may not be feasible, because there is no way to effectively coordinate hundreds of NGOs. In some contexts the number of INGOs wishing to collaborate may be manageable, but the number of NNGOs is significantly larger and would overwhelm coordination mechanisms.
The variety in level of organisational capacity, including experience, competence, awareness of international standards, guidelines and principles, and awareness of the international inter-agency humanitarian coordination architecture. This can make substantive discussions challenging; and
The fact that NNGOs are in a donor relationship with INGOs. Whilst this is beneficial, it also could lead to unequal status or power.